Dossier of private messages show Robert Jenrick rushed through property scheme

Robert Jenrick rushed through approval of a Tory donor’s £1billion property deal to save him £45million, explosive messages suggested last night.

The Housing Secretary was forced to hand over damning texts he exchanged with former newspaper tycoon Richard Desmond.

The billionaire pleaded with him to give the project the go-ahead before a Labour-run council brought in a levy that would cost him £45million.

In one text message, Mr Desmond wrote: ‘We appreciate the speed as we don’t want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing!’

Emails between Mr Jenrick’s officials show the minister was ‘insistent’ that the planning decision be made before the levy came in.

Despite the damaging revelations, Boris Johnson last night backed him to remain in his post and insisted he believed the matter was closed.

The Housing Secretary has faced accusations of ‘cash for favours’ since the Daily Mail revealed Mr Desmond had donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party two weeks after his scheme for 1,500 homes was given the go-ahead.

The Housing Secretary was forced to hand over damning texts he exchanged with former newspaper tycoon Richard Desmond

Mr Jenrick had resisted calls to make public the correspondence relating to his decision. But yesterday he finally agreed to release ‘all relevant information’ – under pressure from Labour in Parliament.

The minister over-ruled Tower Hamlets council and a planning inspector to grant permission for the development in January, two months after he sat next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner.

Mr Jenrick yesterday admitted watching a promotional video about the scheme on Mr Desmond’s mobile phone at the event at the Savoy Hotel but insisted he ‘informed the developer it was not appropriate to discuss the matter’.

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

In a message on December 23, Mr Desmond appealed for a quick decision. He wrote: ‘We have to get the approval before January 15 otherwise payment of £45million 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.’

A document prepared by Mr Jenrick’s department shows that officials advised him not to approve the development.

Billionaire Richard Desmond pleaded with Mr Jenrick to give the project the go-ahead before a Labour-run council brought in a levy that would cost him £45million

Billionaire Richard Desmond pleaded with Mr Jenrick to give the project the go-ahead before a Labour-run council brought in a levy that would cost him £45million

In the Commons yesterday, MPs warned there was a ‘stench of sleaze’ around the Housing Secretary’s approval for the plan to redevelop the site of the Westferry printworks in east London.

Mr Jenrick insisted that he had acted within the rules, but admitted: ‘I am not blind to the fact that things could and should have been done differently.’ He said it was ‘outrageous’ to suggest his decision was influenced by his interactions with Mr Desmond.

Labour’s housing spokesman Steve Reed said the documents confirmed that Mr Jenrick ‘rushed through the decision specifically to help the developer avoid a £30-£50million levy payable to the local council for infrastructure in one of the poorest local authorities in England’.

Mr Jenrick last month agreed for his decision to be quashed after Tower Hamlets launched a High Court challenge.

The riddle of Robert Jenrick’s £830k home makeover that planners refused  

Robert Jenrick was mired in a fresh row yesterday after it emerged Tory councillors approved an extension to his £2.6million townhouse despite planning officials rejecting it three times.

Documents show the Housing Secretary, 38, submitted plans to turn a rear first-floor roof terrace into an extra room as part of renovations costing £830,000.

It was twice rejected by Westminster City Council’s planning officer in January and April 2014. This was on the grounds it would ‘harm’ the character and appearance of the building and surrounding conservation area. But in August 2014, two months after he became the Tory MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire, Mr Jenrick and his wife submitted plans for a third time.

Although the planning officer ruled it should again be refused, Tory councillor Steve Summers intervened and requested that it be referred to a committee to decide.

Mr Summers lives in the same exclusive square, just a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, as Mr Jenrick, The Times reported.

In November 2014, three Tory councillors on the planning committee then voted to overturn the officer’s decision and approve it. The first two applications had been made in Mr Jenrick’s name, but the third was under his wife’s, although she was wrongly listed as ‘Mr Michal Berkner’ on documents. The only councillor who voted against on the four-member planning committee was Labour’s Ruth Bush.

The exclusive square, just a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, where Robert Jenrick lives

The exclusive square, just a short walk from the Houses of Parliament, where Robert Jenrick lives

Documents show the Housing Secretary, 38, submitted plans to turn a rear first-floor roof terrace into an extra room

Documents show the Housing Secretary, 38, submitted plans to turn a rear first-floor roof terrace into an extra room

Last night she said it raises new concerns about why fellow councillors approved the scheme.

She said: ‘It is strange. There are clearly questions to be asked now. I kick myself for not thinking, ‘who is this Mr Michal Berkner?’

‘I made a note at the time that I thought it was a foolish decision because of the possibility of it setting a precedent.’

She added: ‘For smaller applications it’s very unusual for them to be referred to committee. It’s usually only for major applications or where there are objections from the public.’ Neither applied in this case.

The documents show permission was granted despite the structure under the third application being 25cm higher. If it hadn’t been called into committee the planning officer’s refusal would have stood.

Mr Jenrick’s opposite number, Labour’s shadow communities secretary Steve Reed, called on the minister to reveal details of any contact he had with Tory councillors in the run-up or during the process.

Mr Jenrick's application was twice rejected by Westminster City Council's planning officer in January and April 2014

Mr Jenrick’s application was twice rejected by Westminster City Council’s planning officer in January and April 2014

But in August 2014, two months after he became the Tory MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire, Mr Jenrick and his wife submitted plans for a third time

But in August 2014, two months after he became the Tory MP for Newark in Nottinghamshire, Mr Jenrick and his wife submitted plans for a third time

He said: ‘The public need reassurance that there’s not one rule for Conservative politicians and another for everyone else.’

