Baroness Ruth Deech has accused Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick of breaching “the guidance on planning propriety” over his management of an application to build a national Holocaust memorial in Westminster.
The JC reported how the government department headed by Mr Jenrick had taken control of the application for a memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens - a grade II listed park near the Palace of Westminster - following objections to the development from the local council.
Mr Jenrick – who is embroiled in a “cash for favours” planning row over his decision to approve a £1 billion development proposed by Richard Desmond - is now facing questions after it emerged that he had met two of the project’s chief backers, and their lawyer, days before the application was called in by a senior member of his department.
Official records show the minister met the Community Security Trust chair Gerald Ronson, who sits on the board of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, on October 7.
Last weekend a report in the Sunday Times claimed that in a second meeting, on October 29, Mr Jenrick had met the co-chair of the foundation, Lord Eric Pickles.
But Lord Pickles told the JC he had not met with Mr Jenrick as he was in Munich, having attended a World Jewish Congress event on the 28th at which Chancellor Angela Merkel was honoured by the World Jewish Congress.
On the 29th, Lord Pickles revealed he had visited the Dachau concentration camp with representatives of the WJC, before travelling to Berlin the following day.
The foundation subsequently wrote to Mr Jenrick to ask that the project be called in, announcing the request on its Twitter feed at 3.51pm on November 5.
Lord Pickles, who had previously said he had “not the slightest doubt [the memorial] will be built”, tweeted that he and the foundation’s other co-chairman, Ed Balls, were “delighted” by the decision to strip Westminster of its decision-making power.
In November the project was called in by then Housing Minister Esther McVey, after Mr Jenrick, her boss, recused himself because he had publicly backed the memorial. This stripped Westminster Council of its power to rule on the £102m project.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Baroness Deech said: “Is the Minister aware of another example of what appears to be a breach of the guidance on planning propriety, and less than impartial behaviour by the department?
“There have been a number of meetings between Ministers and representatives of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, who are in effect appealing to the Minister to permit this controversial project.
“On 29 October, Mr Jenrick met with the co-chair of the foundation and its QC.
“The very next day, the foundation, without consulting Westminster City Council, wrote to the department to ask that the project be called in — and, within a week, it was.
“Was there, at this meeting, any discussion of the application being called in for the Secretary of State’s own determination?”
Responding for the government, Lord Greenhalgh said he “did not feel it was appropriate” to comment on a live planning application.
The plans for a Holocaust memorial were announced in 2015 by David Cameron, the then prime minister. The proposal is for a memorial made of 23 bronze fins, plus an education centre.
The scale and location of the project has raised concern amongst some in the community, with Baroness Deech amongst the most vociferous opponents.
The JC understands that a public inquiry into the memorial and adjacent ‘Learning Centre’ will now take place in October.
A judicial review has been sought by London Parks and Gardens Trust, which claims Mr Jenrick and his staff cannot be impartial.
The Housing and Communities Secretary is also technically the planning applicant for the memorial because the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation is part of his department.
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), says the final decision will be made “independently” by the new housing minister, Christopher Pincher, following a public inquiry.
MHCLG said it could not comment on the judicial review but that “all planning decisions taken by ministers are taken in line with published propriety guidance, which states that planning decisions must be made solely on the basis of valid planning matters”.
It did not comment on Mr Jenrick’s meetings.