Labor has written to Michael Gove to ask why his department reportedly supported a £ 330,000 price from a government fund for an attempt to fill gaps in a former Conservative peers’ driveway.
In a letter, shadow leveling up secretary Lisa Nandy requirements Mr. Gove release the criteria on which the decision was made, explain what steps were taken to ensure that Tory councilors were not lobbyed, and proof that taxpayers’ money was protected at all times.
It comes after a report in the Daily Mail claimed that the 8th Viscount Gage spent £ 330,000 of taxpayers’ money repairing its driveway.
The story goes that public funds were applied for by Charleston Farmhouse – an independently run museum and art gallery within the Lord Gages Firle Estate. The trust said the track needed to be repaired after “poor drainage” had eroded it.
The actual mile-long drive, however, is owned by Lord Gage himself.
A spokesman for the Department of Leveling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said the money was allocated by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership from their share of the Getting Building Fund to the Charleston Trust.
Getting Building Fund is a total grant of £ 900 million. to provide jobs, skills and infrastructure across the country.
The government’s website says the fund’s investment is targeted “in areas facing the biggest economic challenges posed by the pandemic”.
“It supports the delivery of shovel-ready infrastructure projects agreed with mayors and local business partnerships to boost economic growth and promote local recovery and jobs,” the website adds.
In June 2020, Local Enterprise Partnerships were invited to present projects for the Getting Building Fund – especially those that were “shovel ready”.
Labor has suggested that the restoration of country estate driveways belonging to aristocrats is not an efficient use of taxpayers’ money.
Ms Nandy’s letter to Mr Gove states that “filling in the gaps for a conservative peer” may not have been what the project’s goal meant.
“I would therefore be grateful if you could tell me how this happened and what steps are being taken to ensure that it does not happen again,” it reads.
“A good starting point would be to release the criteria on which this decision was made and how decisions on the Getting Britain Building Fund are made more broadly.”
A spokesman for the DLUHC said: “Charleston has not received any money from the Leveling Up Fund. This project was awarded funding from the Getting Building Fund by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, whose independent evaluators judged it provided value for money.
“Charleston is a charity-owned, internationally recognized place of cultural significance, with a museum and an art gallery, and this work is estimated to provide a boost of £ 1.6 million to the local economy by creating jobs and increasing the number of visitors.”
Lord Gage, 87, inherited his title in 1993 and sat in Lords until his hereditary peerage was abolished in 1999.
What does the estate and the trust have to say?
Bob Baines, real estate director at Firle Estate, told the Mail: “Firle Estate sold Charleston to an independent charity formed in 1980.
The access lane had remained functional for farm traffic and cabins, but was unsuitable for Charleston visitors traveling in the average family car.
“Charleston successfully applied to the Getting Building Fund to rebuild the course to improve visitor access, create job opportunities and support the recovery and growth of the region’s visitor economy.
“The southern extent of the new track beyond Charleston, which serves the dairy farm and estate cabins, was financed by Firle Estate.”
The Charleston Trust added that 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”.