Planning Inspectorate to consider new issues before recommending if £1bn PLP project should be approved

The government’s independent planning arm is being given another chance to decide whether to recommend PLP’s controversial Westferry Printworks scheme in east London for approval, after the earlier permission for the scheme was quashed when the housing secretary admitted “apparent” bias.

Just before Christmas, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) wrote to stakeholders on the 1,500-home scheme to tell them the planning inquiry into the scheme will be reopened.

Robert Jenrick

In the letter, stakeholders were told secretary of state Robert Jenrick (pictured) was reopening the inquiry to look at several matters including the implications on the London Plan and local planning policies within Tower Hamlets, and that the Planning Inspectorate would be in touch with them shortly about what happens next.

This would be the second time the project, which is being proposed by millionaire and Conservative Party donor Richard Desmond, has been put before the inspectorate after the body previously recommended that it be blocked.

Last January, Jenrick faced calls to resign after he ignored the inspectorate’s recommendation and used his ministerial powers to move ahead with the scheme following personal lobbying by Desmond.

It later emerged Jenrick had asked officials at the ministry to fast-track the application for the £1bn scheme to help Desmond, the owner of the scheme’s developer Northern & Shell, to avoid the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) which was introduced by Tower Hamlets at the start of last year.

Officials advised Jenrick on the timing of the introduction of the CIL charge on his first day back in the office after the 2019 general election, weeks after the minister was shown a video of the scheme by Desmond at a Tory party fundraising dinner in November 2019.

Desmond subsequently texted Jenrick asking him to speed up his decision “as we don’t want to give Marxists a load of doe [sic] for nothing!” in what was understood to be a reference to Labour-controlled Tower Hamlets council whose residents stood to benefit from the CIL levy.

The scheme was eventually approved just one day before the introduction of the CIL charge, which could have cost the developer £50m, the timing ultimately leading Jenrick to admit “apparent bias” in his decision-making.

The Westferry scheme’s architect PLP is working up detailed designs for the job.

Northern & Shell had said in its annual accounts last summer it was confident the scheme would finally win approval before the end of the year.