Tories gave Robert Jenrick home renovation the go-ahead

The housing secretary had an extension to his £2.6 million Westminster townhouse approved by Conservative councillors despite officials objecting to the scheme three times, The Times can reveal.

And

Labour will table a humble address to the Queen — an arcane parliamentary procedure that compels ministers to disclose confidential government papers — in the Commons this afternoon.

Billy Kenber, Investigations Reporter www.thetimes.co.uk

Robert Jenrick, 38, and his wife, 47, purchased the five-bedroom house in October 2013, a few weeks before he was selected as the Conservative candidate in Newark.

The couple submitted plans to turn a first-floor roof terrace into an extra room as part of renovations costing £830,000 but the scheme was twice rejected by a planning officer who concluded that it would damage the character and appearance of the building and conservation area.

In August 2014, two months after Mr Jenrick had been elected as a Conservative MP, a third planning application was made. Although the first two had been made in Mr Jenrick’s own name, the latest application was listed in his wife’s name, although she was misgendered as “Mr Michal Berkner”.

The application was for an extension that was slightly taller than the most recently rejected proposal and a planning officer concluded that it should be rejected for the same reasons as the previous applications. On this occasion a Tory councillor who lives on the same private square as the Jenricks, Steve Summers, intervened and requested that it instead be referred to a planning committee to make the decision.

In November 2014, the three Tory members of a planning committee voted to overturn the planning officer’s recommendation and approved the scheme. The minutes from the meeting record only that “the committee considered that the proposal will not harm the character and appearance of the building or the conservation area”.

The fourth member of the committee, the Labour councillor Ruth Bush, voted against the application. Yesterday Ms Bush said that she had been unaware that the property was owned by a Conservative MP and said that it raised concerns about why fellow councillors had approved the scheme.

“I am not at all happy now it’s been drawn to my attention that this proceeded in the way that it did. It should have been more transparent,” she said.

Ms Bush said that it was “strange” and “unusual” for a councillor to refer an application with no public objections lodged against it to a planning committee. “If it hadn’t been called into committee then the officer’s refusal would have stood,” she said.

At the time the application was approved, she told Labour colleagues that she believed that it was a “foolish mistake” because it risked setting a precedent for other applications.

Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, said that Mr Jenrick, who faces claims of “cash for favours” over the approval of a Tory donor’s housing scheme at Westferry Printworks, also had “serious questions to answer” over the way in which planning approval was obtained for his own home. Mr Reed said that “it deals yet another hammer blow to the integrity of the planning system”. “Robert Jenrick needs to tell us urgently what contact he had with Tory councillors in Westminster — the public need reassurance that there’s not one rule for Conservative politicians and another for everyone else,” he added.

Paul Church, one of the Tory councillors who approved the scheme, said that he couldn’t remember why he had decided to overturn the planning officer’s decision but he insisted that he had “no idea” that Mr Jenrick owned the home and that he had never met the housing secretary or his wife. “I certainly have never made any planning application decisions on anything other than merit,” he said.

Richard Beddoe, the chairman of the committee, did not respond to a request for comment while the third Tory member, Robert Rigby, referred questions to the council, as did Mr Summers.

A spokesman for Westminster city council said: “Planning committees are entitled to reach their own conclusions by attaching different weight to the various planning criteria, which they regularly do, making it clear their reasons for doing so.” The “proposal was not deemed harmful and had been amended following earlier refusals”.

A spokesman for Mr Jenrick said: “Normal planning process for a standard planning extension was followed by the applicant.”

Mr Jenrick faces a parliamentary vote that could force the government to make all of its communications on the Westferry scheme public today.

Labour will table a humble address to the Queen — an arcane parliamentary procedure that compels ministers to disclose confidential government papers — in the Commons this afternoon.

Steve Reed, the shadow housing secretary, said that Mr Jenrick had nothing to fear from disclosing the documents if he had nothing to hide. Mr Reed told Sky News: “What we are asking the government to do is to simply come clean . . . it has brought into question the integrity of the whole planning system.”

Mr Jenrick continues to enjoy support from cabinet colleagues. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Alok Sharma, the business secretary, insisted that the housing secretary had acted with “all propriety” in his dealings with Mr Desmond and that his explanation was “the end of the matter”.

• Richard Desmond, the Tory donor embroiled in the “cash-for-favours” scandal, is set to bid for the National Lottery contract (Billy Kenber writes). The former media tycoon is expected to take part when the Gambling Commission launches the tender process in August. Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, approved Mr Desmond’s plans to build 1,500 apartments a day before the imposition of a £40 million community charge.

The former media tycoon has admitted lobbying Mr Jenrick at a fundraising dinner and he donated £12,000 to the Conservatives a fortnight after the scheme was approved. Jo Stevens, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, said that there were “important questions about his suitability for the role”. Labour will today use an opposition day debate to try to force the government to release all documents relating to Mr Jenrick’s approval of the Westferry Printworks development.

One thought on “Tories gave Robert Jenrick home renovation the go-ahead

  1. He certainly does not let the grass grow under his feet! A different planning ‘incident’ in the news every day.

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