MPs consider probe into Jenrick’s ‘biased’ decision as part of parliamentary inquiry

The Commons housing, communities and local government select committee will consider a probe into housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s controversial decision to approve a 1,500-home scheme in east London, the body's chair has told Planning.

Clive Betts, chair of the Commons housing, communities and local government select committee. Pic:
Clive Betts, chair of the Commons housing, communities and local government select committee. Pic:

Meanwhile, Ed Davey, the leader of Liberal Democrats has written to the cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill requesting "a formal inquiry" into whether Jenrick’s actions breached the ministerial code.

The High Court last month quashed Jenrick's decision to approve plans to redevelop the former Daily Express newspaper’s print works in London’s Docklands for 1,524 new homes after he admitted "apparent bias".

A consent order agreed by the housing secretary stated that the timing of the decision had helped the applicant, an offshoot of the Express’ parent company Northern and Shell, to avoid a "substantial" financial liability arising from increases in Tower Hamlets Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charges.

The decision was issued on the day before the east London council was due to adopt the new charging schedule, which would have introduced charges for the site of up to £50 million.

It has since emerged that Jenrick met the Northern and Shell owner Richard Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner, something confirmed by the housing minister Christopher Pincher in the House of Commons yesterday.

The secretary of state’s spokesperson told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that Jenrick had immediately told Desmond that it would be inappropriate to discuss the application when the matter was raised.

Desmond is reported to have subsequently donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party in late January.

Yesterday, during an emergency Commons debate on Jenrick’s handling of the application, Labour MP Clive Betts asked Pincher if the secretary of state would be willing to provide “all relevant documentation” so that the select committee can give proper careful consideration to these matter.

Speaking to Planning today, Betts said he had received a letter from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets asking his committee to scrutinise the housing secretary's decision to grant consent to plans to redevelop the former Daily Express newspaper’s print work in London’s Docklands for 1,524 new homes.

Betts said the committee would consider whether to examine Jenrick's decision as part of a wider inquiry into the government’s mooted planning reforms.

“Trust in the planning system is absolutely key and is something we would want to explore as part of a wider inquiry," he said.

“The committee will want to look very carefully and seriously at any proposals about the reform of the planning system and we have called for comprehensive review of the changes made in the last few years.”

Meanwhile, Davey's letter to Sir Mark Sedwill states that "the record of events in terms of the donation to the party, the admission of bias and the savings made by the developer on CIL payments raises serious questions as to whether he has broken the following elements of the code".

It adds:

• They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.

• Holders of public office must act and take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias.

• Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests.

A cabinet office spokeswoman said: "We will respond to correspondence on this matter in due course."

In addition, Labour peer Lord Adonis, former chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, claims that Jenrick has broken propriety rules on the handling of planning casework by ministers.

The Guidance on Planning Propriety Issues document, published by the former Department for Communities and Local Government in 2010, states that planning ministers should take "no part" in decisions in which they have an actual or perceived "private" interest.

The Labour peer told Planning today: “Having met Desmond at a party fundraising event and had a conversation with him about Westferry, he should have played no further part in the planning decision.”

“This is a cardinal rule.”

Lord Adonis tweeted yesterday that he intends to raise in the House of Lords the "failure" of Jenrick to answer parliamentary questions about his conduct in the consent to Desmond.

The MHCLG has been asked for a comment in response to the claims but had not responded at the time of publication.

It has previously said there was no actual bias by the minister in the decision.

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