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Social Justice

A Tory peer received £330,000 to fix potholes from the government levelling-up fund

The money was awarded from the levelling up fund to fix a road owned by Henry Nicholas the 8th Viscount Gage, a hereditary Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

A Conservative peer has received more than £300,000 in payments from the government’s “levelling up fund” to fix potholes on a 7,500-acre private estate.

The £330,000 was awarded from the government’s Getting Building Fund to fix a road to the independently-run Charleston Farmhouse in East Sussex, as well as farms and other business on land owned by Henry Nicholas the 8th Viscount Gage, a hereditary Conservative peer in the House of Lords.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for levelling up, has written to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove demanding he explain how the decision was made and what safeguards are in place to protect taxpayer money.

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“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…committed not just to defeating coronavirus but to using this crisis to finally tackle this country’s great unresolved challenges of the last three decades’,” wrote Nandy in a letter published today. “‘To build the homes, to fix the NHS, to tackle the skills crisis, to mend the indefensible gap in opportunity and productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK. To unite and level up.’

“Filling in potholes for a Conservative peer surely cannot have been what he meant.”

While Charleston Farmhouse is open to the public and owned independently, the road is “wholly private” and owned by Firle Estate Management, according to the funding application, providing “the only vehicular access into and out of Charleston and access to the dairy farm and cottages and two other businesses”.

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The Charleston Trust applied for the funding with support from Firle Estate Management, according to the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) accountability board, with the hope of increasing “audience numbers and encouraging return visits to our programme of events and exhibitions”.

The 87-year-old Lord Gage 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, which includes several villages, for more than 500 years and his wealth is estimated to be upwards of £15 million.

The Getting Building Fund is “being targeted in areas facing the biggest economic challenges as a result of the pandemic”, according to the government website.

Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow minister for employment rights, called the grant “an insult to all those MPs and councils and places who put levelling up bids in but had them rejected”.

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The SELEP approved the first payment of £89,000 in November 2020 and the second of £291,000 in July 2021.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the Daily Mail: “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.”

Firle Estate has not responded to requests for comment.

Nandy demanded the government “release the criteria on which this decision was made, and how decisions about the Getting Britain Building Fund are made more widely” and “provide clarity on what steps have been taken to ensure Conservative councillors on the local enterprise partnership weren’t lobbied and that taxpayer money was protected at all times.”

“Chronic underfunding of our roads, rail and buses is a problem for millions of us,” continued Nandy. “I hope [Gove] will be able to agree that government funding must be allocated fairly and opportunity spread far more widely than this egregious decision suggests.”

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