Housing minister Robert Jenrick ‘viewed promo video for £1bn development on mogul’s personal mobile phone’ weeks before overruling his own officials to approve scheme
- Robert Jenrick approved project to redevelop Westferry Printworks, east London
- Last month, he reversed his approval after accepting it was ‘unlawful’
- He watched the video on Richard Desmond’s phone at the Savoy Hotel, last November
Housing minister Robert Jenrick watched a promotional video for a £1bn housing development promising a ‘new urban oasis’ on a media mogul phone.
It happened weeks before he overruled his officials and approved the project to redevelop Westferry Printworks into luxury flats in east London.
He watched it on Richard Desmond’s phone at a Conservative Party fundraiser held at the Savoy Hotel, London, last November, The Sunday Times reported.
Eight weeks after the £900-a-head dinner, he overruled a planning inspector. It is the only time he has gone against official advice.
Last month, he reversed his approval after accepting it was ‘unlawful’ due to ‘apparent bias’.
He acted less than 24 hours before a levy requiring the former Daily Express owner to pay £40m came into force.
He saved him a further estimated £106m by waiving affordable housing rules.
Desmond last night said that Jenrick told him he couldn’t discuss it after watching the clip.
Robert Jenrick overruled his officials and approved the project the redevelop Westferry Printworks into luxury flats in east London
The new development is on the Isle of Dogs, near Canary Wharf, and promised to create ‘a vibrant new waterfront neighbourhood with open spaces, a great community and leisure amenities’.
It used to be the largest printing works in Europe before it relocated in 2011.
Boris Johnson is facing fresh demands to ‘come clean’ over the approval of a Tory donor’s £1 billion property deal after the Prime Minister was pictured with his arm round the developer.
Mr Johnson is under increasing pressure to detail his contacts with Richard Desmond, whose wife tweeted the photograph, accompanied by the words: ‘Congratulations Boris – good luck with running this country and all the negative people.’
The tweet, on December 13, the day after Mr Johnson’s election triumph, came as the fate of Mr Desmond’s 1,500 luxury flat scheme in London’s Docklands lay in the balance and with the expectation that a Labour government would have blocked it.
He watched it on Richard Desmond’s (pictured) phone at a Conservative Party fundraiser held at the Savoy Hotel, London, last November
Labour last night said the ‘embarrassing’ tweet made it all the more important that Mr Johnson was open about dealings he had with the tycoon, who donated £12,000 to the Tories two weeks after his scheme was given the go-ahead.
Allies of the Prime Minister last night said Labour was just ‘mischief-making’, pointing out that Mr Johnson had been photographed with former Express Newspapers boss Mr Desmond on other occasions.
The ‘cash for favours’ row has left Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick fighting for his job over his decision in January to overrule the local council and allow the vast Westferry Printworks scheme to proceed. It came just in time to save Mr Desmond, 68, a reported £40 million from a new local levy.
Mr Jenrick, who has admitted being lobbied by Mr Desmond over the deal at a Tory fundraising dinner in November, was later forced by a court challenge to withdraw his approval and accept his original decision was ‘unlawful by reason of apparent bias’.
The Housing Secretary has insisted he told his department about his encounter, despite a claim from one official that ‘at no point’ did Mr Jenrick or his aides ‘alert us to the fundraiser dinner’ and the conversation with the housing developer.
But yesterday Mr Johnson was drawn deeper into the furore over Mrs Desmond’s tweet and by a separate photo published last week in Property Week magazine showing the PM and his top aide Sir Eddie Lister meeting lobbyist Richard Patient when Mr Johnson was London mayor in 2014.
Last night, Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed said: ‘The grubby Westferry cash-for-favours scandal reaches right inside No 10 and is on the Prime Minister’s doorstep with this embarrassing photo.
‘We know the PM approved the first Westferry application as Mayor of London in 2016 and it would appear that his right-hand man Sir Edward Lister is still on very friendly terms with Richard Desmond’s lobbying company, Thorncliffe.
‘Boris Johnson must come clean about his and Lister’s links with Richard Desmond and Richard Patient.’ Mr Reed also challenged Mr Jenrick to disclose if he had overruled his civil servants to stay in charge of overseeing the Westferry decision given it was ‘customary’ for a Minister to ‘recuse’ himself if he had been lobbied by the developer.
However, a spokesman for Mr Jenrick said: ‘At no point was he advised to recuse himself from the process. Planning Propriety Guidance had been followed at all times.’
No 10 did not respond to questions concerning any meetings between the Prime Minister and Mr Desmond.
But a spokesman said: ‘10 Downing Street had no involvement with the Secretary of State’s appeal decision.’
Mr Desmond could not be reached for comment.
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