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29/06/2020

Labour calls for investigation into housing secretary’s role in Westferry ‘scandal’

Words: Laura Edgar
Investigation / iStock-533045204

The Labour Party has written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards in the House of Commons, Kathryn Stone, asking her to conduct an investigation into whether housing secretary Robert Jenrick has breached the Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament.

The alleged breach concerns his role in the Westferry “cash-for-favours scandal”.

Documents released by Jenrick last week regarding his decision to approve the 1,524-home scheme on the Isle of Dogs in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets show he ”insisted” a decision was made before it was “impacted by a change in the London CIL regime”.

The correspondence between Jenrick and officials at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and text messages sent to and from himself and scheme developer Richard Desmond was published after being urged to do so during an opposition debate.

The scheme was approved in January – the day before community infrastructure levy (CIL) charges placed on developments were increased. A planning inspector had recommended its rejection. 

The council said that the timing of the decision meant that Desmond, a Conservative Party donor and the owner of publisher Northern and Shell, avoided paying between £30 million and £50 million.

Jenrick has accepted that his decision was unlawful.

Two weeks after the decision was made, the property developer made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party.

The documents show that on 9 January, an official stated that “on timing, my understanding is that SoS is/was insistent that decision issued this week ie, tomorrow – as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London CIL regime”. Text messages between Jenrick and Desmond were also published showing that they were discussing a site visit before the decision. This, in the end, did not take place.

For the Labour Party, the contact demonstrates “a serious abuse of powers he is supposed to exercise impartially”.

The Code of Conduct for Members of the House of Commons stipulates that members should act in accordance with the public trust placed in them, as well as behave with probity and integrity, including in their use of public resources. They should also be open about the decisions and actions they take.

Steve Reed, shadow communities secretary, said: “The prime minister can’t just sweep this issue under the carpet. There are still so many unanswered questions about Robert Jenrick’s unlawful attempt to help Richard Desmond dodge £150 million in tax days before he made a generous donation to the Conservative Party.

“The prime minister has yet again shown woefully poor judgment by not referring clear breaches of the Ministerial Code to the Cabinet Secretary and he must now come clean himself about his own involvement in this case.

“The government must publish all the remaining secret documents in this case to show the public what Mr Jenrick and the prime minister were really up to and prove that this is not the start of a new era of Tory sleaze.”


Read more: 

Jenrick ‘insisted’ Westferry decision was made before CIL regime change came into force


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