Housing secretary Robert Jenrick has been accused of another potential abuse of ministerial planning powers after it emerged he met key backers of the proposed Holocaust Memorial before calling it in
The minister is already under fire for his unlawful decision to give planning permission to PLP’s Westferry Printworks against the advice of his planning inspector and following lobbying from the developer, Conservative party donor Richard Desmond.
But Jenrick now faces a judicial review and parliamentary scrutiny over his decision to call-in the Holocaust Memorial project for ministerial determination on 5 November, hours before Parliament was dissolved for the December general election.
The memorial and education centre, designed by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad, is proposed for the Grade II-listed Victoria Tower Gardens to the south of the Palace of Westminster. It is being brought forward by UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, a body sponsored by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).
Jenrick’s call-in of the planning application was taken within a month of him meeting Gerald Ronson, a board member for the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation on 7 October, and within days of him meeting Eric Pickles, co-chairman of the foundation, on 29 October.
Westminster Council had yet to rule on the planning application, and was unaware that the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation had written to Jenrick on 30 October to ask for it to be called in.
Speaking in the House of Lords last week, the crossbench Baroness Deech said this was ‘another example of what appears to be a breach of the guidance on planning propriety, and less than impartial behaviour by the department’.
She added that the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation ‘are in effect appealing to the minister to permit this controversial development’.
Under planning rules the housing secretary has a quasi-judicial role, which means he ‘should act and be seen to act fairly and even-handedly’ and that ‘privately made representations should not be entertained unless other parties have been given the chance to consider them and comment’.
The London Parks and Gardens Trust has confirmed it is launching a judicial review of the government’s decision to call in ‘its own planning application’ to build the memorial, and has a Crowdjustice page to raises funds for legal costs.
Opponents, including Royal Parks and English heritage, say the scheme will cause unwarranted damage to the listed Victoria Park Gardens and protected views of the Palace of Westminster. In February, Westminster Council sided with opponents of the scheme and unanimously voted to refuse the scheme.
However, a decision on the scheme will made by the housing minister following a planning inspection in October.
Jenrick has recused himself from ruling on the application, which means a final yes-or-no decision will be made by junior housing minister Christopher Pincher.
Helen Monger, director of the London Parks and Gardens Trust said: ‘This has been a controversial proposal from the start, and we have long doubted that the MHCLG was committed to a fair or transparent process.
‘Recent revelations about the approval of Westferry Printworks have only increased our unease,’ she added.
A spokesperson for MHCLG declined to comment on the judicial review, but said: ‘All planning decisions taken by ministers are taken in line with published propriety guidance, which states that planning decisions must be made solely on the basis of valid planning matters.’