Jenrick: I shouldn't have given developer my phone number

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has told MPs that he regrets giving Richard Desmond his phone number a couple of months before he unlawfully allowed the developer's appeal against the non-determination of the Westferry Printworks scheme.

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: Getty Images
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: Getty Images

Jenrick this week published copies of correspondence relating to his decision to approve plans for the scheme in east London, which he has since accepted was unlawful due to "apparent bias". 

Jenrick had consciously made the decision before the London Borough of Tower Hamlets adopted a community infrastructure levy charging schedule that would have required Desmond to make a payment of about £40 million.

The housing secretary said that he did this to ensure the scheme was not hit by viability issues and delays. Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservative party in the weeks after his scheme was approved.

The housing secretary had met Desmond at a Tory party fundraising dinner in November. At the dinner, the developer raised the scheme with Jenrick, and subsequently texted the housing secretary to stress the importance of a quick decision to "avoid giving Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing".

Jenrick raised the scheme with his officials two days after the dinner.

This week, as well as publishing his correspondance, Jenrick wrote to the House of Commons housing, communities and local government select committee to answer their questions about the issue.

In his note, he says that he regrets giving publisher and developer Richard Desmond his phone number a couple of months before he was due to decide on the latter’s appeal against the council's non-determination of the scheme.

In his note, he says: "I do appreciate the strong argument that things could and should have been handled in a different manner. On reflection, I would not have exchanged numbers given the live planning matter, but at the time I considered the matter closed as I have clearly told Mr Desmond I could not and would not discuss it".

In his note, the housing secretary also reveals he has asked Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government civil servants to review advice that ministers and officials receive on matters of planning propriety.

He said: "I have also asked my department to review the extant Planning Propriety Guidance to see how there can be clearer, practical guidance to ministers and civil servants. This will help ensure the highest standards of conduct in public life, whilst recognising the need for interested parties – including local Members of Parliament – to be able to make representations on the public interest".

Speaking at yesterday's National Planning Summit, planning and housing minister Christopher Pincher confirmed that neither he nor Jenrick would be involved in re-considering the Westferry development.

The correspondence also reveals:

  • One day after the dinner, the housing secretary arranged a further meeting with Desmond
  • Jenrick took his decision against the advice of his own planning experts
  • Desmond texted Jenrick about the scheme several times in the weeks before decision

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