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Tory donor Richard Desmond eyes development plans again after political row

A view of the Westferry Printworks site on the Isle of Dogs in east London (Yui Mok/PA)
A view of the Westferry Printworks site on the Isle of Dogs in east London (Yui Mok/PA)

A Tory donor is once again eyeing up a major property scheme in east London, several years after the initial plans by the developer were at the centre of a serious lobbying row.

Richard Desmond has submitted new proposals to Tower Hamlets Council for a Westferry Printworks development.

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

Richard Desmond
Former owner of the Daily Express and Daily Star, Richard Desmond (PA)

The pair exchanged text messages following a meeting at a Conservative Party event in November 2019, and officials in Mr 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, Mr Desmond gave £12,000 to the Conservative Party.

Mr Jenrick later had to quash his own approval, conceding that the decision was “unlawful” due to “apparent bias”.

The project was eventually ditched in 2021 after an appeal was dismissed.

It has emerged that new documents, first reported by the Observer, were submitted by Westferry Developments Limited, which is part of Mr Desmond’s Northern & Shell company.

The expanded scheme includes plans for 1,358 homes, as well as a secondary school.

No planning application has yet been submitted but officials have already cited some concerns including that the development “does not propose policy-compliant levels of family housing”.