Section 535: information / visitor centres
This publication is intended for Valuation Officers. It may contain links to internal resources that are not available through this version.
1.1 This advice relates to visitor and information centres. The class has a Primary Description Code of LX and a Special Category Code of 418. The description in the Rating list should read either Visitor Centre or Information Centre; Visitor Centre being appropriate to those hereditaments offering facilities beyond the mere provision of information, refreshments, and toilets,
1.2 This is a non specialist class and is classified as G for both referencing and valuation purposes. Co-ordination issues should be addressed to VP4.
2.1 Visitor and Information Centres principally exist to provide the customer with information relating to a topic or topics with which the centre is associated. This can be geographic, as in the case of a tourist information centres serving a particular area , a national park, forest , area of natural beauty etc, historic e.g. information/visitor centre associated with Hadrian’s wall or a particular event such as a battle , scientific, industrial or architectural e.g. information centres related to ornithology, the geology of a particular area, a railway, a former mine working or building of particular merit ,artistic or relate to a notable individual. In fact, any topic in which there is sufficient public interest to warrant the provision of such a centre.
2.2 The class is diverse in terms of size, construction and location. Tourist information centres will commonly be located in central areas and occupy similar accommodation as adjacent retail or office users.
Visitor centres associated with particular natural or geographic attractions such as national or forest parks can be substantial in size and are often site sensitive being architect designed to sit comfortably with their surroundings and or to have empathy with the subject matter to which they relate. More recent buildings will have been designed to be energy efficient and may employ alternative green technologies. The larger centres will often incorporate displays, refreshment facilities and in some instances facilities for active participation in the subject matter to which the centre relates.
At the other end of the spectrum are small, often adapted buildings, sometimes of temporary construction, housing information relating to a subject matter of interest to a relatively small number of people.
2.3 Museums can be distinguished from Visitor Centres in that the latter will not involve curatorial functions relating to preservation/conservation of exhibits. Generally exhibits within Visitor Centres will not be of historic, artistic or scientific importance and may be facsimiles of originals housed elsewhere. Reference should be made to RM Section 6 part 3 Section 715 for guidance on Museums and Art Galleries.
3.1 There is a wide range of potential occupiers of visitor and information centres but they will invariably be bodies associated with a “not for profit motivation” such as local authorities, national park authorities, English Heritage, charitable bodies etc. It is essential that the extent of the occupation be ascertained as there may well be more than one body in occupation of a visitor centre. It is not uncommon for a catering facility, for example, to be sublet and where there is a shop it may well be in separate occupation from other parts of the centre, particularly if the principal occupier is a charitable body. (See under “Defining the Hereditament” below). There may also be activities based within the visitor centre which are run by independent parties, such as cycle hire, water sports etc.
4. Survey Requirements:
4.1 The majority of information/visitor centres will be assessed by way of the Rentals Method. They should be measured to Net Internal Area (NIA) in accordance with the VOA Code of Measuring Practice.
4.2 However, there will be a limited number of large, purpose built centres which in the absence of rental evidence will fall to be assessed by reference to the Contractor’s Method. In the case of these centres measurement should be to Gross Internal Area (GIA)
5. Defining the Hereditament:
5.1 The extent of occupation defines the hereditament and in the case of some information and visitor centres the hereditament may well extend well beyond the immediate physical boundaries of the centre itself. Thus visitor centres associated with bird or wildlife sanctuaries, nature reserves and forest parks will form part of a larger hereditament which may or may not qualify for exemption (see section 6 below).
5.2 Visitor and information centres occupied by the National Trust, English , Cadw or English Heritage are likely to form part of a larger hereditament, and may well be physically integrated within an historic house or building . In these circumstances reference should be made to the guidance given in RM Section 6 part 3 Section 1000.
5.3 Similarly reference should be made to the relevant Rating manual section where the visitor centre forms part of a Bird Sanctuary (RM 5 Section 122), a Hertage Railway (RM5 Section 477),a Light Railway(RM5 Section 570) or Leisure Attraction (RM5 Section 1085)
5.4 As mentioned in para 3.1 above a café or restaurant within a visitor centre may be separately let either by lease or licence and providing the ingredients of rateable occupation are satisfied should be the subject of separate assessment (see RM 2 Section 2).
