There is widespread approval for the rise in the stamp duty threshold and for Gordon Brown’s plan to refurbish primary schools.
There has been cautious reaction to Gordon Brown’s pre-election budget from the construction industry, with many branding it a “step in the right direction”.
The headline-grabbing decision to raise the stamp-duty threshold from £60,000 to £120,000 was widely welcomed; the RICS suggested it be raised even further to £150,000 to better reflect property prices. Peter Bolton King, chief executive of the National Association of Estate Agents, said: “the Chancellor should be praised for responding to the pressure from the industry to update the archaic stamp duty system, but it can only be seen as a first step.”
While the Council of Mortgage Lenders gave a small nod of approval to the shared equity scheme that the government hopes will enable more keyworkers to become first-time buyers, plans to build private homes in council estates brought predictable reactions from pressure groups.
“Gordon must be joking if he thinks that council tenants are going to give up the little bit of grass around our homes that our children play on. There’s plenty of people that have bigger lawns. He should go and requisition them. Apparently there’s plenty of space at a place called Chequers,” said Alan Walter, spokesperson for Defend Council Housing.
A £9.4 billion fund to rebuild and refurbish primary schools – a follow-on from the Building Schools for the Future Initiative for secondary schools – also proved to be a popular policy, with the RICS pointing out that private-sector investment would be key to the programme. Brown said that the scheme meant that 8,900 primary schools would be rebuilt or refurbished by 2010. There will also be £1.5 billion to renew further education colleges.
The Construction Products Association criticised the Chancellor for introducing no policies that reflected the findings of the Barker Review of Housing Supply 12 months ago, and called for more land to be released for housebuilding. It also highlighted the environmental aspects of the budget, saying: “we are pleased that [Brown] has extended the list of energy-saving products eligible for a reduced rate of VAT… [But] the arguments for retaining Aggregates Tax completely misunderstand the adverse impacts this measure is having on the environment.”
With one eye on the Olympic bid, Brown earmarked £27m for a new national sports foundation, and there was a sprinkling of good news for those in the industry who specialise in cultural projects: The Chancellor granted a three-year extension of 100% VAT refund for the renovation of religious buildings, and announced that a £2m Memorial to the Queen Mother would be built on the Mall, funded by the proceeds of a new coin, which will be issued in April to celebrate the Queen’s 80th birthday.