Property donors provide one-quarter of funds given to Tory party

The Conservative party has received almost £18m in donations from 154 donors with property interests since Boris Johnson became UK prime minister two years ago, according to Financial Times analysis.

“Build, build, build” – Owl

Kadhim Shubber, Jim Pickard and Max Harlow 

The donations made by individuals and companies in the property sector — which account for a quarter of total donations made to the Tory party since July 2019 — come as Johnson pushes ahead with a contentious liberalisation of England’s planning system which critics say could benefit housing developers.

An FT analysis of data published by the Electoral Commission, the UK watchdog for election and party finance, found that at least £17.9m has been given to the Conservative party from property sector donors since July 24, 2019 — when Johnson entered Downing Street. The analysis includes all company donors and those who have given over £100,000 but excludes hundreds of individuals who gave smaller amounts, meaning the true figure could be higher.

Annual property sector donations to the Conservative party under Johnson’s predecessors — Theresa May and David Cameron — ranged from 4 per cent to 12 per cent of the party’s income in the years 2010 to 2018, according to Transparency International UK. The majority of the party’s income comes from donations.

The new FT analysis of donations includes property developers, financiers and investors, as well as hotel tycoons and residential care home developers and operators.

The most generous property donor since Johnson took power in 2019 was Sir Tony Gallagher, the billionaire property developer, who has given £1.5m through his company Countywide Developments. Gallagher was knighted in 2020 for services to land development and property. Gallagher Developments did not respond to a request for comment.

Steve Morgan, former chair of Redrow, one of the UK’s biggest housebuilders, gave £1.25m through Bridgemere UK PLC, his development and investment group. The group is controlled by a Morgan family trust.

On its website Bridgemere says it owns the single biggest stake in Redrow but does not itself do any “direct residential development in the UK”.

Ashley Lewis, Bridgemere’s finance director, said: “The Bridgemere donation to the Conservative party has nothing whatsoever to do with any possible changes to the planning system or any government policy.” He added that any suggestion to the contrary would be false.

The third biggest donor was John Stuart Bloor — owner of Bloor Homes, one of the biggest private housebuilders in the UK — who has donated £1.1m through his JS Bloor Services and Bloor Holdings entities.

A £150,000 donation in March this year by Bloor Holdings was made just 48 hours after a government minister approved a controversial housing scheme for his company, the Sunday Times recently revealed.

Bloor said: “I have never met Boris Johnson, or spoken to him or his ministers, neither have I employed lobbyists. We donate money to the Conservative party and charities because we agree with their ethos of aspiration and hope for individuals and children and expect nothing in return for these donations.”

Many Tory MPs want Boris Johnson to reconsider planning reforms, which many of them see as being to blame for their by-election defeat by the Liberal Democrats in Chesham & Amersham in June © Charlie Bibby/FT

Johnson has said he wants to “transform the sclerotic planning system” by forcing all councils to rewrite their local development plans, changes he hopes will encourage the development of 300,000 new homes every year.

However, many Tory MPs want him to reconsider the reforms, which they blame for the dramatic by-election defeat by the Liberal Democrats in Chesham & Amersham in June. Tory MP Roger Gale has called the planning bill a “developer’s charter”. 

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “It will come as a shock to nobody that the very same developers who have the most to gain out of these reforms are piling money into the Tory party.”

Daniel Bruce, chief executive of Transparency International, added that the government needed to show “no favours in policymaking” to those who make political donations. 

“It is clear that the current party of government increasingly relies on a relatively small number of wealthy backers often with substantial interests in the property market. This unhealthy dependence . . . increases the risk of policy becoming captured — putting the interests of donors ahead of the public.”

A Conservative party spokesman said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by donations the party receives. They are entirely separate.”

One senior Tory went further, suggesting that some of the government’s policies were unlikely to be welcomed by the property sector. “If you look at what the Tory party is doing at the moment the property industry are not exactly fans of them, stuff like not allowing you to turn out tenants if they’re not paying rent during the pandemic,” the senior Tory said.