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Councillor Tony Searles being investigated for renting out garage without planning permission

A senior councillor is being investigated by his council for allegedly flouting planning laws by renting out a converted garage without planning permission.

Swanley town and borough councillor Tony Searles is facing questions over his home in Egerton Avenue, Hextable, where he has charged £845 a month in rent and bills, including council tax.

The Tory member represents Swanley Christchurch and Swanley Village on Sevenoaks council and is the portfolio holder for finance.

Councillor Tony Searles who is being investigated for flouting planning laws
Councillor Tony Searles who is being investigated for flouting planning laws

He is also on Swanley Town Council, where he an active member of the development control committee, as well as being vice-chairman of finance and chairman of estates and facilities.

It is believed people living in the street complained to the council after seeing the property being listed as for rent. One woman, who did not wish to be named, said it was common knowledge that Cllr Searles has been renting out the space for at least four years.

Residents in the street are said to have been affected by the arrangement, as cars belonging to the tenants have frequently been parked along the narrow road, blocking people in.

One man said he had spoken with a female tenant previously over the parking situation because on some occasions, he could not get out of his own driveway. But she said she had to park on the road, as she could not park on the long driveway belonging to Cllr Searles, which leads to the converted garage.

The one bedroom flat listed to rent in Egerton Avenue, now off the market.
The one bedroom flat listed to rent in Egerton Avenue, now off the market.

A property advert on Rightmove described the garage conversion as having an allocated parking space to the front, but there is no such allocation, only the avenue without parking restrictions.

Another neighbour added: “We all knew there was something going on. But who would dare say anything when he’s your neighbour, and a councillor? It seems they can do what they like.”

When approached for a comment at his home, Cllr Searles declined and shut the door. A spokesman for Sevenoaks council said: “The garage was granted planning permission in 1988 and the upper floor was converted to a living area under permitted development rights allowing ‘ancillary’ use. However, this permission did not extend to allowing people to sleep or permanently live in the space.

Cllr Tony Searles' home in Egerton Avenue
Cllr Tony Searles' home in Egerton Avenue

“Following an investigation by our planning department, the landowner, Cllr Searles, has been invited to submit a planning application for a change of use for the living area to allow it to be used as a residential dwelling. We anticipate an application will be lodged in the coming weeks and will be considered in the usual way. As with all applications from our councillors, it will go before our development control committee for a decision.”

The property was listed on Rightmove in 2012 and 2013 for £625 and £695 per month respectively.

It was described as: “An attractive one bedroom annexe. The property is located in the grounds of a detached family home in Hextable. The property is accessed by cast iron steps leading to the front door on the first floor. There is a lounge, fitted kitchen, double bedroom and a shower room.

“There is gas fired central heating and a good standard of decor. Outside, the new tenants will benefit from their own patio area and an allocated parking space at the front of the main house. Gas, electric, water and council tax is paid direct to the Landlord at £150pcm.”

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