The decision on whether to give planning permission to the controversial Westferry Printworks development in east London will once again be put before the Planning Inspectorate, as part of a fresh inquiry into the scheme.
The decision made by local government minister was confirmed in a letter sent to stakeholders by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) on 21 December. The Planning Inspectorate, the government’s independent planning arm, is set to assess once again whether to recommend the scheme for approval.
The latest decision comes after a number of months of delay by the government over what the next steps are for the £1bn scheme, which promises to deliver 1,500 homes on the Isle of Dogs.
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 the project be blocked.
This was then famously overruled by housing secretary Robert Jenrick in January this year after he chose to ignore the independent advisor’s recommendation and use his ministerial powers to move ahead with the scheme.
But the High Court quashed the planning application in May after Mr Jenrick admitted that the decision to approve it one day before Tower Hamlets Council introduced a new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) charge had shown “apparent bias”.
The new charge would have cost the developer an extra £43m if accepted after it came in.
Mr Jenrick’s decision was shrouded in even more controversy when it emerged that two weeks before the approval Mr Desmond had donated £12,000 to the Conservative Party, and the housing secretary had sat next to Mr Desmond at a fundraiser before the decision was made.
In this week’s letter, an MHCLG planning officer confirmed that the department had decided that it needed to “reopen the inquiry to consider additional matters”.
The new inquiry will see the inspectorate review additional aspects of the scheme, including the implications the Tower Hamlets Local Plan 2031 and the London Plan will have on the scheme. It will also look in more detail at the impact of Tower Hamlets’ CIL charging schedule on the project.
This was looked at in little detail in the last inspectorate report, with the inspectorate rejecting the initial plan because of a lack of affordable homes and conflicts with local planning policies.
The new review will also examine any changes in circumstance or policy that may have arisen since Mr Jenrick’s original decision in January 2020.
Relevant parties will now be invited to make further submissions on some of the areas before the inspectorate’s new inquiry into the scheme begins.
A spokesperson for the MHCLG said: “The decision to reopen the planning inquiry was made by Luke Hall and arrangements for this will be taken forward by the Planning Inspectorate.”
The decision will likely frustrate Mr Desmond, who previously called on the government for a swift decision. Inside Housing reported in November that DP9, the planning consultancy representing Mr Desmond, had sent a series of emails calling on MHCLG to make a swift decision.
The latest inquiry is likely to take a number of months before a recommendation is made. A decision on whether to give the project the green light will be made by a minister other than Mr Jenrick, after he recused himself from the decision-making process this time around.
Inside Housing revealed in September that Westferry Developments was willing to pay the £43m CIL charge that it initially avoided through Mr Jenrick’s intervention just days before Tower Hamlets brought in the charge.
In an email to MHCLG in August, DP9 said that Westferry Developments was “ready, willing and able to commence development of the appeal scheme and pay the associated CIL liability promptly following a grant of planning permission”.