Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Labour, Stockport 3:23 pm, 24th June 2020

In a moment, perhaps.

There then followed a private screening of a promotional video for the development—that completely undermines the Secretary of State’s claim that he and Mr Desmond did not discuss the screening prior to his decision. The favours do not stop there.

As we know, the decision was made just 24 hours before the new community infrastructure levy came into force, saving Mr Desmond’s Northern & Shell company up to £50 million. All of that was compounded by the Secretary of State overruling his advisers—including his own Department’s planning inspector, who recommended that permission be refused in what was reported at the time as a “damning” 141-page report—to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in the development, saving Mr Desmond a further £106 million.

It is not the first time that Mr Desmond has had the development approved. My hon. Friend Steve Reed made reference to how in the final days in office of the then Mayor of London, now Prime Minister, the then Mayor approved a 30-storey scheme on the same site, despite objections from the local council and just months after sharing drinks with Mr Desmond in a five-star hotel. Sadly, it all has a very familiar ring to it.

Given that the Prime Minister pushed the original scheme for the same developer when he was Mayor of London, did No. 10 have any involvement in the events or conversation leading to the Secretary of State’s unlawful decision to grant approval? It is completely immoral and, furthermore, illegal for a Government Minister to show such bias on such a matter. In this instance, it appears that the Secretary of State’s price was a £12,000 donation to the Conservative party just weeks after the decision was made.

On 14 June, The Mail on Sunday reported strong links between lobbyists for the development, Thorncliffe Communications, and the Secretary of State, whom it described as a “great friend of Thorncliffe”. The Secretary of State even spoke at a private briefing on Government policy for Thorncliffe and its client on 29 January. The Labour party has written twice to the Cabinet Secretary calling for an investigation into whether the ministerial code has been broken, but without reply.

A lack of affordable housing remains a significant challenge in Greater Manchester. To overcome the situation, the planning system needs a complete overhaul, and that starts with ensuring that developers meet the needs of their communities, not the Government meeting the needs of developers.