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New buildings are VAT free, but you have to pay the tax if you want to do up an existing one - even though conservation is better for the environment.  Barbara Panvel mounts a passionate defence of "mend and make do".

The suggested refurbishment of New Street Station led to a heated correspondence on the Stirrer’s Message Board recently, and a now a heavyweight has entered the ring - the world’s biggest cement firms have admitted that their business accounts for 5% of global greenhouse gases - twice the amount attributed to aviation - and are now taking steps to reduce this.

Worried that environmental advances are being overtaken by demand for new build projects like those being considered in Birmingham, they’ve created the Cement Sustainability Initititave – not a sexy title I admit, but important nonetheless.

Similar themes surfaced in two meetings in the Council House last week voiced by several people.

Dr Ian Dungavell, National Director of the Victorian Society, deplored the practice of charging VAT on repairs and refurbishment whilst new-build is exempt - a practice governed by EU regulations.

Gary Cardin of Drivers Jonas spoke of the energy embedded in historic buildings and the general view was that if possible they should continue to be used as designed – Joe Holyoak making a powerful case for Victorian schools which could be adapted to meet current standards or, failing that, converted to viable new use.

He said that maximum use should be made of existing resources and the use of new materials minimised – an argument applicable to New St Station and the Central Library.

To these environmental benefits can be added social advantage. The group working to preserve Moseley Baths mounted an excellent display. These swimming facilities are within walking distance of many non-car owning families with young children – and the fact that they are offered in a beautiful and historic building is a great bonus.

Nick Molyneux, English Heritage, spoke of the ‘historic environment’ as ‘an essential element of building sustainable communities’ and Moseley Road Baths is a good example of this.

Nick also referred to the issue of the Central Library and  said “I personally value that building a lot – I don’t want to see it go”.

Clive Dutton – Birmingham Council’s planning and regeneration officer - mentioned that the Chairman of Planning, Cllr David Roy, wants to move historic artefacts out from their store and into the communities for which they were designed.

One such project was discussed at a Friday meeting convened by Alderman Redmond, attended by council officers from the planning, regeneration and heritage protection departments, local historian and educator Carl Chinn, and a few members of the public.

The hope is that, with resources backing the Redmond/Chinn energy and passion, local people will become aware of their area’s heritage, community cohesion will be strengthened and regeneration kick-started - offering a working model for other deprived areas.(see link here)

Should builders have incentives to conserve rather than build anew?  Leave a comment on The Stirrer forum.

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