The Duke of Northumberland, one of Britain's richest men seeks to 'bulldoze' gardens for apartments
The historic allotments once fed soldiers returning from war, but the Duke of Northumberland now wants that part of his land for apartments
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A wealthy Duke's bid to replace hundred-year-old community garden allotments with dozens of new apartments on his London estate has been branded an attempt to “line” his “already deep pockets".
In October 2021, Duke of Northumberland Ralph Percy lost an application to build 80 flats on part of his heritage-listed West London estate, after the council received more than 900 objections from locals. The plot of land in question is home to the Park Road allotments, which locals have used to grow fresh produce for the community for more than a hundred years.
But the Duke's company, Northumberland Estates, maintains it needs the funding from the proposed new apartment block to bankroll repairs to Syon House - a 500-year-old estate which famously had scenes from Bridgerton shot there.
His appeal has this week gone to a public inquiry, with MPs, councillors, allotments-holders, and lawyers for Northumberland Estates all arguing their case, with the estate promising housing for people priced out of the market and new, likely smaller allotments on the land - while the Telegraph reports Isleworth councillor Salman Shaheen slammed the bid to "bulldoze" the plots as “an ill-conceived plan designed not to support a treasured historic asset, but to destroy one for private gain".
He added that “a man richer than the King has shown no evidence to prove that the only way to fund the repairs to one historic asset is by destroying another historic asset”.
But how much is the Duke of Northumberland worth, and why are the allotments so important to the local community? Here's everything you need to know.
What are the cases for and against keeping the Park Road allotments as they are?
The inquiry heard that the Isleworth site has been used as allotments since 1917, when the duke’s ancestor leased the land to the council to help in the aftermath of the First World War.
Claire Niven, of the Park Road Allotment Association, said that Northumberland Estates was proposing “sacrificing 71% of allotments at the heart of a community they have served for over 100 years”, PA reported.
"Over a century later, the site continues to be a haven for allotment holders, their friends and families as well the wider local community – in good as well as difficult times," she continued.
Ms Niven added: “Access to this green open space was crucial during the Covid-19 pandemic and the importance to allotment holders and their families of cultivating their own fruit and vegetables during a cost-of-living crisis is obvious.
“Importantly the benefits provided by this site extends beyond the allotment holders to the wider community which benefits from nature walks, open days, litter picking, apple and blackberry picking and donations to food banks organised by allotment holders.”
Others argued that the small site would contribute very little to the area's overall housing supply.
However, a lawyer for the Duke, Melissa Murphy KC, told the inquiry that the project would be a “well-located, well-designed scheme", which provided affordable housing.
She also noted that historic Syon House, despite being open to the public, was privately-owned “It is much visited, much loved, greatly valued... It is also in need of money to be spent on it," she added, with money from the new apartments to go towards maintaining and restoring the building.
“The works proposed – repairing the external Bath Stone, restoring the Robert Adam State Rooms, will lead to a magnificent result, a building gloriously restored, to be enjoyed for years to come.”
Who is the Duke of Northumberland?
The 12th - and current - Duke of Northumberland is Ralph Percy. He was the second-born son of the 10th Duke, but inherited the title in 1995 when his elder brother died without any children.
The 66-year-old and his family have a net worth of £500 million, according to the 2022 Times Rich List. As well as Syon House and park, he also owns Alnwick Castle - the family's ancestral seat, and Northumberland Estates managing roughly 100,000 acres total - including 20,000 leased of farmland.
Educated at the prestigious Eton College and Oxford's Christ Church, the Duke is married and has four children.
Where is Syon House?
Grade I-listed Syon House sits in 200-acre Syon Park, in Brentford, part of West London's Hounslow borough.
The house itself was built sometime in the 1500s, and has been owned by the same family since 1594.
Its Great Conservatory was used in season two of popular Regency-era drama Bridgerton, as the setting of a ball. Other period dramas such as The Madness Of King George, Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow, and Gosford Park have also been filmed there.