Tory minister skewered over property tycoon donations in toe-curling interview

This Government and its advisers appear to have no sense of shame – Owl

Lizzy Buchan

Tory minister Robert Jenrick has admitted he has “no idea” how much money property developers have donated to the Conservatives in the past year in a toe-curling interview.

The Housing Secretary was challenged on the number of donations to the party from property tycoons since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, amid claims from Labour that his new planning overhaul was a “developer’s charter”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Well I’ve no idea because ministers are not involved in those issues, that is entirely for the Conservative Party.”

Presenter Nick Robinson said £11m had been donated since Mr Johnson entered No10 and asked how the public could trust the Tories when they were receiving so much cash from developers.

Mr Jenrick hit back, saying: “You’re entirely mischaracterising what we’re doing here. We’re actually asking developers to pay more.”

He said the Government are “saying we’re going to abolish the current system which favours the big developers”.

In an awkward exchange, the senior Tory also admitted he regrets sitting next to developer Richard Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner and sending him text messages afterwards.

Mr Jenrick came under sustained criticism when it emerged that he had met Mr Desmond at an event in November, where he was shown a video of the 1,500-home development at the former Westferry printworks in east London.

The Government later published documents relating to the development, which revealed that Mr Jenrick rushed through a decision on the project to prevent Mr Desmond’s company from paying an estimated £40million in tax to the local council.

Just 12 days after the decision was made, Mr Desmond personally donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party.

Mr Jenrick was later forced to overturn his own decision due to “apparent bias”.

Asked why people should trust him over the Government’s new planning proposals, Mr Jenrick said: “Well I don’t think this does give more power to developers, it creates a much more certain system. It will, for example, fix the challenge of developer contributions once and for all.”

Pushed to explain what he learned from the experience of the Westferry development, Mr Jenrick added: “I’ve set out the events around that decision and there are definitely lessons to be learnt.

“I wish I hadn’t been sat next to a developer at an event and I regret sharing text messages with him afterwards.

“But I don’t regret the decision, because I think it was right to get housing built on a brownfield site on a part of London that desperately needs it.

“The system that I’ve helped to design that is set out in the proposals we’re publishing today will actually move us forward significantly on some of the challenges that that case rose.”

Downing Street has said the matter is “closed”.