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Tue, 7 July 2020

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Robert Jenrick overruled senior officials who ‘begged’ him to block Tory donor’s £1bn development, says whistleblower

Robert Jenrick overruled senior officials who ‘begged’ him to block Tory donor’s £1bn development, says whistleblower

Robert Jenrick is facing further pressure over his approval of the Westferry scheme (PA)

3 min read

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has been accused of overruling senior civil servants who “begged” him not to approve a £1billion development from a Tory donor, according to a Whitehall whistleblower.

The latest development in the Westferry Printworks planning saga comes as the beleaguered Cabinet minister also faced questions over his relationship with a “family friend” who had a financial interest in the future of a rival mining project he was overseeing.

A source told The Sunday Times Mr Jenrick dismissed the advice of senior officials and lawyers calling on him to reject the luxury housing plan in east London.

They are said to have repeatedly warned the scheme, backed by billionaire Richard Desmond, violated planning rules and was “70 to 80%” likely to be judicially reviewed.

But the newspaper reports that Mr Jenrick told officials his decision, which was made the day before a new levy was introduced saving the developers between £30 and 50 million, was “final”.

The secretary of state later withdrew his approval and accepted it was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, said: “These explosive revelations show Mr Jenrick has new and very serious questions to answer.”

He added: “Labour last night called on the government halt its plans to move housebuilding powers from local councils to the housing secretary.”

Mr Reed is also calling on Mr Jenrick to explain his ministerial meeting with the Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer while he was exchequer secretary.

At the time the Treasury was considering a request for financial support from the firm Sirius Minerals for a mining project which would have rivalled Mr Ofer’s own firm Cleveland Potash.

A spokesperson for Mr Jenrick said the businessman was a “family friend” and he notified officials of the meeting who advised him to step back from the decision on Sirius.

Mr Reed said: “Mr Jenrick must now tell us whether he declared his friendship with Mr Ofer to officials prior to the meeting, why he did not immediately step back from making the decision and what further discussions he had with Mr Ofer.

“It’s time for some honesty. Mr Jenrick must come to the House of Commons to explain exactly what he’s been up to because the public are now worried that a new era of Tory sleaze has begun in earnest.”

A spokesperson for Mr Jenrick told the Observer: “Whilst exchequer secretary, Mr Jenrick met with a number of stakeholders to discuss electric vehicles and charge point technology.

“This included a meeting with Mr Ofer, who has substantial experience in the industry. Officials from [the Treasury] attended those meetings and they were disclosed in his ministerial transparency data in the usual way.”

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