Labour demands answers from Robert Jenrick on Westferry scandal

© Chris McAndrew/CC BY 3.0

Labour has published a series of questions on the ‘Westferry scandal’ that the party will put to the implicated housing minister Robert Jenrick in the House of Commons tomorrow.

The urgent question in the parliamentary chamber will follow reports that Jenrick admitted he had shown “apparent bias” to billionaire property developer Richard Desmond.

The developer donated £12,000 to the Conservatives after his 1,524-home development was approved by the minister – against the wishes of local residents, Tower Hamlets and the advice of the government’s planning inspector.

Labour called on Jenrick to make a statement to parliament, and the opposition party’s local government spokesperson Steve Reed has been granted an urgent question tomorrow.

The party says it is “taking the unusual step of publishing the questions” ahead of time after fresh revelations emerged about the Housing Secretary and the former owner of the Express newspapers.

Asked about the reports today, a 10 Downing Street spokesperson defended Jenrick, saying: “He acted in accordance with this department’s guidance on propriety in planning.

“Like all applications, it was decided on its individual merits. Party political considerations are never taken into account.”

The questions Labour will put to Jenrick are as follows:

  • “Will Mr Jenrick publish all documents and correspondence relating to this decision so the public can see why he took it despite the objections of the local council and the independent planning inspector appointed by his own department?
  • “Did Mr Jenrick disclose his conversation with Richard Desmond to the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government ahead of his 14th January decision to grant planning permission, and if not does this represent a breach of the Ministerial Code?”
  • “Why did Mr Jenrick then not recuse himself from decision making in this case given his relationship with the developer?”
  • “What contact did Mr Jenrick, or officials in his department, have with the developer or their representatives regarding the application and, specifically, regarding the £30-50m the developer would have been liable for after 14 January if he hadn’t intervened?”

Commenting on the scandal, Reed said: “Communities must have confidence that the planning process is fair and transparent, but the unanswered questions around Robert Jenrick’s unlawful decision have weakened that trust.

“It is unprecedented for a Secretary of State to admit to bias – and there are fears he did it to avoid being forced to reveal the truth behind his decision in open court.

“It’s time for Mr Jenrick to come clean and answer these crucial questions about why he overruled his own inspector to grant planning permission for a billionaire Conservative Party donor to build a luxury development and dodge a £50m tax bill shortly after they dined together at a glitzy fundraising dinner.

“Mr Jenrick must prove it’s not one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy donors but another rule for everyone else.”

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