Further documents show Mr Jenrick set up a private company to have the renovations carried out after buying the five-bedroom terrace house in 2013. Accounts show his wife, a City lawyer, paid more than £800,000 into the company for the work to be done.

The arrangement has raised eyebrows among experts, who said it was a ‘strange way’ of structuring the work. Property tax specialist Simon Misiewicz, who looked at the company’s accounts, said: ‘It’s clear no profits were made, so what’s the ulterior motive? Why would you carry out an activity like this for you to make no money?’

A spokesman for Mr Jenrick said ‘there were no tax advantages to this arrangement’ and that ‘all applicable taxes’ were paid.

Paul Church, one of the Tory councillors who gave planning approval, said he could not remember why he did and did not know Mr Jenrick was the homeowner.

Richard Beddoe, chairman of the committee, did not respond to requests for comment. The third Tory member, Robert Rigby, said he had no contact with Mr Jenrick or his wife in the run-up to approving the extension, did not know Mr Jenrick was the owner, does not consider the housing minister or his wife a ‘friend’ and that the application was ‘judged on its merits and in planning terms’. Mr Summers referred questions to the council’s press office. Westminster City Council said the scheme had ‘support from neighbours and due process was followed at all times’.

A spokesman for Mr Jenrick said: ‘Normal planning process for a standard planning extension was followed by the applicant.’

HENRY DEEDES: He sweated under the glare like a saveloy in a chip shop

Robert Jenrick sat on the Government front bench, arms folded, feet still, his mouth occasionally gulping like a cornered koi carp.

Perched all alone, with no colleague nearby, he could have been a lonely seafarer bobbing inside a lifeboat as the waves crashed around him. Which was apt really. Attacks were raining in at him from all over the chamber.

The Housing Secretary had returned to the Commons to face questions over his links to Richard Desmond, whose £1billion housing application Jenrick had intervened to wave through just before the developer made a £12,000 donation to the Tories.

This murky saga has rolled on for weeks now. How’s Jenrick holding up? Passing him late on Tuesday along Whitehall, he looked little green around the gills, as though the weight of the world was hanging from his shoulders. To give him his due, he showed unexpected mettle through yesterday’s tussle.

The Housing Secretary had returned to the Commons to face questions over his links to Richard Desmond

The Housing Secretary had returned to the Commons to face questions over his links to Richard Desmond

Labour’s Housing spokesman Steve Reed clearly smelt blood and had worked himself into an appropriate froth. He arrived in the chamber with his hair ruffled and his tie askew. It’s possible he’d been psyching himself up in front of the mirror.

Reed accused Jenrick of having something to hide. He’d come armed with a stack of headline-friendly clichés to hammer this home. We heard phrases like ‘cash for honours’ and ‘mates’ rates for friends of Tories’. A couple of times he trotted out that old Labour favourite: ‘One rule for billionaire donors and one for the rest for us’.

Jenrick looked on, a little twitch of irritation occasionally dancing across his temple. Sometimes he would begin gesticulating the way unruly pupils do. ‘What sir, me sir?’

When he finally rose, someone – Labour’s Toby Perkins, possibly – immediately tried to make an intervention. Jenrick airily questioned whether his opponents were genuinely interested in what he had to say. Punchy.

He agreed to publish all documentation on the matter, but insisted Mr Desmond’s application had been made ‘with an open mind’ and ‘after a thorough decision-making process’.

Jenrick had intervened in Sir Desmond's £1billion housing application just before the developer made a £12,000 donation to the Tories

Jenrick had intervened in Sir Desmond’s £1billion housing application just before the developer made a £12,000 donation to the Tories

We heard about the night he sat next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraiser while his planning application was still pending. He reiterated that he had no idea they would be placed next to next to one another. Cue several sly smirks around the House.

At the same table that evening, we were told, was the editor of The Mirror. Editor of the Left-wing Mirror at a Tory fundraiser? Must be a first. There was also a ‘former Tory MP.’ This was apparently Norfolk grandee Sir Henry Bellingham. What an old gent like Sir Henry’s doing mixed up with Mr Desmond is anyone’s guess.

By now, a thin film of sweat had formed on Jenrick’s forehead. Fifteen minutes under the Commons lights will do that to you. Before long his brow was shinier than a saveloy in a chippie’s broiler.

Meanwhile, just inside the chamber door sat the Prime Minister’s PPS Alex Burghart (Con, Brentwood and Ongar). Preparing a match report for the boss, no doubt.

Jenrick scored a decent hit following an intervention from Apsana Begum (Labour, Poplar and Limehouse) in whose constituency the development falls. Miss Begum appeared critical of the decision to grant the application.

Yet Jenrick said when he asked officials what representations she’d made when it was first lodged, they had told him she had ‘taken no interest’ in it at all. Boom! Miss Begum reeled in her neck. Worth noting was Jenrick’s menace toward Reed, whom he went for doggedly at the end. 

He accused him of ‘living for smears and innuendos, not substance’. 

It was biting stuff. Reed affected an air of apathy by giving his goatee whiskers a casual rake of the fingernails. 

As the Minister returned to his seat, the attacks resumed. David Linden (SNP, Glasgow E) said the whole business ‘stunk to high heaven.’

Rupa Huq (Lab, Ealing Central and Acton) claimed that ‘the wheels were coming off this oven-ready Government’. Jenrick continued to sit there, twisting and turning, though just about keeping his mouth above the surf.

For how long?

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk

Loading...