Homes that are cheaper to demolish than refurbish

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The Independent Online
Adrian Dobinson of the Renaissance Partnership may be heading for trouble in accusing the "landed gentry" of trying to tax baby food and children's clothes in an attempt to cut the cost of home upkeep. Bodies such as the Historic Houses Association and the National Trust have long been fighting to remove VAT from property repairs. Their latest moves, waged through the House of Lords, suggest putting expenditure such as painting on a lower rate of 5 or 8 per cent.

But the European Commission allows only two VAT bands in the UK - currently 17.5 and zero per cent. The lower one would have to disappear, imposing a tax on goods such as baby food, says a report by Mr Dobinson and Fred Cowgill, a tax accountant.

It is understandable that historic home owners are annoyed. They are forced into repairs by rules applied to listed buildings. Ironically, no tax is levied on rebuilding, so there is a bias in favour of demolishing historic homes, say conservationists.

The energy focused on reducing VAT would be better applied to steering through gaps in the rules, says Mr Dobinson. He claims to be helping two or three architects and surveyors a week to collect tax relief on historic homes, while Mr Cowgill specialises in fighting tribunal cases.

Contact Renaissance Partnership at Queen Anne House, Charlotte Street, Bath BA1 2NE.

A plea by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for government aid to encourage more private rented housing earlier this week should also carry a health warning. Many house owners have resorted to letting, instead of selling at reduced prices. These amateurs should take care when fitting out homes with second-hand furniture, says James Farrell of Strutt & Parker. Furnishings in property which has been let since March 1993 must meet strict new fire rules, or owners face fines up to £5,000 and jail. Homes let before then have a period of grace until the end of next year.

One historic home with more past than most has just come on the market in Regent's Park, London. Dickens wrote Great Expectations in No 3 Hanover Terrace, according toBeauchamp Estates. Nor is he the only artistic ghost in this terrace. HG Wells lived at No 13. . He chose the number to defy superstition and even painted it extra large on the door during the Blitz. Other famous neighbours have been Wilkie Collins, Harold Pinter and Ralph Vaughan Williams. It would need someone with great expectations to buy No 3: the price is £1.2m.

For those of more modest literary interests, Chamba Cottage, in Moreton Morrell near Stratford, is a better bet. Caroline Bone from The Archers is moving on, and Knight Frank & Rutley is seeking £149,000 for her three- bedroom home.

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