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The Geological Society | Burlington House FAQs

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Founded in 1807, the Geological Society of London is the UK’s national society for the Earth sciences and the oldest of its kind in the world. Our work focuses on improving our knowledge and understanding of the Earth for the benefit of society. We support c.12,000 members across the UK and overseas and play a world-leading role in the promotion of the Earth sciences, through education, outreach, informing policymaking, and upholding professional excellence in the work of Earth scientists. We deliver in excess of £26 million of public value to the nation every year.

Research and professional practice in Earth science allows us to understand and predict the interactions between human activity and the Earth’s systems and resources. Our work and expertise is key to developing solutions to the critical economic, environmental, health, safety and sustainable development challenges faced by society today.

Our library of over 40,000 maps, and unique, historic archives provide an important resource for academia and industry alike, and we continue to communicate the latest scientific advances through high-quality publications. Over 10,000 pages of new peer-reviewed Earth sciences literature is published by the Society every year. This is supplemented by cutting-edge scientific conferences, communications, education, and outreach to the general public. We have provided training for more than 200 primary and secondary school teachers across the country to date and our resources are made freely accessible for teachers to use.

We also provide impartial scientific evidence to support policymaking and inform public debate on the vital role of Earth science in addressing global challenges. Recently we advised the UK Government on achieving lower greenhouse gas emissions targets, the safe disposal of radioactive waste and the impact of immigration planning on the future of UK science.

The Society is committed to supporting, promoting and celebrating diversity, equality and inclusion in the Earth sciences. We ensure professional and ethical standards are upheld in the field, and are the only organisation that offers the Chartered Geologist professional accreditation standard and accredits Earth science degree courses both in the UK and internationally.

Burlington House has been the home of the Geological Society of London since 1874. It was purpose-built by the government to bring the arts and sciences together and the work of its resident societies and academy has since brought considerable value to the UK economy and our public life. The Geological Society is able to bring together a unique combination of researchers, industry and policy-makers to Burlington House, ensuring the Earth sciences continue to support our society and economy.

Burlington House is also where the location of a library and archive including 40,000 maps and historically important objects, such as notes from early geological expeditions, watercolour depictions and engravings of Mary Anning’s fossil discoveries, and a rare early edition of the first ever geological map of England and Wales.

The Geological Society’s rent for 2020 is c. £217,000 , having risen in excess of 3,000% since 2012. Future rents will increase by 8% each year and at this rate will double in nine years. The situation we are now in is unaffordable and unsustainable.

As a self-supporting charity the uncertainty of the Society’s future in light of escalating rents makes it difficult to invest and plan, not only in the fabric of the building – which requires work to make it more accessible – but in potential alternative accommodation. The cost of the move will run into millions of pounds.

The Geological Society moved to Burlington House in 1874 by agreement with the Government of the day. Up until the first lease period (2005) the Society’s Burlington House ‘apartments’ bore no rental costs or external upkeep responsibilities.

In 2004, HM Government challenged in the High Court the legal basis of occupation of Burlington House by the five learned societies, including the Society of Antiquaries, Royal Society of Chemistry, Royal Astronomical Society and Linnean Society. The case concluded in 2005 with court-directed, fast track mediation under which the societies agreed terms of occupation under new leases. With effect from January 2005, after a 2-year rent-free period, rent was initially minimal.

Following a 2012 lease valuation resulting in an appreciable rent increase, a collective arbitration was initiated reflecting concerns around the valuation process and comparators being employed. In late 2016 the arbitrator found comprehensively in favour of the Landlord, concluding that the mechanism for the determination of rental value was being followed properly and the valuations used were not wholly unrealistic or negligent. Given the absence of independent valuation, the tenants were not entitled to dispute matters of valuation judgment exercised by the Landlord.

Following the arbitration outcome, the societies continued ongoing discussions with the Government in order to attempt to find an affordable and sustainable solution that would not only maintain the societies’ homes, but also bring an end to rent uncertainty which has prevented the non-for-profit organisations from undergoing their work for the benefit of UK science and society.

In early 2019 the Minister proposed that MHCLG might be able to offer a grant to cover a 125-year lease at peppercorn rent if the societies could demonstrate their societal value to justify such a grant. The group did so, and a comprehensive valuation by PwC illustrated that the Geological Society delivered an annual public benefit of £26.7 million, with an estimated loss of up to 30% in value if it was to leave Burlington House.

Subsequently, representatives from the Geological Society met MHCLG officials to outline its financial position and the impact of the proposed grant on its occupation of Burlington House. In January 2020 MHCLG conveyed a decision not to award a grant to cover a peppercorn rent lease to the Society and its Burlington House neighbours. MHCLG instead offered a new lease ostensibly to make rental growth smoother and more predictable, involving 8% increases per year for five years with five yearly reviews aimed in the longer term at reaching the market rate for cultural institutions.

Four of the learned societies sought to explore the option of a long lease or freehold purchase, but in July 2020, MHCLG stated they saw no justification in entering discussions on a long lease purchase.

Despite prolonged efforts by the learned societies to find an affordable and sustainable solution, current agreements with the Government will see an offer of a fixed rental escalation at 8% per year.

