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Mon, 19 October 2020

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Labour mounts Commons bid for Robert Jenrick documents in Tory donor planning row

Labour mounts Commons bid for Robert Jenrick documents in Tory donor planning row

The Housing Secretary has said he took the decision to approve the Westferry printworks development in ‘good faith’. (PA)

2 min read

Labour are mounting a Commons bid to force Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to publish all documents relating to a controversial planning decision.

The party will use an opposition day debate on Wednesday to try to get the Ministry of Housing to release correspondence about the Westferry printing works development in east London.

Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed will press for a vote and, while the Government’s strong Commons majority means it is unlikely to lose, the debate will provide a fresh chance for MPs to highlight the row.

The housing project was given the green-light by Mr Jenrick 12 days before its developer Richard Desmond donated thousands to the Conservative Party.

In a decision later deemed “unlawful”, the development was approved over the objections of the local council and planning inspector.

Mr Desmond, a property and media magnate, sat next to Mr Jenrick at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner in November 2019.

It emerged this week that the Cabinet minister had watched a promotional video about the controversial project.

The minister has repeatedly defended his actions and said he told the developer he could not discuss the project when they spoke at the event inside the Savoy Hotel late last year.

Labour say the move helped save the developer millions in fees and levies.

Its Commons motion, in the name of leader Sir Keir Starmer, calls on Mr Jenrick’s department to “provide all correspondence, including submissions and electronic communications, involving Ministers and Special Advisers” relating to the Westferry development itself and the Housing Secretary’s decision to approve it.

Mr Reed, the Shadow Communities 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.”
 
And he added: “If the Secretary of State has nothing to hide then he has nothing to fear from publishing these documents.”

Mr Jenrick has previously said of the planning call: "I took that decision in good faith, with an open mind, and I am confident all the rules were followed in doing so.”

Number 10 meanwhile said this week that Boris Johnson continued to have “full confidence” in the Housing Secretary.

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