PM stands by embattled minister due to make Anglia Square decision
PUBLISHED: 16:29 25 June 2020 | UPDATED: 16:29 25 June 2020
Archant Norfolk 2018
Prime minister Boris Johnson says he is standing by the cabinet member due to make a decision on Norwich’s Anglia Square revamp - despite him being embroiled in controversy.
Communities secretary Robert Jenrick is fighting to keep his job after documents revealed the extent of contact between himself and developer Richard Desmond before the minister signed off on the 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme in east London.
Closer to home, Mr 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 Mr Jenrick permitted the Westferry scheme against the recommendation of planning inspector David Prentis, the same inspector who has submitted his recommendation on Anglia Square - which Mr Jenrick can go with or ignore.
The decision to grant permission at Westferry 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 up to £50m extra to the local council.
Two weeks after the minister approved the scheme, Electoral Commission records show Mr Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.
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Mr Jenrick said he had “inadvertently” sat next to Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner and the project had been raised.
Mr Jenrick said he told Mr Desmond he could not discuss it.
The release of documents and texts showed the pair exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November, although Mr Jenrick said: “I advised him that I was unable to discuss the application or to pass comment.”
He said he was “not blind to the fact that things could and should have been done differently”, but that he stood by his decision.
Mr Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, conceding the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.
The prime minister’s official spokesman said Mr Johnson believed the case was closed.
But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “It’s now got to the stage where the prime minister’s judgment is in issue. He says the matter is closed, but it’s far from closed.”
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