Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick claims he was RIGHT to approve £1bn housing development for Tory donor Richard Desmond at the centre of ‘cash-for-access’ row and blasts ‘extremely unfair’ critics
- Jenrick said ‘brownfield’ developments were needed to help UK’s housing crisis
- He approved scheme just before a local development levy came into effect
- The decision saved Tory donor Mr Desmond tens of millions of pounds
The minister said ‘brownfield’ developments were needed to help the UK’s housing crisis as he was grilled by MPs over Richard Desmond’s (above, with Boris Johnson) controversial Westferry Printworks
Under-pressure Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick insisted today that he was right to approve a £1billion housing development for a Tory donor that saved him tens of millions of pounds.
The minister said ‘brownfield’ developments were needed to help the UK’s housing crisis as he was grilled by MPs over Richard Desmond’s controversial Westferry Printworks.
He approved the upmarket development just before it would have been eligible for a local development levy to fund schemes in one of the poorest parts of London Docklands.
But facing the Housing Committee this morning he attacked critics of his decision accusing his critics of being ‘extremely unfair and in most cases a willful misreading of events’.
It was revealed in May that the Housing Secretary was been lobbied about the application to build 1,500 flats in London’s Docklands by billionaire tycoon Mr Desmond at a Tory Party fundraiser.
The former owner of the Express later made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party and was in text message contact with Mr Jenrick on November 18 last year after swapping numbers at the exclusive dinner.
The Cabinet minister later had to quash his own approval, conceding that the decision was ‘unlawful’ due to ‘apparent bias’.
Giving evidence to MPs, Mr Jenrick said: ‘I think this could have been handled differently and I regret that I was sat next to the applicant at a dinner in November.
Facing the Housing Committee this morning he attacked critics of his decision accusing his critics of being ‘extremely unfair and in most cases a willful misreading of events’
He approved the upmarket development just before it would have been eligible for a local development levy to fund schemes in one of the poorest parts of London Docklands
‘I have also made clear that I had no idea that I was going to be sat next to him or his associates until I took my seat at the table.
‘That is, to some extent, an occupational hazard of being a planning minister because people do approach you to discuss applications – not just developers but local councils, members of the public and indeed MPs.’
But he added: ‘I believe it was the right decision to approve the application. I believed there is a great challenge across the country and particularly in London to build more homes. If we are going to do that it is right that we prioritise brownfield sites.’
Whistleblowers claim the Housing Secretary rode roughshod over warnings from inside his own department to refuse an appeal by former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, who wanted to build 1,500 luxury homes in a deprived part of East London.
In June he was forced to release a cache of documents relating to the Westferry Printworks saga and admitted making mistakes.
Mr Jenrick’s decision to give the green light to the Westferry development was challenged in the High Court over the ‘appearance of bias’ and he did not contest the case.
He told Mps this morning officials in his department ‘were aware of events’ surrounding the Westferry application and ‘at no point did anybody advise me to recuse myself’.
He said: ‘There was no meeting with the applicant, I encountered him at a dinner. He mentioned the application, I told him that it was not appropriate to discuss it and I didn’t pass any comment.
‘The department were aware that I was going to the dinner, the department were aware that there was a suggestion of going on a site visit… I discussed it with my officials, as to whether it was wise to go on a site visit in light of the nature of the application, in light of the fact that I had sat next to the applicant at a dinner, and my officials advised me that on balance they thought it wasn’t and so we declined it.’
The Housing Secretary told MPs that he was ‘acting entirely within both the actual rules and the spirit of the rules’.