The Government was facing demands for an inquiry today after a former Tory peer used £330,000 he received from a fund designed to help Britain’s poorest communities to fill potholes on the driveway to his country estate.
Shadow minister Lisa Nandy lashed out at Lord Gage’s decision to give a six-figure amount from the Levelling-Up Fund to him to fix a track that runs through his East Sussex estate.
Prince Philip’s close friend, the eighth Viscount (87), was nicknamed the Virile Visacount because he fathered a child with Alexandra Templeton at 75. He is 38 years older than him.
Today, the Mail rejoiced that public money had been spent on a track to Charleston Farmhouse. This independent museum/art gallery is located within his estate.
The museum applied for the funds, but the work was done on a driveway that is part of the millionaire aristocrat’s Firle Estate, with the estate management team helping it secure the money from the Getting Building Fund.
According to the Department for Levelling-Up, the payments would boost the local economy.
But in a letter to Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove, Ms Nandy said: ‘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 to support a Conservative peer” surely is not what he meant.
Lord Gage, now 87, was awarded the title of Virile Viscount for having a child aged 75 with Alexandra Templeton (Pictured in 2014.)
Shadow levelling-up minister Lisa Nandy criticised Lord Gage’s decision for him to pay a six-figure sum from the Levelling-Up Fund, in order to make repairs to a track leading to East Sussex.
“I am grateful that you can let me know the details of what transpired and how to prevent it from happening again.”
She said: “A good place to start is to publish the criteria upon which the decision was made and the process by which decisions are made about the Getting Britain Building Fund. These documents could you please make available to the public at all times?
“Furthermore,” based on Conservative representation in local enterprise partnerships, what are the steps taken to make sure they weren’t lobbied for and taxpayer money protected at all costs?
Gage, who attended Eton College and Oxford University, was expelled along with all hiseditary peers from House of Lords 1999. He has an estimated wealth of £15million and his household staff including a butler.
Charleston was once the home of Vanessa Bell (Bloomsbury artist and Virginia Woolf’s sibling), who complained about potholes for many years. One warned in a review: ‘You risk your car’s suspension – and you need to wear a sports bra.’
Trust blamed poor drainage on the damage to the driveway in order to receive the grant.
The track is over a mile from Lord Gage’s £10million Tudor manor Firle Place, but it is not just museum tourists who drive on it.
Road leading to Charleston Farmhouse, East Sussex on the Firle Estate. This single track road from the A27 looks like it was recently repaired. It had been damaged and filled with large cracks and potholes.
The viscount owns seven agricultural vehicles, which are used to serve the farms. There is also a local population living in 114 of his houses in the five villages that cover 7,500 acres in the Sussex Downs.
Van Dyck, Gainsborough and other paintings grace the walls of Lord Gage’s house, where Jonathan Creek was filmed. In 1999 he sold a 16th century masterpiece by Fra Bartolomeo for £14.5million. In summer the house can be viewed by the public.
This estate also includes two pubs as well as one the country’s oldest cricket pitches. It has been in the same family since Sir John Gage built Firle Place late in 15th century.
Some critics suggested that restoring driveways to country estates wasn’t what Boris Johnson intended when he announced the Getting Building Fund. This was in response to the fact that Johnson’s administration was ‘putting its hands around people during times of crisis.
Harry Fone from the Taxpayers Alliance’s grassroots campaign manager stated that taxpayers would be furious at how they are being treated. Ministers should ensure public receive real value for money.
Bob Baines (estate director, Firle Estate) stated: “The Firle Estate sold Charleston, to an independent charity, formed in 1980.
“The access track served farm traffic and cottages, but it was not appropriate for Charleston’s family cars.
Despite the viscount’s wealth being estimated at £15million, his Firle Estate (pictured) Management team helped the Charleston Trust secure the cash from the Getting Building Fund, part of the Levelling Up Fund specifically aimed at helping Covid-hit infrastructure
‘Charleston submitted a successful application to the Getting Building Fund for restoration of the track in an effort to increase visitor accessibility, create employment opportunities, and aid the growth and recovery of the region’s tourist economy.
Firle Estate paid for the construction of the southerly portion of the new track from Charleston, which will serve Estate cottages as well as the dairy farm.
Charleston Trust wrote: “Our charity is thankful to South East Local Enterprise Partnership, and the Government’s Getting Building Fund. They provided the funds necessary to rebuild the damaged access track.
“The new road makes it safer and easier for people to travel from Charleston. This will support recovery and growth in the region’s creativity and tourism economy.
South East Local Enterprise Partnership was the one that submitted the grant application. It stated that the money had created 11 jobs, and helped to boost the local creativity and culture sector.
According to The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, Charleston is an internationally recognized site of cultural significance and the funding will open it up for more tourists and increase its contribution to local economies.