At the outset, some points that have emerged during the debate need to be reiterated. First, it is not unusual for politicians in senior positions to overrule local authorities. My old friend Sadiq Khan has done so repeatedly as the Mayor of London. The second point, which needs to be emphasised, is the role of the London Borough of Tower Hamlets in this particular application. We would not be here at all if it had exercised the duty it was legally obliged to exercise in the timeframe in which it was obliged to do so. Twice it failed to discharge that duty, and twice the decision had to be referred to higher authorities.
Steve Reed referred in his opening remarks to the fact that Tower Hamlets opposed the application. Why did it not decide it? It had the opportunity to do so. Wes Streeting referred to the fact that the affordable housing element was reduced after the matter was referred to the Secretary of State. The council had the power to approve the development when that element was set at 35%. There could have been 35% affordable housing on that development if the council had simply exercised the powers it legally had.
The third point is that much has been made of Richard Desmond’s donations. In common with my hon. Friend Nicola Richards, I am almost speechless at the bravery of Alex Sobel in referring to Tony Blair. I know that Tony Blair’s name is one that the Labour party do not like to hark back to. Richard Desmond is on record as having donated substantial sums of money—way more sums of money than this—to multiple political parties. He is also known for socialising with senior politicians, including Sadiq Khan and leading members of the Opposition.
Nor is it unheard of, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in his speech, for Ministers to take decisions that contradict the advice of planning inspectors. John Prescott did so in 2005 when he approved the new stadium for Brighton and Hove Albion football club. Hazel Blears did so in 2008 when she approved a 43-storey tower block on London’s south bank. Nor is it unheard of for those decisions to be overturned by the High Court, as that decision by Hazel Blears was and a recent decision by Sadiq Khan was when the High Court ruled in March that permission he had given to a housing developer should be overturned.
This is a desperate attempt by the Opposition to blow enough smoke to make people believe that there is a real fire.