Housing secretary embroils Conservatives in second planning row
Robert Jenrick facing fresh scrutiny after intervening in project backed by Tory peer and donors
Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has been drawn into a second planning row in as many weeks amid reports that he intervened in a development project funded by high-profile Conservatives and party donors.
According to The Times, Jenrick “used his ministerial planning powers” to rule on an appeal by the Jockey Club, Britain’s largest horse-racing organisation, for permission to build 318 homes and a hotel at the Sandown Park Racecourse in Surrey.
The application had been rejected by Elmbridge Borough Council because the proposed development would be on green-belt land and would include only 20% affordable housing. The newspaper reports that an appeal would normally be “decided by the government’s planning inspectorate”, but that Jenrick “intervened to recover the appeal and determine it”.
“That means that instead of a government planning inspector writing a decision, the inspector will prepare a report, which will be forwarded to the minister to inform his decision,” The Times adds.
Councillor Richard Williams, of Esher Residents’ Association, described Jenrick’s intervention as “alarming”, saying: “We should be convincing the inspector of our case, not a minister.”
And further objections have been raised after it emerged that the Jockey Club board members include Baroness Harding, the Conservative peer behind the government’s Covid-19 tracing app, and Rose Paterson, who is married to Tory MP Owen Paterson.
The board also includes Peter Stanley, who donated £5,000 to Matt Hancock’s constituency office in Newmarket last year, and Tim Syder, a racehorse owner who handed the Tories £12,500 last November, shortly before joining the Jockey Club’s decision-making body.
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As the row deepens, the Daily Mail reports that Jenrick has “resisted legal attempts to get him to hand over files” in a separate “cash-for-favours” scandal relating to a property development in east London.
Jenrick overruled Tower Hamlets Council in January to approve a request by billionaire Richard Desmond to build 1,500 homes on the site of a former printworks. Former media mogul Desmond donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party shortly after the development was approved.
No. 10 yesterday moved to “distance itself” from the ongoing row, after Desmond appeared to contradict Jenrick’s version of events during the run-up to the application getting the green light, The Guardian reports.
A Downing Street spokesperson declined to tell the newspaper whether officials knew that Jenrick “viewed a promotional video for a £1bn property development before overruling officials to approve it”.
Desmond told The Sunday Times this weekend that he showed the video to the minister during a Tory party fundraising dinner two months before the decision was made, adding that Jenrick watched it “for three or four minutes”.