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The Future of the Courtyard Societies at Burlington House

The RAS offices at Burlington House

You may be aware that the UK government is in the process of increasing the rent paid by all the learned societies for their occupancy of Burlington House to a “commercial” level (whatever that means). Up until very recently all the societies, including the RAS, paid a very favourable rent for central London but residence at BH is now becoming untenable and unless the increase is halted or, better, reversed, most – perhaps all – will be forced to relocate. There is little doubt that these societies form a concentration of science and history unique in Britain and perhaps the world. Where else could you go to rub philosophical shoulders with Sir George Airy, Charles Darwin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Charles Lyell and countless other influential scientists? Thanks to its remarkable history, BH is a tourist attraction and guided tours are available. In 2018 PwC undertook an analysis which showed that the public value of the societies greatly outweighed the income from a peppercorn rent and the gross value to the public amounted to £47m per annum of which a third would be lost following relocation. The societies have combined to fight the progressive rent increases but appeals to the government have been unsuccessful.

There remains perhaps one last chance: Tim Loughton MP has launched a parliamentary debate on “The Future of the learned societies at Burlington House.” It will be held on Tuesday June 8 in Westminster Hall at 4.50 PM. The BAA is supportive of the societies’ attempts to remain in situ. If you think that forcing them out of their historic location is a mistake, please write to your MP asking him or her to support the societies in the debate.

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