Following Jenrick’s appearance before the committee, the shadow housing and planning minister , Mike Amesbury, said: “The stench of this grubby affair won’t go away until Mr Jenrick comes clean: he needs to give a statement to the House answering all the committee’s questions in full if the public is to have any faith in the integrity of the planning system.”
INDEPENDENT – Robert Jenrick has regrets – but would have resigned if he had done anything wrong. So that’s that, then
The housing secretary absolutely definitely hasn’t done anything wrong, according to the housing secretary
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Robert Jenrick wisely chose a tight shot with which to frame himself prior to his appearance via video link before the Housing Select Committee.
Only his highly inoffensive face was visible, in front of an equally inoffensive white background.
Jenrick is said to be especially irked by the “Robert Generic” moniker by which he has come to be known, though admittedly only to the narrow band of people who have heard of him in the first place.
If the secretary of state for housing happened to be sitting next to some billionaire or other, who happened to donate £12,000 to the party two weeks later and who was keen to get him to wave through £100m or so of extra profits on a housing development, well, on this occasion that would remain Jenrick’s business alone.
He has learnt that lesson the hard way. Well, not exactly the hard way. Usually, when a minister is exposed for this kind of thing, they resign. Not Jenrick though, who prefers to learn his hard lessons the sort of “slightly hard but ultimately who cares lol (!)” way.
It didn’t help that Jenrick kept glancing to his left at the sound of a mobile phone. He also glanced to his left at a mobile phone, back in November, when he was sitting next to Richard Desmond at a Tory party fundraising dinner, and Desmond played him a video of his £1.5bn Westferry Printworks Housing Development, that was currently struggling to get through the planning process with Tower Hamlets Council.
It’s not clear exactly what was said. Jenrick says he told him it was “inappropriate” to discuss the subject of the video he was watching.
The emergence of the mobile phone, and the playing of the video, must have occurred without any discussion of the subject whatsoever. Given Desmond is best known for other business interests, including television channels that don’t begin broadcasting until after midnight, perhaps Jenrick was relieved when the video turned out to be merely promotional material for some east London flats.
All this, frankly, was a waste of Jenrick’s time. He wanted to be getting on with the day job. Didn’t the committee know that the country faces a “generational challenge on housing, including affordable housing”?
The committee, as it happens did know this. They also know that one way to solve the challenge on affordable housing is to build some affordable housing, rather than, say, let Desmond not meet the minimum requirements on building it into his £1.5bn property development, to make himself an extra £60m or so profit. It also doesn’t necessarily help that the secretary of state for housing isn’t entirely sure which is his first, second or third home, when he found himself having to explain why he was caught driving between them while the rest of the country apart from Dominic Cummings was in lockdown.
Anyway, we would quickly find out that Jenrick has done nothing wrong. He did have a couple of regrets though. He regretted sitting next to Desmond at the dinner, even though he didn’t know he was going to until he got there. He regretted texting Desmond saying it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the subject, even though the texts show he definitely didn’t do anything wrong.
He doesn’t regret approving the development, which the local council and the local planning inspector had rejected.
He doesn’t regret doing so the day before it would have become subject to an additional £45m levy. He doesn’t regret that he didn’t object to the affordable housing requirements being stripped out of the development, itself a development that stood to make Desmond another £60m.
He also doesn’t regret that his decision was ultimately quashed, for reasons which he himself described as “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”, because he absolutely definitely didn’t do anything wrong.
If a local council had rejected a planning development, then the developer had made a donation to the Tory party, sat next to the housing minister at a party fundraising dinner, then the minister had approved it, and then it had been quashed over his own “apparent bias”, then he’d have surely had to resign, wouldn’t he?
And he hasn’t resigned. So that’s that. There’s absolutely nothing to see here. Nothing at all. It’s totally normal. Absolutely above board. All entirely, what’s the word, exactly? That’s it: generic