Labour calls on Robert Jenrick to make statement over billionaire's donation

Richard Desmond gave money to Tories shortly after housing secretary intervened in planning decision

Labour has called for Robert Jenrick to make a statement to parliament after it emerged a billionaire developer donated to the Conservatives two weeks after the communities secretary intervened in a planning decision to potentially save the businessman millions of pounds.

The shadow communities secretary, Steve Reed, said Jenrick should also agree to publish all correspondence connected to his decision about the huge property development in east London led by Richard Desmond.

Reed has been granted an urgent question in the Commons on Thursday to pursue the issue.

In January, Jenrick overruled the local council and the government’s planning inspectorate to approve the 1,500-apartment, 44-storey complex for Desmond, the former owner of the Express newspapers, on the site of a former newspaper print works on the the Isle of Dogs.

He made the decision on 14 January, a day before the introduction of a community infrastructure levy (CIL) imposed by Tower Hamlets council, which would have charged Desmond’s company at least £40m, to be used for local education and health projects.

Jenrick’s department has since said that the approval of the project will be looked at again. The minister accepted the decision letter did show “apparent bias” and recused himself from any future decisions over Desmond’s project.

New donation figures published by the Electoral Commission show that two weeks later, on 29 January, Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservative party. A previous Tory donor, Desmond has also given money to Ukip in the past.

Reed tweeted that Jenrick should “publish all correspondence related to this decision”. He added: “After this latest revelation he must make a full statement to parliament.”

It has previously emerged that in November, Jenrick had sat on the same table as Desmond at a Conservative party fundraising event in London. Jenrick, who has denied any bias, says the pair did not discuss Desmond’s east London project.

Documents disclosed last month from the consent order for the development showed Jenrick was aware that the CIL would have been introduced on 15 January. These can be imposed to tax on large property developments per square metre.

Labour has already called for an investigation into the matter. In May, the shadow housing and planning minister, Mike Amesbury, wrote to the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, to say the Cabinet Office should investigate Jenrick’s actions.

In a statement released after news of the new donation emerged, Amesbury said: “Robert Jenrick should come clean and publish all correspondence with Richard Desmond about this case – otherwise the public will be entitled to think it’s one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy friends, and another rule for everyone else.”

A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokeswoman said the donation was a matter for the Conservative party. She said: “While we reject the suggestion that there was any actual bias in the decision, we have agreed that the application will be redetermined.”

A Conservative party spokeswoman said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by party donations – they are entirely separate. Donations to the Conservative party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with the law.”

Desmond was contacted for comment.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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