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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 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.

We are buying a 999 year lease for the premises we occupy in Burlington House, Piccadilly, London. This essentially means we are purchasing the property so will no longer need to pay rent and we will have certainty over our long-term future.

We are buying it from the government, who are the ultimate owners of the freehold.

Not yet. Heads of Terms have been signed on behalf of the Society and the responsible government minister has signed them on behalf of the landlord. The transaction will not be completed until the lease has been finalised and signed.

We negotiated this arrangement in cooperation with our immediate neighbours: The Royal Society of Chemistry, the Royal Astronomical Society, The Linnean Society and the Royal Society of Antiquaries. They are also purchasing leases for their own properties on the same terms as us.

Along with our lease we will also acquire a share of the headlease for the whole of New Burlington House along with the other Societies. Together we will form a management group to act as landlords for the whole premises, manage shared services and shared resources, organise repairs and improvements, and administer the courtyard.

We are paying £5.5 million for the 999 year lease. After a minimum initial payment of 25% we will be entitled to pay in instalments over a ten year period if we wish. Interest of 5.8% will be applied for deferred payments so the Geological Society’s Council has decided to pay a large proportion (50%) in year one. It may choose to pay the remainder more quickly if that is financially advantageous. There are no penalties for early repayment.

No. Other than a nominal rent payment known as a ‘peppercorn’, which will just be a few pounds a year, we will no longer have to pay rent.

Yes. We have ample reserve funds to cover the payments as well as good levels of income from membership, publishing, and conferences. We expect the transaction to have been fully completed by the date of our Annual General Meeting on 12 June, when we expect to provide a more detailed financial breakdown.

Yes. This is a better value for money for the Society than the alternatives of remaining on the existing lease or moving to alternative premises. The unique circumstances of our building have enabled us to acquire a large space that meets our unusual requirements, in a good location, for an affordable price.

Rent had risen very steeply over the past decade and under the terms of our rental lease it would have eventually risen to unaffordable levels. We would not have been able to afford to stay in our premises in the long term if we had stayed on the previous lease.

The terms agreed with the government allow us to sell the property but place a limit on how much profit we would be able to keep if we sold it. We would be able to recoup what we had spent on acquiring the lease and on permanent improvements to the building, plus inflation, but any capital gain beyond that would be retained by the UK Government. This means we will own an asset that will appreciate in value over time in line with inflation, but neither we nor our courtyard neighbours will have strong incentives to exit the property for financial gain.

The Geological Society carefully considered other options, including moving to new premises. In 2022 a Relocation Working Group set out detailed plans for a possible relocation and this was built upon in 2023 with further research to cost and plan a possible move. A property search was also undertaken.

The Geological Society’s Council and Finance and Planning Committee weighed the options and concluded that the Burlington House lease purchase agreement represented the best long-term interests of the Society. This decision balanced the practical needs of the society to fulfil its core activities, the financial deal, and the fact that security of tenure will enable us to make long term plans from a position of greater certainty.

No. All options were considered, and central London was still considered to be the most accessible location for the greatest number of Fellows and Society staff. Our premises will continue to be based between London and Bath, but having security of tenure in London gives us more certainty and in the long term will reduce our operating costs because we’ll pay no more rent. This will allow more focus and enable resources to be put into national and international activities.

Security of tenure means we can also now work on plans to improve the building: making it more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable, more accessible, and more welcoming. We are determined that the Geological Society’s London base will be a place where everyone will feel at home.

The Society has already accelerated its use of the building for public outreach and this will continue, in conjunction with the other Societies. This month saw the end of Megalosaurus Month, during which hundreds of school children came to view the life-size replica of a Megalosaurus and take part in educational activities. We also opened the premises to hundreds of Fellows, Friends, students, and members of the public for family-fun activities, networking events, arts and crafts events, and lectures. Over recent months we have organised film nights, open days, and social events as well as our well-established public lectures, professional meetings, and conferences.