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Welsh Government confirms vacant land tax plan

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Housing a priority: Mark Drakeford takes action on land-banking

THE WELSH G​OVERNMENT​ will put forward the vacant land tax idea to test the Wales Act 2014 powers, Cabinet Secretary for Finance Mark Drakeford has announced.

The Cabinet Secretary will set out the next steps for proposing a new Welsh tax as part of the tax policy work plan for 2018.

Since announcing a shortlist of 4 new tax ideas alongside the draft Budget in October, the Welsh Government has been examining the case for each of these.

The 4 tax ideas were: a social care levy, a vacant land tax, a disposable plastics tax and a tourism tax.

Although the vacant land tax idea will be used to test the Wales Act powers, work will also continue on each of the other 3 tax ideas.

The decision to take forward the vacant land tax idea follows engagement with stakeholder organisations, the public and across government.

A vacant land tax has been chosen both because it could help to incentivise more timely development, and because it could help prevent dereliction and aid regeneration.

Professor Drakeford said: “Housing is a priority for the Welsh Government. A tax on vacant land could prevent the practice of land banking and land not being developed within the expected timescales.

“The Republic of Ireland vacant sites levy provides a useful starting point for how a vacant land tax could work in Wales.

“The existing model in the Republic of Ireland and the relatively narrow focus of the tax make this the most suitable of the 4 shortlisted ideas to test the Wales Act.”

The Irish measure, announced in their government’s 2018 Budget, will mean that any owner of a vacant site on the register who does not develop their land in 2018 will pay the 3% levy in 2019 and then become liable to the increased rate of 7% from 1 January 2019.

If land owners continue to hoard land in 2019, they will pay 7% in 2020.

When the Welsh Government announced it was considering such a measure in October 2017, before the UK Government said it was considering a similar plan, the House Builders’ Federation raised the spectre of developers decamping en masse to England with their large projects. That threat, such as it was, has receded but the Federation of Master Builders is still concerned.

Speaking to BBC Wales, Ifan Glyn of FMB Cymru said: “If there’s a tax that’s introduced that can focus solely on land banking for financial reasons to maximise profits, we would absolutely agree with that.

“Our issue is we don’t see how this tax can differentiate between land that’s been banked for financial reasons and land that isn’t being developed or stalling for reasons outside the developer’s control.”

A further wrinkle in the system was identified by Dr John McCartney, Director of Research at Savills Ireland.

Speaking about what were then only proposals by the Irish Government to impose the vacant site levy, he said that increasing the vacant site levy to 7% could amplify “boom-and-bust cycles” in the construction sector.

Dr McCartney said that land is a raw material for developers and it is natural for them to carry a stock of development land.

“No developer will now carry a land-bank in a slow market. This means when a recovery follows developers will spend the early years on site assembly rather than the house building they could and should be doing,” he explained.

Responding to the announcement, the Welsh Conservative Shadow Finance spokesperson, Nick Ramsay AM said: “From the outset, Welsh Conservatives have opposed the ludicrous proposal for a tourism tax in Wales, one which would cause serious harm to businesses across the country.

“While we are pleased the Welsh Government has listened to us and decided against taking this idea forward, once the mechanism has been tested, we would not expect the Labour Government to return to the table with this proposal, one which has been widely criticised by the industry.

“Our vigorous campaign will continue until Labour’s Finance Secretary consigns this ludicrous proposal to where it belongs: the bin.”
Commenting on the decision to bring forward a potential vacant land tax, Mr Ramsay added: “On the surface, we welcome the fact that, as in England, the Welsh Government is exploring the viability of a vacant land tax but we await the full details of this proposal from the Finance Secretary.

“However, an important distinction must be made between land held for legitimate technical reasons such as detailed planning or a lack of skills and materials, and land which is held for purely commercial speculation.

“Speculation distorts the main purpose of releasing land for much needed development and it will be vitally important to fully consult with the sector to ensure the right balance is struck.”

