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News - 18/08/2015

Unfair Business Rates putting museums at risk

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The imposition of unfair business rates on some of Yorkshire’s most historic buildings is potentially putting their long-term future at risk according to Colin Hunter, Director of Rating in Lambert Smith Hampton's (LSH) Leeds office.

Valuation by cost of replacement vs receipts

An anomaly in how buildings are assessed for their Rateable Value depending on how they are being used and who owns them means that some face bills of tens of thousands of pounds while others just a fraction of that amount.

“The owner, occupier and contents should have no influence on the value but that is not the case for Rateable Values at this present moment in time,” said Colin Hunter, Director of Rating at LSH in Leeds.

“The fundamental problem is that some historic Listed buildings are valued based on the cost of replacement whereas others are valued by receipts and the difference between the two can be huge to the point where we have seen some buildings closed to the public in recent years due to the huge costs of remaining open.”

Examples of Grade 1 Listed buildings in York that are not considered historic properties by the Valuation Office include: St Mary’s Church (known as the Heritage Centre); Yorkshire Museum (which includes the ruins of St Marys Abbey) and; the Castle Museum.

 Museums could save thousands in Rates liabilities

The Heritage Centre is in St Mary’s a deconsecrated church dating back to the 12th century. In the 1970s the church was converted to a visitor attraction by the council and is now an exhibition space. The Rateable Value determined by the Valuation Tribunal is £15,750 but if valued by receipt its Rateable Value would be negligible.

Castle Museum comprises two Grade 1 Listed buildings, one of which held Dick Turpin prior to his execution and part is made up of the original wall of York Castle. According to the Valuation Office its value is based on its replacement value with a Rateable Value of £154,000. If valued by receipts its Rateable Value would be £37,000.

By contrast, other historic attractions in York such as Fairfax House – an accredited museum, and the English Heritage-owned, Clifford’s Tower (one of York’s foremost visitor attractions), are valued with regard to receipts and have Rateable Values of £10,000, £26,500 respectively. A former Prison wing in Oxford (Oxford Castle Unlocked) which is occupied as an historic attraction by a commercial operator has been agreed at £25,000.

Working to overturn the decision

“While some museum operators reject the title of visitor attraction, the reality is that museums and art galleries are in competition with other attractions for visitors so it seems only reasonable that the Rateable Value should be calculated the same,” said Colin, who is currently working with the York Museums and Gallery Trust – supported by the Association of Independent Museums – to try and overturn the decision of the Valuation Tribunal for England.

“If the Heritage Centre was owned by the National Trust its value would be £0, if owned by English Heritage it would be nominal at around £500 so its ownership by the council and occupation by a charity leads to an increase of more than 3,000% and that cannot be right.”

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