Here’s an interesting kink on the Westferry planning scandal:
Boris Johnson can’t sack Robert Jenrick for taking a decision if – big if – he told him to take it… https://t.co/8hjbzbN5Zn
— Henry Mance (@henrymance) June 26, 2020
Let’s assume there’s something in what John Stevens – and Henry Mance – are saying and that Richard Desmond, the man behind the Westferry development plan, had a considerable amount of contact with Boris Johnson. That would create cause for concern, and we would certainly be justified in wanting to know the nature of any communications.
Now consider this:
A key player in the controversial Westferry Printworks development can be revealed as an investment firm owned by a super-rich Tory donor and crony of Boris Johnson.
The “development manager” is a company which has donated £200,000 to the Tories.
[The planning application] was made by a company owned by Mr Desmond but the developer was London and Regional Properties, a firm behind £9billion of building projects owned by [Ian] Livingstone and brother Richard. It is unclear if LRP is still involved, but Westferry Printworks is listed as a development on its website.
The company donated nearly £202,000 to the Tories between 2005 and 2012.
It is run by [Mr] Livingstone, who the Prime Minister appointed to the board of his Mayor’s Fund for London.
Mr Johnson approved the original plans for the East London site during his final days as Mayor of the capital.
So now this “cash for favours” row has a strong connection with Boris Johnson and Downing Street.
Also suspicious is the Tories’ apparent desperation to distance themselves from any interest in Mr Desmond and his firm – for example, by banning the BBC from using photographs of Mr Desmond and Robert Jenrick together at a Conservative Party fundraising event:
The Conservatives have banned the BBC from publishing pictures of Robert Jenrick and Richard Desmond at a party fundraising dinner.
The pictures are owned by Conservative Party, with the BBC saying it was prevented from publishing them. A spokeswoman for the corporation told Yahoo News UK on Thursday: “We didn’t use them for legal reasons.”
The same article states that Johnson is standing by his minister:
Downing Street said on Thursday that the prime minister still has “full confidence” in Jenrick, adding Johnson had spoken to the embattled minister in recent days and “considers the matter closed”.
Isn’t that what a prime minister would say if he was unable to fire his underling – for example, because the flunky was only doing what the PM had told him to do?
I ask merely rhetorically.
Meanwhile, it seems Jenrick is now embroiled in another “cash for favours” row:
Labour has called on… Robert Jenrick, to explain a ministerial meeting with a “family friend” who had a financial interest in the future of a rival mining project that Jenrick was overseeing.
The Guardian revealed this week that Jenrick met the Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer while the then exchequer secretary to the Treasury was considering a request for financial support from Sirius Minerals for a mining project that would have rivalled Ofer’s own firm Cleveland Potash.
A spokesperson for Jenrick said on Friday that Ofer was a “family friend” and that the minister had notified officials, who advised him to step back from the decision on Sirius.
But the spokesperson did not say when Jenrick recused himself and the Guardian understands he retained oversight of Sirius’s request for support for at least six months after the meeting.
Put this together with the amount of money that property giants give to the Conservatives…
The Tories have received more than £11m from property developers since Boris Johnson became prime minister, an investigation has found.
Concerns have been raised about the apparent increased influence property developers have over the Conservative government. Their contributions make up nearly a quarter of the £47.5m in donations received by the party from last July to March, up from 7.9 per cent of the total two years ago.
The latest analysis by the OpenDemocracy website found that the Conservatives’ top 10 property donors have given more than £5.7m to the party since Mr Johnson took the helm in July – up from around £1.5million for the equivalent top 10 in the final 12 months of Theresa May’s premiership, a three-fold increase. In total, around 120 individuals and companies from the sector have donated since July last year.
… and there is certainly enough evidence to ask questions.
Of course, there can be no implication of wrongdoing by Conservative donors whose contributions are made only through support for Tory policies; who have no personal connection with Conservative ministers.
But when there is a connection, as with Idan Ofer and Jenrick, and with Richard Desmond and both Jenrick and Johnson, it is not only right to ask questions – an investigation is positively demanded.
The Westferry matter goes a step beyond even this – because wrongdoing is known to have happened, and because the person who is refusing to take action against the minister responsible for the transgression himself has a connection with the developer – and the development itself.
I mean, who can blame us for questioning Jenrick when it seems he won planning permission for an extension to his Westminster home, against planning officers’ recommentations, from councillors who were his fellow Conservatives?
Conservative councillors on Westminster council gave planning permission for an enlargement of Jenrick’s townhouse despite officers recommending the application be refused because it would harm the appearance of the building and the conservation area.
Planning officers were recommending refusal of this third application but Steve Summers a Tory councillor and a neighbour of Jenrick made an official request that a planning committee take the decision and not officers.
In November 2014 the three Conservative members of the planning committee — Richard Beddoe, Robert Rigby and Paul Church — voted to overturn the officers recommendation and approve the scheme. Ruth Bush, the single Labour member of the committee voted against the application.
In March 2018 Robert Davis who was chair of planning at Westminster council for 17 years resigned after the Guardian revealed he had received hospitality and gifts hundreds of times including from property developers.
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