Westferry Speech

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Below is a speech I delivered on 24/06/2020 regarding the Westferry housing development.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, Zoe McKendree, 33, told the BBC that she spends more than a third of her pay on rent for her shared flat in south London. She dreams of the keys to a home of her own but for Zoe, and most people of my generation, that remains a distant prospect. 

Instead, Zoe has had to contend with what she describes as “callous” landlords and escalating costs. She has also experienced numerous no-fault evictions, where private landlords evict tenants at short notice without good reason. 

This country is deep in a housing crisis of this government’s own making. Not only are we spending over one third of our incomes on rent, the number of rough sleepers in England has shockingly, shamefully, increased by more than 250% since the Conservative Party came to power in 2010.  

It is within this context Mr Deputy Speaker, that the Government’s Secretary of State in charge of housing overruled his advisers to reduce the amount of affordable housing required in the Westferry development.  

Let’s take this slowly, because this point cannot be laboured enough.  

With an increase in street homelessness of more than 250% since 2010 and with a generation of people trapped inside a precarious and poorly regulated rented housing market, we have a Secretary of State in charge of Housing fighting to reduce the number of affordable housing units in a development. How on earth does the government justify this move? 

It seems baffling to me Mr Speaker, considering this fact alone, that the Member for Newark should be deemed as somebody fit to represent the wider public interest in his brief. Reducing the ratio of affordable dwellings down from one-in-three to one-in-five saved billionaire developer and Tory donor Richard Desmond another £40m by selling these units on the premium property market instead.  

Mr Speaker, Transparency International defines corruption as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. 

Transparency International has said of corruption in the UK: 

“Although corruption is not endemic in the UK, it is correct to say that in some areas of UK society and institutions, corruption is a much greater problem than recognised and that there is an inadequate response to its growing threat. The growing threat of corruption is often met with complacency, and key institutions are refusing to confront the problem.”  

In light of this analysis from Transparency International, does the Secretary of State agree that the Government’s decision not to release all correspondence involving ministers and their special advisers concerning the Westferry development appears grubby and lacking in transparency to say the least? 

Will the Secretary of State clarify the reason why the government withdrew its consent in the High Court action by Tower Hamlets Council in April rather than reveal all the documents that had been asked for?  

Surely the Secretary of State understands the importance of public trust and confidence during the coronavirus crisis? Dominic Cummings and now Westferry have severely tested this and as my Hon Friend the Member for Croydon North has rightly said, the Government’s moral authority now hangs by a thread. 

Mr Richard Desmond told The Sunday Times last weekend that he had shown the Housing Minister a promotional video for the scheme on his mobile phone during a Conservative Party fundraiser at the Savoy Hotel late last year. 

Will the Secretary of State confirm that it is in fact still the case that Ministers are not allowed to take planning decisions if they have been lobbied by the developer? Were No.10 aware that the Secretary of State watched this video before unlawfully approving this application? Or is it the case that the Prime Minister is defending the Secretary of State without bothering to check the facts? 

Mr Deputy Speaker, I urge the government to drag itself out of the shadows on this grubby matter and publish all correspondence on the Westferry development without further delay”.