Housing and communities secretary Robert Jenrick has been criticised for refusing to answer questions from MPs about his part in unlwafully granting planning permission to a £1bn property development.
Jenrick instead sent his deputy Chris Pincher to face parliamentary scrutiny about the planning approval, drawing claims from Labour that he was “hiding from scrutiny”.
Jenrick approved a planning development for a 1,500-home development in East London in January, after it was initially rejected by Tower Hamlets council.
The decision was made just a day before the council changed its planning laws, saving its developer Richard Desmond up to £50m.
It was revealed earlier this month that the housing secretary had sat with Desmond – a prominent Tory donor – at a Conservative party dinner just prior to overturning the decision.
It was then revealed by the Daily Mail that Desmond also donated £12,000 to the Conservative party two weeks after planning approval was granted.
Jenrick admitted that he had unlawfully approved the planning application due to “apparent bias”, but he denies that he had accepted party donations for a favourable decision.
Jenrick’s refusal to answer MPs’ questions on the affair today drew derision from opposition from MPs, with shadow communities secretary Steve Reed claiming he was “hiding in the tea room”.
Reed accused Jenrick in the House of Commons today of taking “cash for favours”.
“The public need reassurance that the integrity of the planning process cannot be auctioned off at Conservative party fundraising dinners,” he said.
Pincher, standing in for housing secretary, said the money donated by Desmond was for tickets for a party event and that Jenrick had no relationship with the developer.
“My right honoruable friend has no relationship with the applicant – so that question is irrelevant,” he said.
“Ministers have no knowledge of funds which are provided to political parties through donation or payment for tickets – these are spendings made by donors that go to parties of all persuasions.
“The involvement of ministers in the planning system is a very long established process, which is clearly guided by both the published ministerial code and the guidance published by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government on planning priority.”