A Conservative donor has revealed he showed Robert Jenrick a promotional video of a development before the housing secretary overruled officials and approved a planning application.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, the billionaire Richard Desmond said the cabinet minister had watched the clip for “three or four minutes” during a Conservative fundraising event at the Savoy hotel, adding: “It’s quite long, so he got the gist.”
Mr Jenrick would later approve the property developer’s plan to build 1,500 homes on the site of the former print works on east London’s Isle of Dogs – a decision which was later reversed after a challenge from Tower Hamlets Council.
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The latest comments come as the housing secretary faces intense pressure to detail his dealings with Mr Desmond before approving the contentious scheme – an issue which will be the subject of an opposition day debate in the Commons on Wednesday.
But Mr Desmond also defended the under-fire cabinet minister, telling the newspaper that after watching the clip Mr Jenrick said: “I’m sorry Richard. I can’t discuss it.”
Pressed on the issue in the chamber last week, Mr Jenrick told MPs that he acted in good faith and “within the rules”, as he said he was “inadvertently” seated next to Mr Desmond at the fundraising event earlier this year.
The cabinet minister did not make any mention of watching a promotional video, but said his department was “fully informed” of his attendance at the event, adding: “I discussed with my officials that the applicant had raised the matter. I advised the applicant I was not able to discuss it.”
Speaking on Sunday, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, backed his cabinet colleague, telling the BBC: “Mr Jenrick answered questions for an hour in the House of Commons this week and I think he’s put out a statement about this which is perfectly reasonable.
“He was put on a table with Mr Desmond, he didn’t know that was where he was sitting before, so I think his explanation is entirely reasonable.”
The redevelopment, said to be worth £1bn, was approved in January by Mr Jenrick against the recommendation of a planning inspector. The decision was reversed after legal action by Tower Hamlets Council and Mr Jenrick admitted what he did was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.
Two weeks after the minister stepped in to approve the scheme, Electoral Commission records show that Mr Desmond personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.
A spokesperson for Mr Jenrick told The Independent: “Mr Jenrick and the applicants were put on the same table for the dinner, although Mr Jenrick was not aware of this prior to arriving at the venue. The planning application was raised, but Mr Jenrick said it would not be appropriate to discuss this matter or for him to pass comment on it.”