TUNBRIDGE WELLS HOSPITAL, which is facing a £1million rise in its business rates for the new financial year, is still appealing against its previous valuation made seven years ago.
And the Times can disclose that the valuation tribunal has postponed hearings into the appeal on five occasions.
The Borough Council is disappointed that the process is taking so long, compared to the rapid response to appeals lodged by big business.
Lee Colyer, the council’s Director of Finance and Corporate Services, said: “This appeal dates back to 2010. It cannot be right that this creates such huge uncertainty.
“It has been listed for a valuation tribunal five times and has been cancelled every time.”
Councillor Paul Barrington–King, Portfolio Holder for Finance and Governance, said he was surprised by how quickly some appeals made by local businesses had been handled in comparison, such as B&Q last year.
The DIY store in Longfield Retail Park was handed back £430,000 in September after it contested its rateable value. Forty per cent of that refund had to be paid by the borough council.
The council would also be liable to pay part of any rate rebate to the hospital.
“The hospital’s appeal has been going on for a long time. When you compare it to how swiftly the situation on the industrial estate [with B&Q] was dealt with, we are asking for similar treatment with the hospital,” said Cllr Barrngton-King
“This closed-shop culture seems grossly unfair. The residents of Tunbridge wells have been mugged.”
‘Pembury should be treated the same as B&Q’
The Valuation Office Agency (VOA) has set the rateable value of the hospital at £7,220,000, compared to an equivalent of £4,940,000 calculated in July 2015.
When the business rates multiplier is applied to work out the final bill, it produces a figure of £3,458,380, for 2016-17, compared to £2,459,653.
In contrast, the rates assessment for Maidstone Hospital has risen by £126,250 in comparison, leading to a total bill of £1,269,350.
A spokesperson for MTW said: “The Trust is using external professional advisers regarding the challenge to the 2010 rateable value.
“The challenge went in as soon as Tunbridge Wells Hospital was assessed in 2012-13 and is still ongoing. And the Trust will be using the same advisers to appeal against the latest valuation.”
Around 80 NHS Trusts have asked councils to treat them as charities so they can qualify for an 80 per cent discount, but this is not an option open to MTW.
The Trust said: “This approach is being tested by other NHS bodies at present, though as we understand it this is not an option for NHS Trusts, only Foundation Trusts.”
Other public facilities including those managed by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council have seen some large rate increases.
The highest is 246 per cent for the Assembly Hall theatre, while some of the town’s car parks have been hit by a rise of 166 per cent.
A council spokesperson said: “Even the crematorium was not immune with an increase of 38 per cent.”