The Gerard De-fence: “Take me on and thousands of others..”
Date posted: 20-09-2012
A VETERAN councillor who sits on Thurrock Council’s planning committee is challenging the Borough’s planning officers to take action against thousands of other residents if they take action against him over a fence he has built – which he admits is in flagrant breach of planning rules.
Cllr Gerard Rice, 54, a substitute member of the planning committee who regularly sits in judgement on applications – and is chairman of the authority’s planning, transport and regeneration overview scrutiny committee – has replaced a hedge around his Orsett Heath bungalow with a two metre high fence.
Residents have complained about it to the Council but Chadwell St Mary Labour councillor Rice, whose wife Barbara, 57, is also a councillor and sits on the authority’s Cabinet, says he will not take it down and is a victim of Conservative ‘mischief.’
And he has challenged the Council to change its planning rules – or go after the “thousands of people who also break the rules” adding: “If they are going to go after me, they are going to have to take them all on. It would be easier to rewrite the rules.”
Cllr Rice, who lives on Heath Road, moved into the bungalow after winning his seat in the Chadwell St Mary ward and set our renovating the property. The fence now surrounds the home and he says it is required for security.
“This is an unusual property in that it sits sideways to the road and what is effectively our back garden runs alongside it.
“We have had things stolen from it and so the fence, rather than a hedge, is needed for security. It is no different to hundreds, if not thousands, of other properties across the Borough. I have a book of pictures of similar properties which I will present to the planning officer, are they going to take action against them all?”
Cllr Rice says that he is prepared to apply for planning permission if pushed, but says he does not expect a fair hearing. “My wife has spoken to a planning officer who told her she would not get permission, so it is effectively pre-judged. That can’t be right.”
He added that he has received no personal complaints from his neighbours, but acknowledges a complaint has been made to the Council, saying he thinks it is a political opponent trying to cause him problems.
“Cllr Mike Revell’s wall at his home in Bulphan is as high as mine, and former Tory Councillor Anne Cheale had one round her home built in the green belt, but it seems the Tories want to make mischief about mine. I think this is political and someone is trying to stir it. The fence went up in June, why is it just now that someone is complaining?
“I’m just someone trying to improve what was an old lady’s bungalow and while technically it is a breach of planning regulations, it’s something that has been done in lots of other places and they haven’t been pursued by planning officers so why pick on me, it’s clearly political.”
A spokesperson from Thurrock Council said: “We have received complaints about this development and are currently investigating in line with our normal procedures.”
The issue of the fence comes less than a month after Cllr Rice supported a Thurrock resident’s bid to get a 10 foot fence outside his home, to protect him from being overlooked by a new development. Cllr Rice said it made sense for the height to be made part of a planning permission for the developer of the former Chadwell St Mary Methodist Church, but he was over-ruled by fellow planning committee members who said the increased height of the fence couldn’t be part of the permission and might set a precedent.