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Housing secretary gets planning permission due to Conservative councillor involvement

Housing secretary Robert Jenrick had an extension to his £2.6m London townhouse allowed by local Conservative council despite numerous objections

The minister for housing, communities and local government had an extension to his £2.6 million London townhouse pushed through by local Conservative councillors despite objections, it has been revealed.

Robert Jenrick, 38, and his wife, 47, bought a five-bedroom house in October 2013 just a few weeks before he was selected as the conservative candidate for Newark.

The couple, who share three daughters, wanted to turn their first floor roof terrace into an extra room as part of £830,000-worth of renovations.

After planning applications under Mr Jenrick’s name were twice rejected a third application was made under his wife’s name, although she was misgendered as Mr Michal Berner, reported The Times.

The previous rejections were over concerns the extension would damage the character and appearance of the building and conservation area.

But the 2014 application, submitted just two months after Mr Jenrick was elected as a Conservative MP, was sent to a planning committee.

A Tory councillor who lived on the same private square, Steve Summers, had intervened and requested the application be referred to the higher committee to make a decision.

In November 2014 three Tory members of the planning committee voted to overturn the planning officer’s refusal, and the application was granted.

Labour councillor Ruth Bush voted against the application. At the time she said it was ‘a foolish mistake’ and risked setting a dangerous precedent for other houses in the area.

When she heard about the recent revelations she told the newspaper: ‘I am not at all happy now it’s been drawn to my attention that this proceeded in the way that it did. It should have been more transparent.’

Ms Bush said it was ‘strange’ and ‘unusual’ for a councillor to refer an application with no public objections to a planning committee. ‘If it hadn’t been called into committee then the officer’s refusal would have stood,’ she said.

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

It comes as the minister is caught up in a ‘cash-for-favours’ row after he overruled Tower Hamlets council and the planning inspector to give the green light to billionaire Richard Desmond’s 1,500-home scheme in east London.

The couple, who share three daughters, wanted to turn their first floor roof terrace into an extra room as part of £830,000-worth of renovations.

His decision in January, which in its timing saved Mr Desmond tens of millions of pounds, came two months after he sat next to the former newspaper owner at a Tory fundraising dinner.

Two weeks later, Mr Desmond donated £12,000 to the party.

Tower Hamlets launched a legal challenge to the planning approval in February and demanded Mr Jenrick disclose papers relating to his decision.

But documents seen by the Mail show the minister initially vowed to resist the move.

In a letter to the council, government lawyers wrote: ‘The secretary of state denies and will defend any appeal brought.’

They added: ‘The secretary of state considers that the council’s request for disclosure of documents is nothing more than a “fishing expedition” without any proper foundation.’

Weeks later, after the council took the case to the High Court, Mr Jenrick accepted his decision was ‘unlawful by reason of apparent bias’ and it was quashed.

He agreed to take no further part in decisions about the redevelopment of the former print works at Westferry.

Labour renewed its calls for Mr Jenrick to release the files, arguing ‘if he’s done nothing wrong then he has nothing to fear’.

Housing spokesman Steve Reed said: ‘It is shocking that Robert Jenrick so arrogantly dismissed Tower Hamlets’ concerns about a decision which he later admitted was unlawful and biased.

‘[He] must come clean and publish the documents that show what he was really up to.’

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: ‘It’s desperately arrogant that the secretary of state tried to shrug off our concerns as a “fishing expedition”.

‘Throughout this process the secretary of state has tried to avoid all scrutiny of his decision on Westferry Printworks.’

Last week the Mail told how Mr Jenrick waived affordable housing rules, saving Mr Desmond £106million, and also admitted he knew he was saving the tycoon £40million by approving the plans a day before a community levy came in.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill is reviewing documents relating to the decision, as pressure mounts on him to launch a formal investigation.

Downing Street insisted yesterday it still had ‘full confidence’ in Mr Jenrick.

MPs on the Commons housing, communities and local government committee have asked Mr Jenrick to publish all correspondence and documentation leading up to his decision. The minister has pledged to reply by the end of the week.

An MHCLG spokesman said: ‘The Department doesn’t comment on litigation or legal strategy. All parties to the case agreed to re-determination and officials will be writing to parties to set out next steps in due course.’

Source: Daily Mail

 
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