Police are “assessing” an allegation about housing secretary Robert Jenrick after he signed off a controversial £1bn east London development dreamed up by a Tory donor’s firm.
Jenrick handed the scheme a last-minute reprieve after the local council and then the independent Planning Inspectorate both decided it should be refused. They had said it lacked enough affordable housing and conflicted with local conservation policy.
The housing secretary’s green light came just a day before Tower Hamlets Council approved a new rate for its Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – a move that would have increased the property owner’s financial liability to the authority by between £30m and £50m.
That money would have been spent mitigating the impact of the development on the local area, and improving local services. Instead, thanks to Jenrick’s timing, it stayed in the pocket of the developer, leading to allegations of bias by the local council – and critics such as Labour’s Andrew Adonis, who is understood to have referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police Service on Wednesday.
The building used to be the Daily Express printworks on the Millwall waterfront. The land is owned by Northern & Shell, which is in turn owned by publishing magnate and former Tory donor Richard Desmond.
After Jenrick conceded his decision was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias” and confirmed it was deliberately issued before the new CIL policy could be adopted, he agreed planning permission should be quashed and decided by a different minister.
On Monday, a Met spokesperson confirmed the force had received an allegation. They told HuffPost UK: “The Metropolitan Police received an allegation on May 27 – the details of this are currently being assessed by officers from the special enquiry team.”
The special enquiry team looks into alleged fraud and corruption offences in the public sector.
In an interview last week, Jenrick said the application was decided “on its merits” and done “without any actual bias”.
He added: “But clearly the way that the process was run gave rise to some concerns and so that’s why we’ve chosen to quash the decision.”
It is unclear precisely what the allegation is.
On May 27, Adonis posted on Twitter that he had asked the police force to consider a breach of the law.
Linking to an article by The Times on the decision, he wrote: “I have asked the Metropolitan Police commissioner and the cabinet secretary whether they consider a breach of the law and the ministerial code has taken place here.”
Adonis also says he has asked the force to take account of an allegation that the two men met at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner before the decision was made.
HuffPost UK has contacted Adonis, Jenrick’s Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), and the Cabinet Office for comment.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We will respond to correspondence on this matter in due course.”
MHCLG said last week: “While we reject the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision, we have agreed that the application will be redetermined.”