Westferry property scheme ditched after minister rejects appeal

A property scheme that was approved after its developer sat next to a cabinet minister at a Conservative fundraiser has finally been ditched – two years after they discussed the project.

Documents revealed that the minister for rough sleeping and housing, Eddie Hughes, had dismissed an appeal over the building of the 1,500-home Westferry Printworks scheme in east London.

The Isle of Dogs development was mired in controversy after the extent of the contact between the then housing secretary Robert Jenrick and the developer and media mogul Richard Desmond was revealed, before the cabinet minister signed off on the project.

It had initially been rejected by planning officers in Tower Hamlets, who warned that it did not contain enough affordable homes.

The pair exchanged text messages after a meeting at a Tory party event in November 2019, and officials in Jenrick’s department described him as being “insistent” that the project be given the green light before a new levy added millions to the cost.

Twelve days after the decision was made, Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservative party. Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, conceding that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

But Hughes, on behalf of the housing secretary, Michael Gove, has now drawn a line under the saga and dismissed the appeal.

In the decision document, it was shown the scheme breached 22 planning policies, and that approving the scheme would have meant a “failure to preserve the settings of the Old Royal Naval College and Tower Bridge, both Grade I listed, and the Maritime Greenwich WHS (world heritage Site)”.

It said: “The harm to the character and appearance of the area attracts significant weight.”

The minister agreed that the benefits of the scheme did not outweigh the harm.

A Tower Hamlets spokesperson said: “The council is pleased that after many months and two public inquiries, both the inspector and the secretary of state agree that the scheme should be refused permission.

“Today’s decision supports the council’s view that the proposed scheme was inappropriate for the site in both scale and height, would significantly impact important heritage sites and failed to maximise affordable housing and family-size homes.

“In all, it was a bad deal for our borough and we are satisfied with today’s outcome.”

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