Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Duke's trust's 281k for bridge

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A feudal law has cost a council thousands to build a bridge.

A trust run on behalf of one of Britain's richest landowners was paid 281,000 for permission for a new bridge in Swansea, it has emerged.

The city council said the money was paid for access rights over the River Tawe to build the Morfa pedestrian bridge to the Liberty Stadium.

The Somerset Trust, which helps manage the estates of the Duke of Beaufort, owns the river bed in the area.

A city councillor said he was "staggered" by the revelation.

Coun Ioan Richard uncovered the payment after making a freedom of information request to officials.

"I am angry that this amount has had to be paid to a multimillionaire," he said.

"That would be enough money to cover the cost of paying 20 new teachers leaving college for a year - or perhaps fixing all the potholes in the roads in the city."

'Feudal'

The councillor said he felt the city was being treated badly by a "feudal landlord" exercising historic ownership rights.

The Sunday Times Rich List estimates that the Duke of Beaufort has a fortune of around 135m in land and business interests, including the 52,000 acre Badminton estate, which has been the traditional seat for the family since the 17th Century.

The dukedom was first bestowed on Henry Somerset, 3rd Marquess of Worcester in 1682, for his support of Charles II.

Other titles passed down through the family also include the Earl of Glamorgan, a courtesy title used by the eldest son of the duke's heir.

Ownership of tracts of lands across south Wales was passed down through the family dating back to 1504, when Charles Somerset married the grand-daughter of of the Earl of Pembroke, assuming the title Baron Herbert of Raglan, Chepstow and Gower.

Confirming that payment for the Morfa bridge project had been made to the Somerset Trust, a council spokesperson added: "Any developer looking to build on or over privately owned land has to pay a sum to the landowner for a legal easement.

"The Duke of Beaufort owns part of the River Tawe's river bed and, as such, is entitled to a sum whenever bridges are constructed over it."

Agents for the Somerset Trust said they had no comment to make on what it said was a private transaction between a "willing buyer and willing seller" over the easement payment.



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