Robert Jenrick: PM has 'full confidence' in minister who intervened in Tory donor's planning application

Thursday 25th June 2020 15:30 BST

Boris Johnson's official spokesman confirmed the PM had spoken with Robert Jenrick in recent days and considers the matter to be closed.

Mr Jenrick is facing calls to resign over his role in a controversial £1bn Westferry Printworks development proposed by Conservative Party donor Richard Desmond.

"The PM has spoken with the communities secretary," the spokesman said.

"The communities secretary gave his account in public and to parliament and published the relevant documentation.

"In light of the account that was given, the PM considers the matter closed."

The spokesman said "no one" in Downing Street discussed the planning application "with Mr Desmond or the applicants", adding: "Number 10 had no involvement with the secretary of state's appeal decision."

But he was unable to say whether anyone in Number 10 had discussed the project more generally with Mr Jenrick.

Documents released on Wednesday show Mr Jenrick was "insistent" the application be allowed just in time to save Mr Desmond up to £50m.

Papers show an official in his department recorded he wanted approval to be given to the Westferry Printworks development.

They also show that Mr Jenrick and Mr Desmond exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November.

Mr Jenrick sat next to Mr Desmond at the dinner, with The Sunday Times reporting that he showed the minister a promotional video for the development.

The minister texted Mr Desmond on 18 November 2019 saying: "Good to spend time with you tonight Richard. See you again soon I hope."

In another exchange two days later, Mr Desmond tried to arrange a meeting with the housing secretary on 19 December, as well as a site visit, complaining about having to deal with "Marxists".

He wrote: "Good news finally the inspectors reports have gone to you today, we appreciate the speed as we don't want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!"

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

The scheme for 1,500 homes in east London was given the green light in January, with Mr Jenrick going against the recommendation of a planning inspector.

His decision was taken a day before new infrastructure charges came into force.

This allowed the developer, former Daily Express owner Mr Desmond's Northern and Shell firm, to avoid paying between £30-£50m extra to Tower Hamlets Council.

Two weeks after the scheme was approved, records from the Electoral Commission show that Mr Desmond personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.

Sky News previously contacted Northern and Shell for a comment, as well as Mr Desmond, but did not receive a response.

The council took legal action over the decision, with Mr Jenrick later overturning his own approval.

He admitted that the decision was "unlawful" due to "apparent bias", although he has told MPs he acted in "good faith" and "within the rules".

John Biggs, the Labour mayor of Tower Hamlets, said the decision to approve the scheme "seriously trashed" the principles of the planning system.

"Mr Jenrick overrode that [the planning inspector's recommendation] without any real rationale behind it. Other than it was just his opinion that his decision was better than theirs.

"The trail of correspondence confirms that it looks like it's a conversation between mates, which is not how our country is meant to be run."

The mayor said he thinks Mr Jenrick should go, but "it's up to the prime minister".

And he warned Mr Johnson: "I've known Boris for many years. He needs to understand that if one of his ministers acts in a rampant, renegade fashion, then that reflects on him."

Labour is demanding Mr Jenrick returns to the Commons to answer what it says are "major discrepancies" between what he told MPs and what is in the documents published on Wednesday.

"These breathtaking documents raise far more questions about the secretary of state's relationship with Richard Desmond than they answer," shadow communities secretary Steve Reed said.

"Whether the prime minister likes it or not, this matter is far from closed."

Now On Air
More Music on Coast FM
More music on Coast FM