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 in West Berkshire Council, 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, councillors on West Berkshire’s western area planning committee voted on July 3 to grant permission. Some of them declared a personal interest in the application, as they know Ms Von Celsing personally. 

These were the chair of the committee Clive Hooker (Con, Downlands), Hilary Cole (Con, Chieveley & Cold Ash), and Jeff Beck (Newbury Clay Hill). 

They said they knew her from her time as a councillor, before she was voted out in May. 

After the committee voted to grant her permission, Cllr Cole said she heard Cllr Adrian Abbs (Lib Dem, Newbury Wash Common) claim it was because the Conservative councillors are friends with Ms Von Celsing. 

Cllr Cole asked him to withdraw the comment. 

Cllr Abbs said: “I saw councillors on the site-visit hugging the applicant. I am happy to take this up to governance and ethics.”

Previously, Conservative councillors Hooker, Howard Woollaston (Lambourn), and Cole defended the plans, with the latter saying ‘these things are subjective’. 

Two letters of support were received from the public, who felt the single storey extension would be unseen in the village. 

Jonathan Harker, Ms Von Celsing’s architect, said the extension would be ‘barely visible’ and a hedge will be kept high enough so it won’t be seen from the road. 

Mr Harker also said the extension will make the house more sustainable and energy efficient. 

Four councillors voted to approve the plans, while three voted against. Cllr Hooker abstained.