The leader of the Labour Party has said there are ‘serious questions’ about the handling of a £1 billion property deal involving Newark MP Robert Jenrick, after he admitted acting ‘unlawfully’.
Mr Jenrick, who is also the Secretary of State for Housing, intervened to overrule his planning inspectorate and grant planning permission for a 1,500 home development one day before new rules would have meant the developer had to pay an extra £30 to £50 million for local infrastructure.
When the case was taken to court by Tower Hamlets council, the Government admitted the timing of the decision “would lead the fair-minded and informed observer to conclude there was a real possibility (Robert Jenrick) was biased.”
The Government has since rejected that there was any actual bias in the decision.
Earlier this week it was revealed specialist officers at the Metropolitan Police were assessing the situation.
While Mayor of London, Prime Minister Boris Johnson approved the scheme’s original designs, when the development was due to be significantly smaller.
The revised plans were then approved in January this by Secretary of State Robert Jenrick despite a planning inspector recommending against granting permission.
Now, the leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer has said the sooner ‘serious questions are answered’ the better.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Thursday, June 4, Sir Keir said: “I think there are serious questions that have got to be answered.
“I was disappointed that the Prime Minister just brushed it aside on Wednesday (June 3) when he was challenged on it in PMQs, there are clearly serious questions that have got to be answered, and the sooner they are answered the better.”
When asked how he would respond if a member of his own shadow cabinet had been admitted acting unlawfully, he replied: “I’d have to look into the full circumstances of it, but I would want a proper enquiry into it, and to be satisfied myself as to what had happened.
“The difference between myself and Boris Johnson is I would want to know, and have a line of sight on it so I could take appropriate action, he doesn’t want to have a conversation about it, and said on Wednesday he’s not even had a discussion about it.
“That tells you the difference in approach that we take as leaders of our parties.
“The Prime Minister should want those answers himself, rather than seeing it as an issue he doesn’t need to get involved with.”
On Wednesday, the Prime Minister was asked about his involvement during Prime Minister’s Questions.
Labour MP for Bradford South Judith Cummins asked: “The communities secretary (Mr Jenrick) has admitted unlawfully overruling his own planning inspector to allow the Westferry development to go ahead, potentially saving the developer, Richard Desmond, who is a Conservative party donor, £40m in tax.
“The secretary of state did so just weeks after sitting next to the developer at a Tory fundraising dinner.
“Given that this was the same scheme that the prime minister tried to push through when he was mayor of London and which reappeared after he entered Downing Street, will he now tell the House what conversations he has had with the secretary of state about the scheme?
“Will he publish all relevant correspondence between No.10 and the department?”
Johnson replied: “I am happy to tell her that I have had no conversations on that matter whatever, nor any exchanges of any kind.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government said: “While we reject the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision, we have agreed that the application will be redetermined.”