Jenrick slams 'inaccurate' claims he breached planning guidance over Westminster Holocaust Memorial as 'serious and disappointing'.

The release of text messages and documents have revealed Robert Jenrick's contact with businessman Richard Desmond over £1bn housing development


Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has attacked claims that he breached planning guidance over the proposed Westminster Holocaust Memorial as “serious and disappointing”.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Jenrick said the “suggestion that in that case I used my powers as Secretary of State to call in the application” was “inaccurate”.

He added: “The Secretary of State is the applicant for the Holocaust memorial, and there is a clear Chinese wall whereby another minister in the department who has no interest in that application takes the ultimate decision.

“That is exactly what we did in that case, so I strongly urge members from all parties, as well as the media who have reported on that issue, to tread carefully.

“We should not bring something as important as our national Holocaust memorial into this party political discussion.”

The JC revealed on Tuesday how the claim that Mr Jenrick had met the co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation Lord Eric Pickles on October 29 to discuss the memorial was incorrect.

Lord Pickles had been in Germany, visiting the Dachau concentration camp on the day of his alleged meeting with Mr Jenrick - which had been logged on his department’s website.

Baroness Ruth Deech had last week accused Mr Jenrick of breaching “the guidance on planning propriety” over his management of an application to build a national Holocaust memorial in Westminster.

Last weekend a report in the Sunday Times repeated the claim that in a meeting, on October 29, Mr Jenrick had met the co-chair of the foundation, Lord Pickles, following an earlier October 7 meeting with Gerald Ronson, another chair of the foundation.

But another Tory source told the JC: “Even if Robert had met with Eric Pickles there would have been nothing wrong.

“He rescued himself which means has no involvement in the planning decision.”

Meanwhile Downing Street has said the Prime Minister is standing by Mr Jenrick after the release of text messages revealed his close relationship with businessman Richard Desmond.

The texts, which were disclosed amid mounting pressure on Mr Jenrick to resign, showed how former Norwood president Mr Desmond pleaded with him to give the project the go-ahead before a Labour-run council brought in a levy that would cost him £45million.

Mr Jenrick had backed his plan to build 1,500 flats on the site of the Westferry printworks in the Isle of Dogs, east London, after over-ruling objections from the local council and planning officers.

In documents which were disclosed on Tuesday,  one text message exchange reveals Mr Desmond wrote: “We appreciate the speed as we don't want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!”

The Housing Secretary has faced accusations of “cash for favours” since it was revealed Mr Desmond had donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party two weeks after his scheme was given the go-ahead.

Mr Jenrick agreed to release “all relevant information” relating to the matter after coming under pressure from Labour in Parliament.

He told the Commons on Tuesday: “On 21 May 2020, my department proposed that the decision be quashed and predetermined by another minister in the usual way.

“The other parties to the matter—Tower Hamlets Council, the Mayor of London and the developer—agreed and the court duly consented. My rationale was that although there was no actual bias whatsoever in the decision making for the application, inferences, even of the appearance of bias, could harm the integrity of the planning system. I did not want that to happen.”

Mr Jenrick confirmed to the Commons that he had watched a promotional video about the scheme on Mr Desmond's mobile phone at after they had sat next to one another at a Tory fundraiser  at the Savoy Hotel last November but insisted he “informed the developer it was not appropriate to discuss the matter.”

After the event the two men swapped mobile phone numbers and exchanged a series of messages, including over arrangements for a possible visit to the site.

On November 20, Mr Jenrick appeared to attempt to halt Mr Desmond’s attempts to pressurise him, writing: “As Secretary of State it is important not to give any appearance of being influenced by applicants’ cases … I think it is best we don’t meet until the matter is decided.”

In a message on December 23, Mr Desmond asked for a quick decision.  He wrote: “We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise payment of £45 million to Tower Hamlets, meaning we have to stop and reduce social housing.”

Mr Jenrick raised the issue in a meeting with his officials a fortnight later.

A few days later, one wrote: “My understanding is that the Secretary of State is/was insistent that decision issued this week – as next week the viability of the scheme is impacted by a change in the London community infrastructure levy regime.”

The documents also show that officials in Mr Jenrick’s department prepared a briefing note suggesting he should refuse permission for the scheme over what was said to be an “unacceptable level’’ of affordable housing  - and over concerns about the height of the development.

Sir Mark Sedwill, the cabinet secretary, has now written to Labour to say in light of Mr Jenrick's ''full and factual account'' the Prime Minister considers the matter closed.

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