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Lib Dems press for Urban Task Force measures

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Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy has taken a leaf out of William Hague's book by producing a 'premanifesto document' sprinkled with the political party's thoughts on how it would deal with the built environment. Freedom in a Liberal Society, published last week, is structured around three tenets: independence, fairness and caring for the environment, with energy pledges in areas such as crime, health, transport and the economy.

The main section on the built environment is contained in 'Freedom for Communities - Rural, Suburban and Urban Britain'. The party pledges to protect greenfield sites and encourage urban regeneration through 'constructive partnership' between local authorities and private enterprise.

The LibDems also want to encourage the restoration and reuse of buildings rather than build on new land by 'e qu a l i s in g VAT at a lower level on new building and renovation' and by allowing councils to replace the Uniform Business Rate with a system based on the value of each site.

The VAT move has long been on the wish-list of the Urban Task Force, whose chairman Lord Rogers has grown frustrated at a lack of action from the Treasury. He was due to meet chancellor Gordon Brown yesterday to press him to include the measure in his November preBudget statement.

The LibDems aim to clean up brownfield sites, another Task Force issue, using cash from a greenfield development levy. Other measures include combating homelessness through freeing up local authorities to invest in housing and working to regenerate rural and urban areas through a streamlined single regeneration grants funding mechanism. 'I believe that everyone should recognise the fragility of the environment and the impossibility of maintaining current lifestyles without damaging it', said Kennedy.

RIAS secretary and Liberal Democrat Sebastian Tombs said: 'It's a bit thin, but it's encouraging to see the built environment feature at all. ' He added that it was good to see the Lib Dems 'steal a march' on the other major political parties on the issue of tax harmonisation, a RIAS policy.

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