The housing secretary faces accusations of “cash for favours” over the Westferry Printworks Development in east London.
Wednesday 24 June 2020 15:49, UK
The housing secretary has bowed to pressure to release documents related to his controversial approval of a £1bn property development involving a Tory Party donor.
Robert Jenrick said most of the papers would be published later on Wednesday, after Labour held a debate calling for all correspondence on the Westferry Printworks Development in east London to be put into the public domain.
He has faced accusations of “cash for favours” after it emerged the developer, former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, had personally given the Conservative Party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved.
Labour said the timing of the decision – just a day before a new community infrastructure levy came into force – would have saved Mr Desmond’s Northern and Shell company up to £50m.
The party claims the cabinet minister overruled his advisers to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in the development, potentially saving Mr Desmond a further £106m.
Mr Jenrick originally approved the plan in January this year, overruling both Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector.
He subsequently reversed the ruling following legal action by the council, admitting that what he did was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.
Earlier this month, the housing secretary told the Commons that Mr Desmond had tried to raise the scheme with him during the dinner, but he had told the businessman he could not discuss it.
Mr Jenrick said he took the decision to approve the scheme “in good faith with an open mind”, and he was confident that “all the rules were followed”.
However Mr Desmond told The Sunday Times last weekend that he had shown Mr Jenrick a promotional video for the scheme on his mobile phone during the fundraiser at the Savoy Hotel.
Mr Jenrick said there was “nothing rotten” about the deal and he would release “most” of the documents to the benchmark of what would normally be released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Speaking in the Commons on Wednesday, he called the allegations against him “a series of totally inaccurate statements and comments”.
“This was a decision taken with an open mind,” he added.