Press release 11th Jun 2020

Full Transparency Needed over Decisions Relating to Westferry Printworks Development

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London, June 11th – Transparency International UK is today calling for all communication and documents relating to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government’s decision on the Westferry Printworks redevelopment planning application to be published in full. This follows an urgent question asked in relation to the scheme today in the House of Commons.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick overruled the Ministry’s planning inspector to give the go-ahead for the £1 billion development on January 14th, just one day before new rules came into force which would have required the developer to pay around £40 million in additional levies. This decision was then quashed by the High Court in May after it was found to be unlawful due to “apparent bias”.

It has since emerged that the Housing Secretary sat on the same table as the owner of the firm behind the Westferry development, Richard Desmond, at a political fundraising dinner two months before the decision was made. Mr Desmond subsequently made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party, two weeks after the scheme received planning consent.

In response to an urgent question on the matter today, Chris Pincher MP, the Minister of State for Housing, said that the Secretary of State and the developer had not discussed the £40 million Community Investment Levy during the fundraising dinner. The UK Government continues to refuse a request from Tower Hamlets Borough Council to produce the details of all communication, submissions and advice relating to the Secretary of State’s decision. During today’s parliamentary exchange, the Minister of State for Housing said the Government would consider a similar request from Parliament’s Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee.

Duncan Hames, Director of Policy at Transparency International UK, said:

“The decision by the Housing Secretary to grant planning permission was quashed after being ruled unlawful by the High Court. The circumstances that gave rise to that therefore warrant proper investigation, and genuine openness from the Minister and his team about all of their contact with the developer and his associates.  It is now vital that correspondence and minutes from meetings between the developer, their representatives and the Minister, his advisors and officials are published in full.

“It was certainly disappointing that the Secretary of State was unable to spare the time today to answer questions on this important matter. If Ministers are unable to answer questions in Parliament about the fundraising event where the Housing Secretary met the developer, then questions will need to be asked of those who accompanied them and indeed the hosts.

“Transparency over lobbying is critical to providing greater confidence in the integrity of major decisions, yet political access and influence at Westminster remains woefully opaque. When there is little public record of who discussed what and when, with Ministers and their teams, many will assume conspiracy when things go wrong. The UK should introduce far greater transparency over who’s seeking to influence the government, as is currently the case in Ireland, Canada and the US.”

 

Contact:

Harvey Gavin

harvey.gavin@transparency.org.uk

+44 (0)20 3096 7695

+44 (0)79 6456 0340