The Conservative Party has received millions of pounds in donations from developers who stand to benefit from the Government’s controversial planning reforms, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Dozens of property firms have given a total of £3.3 million to the party over the past three years, including large gifts from companies seeking to develop rural land.
Developers are also paying thousands of pounds for access to senior Tories through the Conservative Property Forum, a club of elite donors which sets up “breakfast meetings” to discuss planning and property issues.
The disclosures are likely to provoke a new “cash-for-access” row and will give rise to fears that planning policies could have been influenced by powerful figures from the property industry.
The Coalition will also face a backlash next week from more than 80 rural MPs and peers, who will meet to discuss concerns that relaxing planning policy will see hundreds of wind turbines built in the countryside. The Daily Telegraph has launched the Hands Off Our Land campaign to urge ministers to rethink the measures, joining opposition from the National Trust, English Heritage and the Campaign to Protect Rural England. The guidance states that there should be a “presumption in favour of sustainable development”, which campaigners have warned would give developers “carte blanche”.
Bill Cash, who is organising the meeting of back-bench MPs and peers, said last night: “This is a demonstration of the deep concern and the first shot across the bows.
“The developers will have the whip hand. When you are talking about economic benefit, the benefits of England’s green and pleasant land to tourism and the scenery is as important as anything else.”
The Conservative Planning Forum raises around £150,000 a year for the Tory party and charges members £2,500 to meet senior MPs to discuss policy and planning issues.
Mike Slade, its chairman, has given more than £300,000 over the past decade, individually and through his property firm, Helical Bar.
Mr Slade advocated reforms to encourage local authorities to “see the benefits of development” three years ago, when he warned the Tories to “get over” their image as “nimbys”.
The forum met Grant Shapps, who is now housing minister, while the Conservatives were in opposition early last year, after Mr Slade had written an article strongly critical of plans to devolve more planning powers to local authorities.
Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, will meet some of the nation’s biggest housebuilders at a conference next week where he will give the keynote speech.
His presence is likely to lead to further claims that ministers are “stacking the deck” in favour of developers.
Conservation groups have complained bitterly of a lack of access to ministers over the proposals and the National Trust has demanded a meeting with David Cameron. Some of the Tories’ biggest donors are from the property world. David and Simon Reuben, billionaires who own Millbank Tower in Westminster, have given almost £500,000 over the past decade, while Terence Cole, a London-based developer, donated almost £300,000. IM Properties, which is expanding Birch Coppice Business Park, near Tamworth, Staffs, has given around £1 million since 2009.
A senior Tory MP, who did not wish to be named, accused the Chancellor, George Osborne, of “shoe-horning in” the presumption in favour of development in a bid to stimulate the economy.
He said: “This is a clear example of localism being hijacked. Developers will have state licence to print money and we will see a proliferation of identikit suburbs springing up in the countryside.” The Conservative party last night strongly denied that planning policies had been influenced by donations from developers. A spokesman said: “These are Coalition policies based on principles laid out before the election by both Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. There is absolutely no link between donations to the Conservative party and Conservative planning policy – to suggest otherwise is untrue, misleading and unfair.”
He said that reforms would “maintain the protection of green space”.
A spokesman for the Reuben brothers said neither had talked with ministers about planning at any time, while Terence Cole said he had not met ministers or Tory MPs to discuss planning reform.
Mr Slade and IM Properties were unavailable for comment.