5.5 The occupiers of some information/visitor centres will be charities. The trading operations may be run by a separate, though wholly owned, trading company set up by the charity for that specific purpose. The charity and trading company are required by law to be separate corporate entities, with an arm’s length agreement between them when one occupies the property of the other. Where the trading company meets the normal rules of rateable occupation for any building or part of a building within the centre then a separate hereditament will usually be created.
Where smaller properties are occupied by an independent charity there is likely to be only limited sales or trading and in such cases there may not be a trading company in existence. Even where a trading company exists it often only occupies a sales stand or café area within a larger room, where a separate hereditament cannot be defined then there will not be a separate assessment.
Enquiry should be made into the existence of a trading company and whether that company is in control of any retail and/or catering outlets, or whether it merely provides the merchandise for the charity’s operations within the hereditament. Only where a trading company is itself in paramount and permanent control of trading space should that space be treated as a separate hereditament.
5.6 A characteristic of visitor/information centres is free entry to the premises which distinguishes the class from visitor attractions.
6.1 As referred at paragraph 3.1 above, Information and Visitor centres will often be provided by bodies such as national park authorities, The Forestry Commission or local authorities to inform the public of matters of interest within the parks they administer. It is possible that a park so administered will qualify for exemption under Paragraph 15 of Schedule 5 of the LGFA 1988. (see RM4 Section 8 Part C) . In circumstances where the park does satisfy the provisions for exemption then it will be necessary to determine whether the visitor or information centre is ancillary to the use of the park by the public. In order to satisfy this test the use to which the centre is put must facilitate or enhance the enjoyment of the public of the amenities of the rest of the park. Caseworkers should refer to the guidance in RM4 Section 8 Part C paragraphs 3 and 4 when considering whether a particular visitor/information centre is so ancillary.
6.2 In many instances it is anticipated that if the park itself is exempt then exemption will extend to the information/visitor centre. However some larger visitor centres will incorporate restaurants which may well cater for custom from outside the park e.g. weddings and social functions, in which case the main purpose of that part of the visitor/information centre is unlikely to be to enhance the public enjoyment of the rest of the park and should be subject to assessment. Similarly a shop selling a substantial number of goods which has no link to the park in which is situate should also be treated as “non-ancillary” and be subject to separate assessment.
6.3 In cases of doubt advice should be obtained from NSU (Litigation and Technical Policy).
7. Valuation Approach:
7.1 The rentals/comparison method should be applied to those types of tourist and information centres where rental evidence is available. It is anticipated this will include most tourist information centres located within urban areas and operating from retail premises.
7.2 Where no rental evidence is available, hereditaments which are not capable of being operated for profit fall to be valued using the contractors basis.
7.3 It is likely that there will be little or no rental evidence in respect of larger, modern purpose built visitor centres and also smaller centres located in rural areas. These will generally be occupied by local authorities, public bodies such as the National Parks Authority, English Heritage, Cadw or the Forestry Commission and should be assessed by reference to the Contractor’s method.
7.4 Those visitor centres assessed on the contractors basis should be valued using the Non-Bulk server generic Spreadsheet.
7.5 General guidance on the use of the Contractor’s method can be found at RM 4 Section 7. Build cost guidance is available in the Cost Guides. Cost guidance on public conveniences forming part of Information/Visitor Centres can be found in Practice Notes in RM 5 Section 625.
7.6 In recent years new visitor centres may have been constructed with the assistance of grant aid. The effect of grant on Contractor’s Basis valuations was considered by the Lands Tribunal President in Allen (VO) v. English Sports Council/Sports Council Trust Company 2009 reported RA/289/2009. The Tribunal considered no allowance should be made for the presence of grant. Reference should be made to the decision for guidance. Further assistance can be obtained from NSU (Commercial Leisure and Civics)