Jenrick's planning row: James O'Brien's revealing call with former council leader

25 June 2020, 14:13 | Updated: 25 June 2020, 14:15

By Fiona Jones

James O'Brien talked to the former Tower Hamlets council leader who sounded the alarm early on about Robert Jenrick's controversial planning decision and resigned as he was so appalled.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick is under mounting pressure after new documents said he was "insistent" a housing development was pushed through before a new levy would cost its Tory donor backer millions of pounds.

Mr Jenrick has faced criticism after it emerged ex-Daily Express owner Richard Desmond had personally given the Conservative Party £12,000 two weeks after the scheme for 1,500 homes was approved.

Mr Jenrick has since had to quash his own move that ensured £45 million of the backer's money did not go towards Tower Hamlets' community infrastructure, conceding the decision "unlawful".

Former Conservative Council leader for Tower Hamlets Andrew Wood was one of the earliest to sound the alarm on Mr Jenrick's decision, telling James he was so appalled by the decision he resigned as council leader.

"I was so shocked by his decision and then the ramifications of it, avoidance of community infrastructure levy payment," Mr Wood said.

Not all documents relating to the Westferry Print Works planning controversy have been released, said Mr Wood
Not all documents relating to the Westferry Print Works planning controversy have been released, said Mr Wood. Picture: LBC/PA

Despite insistence from some senior politicians, Mr Wood said that not all documents relating to the Westferry Print Works planning controversy have been released and were due in the public domain on Wednesday after a Freedom of Information request.

Mr Wood dismissed claims that the project would not have been financially viable if the levy was paid: "There is no mileage in that whatsoever because all of the expert evidence available.

"The officials working for the minister did a summary of the key issues on the site, they also recommended that the scheme be rejected as well, agreeing with the planning inspector. But not once in that document do they underline concerns of viability."

Mr Wood observed there were other sites in the area that were approved last year with 35% affordable housing but for "some reason" the Print Works site can only develop 21% of affordable housing.

The council calculated that the drop from 35% to 21% of affordable housing was worth £40 million so in total Richard Desmond saved £85 million from the decisions Mr Jenrick made, Mr Wood said.

The former council leader called for Robert Jenrick to resign: "I suspect there is more information not in the public domain that will hopefully come out...and the new information will make it looks worse for him."

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