Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:13 pm on 24th June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:13 pm, 24th June 2020

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not intend to speak for more than about five or six minutes, if that is of help to the House.

The seriousness of these allegations merits a high-profile and far-reaching investigation, so I thank the Opposition for tabling this motion on the Westferry scandal. In contrast, the Government appear to just hope that it will simply disappear. I am still not entirely clear from what the Secretary of State said whether the Government will oppose the motion in the Division Lobby tonight. The motion before us certainly has the full support of the SNP, and we will vote in favour of it if the Government are daft enough to push it to a Division, which I must suggest to them would not look good.

I must confess that I do not like the all-too-frequent fixture in our politics of calling for ministerial resignations left, right and centre. However, in this case the conduct of the Secretary of State is seriously called into question when he himself has acknowledged that this decision was made unlawfully. In any other circumstance, this would already be difficult territory for the Secretary of State to try to wriggle off the hook, but the fact that this £1 billion housing development is linked to a Tory donor means it stinks—and it stinks, frankly, to high heavens.

Put simply, this is a classic Tory sleaze scandal that involves money and the Conservatives scratching one another’s backs. For a minute, let us put to one side the fact that the development’s owner is Richard Desmond, a multibillionaire and former owner of the Daily Express, and look solely at the fact that the development was originally denied by the Planning Inspectorate for failing to deliver enough affordable housing. That should not be overlooked, because the Government’s record on building affordable housing, let alone social housing, is absolutely woeful. We respect the fact that the impartial Planning Inspectorate rejected the application on reasonable grounds. Most of us can follow the logic on that.

Here is the nub of the matter, and why the Secretary of State’s position is so weak. The decision of the impartial Planning Inspectorate was overruled by the Secretary of State on 14 January, less than 24 hours before the introduction of a community infrastructure levy that would have cost the developer £40 million. Soon after the decision to approve the project was made, Richard Desmond makes a new £12,000 donation to the Conservative party. In the eyes of the public, the Secretary of State steps in and saves the developer £40 million in the community infrastructure levy, and then miraculously, the developer later makes a donation to the Conservative party. Surely no self-respecting Member of the House, not even the keenest December-intake Member, cannot see that that absolutely stinks.