Labour will today call a House of Commons vote to force the Government to release all documents relating to the Westferry Printworks Development scandal. Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick unlawfully approved the application in January 2020, overruling Tower Hamlets Council and his own planning inspector.
Jenrick made the decision one day before a new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) came into force saving the developer, Conservative Party donor Richard Desmond, up to £50m. Jenrick also over-ruled his advisors to reduce the amount of affordable housing in the development saving Desmond a further £106m. Two weeks after Jenrick forced the decision through, Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party.
Faced with a judicial review brought by the council, Jenrick later quashed his own decision admitting it was unlawful due to “apparent bias”. This highly unusual move meant Jenrick avoided publishing all documents in open court that would have revealed the true reasons behind his decision.
It later emerged that Jenrick had sat next to Desmond and four senior executives of his company Northern and Shell, at an exclusive Conservative Party fundraising dinner in November 2019.
Jenrick told the House of Commons he did not discuss the application with Desmond, but Desmond claims Jenrick viewed a promotional video about the development on the property tycoon’s mobile phone. Ministers are not permitted to take part in planning decisions if the applicant has lobbied them.
Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Communities and Local Government Secretary, said “The Secretary of State has admitted he knew his unlawful, biased decision to approve Richard Desmond’s property deal would save the Conservative Party donor up to £150 million, but there are still far too many questions left unanswered.
“It is essential the Government maintains public trust during the coronavirus crisis. Dominic Cummings and now Westferry have severely tested this – the Government’s moral authority hangs by a thread.
“If the Secretary of State has nothing to hide then he has nothing to fear from publishing these documents.”
Text of Motion:
Westferry Printworks Development
Mr Nicholas Brown
That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to give direction to Minister to provide all correspondence, including submissions and electronic communications, involving Ministers and Special Advisers pertaining to the Westferry Printworks Development and the subsequent decision by the Secretary of State to approve its planning application at appeal to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.