A historic Durham bridge has recently been the centre of a court case between Durham Cathedral and HM Revenue and Customs. The cathedral had wished to claim back the VAT for repairs made to Prebends Bridge in 2011-12, but HMRC had resisted this as it claimed that – unlike the cathedral’s café and gift shop – Prebends Bridge was not part of the cathedral’s business operations.
But now Judge Richard Thomas has decided in the cathedral’s favour, declaring that the renovation work on the bridge is vital to the cathedral’s economic wellbeing.
Built between 1772 and 1778, Prebends Bridge is a grade one listed building and a part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes Durham Cathedral, Durham Castle and Palace Green. The artist J.M.W Turner frequently painted from the bridge and the bridge is immortalised by a Walter Scott poem on a plaque fixed to its side.
The ownership of Prebends Bridge is unclear, but Durham Cathedral has always assumed responsibility for maintaining it. Along with Framwellgate Bridge and Elvet Bridge, Prebends Bridge is one of three stone-arched bridges crossing the Wear in Durham City Centre.
Views of Durham Cathedral from the bridge are considered to be especially spectacular and today the bridge is used by thousands of tourists to access the cathedral. In his judgement, Judge Thomas said the distance between the bridge and the cathedral and the steep climb visitors need to make from the riverbank to get to the ancient monument have no legal significance regarding the bridge’s economic importance.
The cathedral will initially gain around £4,000 from Judge Thomas’s decision, but in the future the sum will work out to be considerably more. Cathedral Chapter Clerk Phillip Davies commented,
“We are delighted that the cathedral is able to reclaim a proportion of VAT paid on repair work to Prebends Bridge.”
“The bridge is a much loved feature of Durham City Centre woodlands and riverbanks.”
“In due course a much larger restoration project is required on the bridge. It will be incredibly helpful, as the cathedral looks to fund the future restoration, that the principle of reclaiming a proportion of the VAT has been established.”
“The continual upkeep and preservation of the cathedral is very costly. Any way in which costs can be reduced is extremely helpful. The future restoration of Prebends Bridge will be a multi-million pound project.”
The Walter Scott poem on the bridge’s side reads:
Grey towers of Durham
Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles
Half church of God, half castle ’gainst the Scot
And long to roam these venerable aisles
With records stored of deeds long since forgot