Labour demands investigation as ‘Virile Viscount’ former Tory peer is given £330,000 of taxpayers’ money from Levelling Up Fund designed to help Britain’s poorest communities to fill potholes on the half-mile driveway of his country estate
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 levelling-up minister Lisa Nandy slammed the decision to hand a six-figure sum to Lord Gage from the Levelling-Up Fund in order to repair a track on his estate in leafy East Sussex.
A close friend of Prince Philip, the eighth Viscount, 87, was dubbed the Virile Viscount after fathering a child at 75 with his third wife, Alexandra Templeton, who is 38 years his junior.
The Mail reveled today that public money was spent fixing a track leading to Charleston Farmhouse, an independently-run museum and art gallery within the grounds of his family 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.
The Department for Levelling-Up said the payment would be a boost for 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 for a Conservative peer surely cannot have been what he meant.
Lord Gage, 87, was dubbed the Virile Viscount after fathering a child at 75 with his third wife, Alexandra Templeton, who is 38 years his junior (Pictured together in 2014)
Shadow levelling-up minister Lisa Nandy slammed the decision to hand a six-figure sum to Lord Gage from the Levelling-Up Fund in order to repair a track to his home in leafy East Sussex.
‘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?’
Gage, who was educated at Eton and Oxford, was removed along with most other hereditary peers from the House of Lords in 1999. He has an estimated wealth of £15million and his household staff including a butler.
Visitors to Charleston, the former home of Bloomsbury artist Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister, had complained for years about the potholes. One warned in a review: ‘You risk your car’s suspension – and you need to wear a sports bra.’
The Trust blamed ‘poor drainage’ for corroding the driveway to obtain 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.
The road leading to Charleston Farmhouse on the Firle Estate in East Sussex. The single track road, off of the A27, looks to have been recently repaired after collapsing and being riddled with potholes and large cracks
Agricultural vehicles serving one of the viscount’s seven farms use it, as well as locals living in some of the 114 houses he owns in five villages dotted across 7,500 acres of the Sussex Downs.
The walls of Lord Gage’s mansion, used to film Jonathan Creek, are adorned with paintings by Van Dyck and Gainsborough. In 1999 he sold a 16th century masterpiece by Fra Bartolomeo for £14.5million. The house is open to the public in summer.
The estate, which also boasts two pubs and one of Britain’s oldest cricket greens, has been in the family since Sir John Gage, executor of Henry VIII’s will, built Firle Place in the late 15th century.
Critics suggested restoring country estate driveways was not what the public envisioned when Boris Johnson announced the Getting Building Fund to show his administration was ‘putting its arms around people at a time of crisis’.
‘Taxpayers will be outraged how their hard-earned cash is being spent,’ Harry Fone, grassroots campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said. ‘Ministers need to ensure the public get real value for money.’
Bob Baines, estate director at Firle Estate, said: ‘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.
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 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.’
The Charleston Trust said: ‘Our charity is grateful to South East Local Enterprise Partnership and the Government’s Getting Building Fund for providing the funding needed to rebuild the severely damaged 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.’
The South East Local Enterprise Partnership, through which the grant application was made, said the fund has created 11 new jobs and ‘helped to boost the local creative and cultural sector’.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: ‘Charleston is internationally recognised as a site of cultural importance and this funding will help open it up to more visitors and improve its contribution to the local economy.’