Labour in bid to force Jenrick to release Westferry development papers
Labour is to attempt to force the Government to release all documents relating to a controversial approval by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick for a major property development involving a Tory Party donor.
The party said that it would use an opposition day debate in the Commons on Wednesday to stage a vote requiring the Government to release all correspondence involving ministers and their special advisers concerning the Westferry Printworks Development in east London.
With a Conservative majority of 80, the Government is unlikely to be defeated, but it represents a further opportunity for the opposition to press Mr Jenrick – who denies any impropriety – over an issue which will not go away.
The Housing Secretary has faced accusations of “cash or 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 £50 million.
The party said Mr Jenrick also overruled his advisers to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in the development, potentially saving Mr Desmond a further £106 million.
Mr Jenrick originally approved the plan in January 2020, 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”.
It later emerged that Mr Jenrick had sat next to Mr Desmond at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner in November 2019.
Earlier this month, the Housing Secretary told the Commons Mr Desmond had tried to raise the scheme with him during the dinner, but that he had told the businessman he could not discuss it.
He said that 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.
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s debate, shadow communities secretary Steve Reed 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.”