South Scotland MSP Emma Harper, who has long campaigned for action to address the many vacant, abandoned and derelict sites in Dumfries and Galloway and across the country as a whole, has written to the UK Government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer calling for changes to VAT to incentivise regeneration of brown field sites, instead of building on prime agricultural land.
Currently, under VAT rules, there exists a requirement to pay 5% VAT on construction works on derelict and pre-existing sites which many organisations, including the Scottish Land Commission, have said is a disincentive for potential investors to regenerate vacant, abandoned and derelict sites.
Ms Harper points out that the existing favourable VAT assigned for new builds creates a counter intuitive approach as current VAT makes it is much easier to build on prime agricultural land which could affect food security, instead of utilising and transforming sites that are already available.
In her letter to the UK Government, the South Scotland MSP indicated that making our existing buildings as heat and energy efficient as possible, and transforming current vacant, abandoned or derelict buildings, is critical to meeting our net zero carbon emissions in the future and to tackling the global climate emergency. She also points out the many benefits this change in VAT could bring to communities plagued by eyesore sites, and indeed how it could tackle health inequalities.
Commenting, Ms Harper said:
“There is a wealth of evidence and research, including from the Scottish Land Commission, which demonstrates that changes to the current tax system, but in particular VAT, can empower communities and create a modal shift in construction practices in Scotland and right across the UK. The evidence shows that, should VAT be reformed, we could see a stark increase in investors repurposing brown field sites, including derelict sites, instead of building on prime agricultural land.
“The benefits this change could bring to communities right across Dumfries and Galloway which are plagued by these eyesore vacant, abandoned and derelict sites is immense. Our region has more than its fair share of derelict sites – like the former Interfloor Factory in Dumfries, George Hotel and the Arches in Stranraer, Central Hotel in Annan and Mercury Hotel in Moffat, to name just some. The evidence is clear and the time to make change is now.
Published research from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health also shows that neglected environments can contribute to mental ill-health. Dilapidated neighbourhoods and abandoned shops or houses can make people feel unsafe, with run-down environments found to contribute to anxiety and persistent low mood.
“I call on the Chancellor to accept the evidence and take this simple step of removing VAT from brown field redevelopment, to see real change in tackling vacant, abandoned and derelict sites both here in Dumfries and Galloway, across Scotland and indeed right across the UK. I will keep constituents updated on any reply I receive.”