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Newark MP Robert Jenrick insistent Tower Hamlets development should be approved before levy imposed, documents show

Newly-released papers show Newark MP Robert Jenrick was ‘insistent’ a controversial £1bn development in London should be approved before new infrastructure charges came in.

The development, brought by Conservative Party donor and former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond was approved one day before the developer would have had to pay an extra £30 to £50m for local infrastructure.

Some of the documents detailing discussions between Mr Jenrick – who is the Secretary of State for Housing – and Mr Desmond have been released, after pressure from Labour to release all the discussions.

Robert Jenrick (37250624)
Robert Jenrick (37250624)

In one email, a civil servant said Mr Jenrick wanted the development signed off the following day, adding “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 [Community Infrastructure Levy] regime”.

The Government describes the CIL as an: “important tool for local authorities to use to help them deliver the infrastructure needed to support development in their area.”

The documents also reveal Mr Jenrick sent text messages to Mr Desmond after the pair sat together at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner.

Two weeks after the decision was approved – against the advice of Mr Jenrick’s own independent Planning Inspectorate – Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party.

Labour says the lobbying, and the failure by Mr Jenrick to declare an interest or recuse himself from making the decision, amounts to a breach of the Ministerial Code.

The code states all ministers must “declare and resolve any interests and relationships” and “take decisions impartially, fairly and on merit, using the best evidence and without discrimination or bias”.

Following the release the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, has said: “The prime minister considers that the matter is closed.”

It comes after Mr Jenrick admitted in court that his decision was ‘unlawful’ and showed ‘apparent bias’, when the case was raised by Tower Hamlets council.

Mr Jenrick’s department, the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government, has said a decision on the development will now be taken by a minister who was not involved in the original unlawful decision.

During a debate in the House of Commons yesterday before the papers were released, Shadow Housing Secretary Steve Reed said: “Ministers are not allowed to take planning decisions if they have been lobbied by the applicant and, under the ministerial code, ministers are required not to place themselves under an obligation by, for instance, helping to raise funds from a donor who stands to benefit from the decisions they make because it raises questions about cash for favours – which would be a serious abuse of power.”

At the same debate, Mr Jenrick said accusations his decision had been influenced by the donation were: “not simply wrong but actually outrageous”.

However he added: “Things could and should have been done differently.

“On reflection, I should have handled the communication differently.”

Politicians on all sides have been critical of the handling of the application.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran called Mr Jenrick’s position ‘completely untenable’ and the former leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets council – who resigned in protest of Mr Jenrick’s handling of the decision – has simply said: “I was right to resign”.

Mr Jenrick has been approached for a comment.

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