Why schools should include business rates in their masterplanning

Sponsored: Schools must constantly adapt to the changing environment around them – a key way to make themselves more adaptable is by having a masterplan in place, explains The Beattie Partnership

Masterplanning provides a strategic framework for making changes to a site or location. Typically, its primary application is seen as architectural. However, masterplanning is also a useful tool where schools want to develop to meet future needs.

The pandemic may well define what these future needs will be for some time to come.

Masterplanning is something you might typically associate with architects and the construction industry, but it can involve other professional input. This includes detailed, expert analysis of business rates and council tax liabilities.

What is masterplanning?

The easiest way to explain masterplanning is to see it as the equivalent of devising and maintaining a business plan, but one that applies to buildings and how they function as part of a future vision.

A masterplan’s main focus is on the school itself, but this will include the whole site and its multiple functions and uses. This helps a school gain a greater understanding of its whole estate, identifying constraints and opportunities.

How does masterplanning support schools?

Masterplanning provides an excellent overview of a school’s entire estate, giving it a sense of coherence. It offers a framework within which schools can develop and change their sites, to stay competitive while offering the best possible resources to their pupils.

A masterplan is a living document, providing a continuously updatable point of reference. This enables schools and the planning professionals they commission to identify opportunities. And where there are changes, the masterplan helps ensure that these will be appropriate to the overall site.

Masterplanning gives an analysis of the existing school estate and brings clarity when it comes to making vital decisions about refurbishments and new buildings.

It also informs key aspects of development strategy such as energy, sustainability and incremental transformation.

What is its relationship to rates?

Along with uncertainties over charitable rates relief, business rates are another of the financial pressures that independent schools must manage.

Traditional methods of arriving at valuations for schools are notoriously complex, and they are often based on rebuild cost, although some sites are valued according to equivalent rental value.

The masterplan will provide a comprehensive overview of a site, along with a detailed schedule of accommodation. This schedule can help to indicate if the current rating assessment reflects everything on-site and potentially accrue for any under-assessments.

Additional details surrounding the principal shortcomings of the site together with an outline of suggested refurbishment and development opportunities, and any indicative costings can also be very helpful.

Therefore, schools can build any resulting business rates considerations into their future development strategies right from the start – as rates represent ongoing costs, reoccurring on accounts for years to come. 

Why changes can help schools make savings

The assumption is that if an independent school is looking to improve its facilities, this will ultimately cost it more in business rates. But schools can use business rates to their advantage in future planning.

Furthermore, where there are existing shortcomings, they can capitalise on these, with the potential to make historic savings too. They can also manage their rates position during any construction works.

Masterplanning can provide alternative development perspectives, and, for budgeting purposes, schools could incorporate business rates into this overall strategic planning.

Examples include:

  • Refurbishing older buildings rather than building new ones, with the potential to minimise business rates increases – refurbishments will typically be rated at less than new buildings.
  • Estimating rates liabilities for future budgeting.
  • Reviewing council tax liabilities for boarding schools by potentially moving surplus residential accommodation into the business rates assessment.


Schools could achieve savings historically if the rating assessment does not sufficiently reflect the disadvantages or disabilities identified within any shortcomings summarised in the masterplan. These may include circulation issues, buildings nearing the end of their economic life and any heritage buildings where maintenance costs are much higher.

Once any new construction works commence, schools can then manage their rating assessments. This will make it easier for them to claim rates relief. For example, recording all dates of building demolitions and completions, and keeping records up to date becomes a useful source of data for making business rates appeals.

Clarity and synergy

Just as any development project involves different teams working together, so masterplanning can incorporate different areas of expertise. Schools can benefit from this synergy.

By involving business rates specialists at the early stages of planning a project, schools can get a fuller picture of how best to make the most of their resources, and reduce their rates burden.

Find out more information about business rates appeals and strategies for schools.

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