Jenrick invited to give evidence to MPs as Westferry planning row continues

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick - (Copyright PA Wire)
17:19pm, Wed 01 Jul 2020
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Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has been asked to give evidence before MPs about his controversial approval of a major property development involving a Conservative Party donor.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee disagreed with Boris Johnson’s assertion that “the matter is closed” and said there are “important lessons that must be learned”.

In a letter to Mr Jenrick, committee chairman and Labour MP Clive Betts said the Cabinet minister had been invited to give evidence on July 13. Mr Betts also asked the Housing Secretary to respond to 26 questions set out in the letter by July 6.

Mr Jenrick is fighting to keep his job after documents revealed the extent of the contact between himself and wealthy developer Richard Desmond before the Cabinet minister signed off on the 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme in east London.

The pair exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November, and officials in Mr Jenrick’s department described him as being “insistent” that the project be given the green light before a new levy added millions to the cost.

The Cabinet minister later had to quash his own approval, conceding that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

Labour claims the move to approve before Tower Hamlets Council’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) came into force would have saved Mr Desmond’s Northern and Shell company up to £50 million on the scheme, which was reported to be worth £1 billion.

A view of the Westferry Printworks site in east London - (Copyright PA Wire)

Mr Betts wrote: “The committee respectfully disagrees with the Prime Minister’s assertion that ‘the matter is closed’ and believes that there are important lessons that must be learned.

“It is important for the committee to scrutinise where it feels that greater transparency is needed within the planning system and to ensure confidence in the fairness of future planning decisions.

“As is customary at the start of each Parliament, this committee resolved not to scrutinise individual cases, including planning decisions, preferring instead to take a wider view of government policy making.

“However, given the particular high-profile of this case and the opportunity to learn wider lessons, we feel it is important to make an exception and consider the rigour of the process without becoming the arbiter of the decision itself.

“The committee also notes that the application stands to be redetermined and is, therefore, a live issue.”

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