Sunday, 20 August 2017

Bridge owners to appeal on VAT decision

THE owners of Whitchurch Bridge are to appeal against a judge’s order that they must pay £700,000 in VAT.

THE owners of Whitchurch Bridge are to appeal against a judge’s order that they must pay £700,000 in VAT.

The Grade II listed toll bridge is to close in October for up to seven months while a £3.2million refurbishment is carried out.

When the Whitchurch Bridge Company began planning the work, it argued it was exempt from the 20 per cent levy on building materials because of a historic Act of Parliament.

The 1792 Act, written especially for Whitchurch Bridge, said its owners should not have to pay any “rate, tax or duty whatsoever”.

But following a six-year legal battle, the High Court decided last year that this did not apply to excise duties such as VAT.

Mr Justice Burnett, who presided over the case, took the Treasury’s view that the Act only covered “assessed taxes” based on income or assets. Now the company has decided to appeal.

Company secretary Geoff Weir said: “After reading the original High Court judgement and taking legal advice, we felt there were valid grounds for an appeal.

“The 1792 Act says quite clearly that we are exempt from paying taxes and that has never been revoked — in fact, it was reaffirmed when that Act was updated in 1988.

“There is quite a large sum of money involved and if we don’t get the decision overturned then the people who use the bridge will have to pay the extra cost.”

Whitchurch Bridge was built in the late 18th century and subsequently rebuilt twice — once in 1852 and again in 1902. It has been reinforced several times since then but the company says it is struggling to cope with the weight and volume of today’s traffic.

When the bridge closes, engineers will replace the vertical support pillars and install stronger girders under the roadway.

There will be a temporary crossing for pedestrians and cyclists while the work is carried out and traffic will be diverted.

Temporary parking restrictions will be introduced to prevent traffic jams in Whitchurch.

Mr Weir said: “We acknowledge that this is going to cause great inconvenience to people and are very sorry for this but the work is absolutely necessary.

“We will do all we can to minimise disruption and to ensure that information is as widely available as possible.”

Mr Weir has said that if the company loses its legal fight, the 40p toll will have to rise sooner than planned.

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