Labour quizzes PM on planning decision that saved Tory donor £40m

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  • June 17, 2020
  • Comments Off on Labour quizzes PM on planning decision that saved Tory donor £40m
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Boris Johnson asked to disclose any contact with donor Richard Desmond prior to housing minister overruling council

The Westferry Printworks site in east London. The scheme was approved by the housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, against the advice of a planning inspector, but the decision was reversed after Tower Hamlets council took legal action.
Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Boris Johnson is facing pressure to disclose any meetings he had with Richard Desmond before a minister overruled planners, saving the former Express newspapers owner about £40m on a London property development.

After Johnson was quizzed about the issue at prime minister’s questions, Labour formally asked for details of any contact with Desmond since he had entered No 10, and with other Conservative party donors.

It follows scrutiny of links between Desmond and Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, who overturned a decision by a local council and the government’s planning inspectorate in order to approve a 500-apartment, 44-storey development in east London, Westferry Printworks, on a former printing plant.

Jenrick’s move in January came a day before the introduction of the community infrastructure levy, to be used for local education and health projects, which would have cost Desmond’s company at least £40m.

It later emerged that Jenrick had sat next to Desmond at a Conservative fundraising dinner in November, and that Desmond donated £12,000 to the party two weeks after the planning decision in his favour.

After the local council, Tower Hamlets, sought a judicial review of Jenrick’s decision, he conceded the case, admitting he had acted unlawfully.

The cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, is examining details of the case provided by Jenrick, but No 10 has denied this amounts to a formal investigation.

At PMQs, the Labour MP Chris Matheson asked whether any of Johnson’s officials or advisers had discussed the planning decision with Jenrick, and whether he would publish all relevant correspondence.

Johnson said he “certainly had no correspondence about this matter myself and nor, as far as I’m aware, did any of my officials”, adding that Jenrick would write to Matheson on the issue.

Labour subsequently asked for information on how many times Johnson had met Desmond or other party donors since becoming prime minister.

Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, said: “He must now come clean about when he and his advisers met Desmond since taking office, and must ask the cabinet secretary to launch a formal investigation into any breaches of the ministerial code to show the Conservatives have not been accepting cash for favours.”

A Downing Street source said: “No one in No 10 has discussed this application with Mr Desmond, and No 10 has had no involvement with the secretary of state’s appeal decision.”

Jenrick has denied any wrongdoing in his decision over the application for Westferry Printworks, which is live once again.