Defence `waste' of pounds 1m chateau

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The Independent Online
Labour yesterday accused the Ministry of Defence of squandering more than pounds 1m of taxpayers' money over the sale of a Belgian chateau which "it was madness to buy in the first place".

David Clark, shadow Secretary of State for Defence, said: "This bleeding of public finances by the Ministry of Defence has to be stemmed - and quickly."

Dr Clark is to table Commons questions to the Secretary of State, Michael Portillo, over the purchase in 1992 of the Brussels Chateau Bois de Mai for pounds 2.2m to serve as the official residence of Field Marshal Sir Richard Vincent as chairman of Nato's military committee. "pounds 800,000 was spent on refurbishing it. Now, after four years in the post, Sir Richard has moved on and the Ministry are having to sell it for pounds 1.55m.

"Taxpayers' money is no longer safe in the hands of the Ministry of Defence. It is a scandal and an outrage that they have wasted this money. Most other nations rent rather than buy property for this purpose, which is the eminently sensible thing to do. It was therefore sheer madness to buy this property in the first place when they could have leased something equally suitable and at far less cost to the British taxpayer.

"This is why I now call the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Waste. This pounds 1m down the drain is just the latest scandalous example of the billions of pounds they have wasted over recent years."

A Defence Ministry spokeswoman said: "In the case of this property, when the job the ... officer was doing came to an end, we have a disposal policy under which we hope to get money back for the taxpayer for all properties surplus to requirement." She could not confirm the pounds 1.55m sale price Dr Clark mentioned, as the figure was commercially confidential.

"It was thought that in the long term it would be better value purchasing than leasing a property," she added.