Number 10 'says radical planning reforms have been put on hold'

A claim that the government has back-tracked on radical planning reforms and news of the Trump administration's concerns about an English council's approval of plans for a Chinese tech giant's research facility feature in today's newspaper round-up.

The Daily Telegraph reports that "radical planning reforms that would have put extra powers in the hands of Robert Jenrick have been put on hold amid the lobbying controversy surrounding the housing secretary". It claims that far-reaching reforms, including those floated in other national newspapers earlier this month, would no longer be put forward by the government. One of the proposals mentioned in the article involved giving more decision-making powers from councils to development corporations set up by the housing secretary. Another was easing green belt protection rules. It says they would have been included "in a white paper later this year" and mentioned "in a major speech next week on rebuilding Britain after the coronavirus downturn". However, a Number 10 spokesman the proposals would now "not be in the speech and are 'not our policy'", but it denied that this was anything to do with the controversy around the Westferry Printworks decision.

The Times reports that the US State Department has "warned Britain to think again about allowing 'untrusted companies like Huawei' access to sensitive information after the Chinese giant’s £1 billion research hub near Cambridge was approved". South Cambridgeshire District Council yesterday gave permission for the scheme near Cambridge. The article quotes a spokesman for the Trump administration saying “countries need to be able to trust that partners will not threaten national security, privacy, intellectual property, or human rights”. Huawei "insists it is a private, employee-owned company, acting independently of Beijing" and "denies that it poses any security threat", the newpaper adds. Coverage of the decision also features in the Telegraph.

The Times also reports that housing secretary Robert Jenrick’s "claim that he did not breach ministerial rules appeared to unravel last night as it emerged that he had instructed planning officials to fast-track a development without declaring a conflict of interest". The MHCLG published a series of documents on Wednesday revealing correspondence in relation to Jenrick's decision to approve the1,500-home scheme in January, which was later found to be "unlawful" by the High Court. The newspaper says the documents "show that the housing secretary told his department to prioritise advice so he could make a decision on the £1 billion housing scheme two days after he had met the Tory donor behind the plan at a Conservative fundraising dinner". However, it adds, Jenrick "failed to declare the potential conflict of interest until nearly a month later in apparent breach of the ministerial code that requires significant information to be disclosed “as soon as possible” .

The Telegraph reports that Desmond "asked to sit with Jenrick" at a Tory fundraising dinner, "raising serious questions over why Conservative HQ exposed the Housing Secretary to Mr Desmond's lobbying for a £1billion development".

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has published a leader column calling for Jenrick to resign. It states that his decision to approve the Westferry scheme "stinks to high heaven", adding: "If he had any sense of propriety or party loyalty, he would have resigned immediately after deeply incriminating texts revealed his cosy relationship with the developer - former newspaper proprietor Richard Desmond."

The Mail also examines the relationship between the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Desmond. It says Johnson "risks being dragged into the row after it emerged he also spent time with the former newspaper owner" at the Tory fundraising dinner in November. The newspaper has published a photograph of the two men with their arms around each other that it says "was taken during the event at the Savoy Hotel".

After accepting "apparent bias" in the decision, Jenrick has denied there was any "actual bias" and any wrongdoing in his approach to the case.


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