If an affordable arrangement cannot be agreed, we will have no choice but to seek alternative accommodation. This will divert crucial funds from our core activities, adversely impacting our science, policy, education, outreach and professional standards work .

We ask those in support of the Society remaining at Burlington House to write to their MP to ask for an affordable, long-term agreement to be put in place, and to help raise further awareness of the campaign by retweeting @GeolSoc, and by using the hashtag #SupportGSL.

The Society is asking the Government to recognise the value of having the learned societies and historically important libraries, archives and collections situated at Burlington House. We are asking Government to work with us to agree an affordable long-term arrangement for the Society to remain at its home, ensure that we and our fellow societies continue to deliver value to the UK economy and society.

Government originally brought the Society to Burlington House under a bespoke arrangement which has delivered immense public value as a hub of cultural and scientific discovery. Historical circumstance places a duty upon the Government to find a workable, affordable arrangement which recognises the value of the Society’s activities, its library and collections to the nation.

Burlington House is the Society’s purpose-built premises in Piccadilly. Dating from the 1870s, it is Grade II* listed and of nationally exceptional architectural and historic significance.

Burlington House was conceived with a grand vision to bring together multiple learned societies of major cultural, scientific and academic importance from a range of disciplines. As intended by the Government’s original vision, the unique co-location of these organisations has allowed them to thrive over the past 146 years and make significant contributions to the economy and public life.

The Geological Society serves a large and varied membership and has c. 12,000 Fellows across the UK and overseas. Our membership is highest in the South East of England and among the UK’s major cities, including Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. London is a highly accessible city and a leading location for international science meetings. It enables us to readily bring together academia, industry, business and government.

In 2020 the Society’s rent was c. £217,000.

Under the current agreement rents will rise by c. 8% p.a. for at least the next five years. This means a 50% rise in five years and a 100% rise in the next nine years.

The Geological Society at Burlington House is a valuable resource for Earth science research. It is home to one of the most comprehensive collections of geological maps in the world. Over 40,000 maps are made available to our Fellows, non-members and corporate organisations. This is supplemented by high-quality journal publications – with over 10,000 pages of new peer-reviewed Earth science literature made available every year – information services, cutting-edge scientific conferences, education activities and outreach to the general public.

Our research grants have supported a wide range of Earth science topics from the evolution of life, to the pace of environmental change, including the nature of volcanic eruptions, managing environmental contamination and protection, earthquakes, microplastics, and dinosaurs.

The Society offers training for primary and secondary school teachers, which has supported over 200 teachers across the country to date, provides research grants to 10-15 students a year and from Burlington House manages a range of regional and specialist working groups of Fellows to ensure that the opportunities and support is available for early career researchers to enter a range of fields.

We also conduct in-house professional training schemes with geologists working across industry and academia, which plays a vital role in ensuring the highest professional standards are met, for the benefit of society.

The co-location of the Societies at Burlington House enables professionals across the arts and sciences to help support the development of informed policy through impartial advice. Together we have built the connections to support decision-making for the benefit of UK society. This collaboration relies on us being available and present in central London, and on our reputation as a learned and professional body.

We provide evidence to Parliament and Government on a variety of topics, including how Earth science can help us meet our climate targets, as well as the safe and secure disposal of the UK’s radioactive waste. Recently, evidence was provided on behalf of the Earth sciences community to an inquiry relating to hydrogen as a decarbonised fuel. This informed the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) in their own briefing for Parliamentarians and policy makers. In its role as a professional body, the society also contributed evidence to the Migration Advisory Committee’s call for evidence which was used to develop the UK’s new Points Based Immigration Policy.

Sir David Attenborough – English broadcaster, writer, and naturalist noted for his innovative educational television programs.

Sir Keith O’Nions – Former Chief Scientific Advisor to the Ministry of Defence and the Department of Trade and Industry and former board member of the Natural History Museum and the Council of Science and Technology.

Dame Jane Francis DCMG – Director of the British Antarctic Survey and in 2002 received the Polar Medal for outstanding contribution to British polar research.

Professor Lord Ronald Oxburgh – Former Chair of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Defence.

 ●Prof Dan McKenzie CH, FRS – one of the most eminent and internationally-recognised earth scientists of his generation best known as an originator of plate tectonics theory.

Sir Stephen Sparks – one of the world's leading volcanologists and has been widely recognised for his work in this field.

Sir Mark Moody-Stuart – former Chairman of Royal Dutch Shell and Anglo American plc.

Professor Iain Simpson Stewart, MBE FGS FRSE – Scottish geologist and UNESCO Chair in Geoscience and Society.

The Society’s library collections contain outstanding historical material, available for visitors and Fellows to view. The comprehensive library covers topics such as:

● Development of Earth sciences and its related subjects from the 16th century to present day.

● Palaeontological discoveries including the earliest descriptions of dinosaurs and other extinct life.

● Industrial Revolution, a subject closely entwined with the history of the Earth sciences.

● Exploration and mapping Sir Roderick Impey Murchison’s (1792-1871) travels in Russia and around Europe. The library also holds many of the earliest geological maps of the world including Australia, South Africa, Borneo and Siberia.

● Plate tectonics, including the archive collections of Dan McKenzie (1942-) Ted Irving (1927-2014) Alan Gilbert Smith (1937-2017) and Fred Vine (1939).