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
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
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.