£1 value is right, court confirms
Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum – known as the RAMM – is celebrating after the Court of Appeal threw out an appeal from the Valuation Office, to overturn a ruling that business rates on the building should rise from £1, and back to a whopping figure. Before 2015, the rateable value was £445,000 – the result itself of an appeal from a higher figure.
The city council, which owns the building, says the decision will have a significant impact on the way many English and Welsh museums are valued in the future, especially those in similar listed buildings with high operating costs.
Because of the importance to the museum sector, Exeter City Council was supported by Arts Council England (ACE) and the National Museum Directors Council (NMDC). Cllr Rachel Sutton, the council’s portfolio holder for climate and culture, said: “We are relieved by the outcome which is good news for RAMM but also the sector as a whole. Like all other local authorities, Exeter is facing huge financial challenges and the new rateable value will represent a substantial saving at a critical time.
“The judgment recognises the reality of the public subsidy required for a museum that is highly valued by its community but has an intrinsic cost. Many other museums and local authorities will find themselves in a similar position and our hope all along was that this judgement would also benefit other museums and the communities they serve.”
Sir Nicholas Serota, chairman of Arts Council England said: “This is a significant judgement which will benefit many museums across the country, ensuring that their resources can be used to concentrate on what they do best – conserving collections and delivering stimulating experiences for their communities.”
The case may well have significance for many other non-profit making museums that occupy historic properties. Sir Ian Blatchford, chairman of NMDC and director and chief executive, Science Museum Group, said: “Many of the museum valuation cases that are currently paused in anticipation of this result will hopefully now progress to sensible conclusions. Too much time and energy has been wasted already. We applaud our colleagues in Exeter their efforts and endurance to reach such a significant outcome for the sector.”
Colin Hunter, who acted as an expert witness at the hearing, said: “This appeal is the culmination of several years of discussions and appeals on behalf of various museums, both local authority and independent museums. “The detailed 70 page decision in respect of RAMM pulls together all of the previous arguments raised by both the museums and the Valuation Office and provides extremely valuable guidance for how museums should be valued in the future.
“The principle issue between experts was the appropriate valuation method to be applied. The Valuation Office relied on a method based on the cost of construction of a modern equivalent museum. This decision goes back to first principles and explores what a reasonable museum tenant could and would be willing to pay in rent. The refusal to allow an appeal to the Court of Appeal should mean that this decision is the final word.”