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Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has been told to “come clean” after it was revealed billionaire Richard Desmond donated thousands of pounds to the Conservative Party shortly after the government approved one of his housing developments.
Jenrick has admitted “unlawfully” giving the go-ahead the 1,500-home development at the former Westferry Printworks site on London’s Isle of Dogs in January.
As first reported by the Daily Mail on Wednesday, new figures from the Electoral Commission have revealed Desmond gave the Tories £12,000 two weeks after that decision was made.
Desmond is the former owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star newspapers.
Mike Amesbury, Labour’s shadow housing minister, has demanded Jenrick publish all correspondence with Desmond related to the development.
“Otherwise the public will be entitled to think it’s one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy friends, and another rule for everyone else,” he said.
Jenrick handed Desmond’s £1bn project a last-minute reprieve after the local council and 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 the 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.
Amesbury alleged the donation was “another indication” Jenrick’s decision “was done to benefit Richard Desmond, a wealthy Tory donor, to the tune of millions of pounds”.
“This latest revelation comes hours after Jenrick announced new plans to remove planning decisions from locally elected councillors, enabling ministers to take more decisions over the heads of local communities for the benefit of their wealthy friends,” he said.
“Robert Jenrick should come clean and publish all correspondence with Richard Desmond about this case.”
A Conservative Party spokesperson said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by party donations – they are entirely separate.
“Donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”
In March Tower Hamlets council began legal action alleging that the timing of the decision appeared to show bias.
Jenrick accepted his decision letter 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.