Further links housing secretary Robert Jenrick and property tycoon Richard Desmond have been revealed in light of the government’s controversial decision to approve a £1bn housing development.
The Observer reported today that Jenrick held a background briefing on his work to reform the UK’s planning system at an event hosted by public relations firm Thorncliffe, who were working for Desmond in connection to the housing development.
Jenrick has come under fire after it was revealed that he may have been in contact with Desmond – a Tory party donor – shortly before overturning the Tower Hamlets council’s decision to reject the 1,500-home development.
Jenrick’s background briefing at an event hosted by Thorncliffe happened in February, a week before the government released its white paper on overhauling the planning system.
A spokesperson for the housing secretary said it was a “stakeholder event” and that he was accompanied by civil servants as per the ministerial code.
It was revealed two weeks ago that Jenrick and Desmond sat on the same table at a Conservative party dinner shortly before Jenrick made his decision to approve the £1bn development.
It was also revealed this week by the Daily Mail that Desmond donated £12,000 to the Tories weeks after the development was approved.
The housing secretary admitted that his decision was technically unlawful due to “apparent bias”, but denies that he had accepted party donations for a favourable decision.
Jenrick ducked questioning from MPs this week on his relationship with Desmond, instead sending deputy Chris Pincher.
Shadow communities secretary Steve Reed accused Jenrick in the House of Commons 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.”