Demand comes as details of meeting between secretary of state and media mogul behind scheme emerge
The Labour Party has called for a full Cabinet Office inquiry into the “biased” approval by communities secretary Robert Jenrick of plans for the redevelopment of the Westferry Printworks which were overturned last week after a legal fight.
Labour’s shadow housing minister Mike Amesbury wrote to the civil service permanent secretary Mark Sedwill as details emerged of a meeting between Jenrick (pictured, right) and the applicant, media tycoon Richard Desmond, last November in which the application was raised.
Permission for the 1,524-home redevelopment (pictured, below) by businesses owned by former Express Newspapers proprietor Richard Desmond, a former donor to the Tory Party, was overturned last week after the government accepted the decision gave the impression of “apparent bias”.
In a consent order issued by the High Court, the government said the decision was taken on a specific date in order to avoid triggering a Community Infrastructure Levy liability which would have come in to force the following day. Planning authority Tower Hamlets has valued the potential CIL liability it missed out on at between £30-50m.
Labour MP Amesbury wrote to Mark Sedwill that “”The consequence of Mr Jenrick’s decision was to save a developer a very great amount of money and, in the light of conceding the judicial review claim give rise to serious questions which require answers.”
He said: “Serious questions need to be answered about why this decision was taken, a decision which could have saved a Conservative donor tens of millions of pounds, and in the process deprived local residents of vital infrastructure funding.
“It’s essential that we have transparency in processes such as this so that trust can be maintained in our housing and planning system.”
The news comes after Jenrick admitted that he had sat with Richard Desmond at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner at the Carlton Club last November, at which Desmond raised the issue of the application.
A spokesman for Jenrick admitted that the developers did raise their application with him, but that “Jenrick informed them that it would not be appropriate to discuss the matter with him, or for him to pass comment on it.”
Jenrick maintains that he did not display any genuine bias toward the application in his decision, though he has accepted that the way it was determined gave the impression of it. In a statement the housing ministry said: “While we reject the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision, we have agreed that the application will be redetermined.”