A 30-room mansion in the grounds of Windsor Castle? To you, Sir, £250 a week

Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and their cousin Marina Mowatt are the recipients of what one outraged politician is calling 'royal housing benefit'. Francis Elliott reveals the extraordinary property deals of the royals on the Windsor estate

Sunday 15 May 2005 00:00

Housing benefits are not confined to people with low incomes, it would appear. Extraordinary details of the property deals of members of the Royal Family on the Windsor estate are revealed today, and have sparked a call by MPs for a full investigation.

Housing benefits are not confined to people with low incomes, it would appear. Extraordinary details of the property deals of members of the Royal Family on the Windsor estate are revealed today, and have sparked a call by MPs for a full investigation.

The Duke of York effectively pays just over £250 a week to live in a 30-room Georgian house in Windsor Great Park. It costs his brother, the Earl of Wessex,only £192 a week to lease a Victorian mansion, also in the park.

The princes' accommodation costs are revealed in an official report on their landlord, the Crown Estate. It shows that the Duke of York paid only £1m for a 75-year lease on the Grade II-listed Royal Lodge. Included in the lease are 40 hectares of grounds and eight separate properties for staff.

An additional payment of £2.5m has been waived because he has spent more than £7.5m renovating the Queen Mother's former home. He is entitled to recoup up to £7m if he surrenders the lease on the house, which was built to enable George IV to entertain guests during Royal Ascot.

The lavish building work is reported to include an indoor swimming pool. The prince is said to have moved into the property during the final days of the renovation, completing ahead of schedule.

The Earl of Wessex, meanwhile, pays £90,000 a year to rent the Mansion House in Bagshot Park and sundry outbuildings set in 21 hectares of its own grounds. He receives £80,000 by sub-letting a converted stable block to a pharmaceuticals firm, reducing his annual rent to only £10,000 a year, equivalent to a weekly rent of about £192.

The Crown Estate, which passes its revenue to the Treasury in return for civil list payments to members of the Royal Family, has defended both lease arrangements, saying that they represent "value for money". It admits that Royal Lodge, a Gothic classic modified by John Nash, was not offered on the open market because of its "sensitive location". The full market return was not charged because of the "overriding need to maintain close management control" and "security concerns", according to the National Audit Office (NAO), the official spending watchdog.

The house at Bagshot Park was the subject of a "discreet marketing campaign" after it was vacated by the Ministry of Defence's army chaplains' department, the NAO says. Applications to turn it into a conference centre and a hotel were turned down because neither met its "preference of residential use".

Instead the estate handed over £1.6m towards the £3m refurbishment of the Grade II- listed building that now houses Prince Edward, his wife Sophie and their daughter Louise. The total cost of his 50-year lease is about £4.5m; the long-term rental value could be as high as £8m.

Other properties listed in the NAO report include a semi-detached three-bedroom house, also in Windsor Great Park, which is let to Marina Ogilvy, daughter of the Queen's cousin Princess Alexandra. Her annual rent of £10,200 is said to be "market value" with "no special terms".

Ian Davidson, Labour MP for Glasgow South West, has called for a full investigation. "This would appear to be the royal version of housing benefit," he said. "Who decided, for example, that the Royal Lodge should remain in the family come what may?''

Mr Davidson and Alan Williams, Labour MP for Swansea West, whose questions prompted the NAO to produce the report, now plan to press the Commons Public Accounts Committee to summon the princes' aides to question them about the deals.

The Crown Estate's handling of the lease of the Royal Lodge was based on "appropriate" refurbishment and to "maintain historic provenance by continued royal occupation".

Prince Andrew's building bill raises questions about his personal finances. He is said to have remortgaged Sunninghill Park, a wedding present from the Queen in 1986.

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York

Earnings: £249,000 from civil list. Navy pension of £16,500.

Wealth: Estimated at £13m.

Lives at: Royal Lodge, Windsor Great Park, which has 30 rooms, staff accommodation, gardens, a private chapel and 21 acres of secluded grounds. Former home of the Queen Mother. Property reverted to the Crown Estate on her death in 2002.

Lease: 75 years.

Rent: No annual rent - a notional sum was agreed but has not been paid. A £1m one-off payment, equivalent to £265 per week, which would only get you three bedrooms in Windsor, with lounge/dining room, garage and driveway.

Marina Mowatt

Only daughter of Princess Alexandra of Kent and Sir Angus Ogilvy; 35th in line to throne.

Earnings: Unknown.

Wealth: Last year received £115 income support plus housing benefit for the cottage she rents. Her local authority, Slough council, also pays her council tax.

Lives at: Three-bedroom cottage in Windsor Park.

Rent: £10,200 a year, equivalent to £850 a month.

Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex

Earnings: £249,000 pa from civil list. Edward sublets stables on his estate to a Canadian chemical company in a five-year deal worth £80,000 a year.

Wealth: Estimated at £9m. Edward was given £250,000 when he and the Countess of Wessex agreed to stop pursuing their business careers.

Lives at: Mansion House, Bagshot Park - 57 rooms, set in 87 acres of tree-filled Crown Estate lands. Biggest private residence of any of the Queen's four children. Price: Estimated at £10m. Lease: 50 years.

Rent: £90,000 a year, £10,000 a year after Canadian deal, which would get you a one-bedroom ground-floor flat with fitted kitchen in Old Windsor.

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