The three housing controversies Robert Jenrick is facing down

What exactly are the issues keeping the once barely known UK communities secretary in the headlines?

Even as someone still only 37 when he became a full cabinet minister last year, Robert Jenrick began as a relatively little-known member of Boris Johnson’s government. In the words of one profile, the MP for Newark since 2014 “rose without trace” – at least until now. Over the past few months, the communities secretary has faced a series of controversies, which in the past would perhaps have sunk a minister. There have been three main issues:

His many homes – and movements between them

While he has represented Newark, in Nottinghamshire, since winning a byelection in 2014, Jenrick has been criticised for having few ties there. The MP, a former solicitor, owns two properties in London, as well as Eye Manor, a Grade I-listed home in Herefordshire, and local people have complained they do not see him as much as they would like.

At the peak of the coronavirus lockdown it emerged that Jenrick had visited yet another property, his parents’ home in Shropshire. While he conceded he had done this, he said it was to drop off food and medicines and he had not entered their house. It also emerged that Jenrick had travelled between London and Eye Manor, rather than his home in Newark.

The Richard Desmond planning decision

Westferry printworkds development
Richard Desmond’s Westferry Printworks development in London. Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock

As communities secretary, Jenrick has the power to intervene in planning decisions. In January, he did that, overruling an east London council and the government’s planning inspectorate to approve a £1bn development of flats for the former newspaper magnate Richard Desmond.

Jenrick pushed through the decision a day before a community levy would have come into force, providing £45m for Tower Hamlets council to spend on local infrastructure. The council challenged the decision in court and Jenrick backed down, conceding a potential for bias.

It later emerged he had sat next to Desmond at a Conservative party fundraising event in November, where the former Express owner had shown him a PR video for the 44-storey development. Two weeks after the planning decision, Desmond gave the Conservatives £12,000.

Amid increasing political pressure, Jenrick’s department released correspondence relating to the case that showed Desmond had texted him about the issue, and that Jenrick had urged officials to complete the process before the infrastructure levy came into force.

The government insists Jenrick did nothing wrong, but further developments could sink his ministerial career.

Jenrick’s own planning applications

Jenrick’s London home
Robert Jenrick’s London home. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty

This week it emerged he had enjoyed some good fortune of his own when it came to planning matters, with Conservative councillors in Westminster approving an extension to one of his London homes, even though officials had objected three times.

The Times found that Jenrick had applied twice under his own name to have an extra room added to the house as part of wider renovations. A further application was made by his wife. Each time officials refused, saying it would damage the character of the building, which is in conservation area.

But with the third application, made two months after Jenrick was elected as an MP, a Conservative councillor living in the square intervened to request the application be referred to a planning committee, which approved the plans.

Contributor

Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
No 10 distances itself from Robert Jenrick over planning row
Richard Desmond contradicts housing secretary’s version of events at party fundraiser

Peter Walker Political correspondent

22, Jun, 2020 @1:22 PM

Article image
Robert Jenrick under pressure to resign after donor-row documents released
Housing secretary ‘insisted’ planning decision for £1bn development should be rushed through

Rajeev Syal and Heather Stewart

25, Jun, 2020 @8:58 AM

Article image
Boris Johnson backs Robert Jenrick despite planning row
Senior MP says questions remain over links between housing secretary and Richard Desmond

Heather Stewart and Rajeev Syal

25, Jun, 2020 @12:23 PM

Article image
Robert Jenrick: why are there calls for inquiry into minister?
Housing secretary is at centre of ‘cash-for-favours concerns’ over east London development

Henry McDonald

15, Jun, 2020 @8:35 PM

Article image
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

Peter Walker Political correspondent

10, Jun, 2020 @3:46 PM

Article image
The Robert Jenrick planning row explained
Housing secretary’s approval of £1bn development has come under increasing scrutiny

Heather Stewart and Rajeev Syal

24, Jun, 2020 @7:17 PM

Article image
Robert Jenrick says he regrets dining with donor before planning decision
Housing secretary says there was no bias in approval of Richard Desmond’s Westferry scheme

Simon Murphy Political correspondent

22, Jul, 2020 @11:55 AM

Article image
Labour quizzes PM on planning decision that saved Tory donor £40m
Boris Johnson asked to disclose any contact with donor Richard Desmond prior to housing minister overruling council

Peter Walker and Heather Stewart

17, Jun, 2020 @5:18 PM

Article image
Labour reports Robert Jenrick to parliamentary watchdog
Minister accused of rushing planning decision to help Tory donor Richard Desmond

Rajeev Syal

26, Jun, 2020 @11:38 AM

Article image
Robert Jenrick ducks Commons question on planning intervention
Government urged to explain why communities secretary approved billionaire’s scheme

Peter Walker Political correspondent

11, Jun, 2020 @4:17 PM