Robert Jenrick sends junior minister to face questions over Richard Desmond deal

11 June 2020, 12:01

Robert Jenrick was due to answer questions over a controversial housing deal he made
Robert Jenrick was due to answer questions over a controversial housing deal he made. Picture: PA
Rachael Kennedy

By Rachael Kennedy

Robert Jenrick has failed to show up for a grilling from MPs over a controversial approval on a redevelopment scheme in London - sending a junior minister in his place instead.

The housing secretary was due to appear in the House of Commons on Thursday to be quizzed over his connection to the developer and his decision to approve the deal earlier this year, despite the planning inspector recommending otherwise.

But instead, housing minister Chris Pincher was sent to face MPs, telling them it was "irrelevant" to question the connection between his boss and the former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond's Northern and Shell firm as there was "no relationship".

He said: "At all times he has disclosed any conversations that he has had with applicants."

READ MORE: Housing Secretary must 'come clean' over Richard Desmond donations

The action under scrutiny relates to Mr Jenrick approving the development of 1,500 homes at Westferry Printworks in January, with an estimated worth of £1bn.

It was later reversed following legal action from Tower Hamlets Council, which said the timing of the decision "appeared to show bias" as it came a day before a number of new infrastructure charges came into effect.

This meant the developer would have avoided paying up to £50 million extra to the local authority.

Richard Desmond has donated to Conservatives and UKIP in the past
Richard Desmond has donated to Conservatives and UKIP in the past. Picture: PA

The Labour Party has called for papers to be released showing anything related to Mr Jenrick's decision, which is says was made after he dined with Mr Desmond "at a glitzy fundraising dinner".

According to Electoral Commission records, Mr Desmond personally donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party just a fortnight after the scheme was approved.

He has previously donated to both the Conservatives and UKIP.

Earlier on Thursday, Shadow housing secretary Steve Reed said Mr Jenrick's actions had "weakened" the trust of communities with an "unlawful decision".

He added: "It is unprecedented for a Secretary of State to admit to bias - and there are fears he did it to avoid being forced to reveal the truth behind his decision in open court.

"It's time for Mr Jenrick to come clean and answer these crucial questions about why he overruled his own inspector to grant planning permission for a billionaire Conservative Party donor to build a luxury development and dodge a £50 million tax bill shortly after they dined together at a glitzy fundraising dinner - Mr Jenrick must prove it's not one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy donors but another rule for everyone else."