The National Federation of Builders has called for VAT to be reduced to 5% on rural building and repair and maintenance work in the wake of the foot-and-mouth epidemic.
Tony Maynard, chief executive of the NFB, said he wanted the government to help the parts of the industry hit financially and would welcome talks with the DETR.

He said: "The crisis is causing mounting concern among our membership, with many firms in those areas affected already on a knife-edge." A VAT cut on domestic and R&M work was rejected in Chancellor Gordon Brown's last budget. But now the federation wants the chancellor to review that decision.

Work is slowing to a halt across the countryside leaving builders facing financial ruin because of the costs of delaying projects and redeploying workers.

NFB member Neville Construction said work at Whipsnade Zoo, in Bedfordshire, where it was building a £750,000 elephant breeding facility, had ground to a halt.

Peter Henman chairman of the Luton-based group said: "We have not been allowed on site for two months and it has had negative financial consequences. We are due back on next week but we are going to have to follow strict guidelines from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food." Drew Construction, based in New Milton, Hampshire, has also been hit by the epidemic, with delays causing severe problems.

We have not been allowed on site for two months and it has had negative financial consequences

Peter Henman, chairman, Neville Construction

Chairman Bill Rabbetts said: "We were forced to suspend work where we have been building social housing on a site in Hazelbury Bryan, Dorset.

"An existing overhead power cable needs diverting, requiring access to adjoining farmland. However, permission to get on the farm has been denied because of foot and mouth.

"The contract has been put on hold indefinitely and resources are being redeployed elsewhere." Maynard added that one of the main worries was the likely domino effect that delays could have on order books, together with the long-term damage to the local economy.