Selling his planning proposals was not going as well as expected for the man with the Midas touch

Selling his planning proposals was not going as well as expected for the man with the Midas touch

Robert Jenrick has the Midas touch when it comes to house planning. Back in 2013, before Honest Bob became a Tory MP, he twice had planning permission refused to turn the roof terrace of his £2.5m London townhouse into an extra bedroom on the grounds that the extension would damage the character and appearance of the building and conservation area. Miraculously, just weeks after he was elected to the safe seat of Newark in a byelection, the planning permission this time under his wifes name was pushed through with the help of Conservative councillors. Truly, the Lord works in mysterious ways.
Since then, Honest Bob has effortlessly worked his way up the ranks of the Tory party, despite showing no obvious talent for anything except an air of excessive entitlement. He is a man who seems to have taken success as his birthright.
He doesnt know quite why he is so lucky, but then hes never needed the self-awareness to ask himself the question. He lives, therefore he gets. Just about the only person not surprised to have found himself in the cabinet as minister for housing, communities and local government is himself. And its in this role that he has published a white paper that will transform the planning process. Only not for the better.
Not that this is how Jenrick sees it. Despite the fact that 90% of planning permissions are granted some 370,000 last year and more than 1 million houses with planning consent remaining unbuilt, Honest Bob believes that the current system is broken. What is needed to provide the homes and infrastructure the country requires is a three-tier zoning system.
A growth zone where pretty much anything can be built regardless of whether anyone likes it or not. A renewal zone where pretty much anything can be built providing local people have agreed on the colour of the brickwork. And a protected zone to stop any development anywhere near his third home, a listed manor house in Herefordshire.
The Lord works in mysterious ways: Robert Jenricks London townhouse. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty
Predictably, Honest Bob was upbeat and bullish as he went out on the morning media round to sell his proposals to a sceptical public. Then, he always is. He isnt a man used to being challenged. So the government white paper, dreamed up by his 10-year-old assistant Jack Airey, would cut through all the blockages and Nimbyism created by the Attlee government no chance to slag off a Labour government was to be missed, even one of the 1940s to allow new homes to be built.
All talk of a bonfire of the regulations and an assault on local democracy was just scaremongering. For a start, it was obvious that developers would be desperate to build their fair share of affordable homes. It merely depended on your interpretation of the word affordable. To characterise developers as being interested only in getting the maximum return on their investment was a gross calumny. Most wanted nothing more than to build well-appointed new homes for people working on the minimum wage.
The very idea that developers might try to get round any regulations by knocking up some box-like, slum dwellings in growth areas was unthinkable. Mainly because the regulations that were in place were being removed, so there would be none to get round. Though the government might think about reinstating some of the regulations being abolished, such as the community infrastructure levy, if some developers started to take the piss. But that was something for the long grass.
And it was nonsense to suggest that local people would no longer have a say in what got built in their area. Providing they werent stupid enough to live in growth zones, in which case they deserved any monstrosities they got. As for people living in renewal zones, they were also being done a huge favour because they would have 30 months to think about all the things they could possibly dislike for the rest of their lives and then would be free to forget about them. So if a building that no one had dreamed of got proposed, then tough.
Trust me, said Honest Bob, his voice the liquid honey of someone who expects to be believed.
What did Robert Jenrick learn from the Westferry affair? That he wouldnt swap texts with Dirty Des – WhatsApp was harder to trace. Photograph: James Veysey/Rex/Shutterstock
Only it turned out that Nick Robinson, on Radio 4s Today programme, didnt necessarily trust him. Didnt Honest Bob have form? Hadnt he sat at the same dinner table as Richard Dirty Desmond at a Tory fundraising dinner? And hadnt Dirty Des showed him a video of his Westferry development proposal? And hadnt Honest Bob given the development despite the objections of the local council the green light the day before Dirty Des would have had to fork out £40m for infrastructure projects? And hadnt his decision later been deemed unlawful. So what bit of Jenricks planning proposals were we supposed to have faith in?
So what did you learn from the Westferry affair? Robinson asked.
For the first time all morning, Jenrick sounded distinctly ruffled. Er he wouldnt sit at the same table as a developer with an outstanding planning application, he said, conveniently overlooking the fact that was precisely what he had done. And he certainly wouldnt do business with someone who was only going to donate £12k to the party. And he also wouldnt swap text messages with Dirty Des again. Next time it would all be done via WhatsApp. Far harder to trace.
Do you know how much property developers have donated to the Tory party in the past year? Robinson persisted. Honest Bob pretended not to hear him. So Robinson answered for him: £11m.
Jenrick ignored him again. He wasnt used to being spoken to like that and he would make sure it never happened again. Didnt anyone at the BBC know who he was? As it happened, they did.

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