Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:50 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Christopher Pincher Christopher Pincher Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:50 pm, 24th June 2020

I will answer the question that I think the hon. Gentleman is about to ask and save him the trouble. In the last three years, there have been 26 challenges made to Ministers. Of those, 16 were withdrawn or successfully defended, eight were conceded or lost, and two are yet to be concluded.

On the question that many Members have raised regarding the meetings between my right hon. Friend and Mr Desmond, it is a matter of public record that the Secretary of State met the scheme’s proposer, the chairman of Northern & Shell, in November 2019. Ministers meet many people in the course of their duties —it has even been known for shadow Ministers occasionally to get out of the bubble and meet people—and my right hon. Friend has made it clear that that meeting was not planned. He did not discuss the case; Mr Desmond himself has said that. Indeed, my right hon. Friend advised his officials of Mr Desmond’s approach and of his own response, and at no time were his officials advising him that he should recuse himself from this matter.

I am sure that Mr Desmond is a very effective businessman, and I am sure that he is honestly and sincerely determined to see more homes built. I do not know Mr Desmond. I have not met him, but the Mayor of London has met him; he has been to dinner with Mr Desmond, yet has Sadiq Khan being arraigned before the north Croydon magistrate to answer his case? The Mayor of London took money from a Manchester tycoon who was prosecuted for putting people’s lives at risk—putting people’s lives at risk! Is the Mayor at risk of the wrath of the people’s tribunal sitting on the Opposition Front Bench? It does not appear so.

What about Mr Lammy, who enjoyed, apparently, a cosy Christmas chez Desmond? Will he be dragged before the Starmer “star chamber” to answer for any potential indiscretions he may have had over the turkey and the trimmings? The Leader of the Opposition, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, is remarkably silent on this matter: not a jot or tittle do we hear from him. There they sit, po-faced and prim, as if butter would not melt in their mouths, yet on housing their crimes are such that they should be blushing to the core; they should be as red in their face as they are in tooth and claw.

This House, the Gallery and the public, in so far as they are watching, can see this for what it really is: a tawdry charade to distract attention from their own party’s lamentable failure to decide the Westferry case themselves when they could have done so, and the dismal failure of the Mayor of London to build the homes that Londoners want and need. The crime, if there is one, is the failure of Sadiq Khan to build in four years what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister built in two years—his failure to deliver more than 322 homes on TfL land when he promised to deliver 10,000, a risible 3% success rate on his pledge. The truth is that they do not like the truth; they cannot handle the truth, and it is because of that failure that they have tabled this spurious motion today.

We make no apology for our bold ambition to build the homes that this country needs. My right hon. Friend and this Government were elected on a mandate to build a million new homes in this Parliament, and that is what we are going to do. We will build more affordable homes and boost the housing supply so that it comfortably meets and beats growing demand. We were elected on a mandate to champion and take up brownfield sites, so that neglected and abandoned land can be transformed into homes for people.

Let us be in no doubt that the Westferry Printworks development would have created hundreds of new, affordable homes, which would have helped our nation’s capital. We will build and build, and build again, to back the people who need homes in this country and in London. We will build for Britain as we emerge from this pandemic. The Secretary of State stands four-square behind that commitment, and we stand four-square behind him.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That an Humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that she will be graciously pleased to give a direction to Her Ministers to provide all correspondence, including submissions and electronic communications, involving Ministers and Special Advisers pertaining to the Westferry Printworks Development and the subsequent decision by the Secretary of State to approve its planning application at appeal to the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee.