Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 1:21 pm, 24th June 2020

The hon. Gentleman gives me the opportunity to repeat the same point: let us see the documentation from the Department and the advice that was given to the Secretary of State—openly, transparently, for everybody to see—and then we will know exactly whether what happened was in breach of the ministerial code of conduct and the planning code.

Instead of being open and transparent, the Secretary of State has gone to great lengths to keep the documentation secret. Tower Hamlets Council took out a judicial review of his decision and was rewarded with a high-handed and arrogant letter from the Department accusing it of going on a fishing expedition, until someone realised that a judicial review would require the Secretary of State to release all the documentation and correspondence about the decision in open court for everyone to see. He then took an extraordinary step. Suddenly that “fishing expedition” did not look quite so speculative, because he quashed his own decision and declared it to be unlawful because of apparent bias. That is explosive. A leading planning barrister says that it is without precedent and raises questions about the integrity of the entire planning system. That prompts the question of what in the documentation is so embarrassing and so bad that it is better to admit taking a biased and unlawful decision than to publish the documents in open court.

There is only one way to clear this up. Let us see the documents. Let us see that there was no breach of ministerial code. If the Secretary of State continues to refuse, let us have a full investigation by the Cabinet Secretary. Without it, there can be no trust in the Secretary of State or the planning system over which he presides. Without that trust, who on earth will believe that the Secretary of State has the credibility to take the numerous decisions that he makes every day, let alone reform the entire planning system, as he has said he wants to do?