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Aides 'begged' minister to kill off Tory donor's £1bn property deal

by Lovie Lavarack (2020-07-08)

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Robert Jenrick was facing fresh controversy today over his backing for a Tory donor's £1billion property development as it was revealed he over-ruled civil servants who 'begged him' to block it. 

Whistleblowers claim the Housing Secretary rode roughshod over warnings from inside his own department to refuse an appeal by former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond, who wanted to build 1,500 luxury homes in a deprived part of East London.   

Beleaguered Mr Jenrick last week released a cache of documents relating to the Westferry Printworks saga and admitted making mistakes.

Last month, the Mail on Sunday revealed the Housing Secretary had been lobbied about the application to build 1,500 flats in London's Docklands by billionaire tycoon Mr Desmond at a Tory Party fundraiser.

The former owner of the Express later made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party and was in text message contact with Mr Jenrick on November 18 last year after swapping numbers at the exclusive dinner.

Today it was revealed that Mr Jenrick was told by staff  there was a 70-80 per cent the case would be overturned in the courts, but replied there was 'no point' trying to overturn his decision in January.

In a WhatsApp message he told his private secretary to inform staff that his decision was 'final' the Sunday Times reported.

It came as the Prime Minsister's own links with Mr Desmond came under fresh scrutiny, as Mr Desmond claimed he committed to easing gambling rules to assist his Health Lottery, which raises cash for charity.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said today the matter over the Westferry affair and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick's handling of it was 'closed'. 

The Mail on Sunday has seen an account from one civil servant working on the Westferry application who has accused Mr Jenrick (right) of playing 'fast and loose' with the case

Home Secretary Priti Patel said today the matter over the Westferry affair and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick's handling of it was 'closed'

She told the BBC's Andrew Marr: 'I haven't followed the details of every single decision on this but what I do know and what I can tell you is that the correspondence, the documentation is out in the public domain on this particular application - and rightly so.

'It is a significant decision, a significant application.

'The papers have been published, the secretary of state has followed all issues around transparency.

'It has been discussed in Parliament a number of times, questions have been answered on this and the matter is deemed to be closed.'

She added: 'It is through that matter of transparency that the matter is now deemed to be closed.'  

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Mr Jenrick's decision to give the green light to the Westferry development was challenged in the High Court over the 'appearance of bias' and he did not contest the case.
He told MPs on Wednesday that he alerted his officials to his relationship with Mr Desmond one month later on December 17, even though he had asked to speed up the project a day after the dinner.

However, The Mail on Sunday has seen an account from one civil servant working on the Westferry application that casts doubt on this version of events.

The official has accused Mr Jenrick of playing 'fast and loose' with the case and said the connection to Mr Desmond was not shared with those working directly on it.

The whistleblower wrote: 'I can confirm that at no point did Mr Jenrick or his Special Advisers alert us to the fundraiser dinner he attended with Mr Desmond or the short conversation he had with him about the application.'

They added that if staff had known, 'We would have pushed much harder for the decision to be rethought given the conflict of interest.'



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