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Lib Dems up the election design debate

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The RIBA has issued a fairly warm welcome to the Liberal Democrats' election manifesto, published yesterday (14 April).

The institute's public affairs department has identified several key areas of the document that will be of interest to the British architectural community. These are:

Raising the starting point for Stamp Duty from £120,000 to £150,000

Reforming VAT to encourage developers to repair and reuse empty buildings and brownfield land

Reducing VAT on historic building repairs

Changing the Climate Change Levy into a Carbon Tax to discourage the use of polluting fuels and energy sources

Strengthening tax incentives to create more energy-efficient homes, reduce domestic waste, promote recycling and introducing measures to reduce energy use, such as home insulation

Making public-sector land currently owned by the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and English Partnerships available to build 100,000 new homes for rent and affordable purchase

Returning strategic planning roles to county councils

Requiring planning permission to change full-time homes to holiday homes

Investing in modern, high-quality college facilities to deliver high-quality skills training

Tackling causes of ill-health such as poor housing

Scrapping the Department of Trade and Industry.

RIBA president George Ferguson, a former Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate, said the manifesto was a positive step forward.

'The Liberal Democrats have sought to run a green thread of environmental awareness through their thinking and I congratulate them for placing a strong emphasis on climate change and the built environment in their manifesto,' he said yesterday. 'They also recognise the link between design quality and better housing and public services.

'Many of the measures proposed by the Liberal Democrats - such as VAT reform, fiscal incentives to encourage environmental responsibility and using public land to pioneer sustainable neighbourhoods - are in the RIBA's own Manifesto for Architecture, which we recently published,' he continued.

But Ferguson also said the document could have gone further. 'We believe, however, that they have missed an opportunity to go further still - for example, by linking Stamp Duty relief to sustainable new homes.

'A better built environment requires imaginative solutions and strong, joined-up leadership,' he added.

by Ed Dorrell

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