The shadow secretary for levelling up has demanded an explanation from Michael Gove over reports that his department approved £330,000 ($445,130) to fund pothole repairs on the driveway of a former Tory peer.
The 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 Lord Nicholas Gage, 87, the Daily Mail reported.
It said the East Sussex museum applied for the funds but the work was done on the driveway, which is the property of the 8th Viscount Gage.
Mr Gage’s Firle Estate Management team helped the Charleston Trust to secure the money from the Getting Building Fund, the Mail reported.
The shadow secretary, Lisa Nandy, has written to the Levelling Up Secretary, Mr Gove, asking him to say how the decision on the funding was made.
“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 …" Ms Nandy wrote.
“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.
“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?”
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.”
Mr Gage, who inherited his title in 1993, was removed from the House of Lords alongside most of his fellow hereditary peers in 1999.
“The Firle Estate sold Charleston to an independent charity formed in 1980," Bob Baines, estate director at the estate, told the Mail.
“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 spokesman for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “Charleston has not received any money from the Levelling Up Fund.
“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.”