A row has broken out over the government’s refusal to abolish VAT on refurbishing buildings after it emerged that a London school demolished a sports hall to avoid paying the tax.

The lottery-funded amenity at Malory school, Lewisham, south-east London, was knocked down along with the rest of the school in the summer to make way for a specialist academy.

The school’s governing body could have retained it but decided it made sense to demolish the facility, which is less than 10 years old, rather than refurbish it, because a new-build replacement would not be liable for VAT. It is understood that the previous sports hall cost £750,000 to build and the new one will cost £1m.

The Federation of Master Builders branded the situation “absurd”. Andrew Large, director of external affairs, said: “This is a truly disgraceful waste of public money.”

The news will lend weight to the campaign to scrap the levy, which has far-reaching consequences for large-scale refurbishment programmes such as Pathfinder housing projects in northern England.