The Geological Society and Linnean Society have joined a public campaign established by the neighbouring Society of Antiquaries to stay in Burlington House on Piccadilly, London, the societies’ historic home.
Burlington House was purpose-built in the 1870s by government to house a range of learned societies and to support their academic and charitable work contributing to science, heritage and the arts. The societies are seeking to retain their tenancy in the distinctive building amid steep rent increases imposed by their landlord, HM Government.
Pressure now mounts on the government as rental costs continue to rise, having already increased by 3,000% over the last ten years, and uncertainty looms over the affordability of the societies remaining in the building.
If the societies and government are unable to come to a swift resolution, the societies will be forced to move – and their 140-year era of co-location will likely come to an end. Any moves would also necessitate the re-housing of the societies’ significant artefacts, archives and artistic and scientific collections.
The campaign is asking the government to consider the societies’ combined scientific and cultural value – estimated to be over £39m annually according to analysis by PwC – rather than forcing them out of Burlington House for a much smaller potential rental income, which was £0.5m in 2020.
More than 100 MPs from across the UK have been mobilised since the Society of Antiquaries first launched the campaign in late 2020, querying the government’s handling of Burlington House. The property falls under the remit of the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government.
Paul Drury, president of the Society of Antiquaries, said: “After several months we are still awaiting options from MHCLG, and fear they may not be adequate, nor presented in time to save us from a forced move. The costs of uncertainty, campaigning, and planning for relocation are mounting, and our ability further to develop our role and activities in the heritage sector has been hindered by this issue for a decade.”
In joining the campaign, supporters and members of the Geological Society and the Linnean Society have added to the growing pressure on MHCLG to preserve the societies’ home at Burlington House. MHCLG has not commented on the addition of the two societies to the campaign.
The Geological Society is the UK’s national society for Earth sciences and the oldest of its kind in the world, focusing its work on improving knowledge of the Earth system for the benefit of science, the geological profession and society. It is estimated to deliver £26m of public value every year.
Michael Daly, president of the Geological Society, said: “At a time when our world faces unprecedented environmental challenges, our understanding of the interactions between human activity and the Earth’s systems and resources are more relevant than ever before.
“In our current situation at Burlington House, we face either unaffordable rent rises or an extremely costly move. This is creating significant uncertainty at a time when we should be focusing, more than ever before, on the UK’s Earth science research needs, national capability development, international collaboration and digital expertise.”
The Linnean Society is the world’s oldest active society dedicated to the natural world. Its home at Burlington House is an international hub for research, discovery and debate, holding the society’s collections, libraries and archives, and is where Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution by natural selection was first debated. It is estimated to deliver £8.2m of public value each year.
Sandra Knapp, president of the Linnean Society, said: “The natural world underpins our food, the materials we use every day, our physical and mental health and, as the recent Dasgupta Review has shown, our economies. The Linnean Society, through its mission to inform, involve and inspire people about nature and its significance, is playing a key role in bringing this message to people of all ages and backgrounds.
“Unaffordable rent rises threaten our future in Burlington House, thus putting at risk our work to really make a difference to the planet. Reaching a sustainable and affordable agreement with government will enable us to seize the opportunity to make nature central to people’s lives, to continue the significant and global impact of the society in understanding, valuing and protecting nature and its contributions to people.”