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...as MPs put pressure on chancellor's tax 'loophole'

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A large group of mps have stepped up their efforts to persuade chancellor Gordon Brown to introduce the harmonised rate of vat for building in this month's budget.

More than 50 back-bench mps - most of them Labour - have signed a Commons early day motion pressing for a change. They want Brown to bring in a harmonised rate of vat for buildings at below ten per cent in his budget on March 21.

The motion, which gives mps a chance to express their views, says this would boost the government's policy of switching house-building activity from greenfield to brownfield sites. mps claim the move would 'end the anomaly whereby new building is zero-rated while conversions and repairs are vat-rated at 17.5 per cent.'

The motion was tabled by Blackpool South Labour mp Gordon Marsden, a former public affairs adviser to English Heritage. He wants Brown to apply the new harmonised rate to all conversions, repairs and refurbishment of historic buildings and churches as well as domestic properties.

Marsden says this would both encourage urban regeneration and benefit heritage sites, which boost the exchequer through millions of pounds of tourism revenue.

The mps intend to use a Commons debate on housing issues pencilled in for next week to make their case, and will hold a press call at an empty property near parliament before the budget. Deputy prime minister John Prescott is understood to be sympathetic to the change and has lobbied Mr Brown in cabinet. The mps hope the chancellor may now be ready to close the loophole because of growing public concern about the threat to greenfield sites, especially in the South-east.

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