OPINION

Historic Scotland Executive Agency v Highland and Western Isles Valuation Joint Board

Introduction and Summary

[1] This is an appeal, under Section 1(3BA) of the Lands Tribunal Act 1949, against refusal by the local Valuation Appeal Committee of an application to refer the 2010 revaluation appeal to the Lands Tribunal. The property comprises a historic ruined castle, Castle Urquhart, together with a restaurant and visitor centre, the latter constructed at some considerable expense, having been cut into the hillside, to allow the scenic view from the road to be protected. The visitor centre is below level, with car parking on the roof.

[2] There is an SAA practice note (27) setting out the valuation methodology for visitor centres such as this. The recommended method is the Comparative Basis, by reference to gross receipts.

[3] While the Tribunal has not heard on the detail, the impression gained is that the Assessor has adopted a “hybrid” of Comparative and Contractors’ Principle Bases. This may be due to the unusual and high cost of construction involved in the development of this visitor centre.

[4] The appeal is based on grounds (a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Valuation Appeal Committee (Procedure in Appeals under the Valuation Acts) (Scotland) Regulations 1995, viz.,

(a) The facts of the case are complex or highly technical

(b) The evidence to be given by expert opinion is complex or highly technical

(c) The law applicable to the case is uncertain or difficult to apply

(d) The case raises a fundamental or general issue likely to be used as a precedent in other cases.

[5] On the basis of material made available to us, and written and oral submissions, we have concluded that this appeal does not satisfy any of the grounds for referral to the Tribunal, and accordingly we refuse the appeal.

[6] We wish to express our considerable concern at the way in which the appellants’ agent advanced this matter. The application to refer placed before the Committee simply rehearsed the statutory grounds of appeal with no reasoning whatsoever. The Committee, entirely correctly, refused – and could not have done otherwise given no reasons in support of the application. That support was supplied to Committee, but out of time and correctly disregarded.

The Subjects

[7] The subject of appeal and the Assessor’s proposed value, is as follows-

Urquhart Castle, Strone, Drumnadrochit, Inverness, IV63 6XL
Proprietor – Scottish Executive Education Dept. (Historic Scotland)
Occupier (as above)

NAV £220 000

Parties’ Submissions

[8] The appellants were represented at the oral hearing by Mr A McIver, instructed by Messrs GVA Grimley. The support for the appeal is under all four grounds above, and is expressed in summary thus-

(a) As the assessor had chosen to depart from the practice note, and adopt, partially at least, the Contractors Principle, the facts as presented become complex. The construction is unusual, and specialised.

(b) The opinion evidence on a Contractors’ Principle valuation, (making no judgment as to whether this was the correct approach) will be complex, given issues arising out of, in particular, non-remunerative expenditure, and how the build cost is allocated between remunerative and non-remunerative expenditure to arrive at a value.

(c) The application of a valuation method contrary to the practice note gives rise to an uncertainty of the law as it would apply to this case.

(d) By applying this “hybrid”, and “new”, method for this use class, a precedent could be created, should the method be accepted.

[9] The Assessor was not represented at the Hearing, but intimated that he wished his views, contained in a letter dated 18 September 2013 to be taken into account by the Tribunal.

[10] On grounds (a) and (b), the Assessor contended that Valuation Appeal Committees regularly deal with valuations which include accounts, visitor numbers, and indeed dealt with Contractors’ Principle, including discussions on non- remunerative expenditure. These were not novel circumstances.

[11] On ground (c), the Assessor contended that which valuation method to apply is not, generally, something to which the law is difficult to apply. Finally, on (d), the Assessor was of the view that it is unlikely that there are any unresolved appeals on subjects easily compared to this, and thus a precedent will not be created.

Consideration

[12] Historic subjects might be ruins or maintained buildings. They often have visitor facilities, as in this case, such as a cafĂ©, shop, film theatre and the like. Those uses, again as here, may be contained in a separate purpose built facility. We were provided with a summary of the Assessor’s valuation, which seems to be a “hybrid” approach, whereby a percentage of entrance receipts, 50% for what we presume is a franchise payment for the restaurant, and a contractor’s principle valuation of the visitor centre are added together. We were shown a building costs return, which appears to show very high construction costs for building into the hillside. We did note that the Assessor’s cost figure appears to be about half of the total cost shown in that return. From comparison details provided, it seems that a variety of other such subjects are valued on a percentage of receipts, two other assessors having apparently departed in appeal discussions from originally proposed “hybrid” valuations as promoted here.

[13] In the situation outlined above, we would agree with the Committee, and the Assessor that neither of grounds (c) or (d) has been established in relation to this appeal. We believe the methodology in this case is primarily one for surveyors to decide, and does not raise any difficult legal issue per se, and that while the use is not unusual, the construction of the building itself is unusual, and unlikely to have many direct comparables. Thus, our impression is that a precedent being created here is highly unlikely.

[14] We have had more difficulty on the suggestion of complexity, or degree of technicality, in relation to the facts or expert opinions. It is well established that we require to do this in the context of commercial rating appeals: it would obviously be inappropriate simply to ask whether ordinary people would find these matters complex or highly technical.

[15] As regards grounds (a), we do not believe the facts are “complex” or “highly technical”; it is an unusual construction , on the basis of what we have seen to date, but not so unusual as to meet the test here. Similarly, on ground (b) the evidence relating to the particular methodology favoured by the Assessor is neither complex nor highly technical. The consideration of non-remunerative expenditure, and how that is split from the overall construction cost of the subjects, may be an issue here, possibly requiring evidence from surveyors, and perhaps civil engineers, as to the reasoning, need, and specification of these building works. That is not say the Assessor’s approach is correct, or that he is justified in apparently departing from the SAA practice note, but there will require to be evidence about it.

[16] However, we believe that this approach is well recognised in rating valuation practice. The principle of splitting such actually incurred costs, and the expert evidence needed to support the valuation, is not complex and not highly technical.

[17] We therefore refuse the appeal.


Certified a true copy of the statement of reasons for the decision of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland intimated to parties on 28 October 2013

Neil M Tainsh – Clerk to the Tribunal