Jenrick to release 'all relevant information' on controversial 'cash for favours' housing row

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick has confirmed he will release “all relevant information” relating to his controversial decision to award a development project to Tory donor Richard Desmond.

Mr Jenrick says he acted “within the rules” when he approved Mr Desmond's application to build 1,500 houses, worth £1 billion, in east London, but opposition MPs suspected wrongdoing and a Commons motion was tabled to try and force him into releasing documents relating to the decision.

Despite previously refusing to share documents, the 38-year-old said he would write to the chair of the Housing Select Committee, "outlining the timeline of events and the rationale".

Alongside the letter he "will be releasing later today all relevant information relating to this planning matter using the Freedom of Information Act as a benchmark".

He acknowledged there are "higher standards of transparency expected in the quasi-judicial planning process, which is why I will also release discussions and correspondence which the government would not normally release".

Critics say Mr Jenrick broke the ministerial code in a "cash for favours" row when, after sitting next to media mogul Mr Desmond at a Tory fundraising event and being shown about “three or four minutes” of promotional video about the project, he overruled a planning inspector to approve it.

Two weeks after the Cabinet minister stepped in to approve the housing scheme, Electoral Commission records show that Mr Desmond personally gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.

Mr Jenrick says the release of documents will show "this was a decision taken with an open mind on the merits of the case after a thorough decision-making process".

He has labelled allegations against him as "wild accusations" and "baseless innuendo".

Mr Jenrick added: “Transparency matters, openness matters and settling this matter matters because I certainly don’t want to be the subject of the innuendo and the false accusations that the Opposition are choosing to peddle.”

Labour's Steve Reed asked why Mr Jenrick “overruled professionals” to take his decision, adding: “Without a credible answer the suspicion arises once again that the Secretary of State was bending over backwards to do favours for his billionaire dinner date.”

Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Mr Reed said cash paid to the Tories after they sat together at dinner "raises questions about cash for favours – which would be a serious abuse of power.”

Mr Jenrick said the accusations made against him were “not simply wrong but actually outrageous”, but admitted “things could and should have been done differently”.

Mr Jenrick was being quizzed by Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Steve Reed.

He told MPs: “Any accusation that my view on a highly-complex and publicised development could have been swayed by an encounter with a developer is not just simply wrong, but actually outrageous.

“Who the applicant was is immaterial to my decision, as it always is and always should be … I knew nothing of the donation that was made and would never have allowed it to influence my decision even if I had known about the donation.”

On Monday Boris Johnson's spokesman said the prime minister had "full confidence" in the housing secretary amid the row involving former Daily Express owner Mr Desmond.

It followed a Sunday Times report which revealed how Mr Desmond admitted showing Mr Jenrick a promotional video about his project at a Tory fundraising event.

According to Mr Desmond, after watching the video, Mr Jenrick told him: "Sorry Richard. I can’t discuss it".

The Cabinet minister then granted permission for the 1,500-flat development, the day before a new council community levy would have cost Mr Desmond’s company an extra £40 million.

The decision was later reversed after legal action by Tower Hamlets Council and Mr Jenrick admitted what he did was “unlawful by reason of apparent bias”.