Minister defending Robert Jenrick says Doncaster Conservatives can use party fundraisers to lobby decision-makers

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
A Conservative Minister has suggested that Tory supporters in Yorkshire can lobby local decision-makers by going to party fundraisers as he defended under-fire Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said that anyone going to a Conservative fundraiser in Doncaster "would be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authority".

He made the comments during a BBC interview as he defended Mr Jenrick, who faces calls to resign after documents revealed he was "insistent" a controversial development was agreed before a new levy would cost its Tory donor backer millions.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

A stash of documents and texts released last night after pressure from the opposition showed multi-millionaire Tory donor Richard Desmond urged Mr Jenrick to approve the east London development scheme so that "Marxists" did not get "doe for nothing".

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: PACommunities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: PA
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick. Pic: PA
Read More
Devolution and levelling up in Yorkshire will 'return with gusto' after coronavi...

This is believed to be a reference to the introduction of a new community infrastructure levy (CIL) just after the approval of the £1 billion Westferry Printworks development was made.

Labour claim the move would have saved former media mogul Mr Desmond's Northern and Shell company up to £50 million.

In a raft of information relating to the issue released by the Government, a Housing Ministry official indicated the secretary of state (SoS) wanted Westferry to be signed off and approved the following day so that it would avoid the CIL.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Zahawi said the documents published proved there was no overt influence by developer Richard Desmond over the planning appeal process as a result of his contact with Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick.

The Business Minister told the BBC: "The important thing, by the way, is the access did not buy this billionaire a decision.

"The Secretary of State very clearly said to Richard Desmond 'I can't see you, I can't have this meeting'.

But he was questioned by Radio 4 presenter Justin Webb who asked why voters in other parts of the country didn't have the same access as Mr Desmond.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He said: "I'm thinking of someone who voted Conservative last time round, in Doncaster, in Ashfield, the person who had access to government on this occasion, who went to that dinner, who got a private, who got a private text message, who was able to have done what he wanted done, that person was not an ordinary person, it was a billionaire and a donor to the Conservative party and that sends out a message to many of your own supporters that will stink."

Pressed on the issue, Mr Zahawi replied: "If people go to a fundraiser in their local area, in Doncaster, for the Conservative Party they would be sitting next to MPs and other people in their local authority. They can interact with different parts of the authority.".

When put to him that emails from officials released on Wednesday showed that Mr Jenrick pushed for approval to be made quickly, Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is a very important word there - 'viability' of the scheme.

"That was another reason in the information released yesterday, that was a concern to Robert Jenrick - he wanted to make sure the scheme gets built, that it is viable and that affordable housing is delivered."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

He added: "Viability is incredibly important. Getting stuff built is incredibly important to Robert Jenrick - that was his motivation.

"But when there was a perception of bias, he pulled back on this, pulled the plug on it and will allow a different minister to decide the scheme."

Earlier Lord Bob Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service and chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said the relationship between Mr Jenrick and Mr Richard Desmond raises questions about the planning process.

The Labour peer told the Today programme: "I don't for a moment suggest the minister took his decision simply because of a donation to the Conservative Party.

"But the fact is, for the price of a dinner, the developer was able to present his scheme to the minister, follow up with texts and seek to influence the decision."