Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:23 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:23 pm, 24th June 2020

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not give way.

We are all aware of councils who seek to hold up an application by delaying the hearing, but here the reasons given for dismissing the application by the inspector were not complicated: the impact on heritage sites, the unacceptable level of affordable housing and conflict with existing policies.

The next element in this debate is the intervention of the Secretary of State. He has the powers to make a decision and I do not think anyone has questioned that. In this case, he decided to do so largely, as he has explained, on the basis of the housing benefits that come from the scheme. This means setting aside the character and appearance of the area. We can disagree with the Secretary of State over this, but it is his job to make these decisions in a system that is all about achieving a balanced opinion.

The timing of the decision immediately before a community infrastructure levy regulation came into force has created another issue. The Secretary of State has agreed that his decision should be quashed and he has agreed to release the papers. The new inquiry and a decision by a planning Minister will be brought forward. This is because the perception of bias was there, not because any bias actually took place. The trade press got it right. It said:

“Following an agreement between all parties”— that included

“the secretary of state, the developer, the GLA and Tower Hamlets”— they have agreed to quash the decision. Therefore we see nothing but the preservation of the integrity of the planning system in this debate. The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has already been quoted as saying that it rejects the accusation that there was any actual bias.

I will raise two other points. On affordable housing, if we have a rigid system of quotas for affordable housing, we get less affordable housing, and if regeneration is stalled, no one gets any affordable housing. Why was no appeal made the second time to the Mayor of London? It was because of the London plan. The previous Secretary of State threatened to take the London plan to an inquiry because it did not comply with the national planning policy. The Mayor cannot stand outside the national planning policy framework. It is part of the planning system of this country that applies to him as much as to anyone else.