James Wild MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Dear Mr Wild
Save Burlington House Campaign
May I draw your attention to an article in The Guardian dated 28 February 2021 (Under threat: the birthplace of Darwin’s historic theory | Science | The Guardian) that highlights the dilemma of five renowned scientific Societies based at Burlington House in Mayfair, London (story_of_burlington_house.pdf (rsc.org)).
The Linnean Society, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Society of Antiquaries, the Geological Society of London and the Royal Astronomical Society are facing a calamity created by the soaring rents charged by their landlord, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The Ministry has, since 2014, increased the rents of these specialised and historic Societies by 3000% when the Treasury reclassified the property at Burlington House as “investment property” and applied a commercial rent that is unaffordable to these non-profit organisations (see: https://www.sal.org.uk/save-burlington-house/, accessed 15th December 2020)
The Societies are faced with the choice between unaffordable rents or leaving Burlington House. The cost of moving elsewhere their libraries and scientific collections (that require specialised storage) is also prohibitive.
Burlington House was purchased by the government in 1854 to accommodate the Royal Society of Arts and several scientific societies, their valuable collections and libraries, in order to create a London hub for science and culture. In 1858, at the Linnean Society, the papers of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace on evolution by natural selection were read for the first time. The Society also holds, in a specially adapted room, the scientific collections of Carl Linnaeus, the founder of modern taxonomy (Save BH – Society of Antiquaries of London (sal.org.uk))
An independent study by PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) considered that the Linnean Society provides £8.2 million per year in scientific value to the UK. It is a tragedy that this contribution to the nation is not recognised by today’s government in its pursuit of rent amounting to £130,000 annually.
As a Fellow of the Linnean Society, the world’s oldest active biological society, founded in 1788, I would be grateful if you would convey this expression of my grave concern and disappointment to the Secretary of State, the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, regarding his apparent lack of interest in ameliorating this situation.
In addition, I would be grateful if you would bring this letter to the attention of the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whose remit includes nature and the environment.
Please also pass this letter to Tim Loughton MP who is co-ordinating the parliamentary support for the campaign by the Linnean and other Societies to reach some agreement with the Minister on reasonable and sustainable rents that would enable the Societies to continue their valuable contributions to science and education in their historic, purpose-built accommodation at Burlington House.
Margaret E Cooper
LLB, FLS, Hon FFFLM, Hon FRCPath
Solicitor (not in practice).