Sir David Attenborough has written to the Prime Minister to urge his intervention to safeguard the learned societies at Burlington House, whose contributions to the planet’s welfare Attenborough says are under severe threat from the grossly escalating rent imposed by Government.
The letter comes as pressure mounts on the Government after a public campaign by the four learned societies – The Geological Society, Linnean Society, Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Astronomical Society – led to a Westminster Hall Debate on 8th June 2021. The debate saw MHCLG representative Eddie Hughes MP come under fire from a broad all-party group of MPs, calling on the Government to fundamentally reconsider the way it handles Burlington House and its occupants.
Despite having purpose-built New Burlington House in Piccadilly for these charitable institutions in the nineteenth century, over more recent years the Government has treated the building as an investment property under the remit of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Prior to the Westminster Hall Debate, MHCLG had written to the Societies with a proposal for an alternative rental agreement. The Societies say this merely proposed to spread the same increase over a longer time period and failed to acknowledge the fundamentally unaffordable situation they already find themselves in, which diverts much needed funds away from scientific endeavours that make a critical contribution to addressing global challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and the energy transition.
Sir David Attenborough is a Fellow of all the Societies with the exception of the Royal Astronomical Society. In his letter to the Prime Minister, Attenborough emphasises that meeting the costs of ever-rising rent imposed by MHCLG – which has already increased by thirty times in the last ten years – has “forced the Societies to divert their charitable income away from scholarly purposes”, and “will severely damage the contribution they are able to make to both the public’s understanding and the planet’s welfare, now and in the future”.
The letter urges the Prime Minister to accept a meeting with the Societies to hear more on the issue, which Attenborough believes could enable HM Government to “quickly find a long-term solution which would safeguard the existence of them all and ensure that they are able to continue their important work for centuries to come”.