THE Conservative Party has received nearly £18 million from donors with property interests in the past two years, according to new statistics.

The figures from the Electoral Commission – the UK watchdog for election and party finance – are particularly controversial given the political backlash over the Tory government’s planning reforms, which critics say could benefit housing developers.

Analysis from the Financial Times found donations made by individuals and companies in the property sector account for a quarter of total donations made to the Tory party since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.

The newspaper revealed that at least £17.9m has been given to the Conservative Party from property sector donors since July 24, 2019.

The analysis includes all company donors and those who have given more than £100,000 but excludes hundreds of individuals who gave smaller amounts, meaning the true figure could be higher.

Anti-corruption charity Transparency International UK found annual property sector donations to the Tory party under Theresa May and David Cameron ranged from 4% to 12% of the party’s income in the years 2010 to 2018.

The biggest property donation since Johnson’s premiership came from billionaire property developer Sir Tony Gallagher, who has given £1.5m through his company Countywide Developments. Gallagher Developments had not responded to a request for comment at the time of writing.

READ MORE: Conservatives broke donations rules, elections watchdog says

The second biggest donator was Steve Morgan, former chair of leading UK housebuilder Redrow, who gave £1.25m through Bridgemere UK PLC, his development and investment group. The group is controlled by a Morgan family trust. On its website Bridgemere says it owns the single biggest stake in Redrow but does not itself do any “direct residential development in the UK”.

Ashley Lewis, Bridgemere’s finance director, said: “The Bridgemere donation to the Conservative party has nothing whatsoever to do with any possible changes to the planning system or any government policy.”

John Stuart Bloor — owner of Bloor Homes, one of the biggest private housebuilders in the UK — gave the third biggest donation. He gave £1.1m through his JS Bloor Services and Bloor Holdings entities.

A £150,000 donation in March this year by Bloor Holdings was made just 48 hours after a government minister approved a controversial housing scheme for his company, according to the Sunday Times.

Bloor said: “I have never met Boris Johnson, or spoken to him or his ministers, neither have I employed lobbyists. We donate money to the Conservative party and charities because we agree with their ethos of aspiration and hope for individuals and children and expect nothing in return for these donations.”

Commenting on the donations from property firms, Transparency International said: “While we have seen insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt any direct quid pro quo arrangements of donations for decisions, this dependence creates a real risk of aggregative corruption, whereby the actions and judgements of ministers are incentivised by their party’s financial ties to interest groups in this policy area.”

The Government’s planning reforms, which propose designating “growth areas” where developers are given automatic outline permission, are seen as having contributed to the government shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election.

Tory MPs have urged Johnson to reconsider the plans, with Roger Gale has calling the planning bill a “developer’s charter”.

READ MORE: Billionaire banker donated £500k to Tories days after becoming a Lord

A bill containing the reforms was announced in last month’s Queen’s Speech and is expected to be brought forward this autumn.

Last month, Labour shadow housing secretary Steve Reed said the Government’s proposed planning reforms were designed to “silence communities and hand control over planning to developers”.

He said: “Since the current prime minister took office, donations to the Conservative Party from major developers have increased by nearly 400%. That money was an investment in expectation of a return, and here it is. The prime minister is paying back developers by selling out communities.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick came under fire last year after he gave the green light to the Westferry Printworks redevelopment scheme for 1500 homes, against the recommendation of a planning inspector. The local east London council took legal action of the decision and the approval was eventually reversed.

Jenrick approved the development just one day before new infrastructure charges came into force. That meant Richard Desmond’s development firm managed to avoid playing about £30m-£50m more to the local authority.

Labour accused Jenrick of making the decision following a fundraising dinner in November 2019, at which he sat beside Desmond. According to the Sunday Times the former Daily Express owner showed him a promotional video for the development while they were at the event. However, Desmond says when he showed Jenrick the clip he told him he could not discuss it.

Two weeks after the housing scheme was approved in January, Electoral Commission records show Desmond gave £12,000 to the Tory Party.

Last week Jenrick signalled an apparent climbdown over the proposed planning reforms, saying that he did not want to “rip up” the current system, and dropping plans for a nationally-set flat rate infrastructure levy.

Responding to Steve Reed’s accusation last month, Jenrick said the proposed reforms were designed to stop the dominance of the large developers. He said: “If the Bill were to fail, it is the big-volume house builders who would be celebrating. The current system is stacked in favour of the big boys and we are going to change that.”

A Conservative party spokesman said: “Government policy is in no way influenced by donations the party receives. They are entirely separate.”