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Campaigners warn of ‘obvious conflict of interest’ after Gove receives £120,000 from property developers

Parliamentary reporter @TrinderMatt

LABOUR warned that the announcement of a “pause” to planning reforms was not enough today, as newly minted Housing Minister Michael Gove found himself embroiled in a conflict-of-interest controversy.

In his first policy decision since being handed the role, Mr Gove, who was revealed yesterday to have received £120,000 from property developers before taking office, said he wanted to address Tory MPs’ concerns about the reforms, which have been labelled a “developer’s charter” by critics.

Labour expressed cynicism about the temporary stay, however, with shadow communities and local government secretary Steve Reed MP stating that former secretary Robert Jenrick’s development policies “need to be scrapped.

“Michael Gove needs to confirm that the Conservatives’ hated developers’ charter is dead and buried and set out how this government intends to meet its housing targets.

“These hated reforms won’t fix the housing crisis or give local people a stake in their areas. That’s why Labour introduced a Use it or Lose it Bill to protect local residents’ voices while speeding up housebuilding.”

“If [he] wants to prove that his party is not in the pockets of the development industry, he should confirm the government’s planning reforms are dead and buried.”

Mr Gove has faced immediate criticism since his appointment after it emerged that received two donations of £50,000 from German property developer Zak Gertler three weeks ago. 

The payments were registered on Wednesday, when Prime Minister Boris Johnson moved Mr Gove from the Cabinet Office to Housing, Communities and Local Government as part of the reshuffle of his top team.

The Gertler family developed offices in Germany and has been linked to property deals in London and Birmingham having moved to Britain in the 1990s.

Mr Gove previously accepted £10,000 from the same donor in July 2016 to help his abortive Tory Party leadership bid after the Brexit referendum — and the same amount again in June 2019.

Mr Gertler, who reportedly lives in Israel and is described by the Jerusalem Post as a close friend of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is yet to comment publicly.

Calling on Mr Gove to pay back the donations, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said: “Conservative planning reforms are already handing more powers to developers, and now it seems the new housing secretary is accepting donations from them too.

“To avoid any conflict of interest, Michael Gove must return this money.”

A government spokesperson said all payments made had been declared publicly, claiming there are “robust processes in place to ensure any potential conflicts of interest are managed appropriately.”

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