SOME of York’s biggest museums will see their business rates slashed, following a landmark legal victory by York Museums Trust.

It says its success after a 10-year wrangle with the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) could help almost 800 other museums nationwide cut their rates bills as well as York’s Castle Museum, Yorkshire Museum and Art Gallery.

A trust spokesman said the rateable value of its properties had been reduced by £120,000 against their original listing, with a large proportion of this coming from a revaluation of the Yorkshire Museum and Gardens down to just £1 because of the high costs of maintaining such an historic and complex site. Had the VOA been successful, the rates liability for the museums could have increased significantly,” he said. “Instead the appeal successfully saved the trust nearly £100,000 in backdated rates bills.”

He said the trust had successfully argued the case at an Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) hearing for rates to be based on net income, rather than the cost of rebuilding, which the VOA had traditionally used for many museums.

“The tribunal also agreed that the York Castle Museum shop and the Hospitium were occupied by the trust and not just its commercial arm, York Enterprises Ltd, so was eligible for the standard 80 per cent charitable relief.

“If we had failed with this defence, it could potentially have increased costs by hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

He said the VOA brought the appeal forward to the Upper Tribunal in an attempt to separate out all shops and cafés, as well as the Hospitium, which formed part of St Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens, and the tribunal agreed that all but one of the shops should be valued as part of the museum.

Mike Woodward, trust chief operating officer, said: “We are pleased that we have been able to successfully argue the case for what we believe is a much fairer way of paying rates on the buildings and spaces we run and maintain.

“he precedents set on the valuation methods of historic buildings should be of significant benefit to the wider sector.”

Colin Hunter, of commercial property consultancy and trust expert witness Lambert Smith Hampton, said the appeal outcome reflected more than a decade of discussions with the VOA on behalf of the 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,” he said.

“The VOA’s attempt to separate out the values of shops and offices is the most financially damaging aspect of the case. Had their appeal succeeded, its implications would not only affect museums, it would have significant repercussions for any charity with a trading subsidiary.” The spokesman said the Castle Museum, with high visitor numbers, will have a rateable value in keeping with this of £183,000 per annum, while York Art Gallery’s, including the shop and café, will be £70,000.