The driveway is the property of 8th Viscount Gage, whose wealth is estimated to be upwards of £15 million
The Government is facing a fresh scandal over reports it awarded hundreds of thousands of pounds of ‘levelling up’ money to fill the potholes of a former Tory peer’s driveway.
Some £330,000 of public money was spent fixing a track leading to Charleston Farmhouse – an independently-run museum and art gallery within the grounds of a country estate owned by the 87-year-old aristocrat Lord Gage, the Daily Mail reported.
Charleston said the road had become increasingly difficult to access by car and argued the repairs would help support recovery of the local creative and tourist economy.
But while the East Sussex museum applied for the funds, the work was done on the driveway, which is the property of 8th Viscount Gage, the Mail reported.
According to the newspaper, Lord Gage’s Firle Estate Management team helped the Charleston Trust secure the money from the Getting Building Fund, part of the Levelling Up Fund.
The road leading to Charleston Farmhouse was repaired using tax payer money (Picture: TREVOR ADAMS / MATRIXPICTURES.CO.UK)
Lord Gage, 87, pictured with his wife Alexandra Templeton, owns the road leading up to the museum (Picture: Getty)
Labour’s Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary for levelling up, has demanded an explanation from housing minister Michael Gove over how the decision was made.
She wrote: ‘When he announced the £900 million Getting Building Fund the Prime Minister said the Government was determined to put “its arms round people in times of crisis…”
‘Filling in potholes for a Conservative peer surely cannot have been what he meant. I would therefore be grateful if you could let me know how this happened and what steps are being taken to ensure it does not happen again.’
She added: ‘A good starting point would be to release the criteria on which this decision was made, and how decisions about the Getting Britain Building Fund are made more widely. Could you put these in the public domain at the earliest opportunity?
‘Furthermore, given the representation of Conservative councillors on the local enterprise partnership, what steps are being taken to ensure they weren’t lobbied and that taxpayer money was protected at all times?’
A government spokesperson said the money was allocated by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) from their share of the Getting Building Fund.
The Getting Building Fund is a pot totalling £900m for grants to deliver jobs, skills, and infrastructure across the country.
Last year, LEPs across the country were invited to put forward projects for the Getting Building Fund, which the government said is being targeted ‘in areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic’.
The Charleston Trust said: ‘Charleston is a thriving cultural centre which attracts visitors from around the country and internationally to its year-round programme of exhibitions, festivals, talks, concerts, theatre and workshops.
‘The rural access track to Charleston had remained functional for farm traffic but was increasingly unsuitable for visitors travelling in the average family car.
‘Working with the South Downs National Park and East Sussex County Council, the charity that runs Charleston successfully applied to the Getting Building Fund to rebuild the access track.
‘The new road provides safer, easier, and greener ways for visitors to reach Charleston and will help support the recovery and growth of the region’s creative and visitor economy.’
Lord Gage, who inherited his title in 1993, was removed from the House of Lords alongside the majority of his fellow hereditary peers in 1999.
He was dubbed the Virile Viscount after fathering a child at 75 with his third wife, Alexandra Templeton, who is 38 years younger than him.
He still lives at the nearby Firle Place country mansion with his family, according to the Firle Estate Management website, where he manages the estate and is an artist.
His family has owned the land, including several villages, for more than 500 years and his wealth is estimated to be upwards of £15 million.
Lord Gage’a Firle Place near Lewes, East Sussex (Picture: Alamy Stock Photo)
Bob Baines, estate director at Firle Estate, told the Mail: ‘The Firle Estate sold Charleston to an independent charity formed in 1980.
‘The access track had remained functional for farm traffic and cottages but was unsuitable for Charleston’s visitors travelling in the average family car.
‘Charleston successfully applied to the Getting Building Fund to rebuild the track to improve access for visitors, create job opportunities and support the recovery and growth of the region’s visitor economy.
‘The southern extent of the new track beyond Charleston that services the dairy farm and estate cottages was funded by Firle Estate.’
A spokesperson for the Department of Levelling Up said: ‘This project was allocated funding from the Getting Building Fund by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, whose independent evaluators assessed it as offering value for money.
‘Charleston is a charity-owned, internationally recognised site of cultural importance, with a museum and art gallery, and this work is estimated to provide a £1.6 million boost to the local economy by creating jobs and increasing visitor numbers.’
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