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Minister denies ‘cash for favours’ in Commons row over Isle of Dogs’ Westferry scandal

PUBLISHED: 15:00 11 June 2020 | UPDATED: 15:55 11 June 2020

Labour's Steve Reed in the Commons on June 11...

Labour's Steve Reed in the Commons on June 11... "Minister admitted his decision on Westferry was unlawful." Picture: Parliament TV

Parliament TV

The Secretary of State for housing has come under fire in parliament today for his “unlawful” action in pushing through Richard Desmond’s controversial £1 billion Westferry housing scheme on the Isle of Dogs.

Secretary of state Robert Jenrick... pushed through Richard Desmond's Westferry scheme 24 hours before new planning levy was due. Picture: Aaron Chown/PASecretary of state Robert Jenrick... pushed through Richard Desmond's Westferry scheme 24 hours before new planning levy was due. Picture: Aaron Chown/PA

Robert Jenrick gave consent in January just 24 hours before a new planning levy for public services which saved the media tycoon £40 million.

But it brought a challenge in the Commons over whether the public would see it as “cash for favours” because Mr Desmond later gave £12,000 to Tory Party funds.

“The minister won’t have the public confidence he needs until we have transparency over his unlawful decision to force through the Westferry development,” Labour MP Steve Reed told the Commons.

“He took the extraordinary step after Tower Hamlets Council went to the High Court to admit his decision was unlawful because of apparent bias.”

Scheme for 15,000 new homes on Isle of Dogs' former Westferry printworks. Picture: Mace developersScheme for 15,000 new homes on Isle of Dogs' former Westferry printworks. Picture: Mace developers

The decision to allow the Westferry scheme was pushed through a day before the council’s new planning levy would have brought in £30-£50m revenue for mains and other public services like health and transport that would be needed for the 1,500 new homes. The government later quashed the decision after being challenged in the High Court.

Mr Reed today asked if the minister knew he was “helping Desmond dodge a potential £50m tax bill”.

The public would see it as “cash for favours” because the Secretary of State had been at the same table as the developer at a Tory Party dinner just weeks before.

“This raises grave concerns about cash for favours,” Mr Reed told MPs. “By astonishing coincidence, Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative party two weeks after the Westferry decision.”

The allegations came during Question Time. But the Secretary of State wasn’t present. Instead, housing minister Chris Pincher explained that Mr Jenrick admitting bias was the quickest way in law to get the decision looked at again.

Mr Pincher said: “The best course for a swift redetermination in law is to accept the court action.”

He denied that Robert Jenrick had any relationship with Richard Desmond or had discussed the scheme with him, which had been rejected by Tower Hamlets Council and the Planning Inspectorate as oversized and lacking affordable housing.

Cllr Andrew Wood, who quit the Conservative Party over the Westferry scandal in his Canary Wharf constituency, called last week for a Met Police investigation and a parliamentary inquiry into the whole affair.


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