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Housing

Robert Jenrick’s ‘unlawful’ approval of Tory donor’s £1bn development is reversed

Robert Jenrick was at the centre of a cash for favours row last year after ‘unlawfully’ approving a Tory donor’s £1bn housing scheme. Now, his old department has turned down the plans.

A controversial £1bn development “unlawfully” signed off last year by then-Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has now been rejected by his old department.

The former cabinet minister sparked a cash for favours scandal during the first Covid lockdown after admitting he had unlawfully approved Tory donor Richard Desmond’s 1,500-home development on London’s Isle of Dogs.

Tower Hamlets Council and the independent Planning Inspectorate both said the scheme should be rejected due to a lack of affordable homes and its impact on the area, but Jenrick stepped in to give it the green light.

He did so one day before the council passed a new rate for its Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – a move that would have increased the property owner’s financial liability by between £30m and £50m.

A fortnight later, the developer gave £12,000 to the Conservative party.

The council took legal action in the High Court before 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.

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He agreed planning permission should be quashed and decided by a different minister but has repeatedly denied that any actual bias influenced his decision to approve the scheme. The prime minister stood by Jenrick at the time but he was sacked in a cabinet reshuffle in September.

Now, the scheme has been rejected by junior housing and rough sleeping minister Eddie Hughes on behalf of housing secretary Michael Gove. Hughes said it would not maximise affordable housing and would harm the character of the area, including the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs welcomed the decision, saying it was the “latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Tory sleaze”.

He said: “When Robert Jenrick approved the Westferry Printworks planning application, going against the views of Tower Hamlets Council, many residents, and his own planning inspector, it raised serious questions.

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“There were allegations he ignored forceful reasons for refusal and rushed through the decision to save the developer money and deprive local services of millions of pounds in the process.

“I’m pleased that now, after many months and two public inquiries, both the inspector and the new Secretary of State share the council’s view that the larger scheme should be refused permission.”

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Canary Wharf Councillor Kyrsten Perry with the collage she created created depicting the scandal. Image: Kyrsten Perry.

Only 21 per cent of the homes in the scheme would have been classed as “affordable” – below the council’s policy of 35 per cent. A version of the scheme approved in 2016, with 700 homes, can still be developed.

Tower Hamlets is one of the most deprived areas of England has the highest rate of child poverty in the country.

Canary Wharf Councillor Kyrsten Perry told The Big Issue the decision was “great news” for people living on the Isle of Dogs.

She said: “The Westferry Printworks Scheme was clearly over-development. This decision restores faith in the legal process and shows Tory sleaze doesn’t always work.”

Island Gardens Councillor, Mufeedah Bustin added: “Robert Jenrick’s decision was such a slap in the face to the community – it’s right that we challenged that and this ridiculous application has, finally, been refused.”

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