Labour has called for an inquiry into the planning row surrounding the housing secretary Robert Jenrick and Tory donor and property developer Richard Desmond.
Calls for Jenrick’s resignation have escalated since documents were released yesterday (Wednesday) revealing the secretary of state for housing and planning over-ruled advisors and was “insistent” Desmond’s controversial development was approved – before a new levy was introduced.
‘We don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe for nothing!’ – Desmond
The move would have saved Desmond – former owner of the Daily and Sunday Express and the Star newspapers – tens of millions that would otherwise have been invested in one of the country’s poorest and most deprived boroughs.
In a text from Desmond to Jenrick, the developer wrote: “We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise payment of 45 millions pounds to Tower Hamlets meaning we have to stop and reduce social housing.”
Another from Desmond to Jenrick read: “Good news finally the inspectors [sic] reports have gone to you today, we appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!”
Jenrick overruled advisors and ‘insisted’ Desmond’s scheme won approval
Jenrick over ruled advice from his officials and instead approved the controversial Westferry development in east London – a day before the new rules came into being, thereby saving Desmond tens-of-millions due under the new community infrastructure levy (CIL).
The £45 millions referred to by Desmond in his text to Jenrick would have been spent on improving local facilities in Tower Hamlets but an official from the housing ministry said the secretary of state (SoS) “insisted” the 1,500 homes development was approved before the levy was introduced.
“On timing, my understanding is that SoS is/was insistent that decision issued this week ie tomorrow – as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London CIL regime,” said the official, in a memo released yesterday.
Jenrick’s approval of the development in mid January was followed 12 days later by a £12,000 donation to the Conservative party from Desmond.
Concerns about “cash-for-favours” have been raised by Labour MPs who threatened to force a vote in the Commons for an investigation into the controversy, resulting in the secretary of state’s decision to release redacted documents yesterday.
‘This is cash-for-favours,’ says Amesbury
Jenrick strongly denies any wrong doing but has since reversed his decision to approve Desmond’s project and has passed the case on to another minister. However shadow housing secretary, Mike Amesbury said many questions still need answering.
“This is cash-for-favours,” the Labour frontbencher told the BBC. “Also, in terms of the ministerial code – we expect high standards in public life. The rules apply to all.
“As an ex-councillor I know when it comes to planning which is semi-judicial – you step away [from the decision making process],” said Amesbury.
A report in the Guardian states Labour has now raised a point of order in the Commons following discrepancies between what Jenrick told the house and the details in the documents.
Number 10 say the prime minister has full confidence in his housing secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Mark Sedwill said Boris Johnson considers the matter “closed”.
‘A grubby saga to help a Tory donor avoid millions in tax’
Not for opposition MPs however, with the Liberal Democrats Layla Moran among those calling Jenrick’s position “untenable”.
“These documents are further evidence that he rushed through this planning decision to help a Tory donor avoid paying millions in tax,” said Moran.
“This whole grubby saga netted the Tory party only £12,000, but could have helped Richard Desmond save up to £40m. The public will be appalled at what looks like a clear abuse of power. Robert Jenrick should go and the Conservative party should hand back this donation.”
Another Tory MP didn’t declare developer links despite being paid £50,000+
Meanwhile, the investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards into another Tory MP is continuing.
Sir Bob Neil has been under investigation by the watchdog since May when a complaint was made about the Bromley and Chislehurst MP’s role in securing permission for a hotel’s redevelopment in his constituency.
It emerged that Neil was paid more than £50,000 for “strategic consultancy advice” since 2016 by the Substantia Group who handled the hotel’s planning application.
The Telegraph reports Neil did not declare his links to the company or disclose he was a paid consultant when he submitted a letter urging the council to approve the luxury hotel development.