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Mon, 13 July 2020

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Robert Jenrick row: MPs demand papers on £1bn Richard Desmond property deal as they warn public trust could be ‘eroded‘

Robert Jenrick row: MPs demand papers on £1bn Richard Desmond property deal as they warn public trust could be ‘eroded‘

The Communities Secretary is under pressure from opposition parties over the planning move. (PA)

3 min read

Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick is facing fresh pressure to release papers on his controversial decision to grant planning permission on a site owned by a Conservative donor.

Clive Betts, who chairs the Commons communities committee, has written to the Housing Secretary demanding “the publication of correspondence and documentation” relating to the decision over the Westferry Printworks site in Tower Hamlets.

The committee has given Mr Jenrick until Friday to hand over any correspondence relating to the deal as well as any others interactions between his department and businessman Richard Desmond or his companies.

The demand came amid reports that Britain’s top civil servant has begun examining evidence on Mr Jenrick’s decision to back the 1,500-home development in east London championed by the media and property owner.

The row over the development began when it was revealed Mr Jenrick had approved the scheme in January against the recommendation of a planning inspector.

That decision also allowed Mr Desmond's Northern and Shell firm to avoid paying between £30million and £50million extra to Tower Hamlets Council, as it came a day before new infrastructure charges came into force.

It later emerged that the Cabinet minister had discussed the matter with the developer when the pair were seated together at a Conservative party fundraising dinner.

And two weeks after the decision was made to approve the project, Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservatives, a sequence of events Labour said "raises grave concerns about cash for favours".

Mr Jenrick has recused himself from future decisions over the project after he admitted "apparent bias" during a High Court challenge brought by Tower Hamlets.

The Tories have said government policy is "in no way influenced by party donations".

In his letter to Mr Jenrick, Mr Betts, a Labour MP, says he is writing to request “all relevant information, including, but not limited to, that already sent to the Cabinet Secretary”.

And he writes: “The select committee has an important role in scrutinising ministers. I am concerned that, without transparency, this matter could lead to an erosion of trust in the integrity of the planning system and in our wider democratic process.“

The Daily Mail meanwhile reports that Mr Jenrick has handed over papers relating to his decision to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill.

But the Prime Minister’s spokesperson stressed that a formal investigation had not been launched.

Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed told the paper: “It is time for the Prime Minister to tell us what he knows about this affair... He must restore shattered confidence in the planning system and show the public that it’s not one rule for the Conservatives and their billionaire friends, but another rule for everyone else.”

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