Wed, 17 Jul 2019
A FORMER Conservative councillor was granted planning permission because planning committee members are ‘friends’ with her, a Liberal Democrat councillor has claimed.
Virginia Von Celsing, who used to represent Compton, applied to build an extension to her 18th-century thatched cottage that planning officers said should be refused.
Officers said the extension to her house, in Hill Green, Leckhampstead, would have a negative impact on the local area, which is in the North Wessex Downs Area of Natural Beauty.
However, at a meeting on Wednesday, July 3, councillors on West Berkshire’s western area planning committee went against their own officers’ advice and granted permission.
Some of them declared a personal interest in the application, as they know Ms Von Celsing personally.
These were the committee chairman Clive Hooker (Con, Downlands), Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley and Cold Ash), and Jeff Beck (Newbury Clay Hill).
They said they knew her from her time as a councillor, before she lost her seat in May.
After the committee voted to grant her permission, Lib Dem councillor Adrian Abbs was seen shaking his head and making a comment.
Mrs Cole said to Mr Hooker: “Chairman, I overheard councillor Abbs saying that we approved this application because we were friends of Mrs Von Celsing.
“I take exception to that comment and I would like him to withdraw it.”
Mr Abbs replied: “Absolutely not.
“I’m happy to take this to governance and ethics [the council’s committee which deals with the conduct of councillors].
“I was on site, I saw several of you councillors hugging and kissing the applicant. I’m sorry, that is not correct behaviour.
“So that is my comment and I stand by it.”
The council’s legal officer said: “Members have declared an interest. I think this needs to be dealt with at another time.”
Two letters of support were received from the public, who felt the single-storey extension would be unseen in the village.
Ms Von Celsing’s architect Jonathan Harker said the extension would be “barely visible” and a hedge will be kept high enough so it wouldn’t be seen from the road.
Mr Harker also said the extension would make the house more sustainable and energy efficient.
Four councillors voted to approve the plans, while three voted against.