Eco-homes tax incentive is 'shocking failure'

Just 24 homebuyers have taken advantage of a high-profile scheme devised by Gordon Brown to encourage the construction of environmentally-friendly houses across the country.

In his final Budget as Chancellor, Mr Brown announced that stamp duty would be scrapped on all new properties worth up to £500,000 which are given a zero carbon rating. The average saving per purchase was estimated to be £10,000.

Mr Brown set aside £15m for the tax relief, which he hoped would “accelerate” the building of carbon-neutral homes as a key weapon in the fight against global warming.

But tonight the scheme was condemned as a “shocking failure” after the Government admitted that only 24 buyers had claimed the tax break since it was introduced in October 2007 – less than one a month.

So few homes have qualified that ministers would not provide further details of the sums involved in case individual properties are identified as a result.

Grant Shapps, the shadow housing minister, who obtained the figures through a parliamentary answer, said: “Gordon Brown just can’t seem to stop himself from announcing grand schemes designed to do little other than grab that day’s headline.

“Rather than Ministers putting all their efforts into announcing glitzy pledges in order to grab a few column inches, it would be better for them to sit down and seriously work out ways to slash the 27 per cent of carbon emissions that emanate from Britain’s homes.”

Sarah McCarthy-Fry, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said the stamp duty land tax (SDLT) relief scheme was designed to “help kick-start the market for new highly efficient technologies in homes, both for the fabric of the building and in the use of micro-generation.”

She conceded that few homebuyers had taken advantage of the scheme, but added: “The purpose of the relief is to act as signal.”

In a hint that it is about to overhauled, Ms McCarthy-Fry said: “We have always made it clear that the SDLT relief for zero carbon homes would evolve and we expect to see more of these homes built in the future.”

The low take-up leaves a question-mark over the wider drive to build “green” homes.

The Government has said it wants all new properties to be carbon-neutral by the year 2016. They would be required to have some form of power generation, such as solar panels or windpanels, to compensate for their use of light and heat.

Critics have protested that such demands are expensive and often impractical and that the emphasis should be placed instead on reducing carbon emissions from the existing housing stock.

Plans for a network of “ecotowns” have been watered down in the face of local opposition to many of the proposed sites.

Tonight Mr Shapps called for extra work to make older houses, which will continue to account for the vast majority of C02 emissions, more environmentally-friendly.

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