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September 10, 2008 4:00 PM

A senior Newcastle councillor has reacted with concern to news that the Government is to scrap planning red tape on conversion of attic spaces to bedrooms.

Housing Minister Caroline Flint said the plans would enable families to extend their homes without the need to apply for planning permission.

The Government hopes the change will make it easier for families, who are unable to move because of the credit crunch, to create more space in their existing homes.

Greg Stone, Parliamentary spokesman for Newcastle East, warned the move could seriously undermine efforts taken by Newcastle City Council's Liberal Democrat administration to introduce an "Area of Housing Mix".

The policy is designed to prevent massive proliferation of student rented housing in areas of the city like Jesmond, Heaton and Sandyford.

The Lib Dems have introduced local planning policies which seek to make it more difficult for landlords to buy up family homes in established family residential areas and turn them into multi-occupancy student rentals, following previously unchecked growth in concentration of rented student accommodation in these parts of the city.

Councillor Greg Stone, a councillor for North Heaton, said: "While we don't want to see people penalised who genuinely wish to expand their homes by means of loft conversions or extensions perhaps because of changing family circumstances or as an alternative to moving to a larger house during the credit crunch, we have serious reservations about this plan which appears to have been unilaterally announced without consultation by Labour.

"My experience in Heaton and that of my councillor colleagues in Newcastle East is that the restrictions introduced by the Lib Dems after years of Labour complacency are an essential defence against landlords who seek to buy up family houses, convert the attic spaces, and add on extensions to cram in as many bedrooms as possible for renting to students.

"I will be asking the city council to take urgent steps to clarify the position with the Government in order to protect the safeguards introduced by the Lib Dems.

"There will be huge concern and anger in Jesmond, Heaton and Sandyford if Caroline Flint's panic measure allows more family homes to be lost to a surge of student conversions."