Parliament to debate ‘losing £80m’ if Isle of Dogs Westferry housing scheme goes ahead
PUBLISHED: 07:00 23 June 2020 | UPDATED: 10:31 23 June 2020
The estimated loss of public revenue if the controversial Westferry development goes ahead on the Isle of Dogs in its present form has now doubled to £80million, it has emerged.
Parliament is to debate the whole issue on Wednesday for the second time in a fortnight when Opposition MPs table a Commons debate to bring the government to account.
Developers were already set to save themselves £40m by the Secretary of State’s intervention pushing through the scheme in January, just 24 hours before Tower Hamlets Council’s planning levy was due to start.
But the plan for 1,500 new luxury apartments on the Millwall Docks waterfront would also reduce the ratio of so-called affordable dwellings down from one-in-three to one-in-five which would save billionaire developer Richard Desmond another £40m by selling them on the premium property market instead.
The council’s calculation was revealed this week by Cllr Andrew Wood whose Canary Wharf constituency includes the Millwall scheme.
“The developers withdrew the offer of 35pc ‘affordable’ housing and offered 21pc instead,” he explained. “The value of that 14pc drop is around £40m, or the revenue value if those homes are sold on the market being £106m.
“The community planning levy at this point is still set at nil, while other sites nearby are offering 35pc affordable housing with new schools thrown in and paying the levy.”
Cllr Wood quit the Tory party in January over the housing minister pushing the scheme through and over-ruling the council and the Planning Inspectorate a day before the new levy was due to start.
“For me, it was the final straw,” he added. “I spend too much time investigating Tower Hamlets corruption, fraud and dodgy decisions.”
Press reports at the weekend also reveal that the Mayor of London was behind moves in 2018 to double the size of the 15-acre development from the original 700 homes already given the green light two years before.
Richard Desmond describes in a Sunday newspaper interview meeting Sadiq Khan and being asked if he had enough buildings on the site and if he would “like to have more”.
Desmond then submitted a new application doubling the size to 1,520 homes in towers up to 44 storeys high, after the mayor raised the housing target to 31,000 for the Isle of Dogs and South Poplar in his London Plan, the East London Advertiser reported in May that year.
Now Labour has tabled a Commons debate on Wednesday, June 24, to challenge the way Tory housing minister Robert Jenrick pushed the scheme through.
The government later withdrew the consent in a High Court action by Tower Hamlets Council in April rather than reveal all the documents which had been asked for.
It led to a heated Minister’s Question Time on June 11 when Labour’s Steve Reed asked if the Secretary of State knew he was “helping Desmond dodge a potential tax bill”. This, he told MPs, raises “grave concerns about cash for favours” as Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative party two weeks after.
The minister later denied any wrongdoing, although admitting his decision on Westferry was “unlawful because of apparent bias.”
But a furious Mr Reed, Labour’s Shadow housing minister, isn’t letting the matter drop and has tabled tomorrow’s second debate just two weeks after his last spat with the government over the Westferry scandal.
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