Minister who will make Anglia Square decision caught up in controversy
- Credit: Weston Homes
The minister who will decide whether the revamp of Norwich’s Anglia Square goes ahead has faced parliamentary questioning over his approval for a property scheme involving a Conservative party donor.
Local government minister Robert Jenrick has until September to make a decision on whether to allow the £271m revamp of Anglia Square, which includes more than 1,200 new homes and shops.
But he has faced questions over his controversial decision to permit The Westferry Printworks redevelopment in London.
He permitted the scheme against the recommendation of planning inspector David Prentis - the same inspector who this month submitted his recommendation on Anglia Square, which Mr Jenrick can go with or ignore.
The Westferry decision has since been reversed after legal action by Tower Hamlets Council.
In a statement in May, the local authority said the “timing of the decision appeared to show bias” by the cabinet minister as it was made a day before new infrastructure charges came into force, allowing the developer - former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond’s Northern and Shell firm - to avoid paying between £30m and £50m extra to the council.
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Two weeks after the minister approved the scheme, Electoral Commission records show that Mr Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.
Facing parliamentary questions over the issue, Mr Jenrick said he had “inadvertently” sat next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fndraising dinner and that the project had been raised. Mr Jenrick said he told Mr Desmond he could not discuss the matter.
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Speaking in the Commons, Mr Jenrick said: “I took that decision in good faith with an open mind. And I’m confident, confident that all the rules were followed in doing so.
“It isn’t unusual for a secretary of state to come to a different conclusion to a local authority. It isn’t unusual for a secretary of state to come to a different conclusion than a planning inspector, no disrespect to the great people who work there. And my predecessors did so on a number of occasions.”
The Metropolitan Police have told Mr Jenrick they will not be investigating allegations connected to the development, MPs heard.