Labour presses cabinet minister to explain how a Tory donor was granted a lucrative property deal

PUBLISHED: 11:52 10 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:54 10 June 2020

Housing minister Robert Jenrick arrives in Downing Street, London. PA photo; Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Housing minister Robert Jenrick arrives in Downing Street, London. PA photo; Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Labour is pressing the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, to explain his involvement in granting a £1 billion property deal to an influential Tory donor.

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The cabinet minster approved a planning decision for a 1,500-home build by property developer Richard Desmond, a wealthy Tory donor who handed over £12,000 to the party weeks after his plans were given the green light.

Jenrick has admitted Desmond - former owner of the Daily Express - lobbied him during a party fundraiser in November last year but said he refused to take the developer’s wishes on board.

The government later rubber-stamped the development, which came a day before a planned council tax hike which could have cost Desmond £40 million.

Shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury has accused Jenrick of showing bias in his decisions and is calling for greater transparency over the deal after details of the donation surfaced in the media.

“This is yet another indication that Robert Jenrick’s unlawful decision to approve this planning decision against the wishes of the local council was done to benefit Richard Desmond, a wealthy Tory donor, to the tune of millions of pounds,” Amesbury said.

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“This latest revelation comes hours after Jenrick announced new plans to remove planning decisions from locally elected councillors, enabling ministers to take more decisions over the heads of local communities for the benefit of their wealthy friends.”

“Robert Jenrick should come clean and publish all correspondence with Richard Desmond about this case - otherwise the public will be entitled to think it’s one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy friends, and another rule for everyone else.”

Jenrick has removed himself from any decision concerning the project and told a judge during a High Court challenge by a London local council that the decision may have been “unlawful”.

It is understood Jenrick went against the advice of his own planning inspector to approve the development in East London.

The government has said its policies are not influenced by political donations. A Tory spokesperson said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by party donations – they are entirely separate.

“Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

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