25 June 2020 22:32
The last time Richard Desmond was in the news for his ownership of Westferry printworks in London's Docklands, he had just finished goose-stepping around a boardroom while shouting Nazi-themed abuse at a group of visiting executives. But while the Telegraph is struggling to find a buyer, Desmond realised that nowadays there is a lot more profit in owning a defunct newspaper printing press site with planning permission for hundreds of homes than there is in owning a newspaper. A lengthy planning process appeared to have concluded in January with an intervention from central government that enabled him to avoid paying tens of millions of pounds in tax to the local council. As he put it in a text message to the Tory cabinet minister Robert Jenrick, he wanted to push through a profit-maximising deal rather than pay tax to Labour politicians because we "don't want to give Marxists doe [sic]". It was his purchase of the Express – then a New Labour-supporting mid-market newspaper – and its stablemate the Daily Star in 2000 that turned him into a national figure with access to the then prime minister, Tony Blair.
It was also the first time his approach to political donations came under scrutiny, as within days of the takeover deal being approved Desmond quietly donated £100,000 to Labour party funds. According to emails released by Jenrick on Wednesday night, during the 2019 general election the minister emailed a colleague asking to set up a meeting with "Richard Desmond, owner of the Express newspaper". Tory dinner did not 'buy Richard Desmond a decision' in Robert Jenrick planning row, minister says Property developer Richard Desmond sat next to Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick at a fundraising dinner in November. A Conservative fundraising dinner did not buy billionaire Tory donor Richard Desmond "a decision" from Robert Jenrick over a controversial property development, minister Nadhim Zahawi has said. The Business Minister defended the Communities Secretary amid mounting pressure over his contact with Mr Desmond, and said ordinary voters could "interact" with Conservative MPs and councillors at fundraising events too.
"So, you know, you have to also be fair and make that clear that yes, of course there was access, because there was a dinner party that Robert Jenrick didn't know he was going to sit next to Richard Desmond in. The messages released on Wednesday show Mr Jenrick texted Mr Desmond after the dinner, saying it was "good to spend time with you". Two days later, an official in the department said Mr Jenrick had "flagged a case in Westferry Docklands"and asked for advice to be prepared on a decision. In an apparent reference to Tower Hamlets council, Mr Desmond, who Labour say stood to benefit from a decision being made before he became liable for a new local charge, told Mr Jenrick that he did not "want to give Marxists loads of doe [sic] for nothing". A message from Mr Desmond on December 23 enquiring about the planning decision - and warning that the site would need approval "before January 15 otherwise payment of 45 million pounds to tower hamlets" then went without reply from the Communities Secretary, the documents show.
But, on January 9, an email from a Ministry of Housing official said the department had "to provide reasoning … as to justify why the SoS [Jenrick] is going against the recc [recommendation] of inspector and officials". Robert Jenrick and Richard Desmond row: The details of the planning scandal the Housing Secretary is embroiled in How the scandal involving the Housing Secretary has unfolded Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick found himself in hot water over a controversial £1bn property development that he approved. Mr Jenrick has been forced to publish more documents about his decision to approve the Tower Hamlets project, leading to allegations he worked with developers to deprive local authorities of funding. He was appointed Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government in July last year. Mr Jenrick is under fire for his decision to grant planning permission for a £1bn property scheme just two weeks before the developer went on to donate £12,000 to the Conservative party. The 1,500-home development on the Isle of Dogs was proposed by Richard Desmond, a Tory donor and owner of Northern & Shell. He knew at the time that giving the project the green light on 14 January meant Mr Desmond would avoid paying a council infrastructure levy of £45m – which would have become payable 24 hours later. Mr Desmond then made a personal donation to the Conservative Party shortly after the approval was given. Following pressure from the Labour party, Mr Jenrick has released documents revealing more details about the extend of contact between himself and Mr Desmond in the run-up to him signing off the project. They revealed the two had exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative fundraising event in November – where they were sat next to each other. The minister said he viewed a promotional video of the Isle of Dogs development on Mr Desmond's mobile phone at the event but added that he was "inadvertently" seated next to him. In the texts, Mr Desmond urged Mr Jenrick to approve the east London development scheme so that "Marxists" did not get "doe for nothing [sic]"- apparently referring to the council levy. Mr Jenrick was given a vote of confidence on Wednesday evening after the Cabinet Secretary, Sir He is also one of the government's public faces in the fight against the virus, but is now under pressure and facing calls to resign over his decision to green-light a Tory donor's £1billion housing development. Robert Jenrick, 38, is the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Credit: Reuters Robert Jenrick, 38, is the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. 1 Robert Jenrick has hosted press briefings during the coronavirus pandemic Credit: AFP Jenrick first ran for election for the Conservatives in 2010 in Newcastle-Under-Lyme, but fell short by 1,582 votes to Paul Farrelly of the Labour party. At a by-election held on June 5, 2014, he retained the seat with a majority of 7,403, which was the strongest peacetime by-election result for the Conservative Party in government for over 40 years. After Boris Johnson's victory in the 2019 general election, Jenrick was made Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Robert Jenrick previously spoke at the conference, alongside the Prime Minister and deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries Credit: AFP Robert Jenrick faced calls to resign after admitting he helped a major Tory donor save up to £50million in tax. Mr Johnson threw his weight behind Robert Jenrick over his decision to greenlight a Tory donor's £1billion housing development. The Housing Secretary was forced to publish documents over his approval. The Tory minister had released papers relating to his approval of the Westferry development in East London, owned by ex-newspaper chief Richard Desmond. He was accused of sanctioning the deal after Mr Desmond made a £12,000 donation to the Conservative Party. Among documents, one aide suggested that Mr Jenrick speed up the decision to save Mr Desmond from paying a £40million council tax levy. Mr Jenrick, 38, also sat next to the tycoon at a donors' ball where he admitted Mr Desmond showed him a video of the development.