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Business

Nick Ramsay MS: Freeze welcome but doesn’t go far enough

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BUSINESS rates in Wales will not be subject to an inflationary increase in 2021-22 Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has confirmed today. Freezing the multiplier next year will help support around 54,000 ratepayers across Wales, who are not already receiving 100% rates relief. This takes the total amount of savings businesses have received on their rates bills to more than £90 million from 2018 to 2019. Earlier this year the Welsh Government also announced a rates relief package worth £580 million to provide businesses with the support they needed to survive the pandemic. Finance Minister Rebecca Evans said: “We recognise the pressures that businesses are facing and we are continuing to explore the support measures we can put in place to help businesses cope with the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the end of the EU transition period. “The announcement I have made today provides businesses with the reassurance that they will not see an increase in their business rates liabilities next year.” The Conservatives’ Shadow Minister for Finance – reacted to the announcement.Nick Ramsay MS said: “The continuing health emergency produced by the Covid pandemic remains grave, yet the economic emergency we’re going through is still bringing about a different, but equally devastating effect. “The announcement is, therefore, welcome but doesn’t go far enough. “Welsh Conservatives outlined earlier this year our vision of how to rebuild the economy, which will require the next Welsh Government to utilise tax powers in innovative ways. “We have pledged to create ‘Business Rate-Free Zones’, where all businesses would be free from paying business rates for up to three years, and to scrap business rates for all businesses with a rateable value of under £15,000 outside of these zones. “Sure, the business-rates freeze from the Finance Minister is a step in the right direction, but I – and undoubtedly many businesspeople – am left feeling no real sense of assurance from her announcement.”
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Business

Improvements required at five takeaway premises in Ceredigion

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PROPRIETORS of five takeaways in Ceredigion have been warned that their businesses may face closure if they fail to take reasonable measures to provide or require the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings by persons working on their premises.

Premises Improvement Notices have been served on the persons responsible for these takeway premises in Ceredigion:

–          Cardigan Arms Fish & Chip Shop, Cardigan

–          Express Café, Aberystwyth

–          Domino’s, Aberystwyth

–          Hot Dumplings, Aberystwyth

–          and Star Fried Chicken and Pizza, Aberystwyth 

The improvement notices require the businesses to ‘provide or require the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings by persons working on the premises’ and warn that failure to comply with the notices can result in a premises closure notice being issued. The premises were issued with the notices following coordinated inspections by Dyfed-Powys Police and the Public Protection Team at Ceredigion County Council over the weekend.

Businesses should ensure that they are aware of the requirements under the Regulations for individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public areas, and also for regulated premises to take all reasonable measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as providing and requiring the use of face coverings. Whilst face shields do offer some protection for the user against transmission of coronavirus, they are not considered to be ‘face coverings’ as they merely shield rather than actually cover the mouth and nose.

The Public Protection Team will continue to carry out unannounced inspections of premises and the non-compliant businesses may be issued with premises improvement or closure notices.

Information for businesses is available on the Council’s website: Supporting Ceredigion’s Economy

Any business who is unsure of their responsibilities in relation to face coverings is urged to check the Welsh Government website.

Any business that requires further information or guidance can contact the Council’s Public Protection Team on 01545 570881 or email clic@ceredigion.gov.uk.

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Closure notice issued to a takeaway premise in Aberystwyth

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A TAKEAWAY premise in Aberystwyth has been closed after it failed to comply with a premises improvement notice.

A closure notice has been served on G-One, North Parade, Aberystwyth by Ceredigion County Council’s Public Protection Officers due to non-compliance with the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 4) (Wales) Regulations 2020.

The business was required last month to “provide or require the use of personal protective equipment and face coverings by persons working on the premises”.  However, officers witnessed staff failing to wear face coverings on several occasions in breach of the requirements. 

Ceredigion County Council’s Public Protection Team will continue to take action against businesses who fail to comply with the coronavirus restrictions.  Whilst non-compliant businesses will usually receive advice and guidance, serious or persistent breaches will be dealt with by means of our closure powers, fixed penalty notices or prosecution.

The takeaway must close until December 21, 2020, and the full closure notice can be found on Ceredigion County Council’s website, under Improvement and Closure Notices: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-improvement-closure-and-direction-notices/

Information for businesses is available on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/business/covid-19-supporting-ceredigion-s-economy/

Any business who is unsure of their responsibilities is urged to check the Welsh Government’s website: https://gov.wales/taking-all-reasonable-measures-minimise-risk-exposure-coronavirus-workplaces-and-premises-open

Any business that requires further information or guidance can contact the council’s Licensing Team at 01545 570881 or clic@ceredigion.gov.uk

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