Robert Jenrick ‘regrets’ close contact with tycoon whose £1bn development he approved by overruling officials

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ROBERT Jenrick has admitted he “regrets” the close contact he had with a tycoon whose £1bn development he overruled officials to approve.

The embattled Housing Secretary said it “would’ve been better” if he hadn’t sat next to Richard Desmond at a dinner or exchanged texts with him.

But the under-fire Cabinet minister stood by his decision and blasted allegations of bias as “extremely unfair and a wilful misreading of events”.

Mr Jenrick has come under intense pressure over his call to green light the 1,500-home Westferry complex in east London in January.

He told the Commons: “This could’ve been handled differently. I regret that I was sat next to the applicant at a dinner in November.

“That’s to some extent an occupational hazard of being a planning minister, because people do approach you to discuss applications.”

He added: “With hindsight it would’ve been better not to have exchanged text messages with the applicant.”

Mr Jenrick said he would “learn lessons” adding guidance on ministerial conduct when dealing with planning applications may be “strengthened”.

But he insisted Whitehall officials never advised him to step off the case.

He said: “At no point did the department say I should behave differently going forward or I should’ve behaved differently in the past.

“Nothing that the developer said to me had any bearing on my decision whatsoever.

“I’ve taken decisions to get housing built and build the homes this country needs. That’s what a housing secretary in a housing crisis needs to do.”

Mr Jenrick also defended making the call one day before a new local levy came into force that would have cost Mr Desmond an extra £50 million.

He said it was “legitimate” to fast-track the ruling as the “viability of the project might be compromised” by the added tax bill.

Two weeks later Mr Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservatives.

Mr Jenrick then had to quash his own decision, admitting it was illegal due to “apparent bias”.

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