Labour to force housing minister to release records over controversial property deal with Tory donor

PUBLISHED: 11:13 24 June 2020 | UPDATED: 11:40 24 June 2020

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick... tells MPs why he pushed through Westferry scheme. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick... tells MPs why he pushed through Westferry scheme. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

PA Wire/PA Images

Labour will attempt force a motion calling on the housing minister to release records that relate to the approval of a Tory donor’s contentious property development in London.

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Labour MPs will hold an opposition day debate dedicated to questions demanding the release of all documents relating to the Westferry Printworks Development in east London, which was approved by housing minister Robert Jenrick.

Jenrick has faced accusations of “cash for favours” after it emerged the developer, former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, had personally given the Conservative Party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved.

Labour have said the timing of the approval - less than 24 hours before a infrastructure levy came into effect - saved Desmond’s Northern and Shell company up to £50 million.

The minister also overruled advisors to reduce the amount low-cost housing required in the build, potentially saving Desmond a further £106 million.

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

The government is likely to block the motion by using its large majority of 80 MPs, but the vote does present another chance for the opposition to press Jenrick - who denies any wrongdoing - over an issue that has dominated newspaper headlines over the past fortnight.

Jenrick originally approved the plan in January 2020, overruling both Tower Hamlets Council and a planning inspector. He later overturned the decision, admitting he may have acted ‘unlawfully’ during a High Court case brought forward by the London council.

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Speaking ahead of the debate, shadow communities secretary Steve Reed 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.

“If the secretary of state has nothing to hide then he has nothing to fear from publishing these documents.”

MORE: Boris Johnson met with controversial property developer three times before approving housing scheme

Media outlets have reported that Jenrick sat next to the property mogul at a Tory Party fundraiser late last year where he was shown a video of the Westferry scheme on the developer’s phone. He allegedly told the businessman he could not discuss the matter.

Business secretary Alok Sharma has defended the minister, called for the issue to be brought to a close.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sharma said: “I think the key thing is how you act and that you act in all propriety.

“And that is precisely what the housing secretary has done.

“He has answered questions on this and I really do think that should be the end of the matter.”

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