After months of complaints that the government has ignored cities, architects and developers last week welcomed Gordon Brown's £1 billion pre-budget package for urban regeneration.
The chancellor's key tax-cutting proposals were the removal of stamp duty from all property transactions in disadvantaged communities; a reduction in VAT to 5 per cent on materials used in the conversion of houses into flats; tax relief on converting redundant space over shops into flats for letting; the abolition of VAT on the sale of renovated houses that have been empty for more than 10 years; and the reduction of VAT for church repairs to 5 per cent.
Brown also proposed tax credits for cleaning up polluted land. As a result, one developer immediately pledged to bring forward the development of contaminated brownfield sites in inner-city Manchester by three years.Chairman of Urban Splash Tom Bloxham said he is ready to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds cleaning up two sites when the proposal becomes reality.
Urban Task Force chairman Lord Rogers welcomed Brown's statement as 'good news for our cities' but warned that the government's true commitment to urban regeneration would not be clear until the publication of the Urban White Paper, due shortly.
Lord Rogers said: 'The chancellor's incentives for investment and renewal will help encourage people to live in cities, although his proposals on VAT fall short of the Urban Task Force's recommendations.' The task force wanted the reduction of VAT for all refurbishment of existing buildings in urban areas.
Others saw the inclusion of any tax cuts at all as a positive sign that the government is taking the issue seriously.
'Urban regeneration is not going to be brought about by reducing stamp duty, ' said Urban Task Force member Ricky Burdett. 'But we were asking for fiscal measures and this is a clear signal that these issues are politically significant. With a lot of other things on the political agenda which could win the government political points, the fact that it is in there at all is a victory.'
The shadow secretary of state for the environment, transport and the regions, Archie Norman, attacked the measures as 'too little, too late. After three and a half wasted years it is too late for Labour to reclaim their lost credentials, 'he said.'The government's policy has been to produce a series of fragmented and disjointed initiatives.'
Housing architects welcomed the measures. 'This is very good news for us, ' said PRPArchitects'practice manager, Tim Forsyth. 'The traditional housebuilders which would normally be building boxes on greenfield sites are being obliged to look at inner cities, which means they are gravitating back to experienced architects.'
The pre-budget report is the first stage of the government's response to the Urban Task Force report. A framework for implementing policy will be set out in the forthcoming white paper.