Robert Jenrick facing demands to answer MP questions over £1 billion land deal

2 July 2020, 00:15

Robert Jenrick is facing further scrutiny over the high-profile land deal
Robert Jenrick is facing further scrutiny over the high-profile land deal. Picture: UK Parliament

By Ewan Somerville

Robert Jenrick is facing demands to give MPs answers to 26 questions amid a fierce row over planning permission given to a Tory donor’s development project.

The Housing Secretary is fighting to keep his job after it emerged he approved Richard Desmond’s 1,500-home Westferry Printworks in east London, shortly after sitting next to him at a Conservative Party fundraiser.

Boris Johnson insisted “the matter is closed” after Mr Jenrick published a 129-page document detailing text messages and civil service correspondence with Mr Desmond, the former Daily Express owner.

But the Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government select committee dismissed the prime minister's statement and demanded he appears before MPs on 13 July to answer the list of questions.

In a letter to Mr Jenrick on Wednesday, Clive Betts, chair of the committee, said: “The committee respectfully disagrees with the prime minister’s assertion that ‘the matter is closed’ and believes that important lessons must be learned.”

Read more: Labour says Housing Secretary must 'come clean' over Richard Desmond donations

Read more: Robert Jenrick publishes documents linked to Westferry planning row

Read more: Housing Secretary under mounting pressure after planning row documents revealed

He added: “Given the particular high-profile of this case and the opportunity to learn further lessons, we feel it is important to make an exception and consider the rigour of the process without becoming the arbiter of the decision itself.”

The letter also lists questions probing Mr Jenrick’s meeting with Mr Desmond on 18 November, where he was lobbied and shown a video about the development.

The text messages and letters released last week revealed Mr Jenrick was “insistent” the controversial development scheme was pushed through before a new tax levy came into force which would have cost the developer millions of pounds.

Mr Jenrick overruled planning inspectors to sign off the development application but later had to row back, admitting the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

Labour claims the move to approve before Tower Hamlets Council’s community infrastructure levy (CIL) came into force would have saved Mr Desmond’s Northern and Shell company up to £50 million on the scheme, which was reported to be worth £1 billion.