Minister overturns controversial Isle of Dogs plans linked to Tory donor ‘sleaze’ row

Westferry Printworks Development Signage. Pic: PA Media

The Government has overturned controversial plans for the multi-million pound Isle of Dogs development linked to billionaire Tory donor Richard Desmond and which sparked a ‘sleaze’ row involving former housing secretary, Robert Jenrick

The scheme to build 1,500 homes, leisure facilities and shops on the Westferry Printworks site were agreed by Jenrick, following personal contacts with Desmond, the former owner of the Daily Express whose development company is behind the plans.

It emerged that Desmond had paid £12,000 to the Conservative Party two weeks after the green light was given by Jenrick.

Tower Hamlets Council, whose opposition to the development had been backed by a public inquiry, had appealed Jenrick’s decision, but the minister himself quashed it because of the suggestions of undue influence surrounding his contacts with Desmond. Jenrick was then sacked in the Government re-shuffle in September this year.

Robert Jenrick, former housing secretary. Pic: Chris McAndrew

The second inquiry, by a planning inspector, also rejected the plans and this was confirmed today by Eddie Hughes, minister for rough sleeping and housing, on behalf of Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, who replaced Jenrick.

The letter released by the Government said that the agreed scheme would result in a “proposal of excessive height, scale and mass which would fail to respond to the existing character of the place”.

It added that the secretary of state agreed with the inspector’s view that the scheme “would not make a positive contribution to the skyline”, and would not represent “high quality design”. It would also affect the settings of the nearby Old Royal NavalCollege and Tower Bridge as well as the Greenwich World Heritage Site.

In a statement, the council’s spokesperson said: “The council is pleased that after many months and two public inquiries, both the inspector and secretary of state agree that the scheme should be refused permission.”

They added that the decision to allow planning permission was “inappropriate” and would “significantly impact” important heritage sites and failed to maximise affordable housing and family-sized homes.

In a statement, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: “When Robert Jenrick approved the Westferry Printworks planning application, going against the views of Tower Hamlets Council, many residents, and his own planning inspector, it raised serious questions.

“I’m pleased that now, after many months … both the inspector and the new secretary of state share the council’s view that the larger scheme should be refused permission … we’ll continue to work to ensure the maximum benefits of our residents.”

The decision is one people have welcomed, with Unmesh Desai, London assembly member for City and East, being one of many to congratulate the council on their achievement on Twitter.

Desai told Eastlondonlines he was in support of local councillors and has asked the Metropolitan Police to look into the “conduct of Robert Jenrick” and whether he had committed any offences in terms of “misconduct in public office”.

Official documents released last June revealed that Jenrick gave Desmond his phone number, after they sat next to each other at a Tory fundraising dinner in November 2019 . Desmond also showed Jenrick, who was due to make a final decision on the scheme, a video of the development on his phone.

After the dinner, Jenrick sent a friendly message to Desmond. Desmond then lobbied the minister, telling him a decision was urgent because “we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!” This message occurred the day before the development was approved by Jenrick in January and in time to avoid the new Community Infrastructure Levy. This would have cost the development an estimated extra £45m. Labour criticised Jenrick’s actions.

Councillor Mufeedah Bustin, cabinet member for social inclusion, told ELL: “Jenrick’s decision was such a slap in the face to the community; it’s right that we challenged that and this ridiculous application has, finally, been refused.”

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