York museums win landmark ruling

Rates bills for historic museums could be cut

York museums have won a landmark victory over the calculation of business rates.

A decision by a land tribunal could mean huge cuts in rates bills for museums in listed buildings.

The tribunal ruled that museums will now be valued on their net income rather than the notional rebuild costs. This could mean savings of up to £100,000 on rates bills.

The four York museums which took the case to the tribunal, the Yorkshire Museum, York Art Gallery, St Mary’s Church and Castle Museum are all listed buildings (mostly Grade I Listed).

Business rates for these buildings have historically been valued by the Valuation Office, the body which sets the liability for business rates, though not the level, by reference to the cost of rebuilding. Almost 50 per cent of all museums are measured by the VOA on this basis, which because of the high costs involved in repairing or restoring historic buildings, has resulted in high levels of value.

These museums will now be valued based on net income achieved by the individual museums/galleries. This means that prominent attractions such as Castle Museum, which has high visitor numbers, will have a rateable value in keeping with this; now set at £183,000 per annum. But the Yorkshire Museum, which includes the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey, has been reduced to a rateable value of £1, which reflects the higher costs to maintain such an important historic landmark.

The York museums also won their case that shops and cafés, should be included as part of the museums, rather than being valued separately.

York Museum and Gallery Trust said that it will save £120,000 in its annual rates bill as a result of the ruling. Colin Hunter, of legal firm Lambert Smith Hampton, which took the case on behalf of York Museum Trust and the Association of Independent Museums, “This decision will not only help museums in York, it could also help the 767 museums valued on this basis in England and Wales.”

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