Housing committee says Westferry controversy 'is not over' and asks Jenrick to appear before it

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has demanded further information from the housing secretary Robert Jenrick on his controversial Westferry Printworks appeal approval and has asked the minister to appear before the body to give evidence in person.

Jenrick: Housing committee seeks further answers over Westferry Printworks case. Image: UK Parliament
Jenrick: Housing committee seeks further answers over Westferry Printworks case. Image: UK Parliament

Clive Betts, chair of the Parliamentary select committee, has written to Jenrick advising that the committee “respectfully disagrees” with the Prime Minister’s recent assertion that “the matter is closed”.

Betts said Jenrick’s publication last week of documents relating to the case had provided some “much needed clarity” but advised that “important gaps remain” and issued the housing secretary with a list of 26 additional questions about his handling of the case.

The housing committee does not typically scrutinise individual planning decisions, Betts said.

“However, given the particular high-profile of this case and the opportunity to learn wider lessons, we feel it is important to make an exception.”

Betts sad he was not accusing Jenrick of “deliberate wrongdoing”. However, he said it was clear “serious mistakes were made during this process” and noted that Jenrick has accepted his decision was unlawful due to the “perception of bias”.

“Perceived conflicts of interest can be just as damaging as real conflicts to the integrity of the planning system and trust in our wider democratic process, which is why it is so vital that these matters are addressed as transparently as possible,” said Betts.

In January this year, Jenrick allowed a recovered appeal relating to Tower Hamlets Council’s non-determination of plans for 1,500 homes in London’s Docklands, despite an inspector’s recommendation that the appeal should be dismissed.

The decision was later overturned by the High Court and Jenrick conceded “apparent bias” in the case.

It emerged that the housing secretary’s decision had been issued just days before the London Borough of Tower Hamlets was to introduce a community infrastructure levy (CIL) charging schedule that would require the applicant to pay the local authority an additional sum of around £40 million.

Jenrick has been under pressure to explain the circumstances that led to his decision after it emerged that he had discussed the scheme with the applicant, publisher and Tory donor Richard Desmond, at a fundraising dinner weeks before he approved the scheme.

Last week, Jenrick published a raft of documents relating to the case, including details of texts in which Desmond urged the housing secretary to approve the scheme quickly to avoid the need to give a “Marxist” local authority “loads of doe”.

The housing committee has now called on Jenrick to answer a series of questions, covering issues including:

  • The extent to which Jenrick complied with his obligations under the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government's (MHCLG’s) Planning Propriety Guidance and the ministerial code.

  • Why correspondence with Desmond was not disclosed as part of a list of representations included in the case decision letter.

  • Advice received on the impact that Tower Hamlets Council’s CIL schedule would have on the viability of the proposed development.

  • Evidence considered by Jenrick as he came to his decision and why he accepted a 21 per cent affordable housing contribution, less than the borough’s 35 per cent requirement.

  • The number of cases in which secretaries of state have made planning decisions against the advice of both inspectors and MHCLG officials.

The letter gives Jenrick until Monday 6 July to respond and says it has "already invited you to give public evidence session on Monday 13 July, when there will be a further opportunity to discuss these ideas".

Planning has approached MHCLG for a comment but it had yet to respond at time of publication.

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