PROTESTING residents are threatening not to pay their council tax after a flats development was given the go-ahead in a conservation area.

Home owners in Eaglescliffe are demanding answers from Stockton Borough Council over the definition of a conservation area, and what planning laws protect them.

Plans were initially passed last year, but council officers failed to consult surrounding residents and the case had to be heard again.

Eaglescliffe Preservation Action Group (Epag) has lodged complaints with the council and residents, not happy with the response, say they are planning to withhold their council tax payment in protest.

Win Campbell, a resident and member of Epag, said: "We all feel absolutely helpless. This application was approved under a cloud of legal issues - not on the fact that it is a conservation area.

"If the council refused the application, the builder would apply for compensation. So passing the plans was easier and cheaper for the planning officers than addressing the real issues that affect the residents.

"We've sent letters to the council objecting and just feel we've got nowhere to go. It has been suggested by a number of residents that we should refuse to pay our council tax. The area is a mess."

People living in Swinburne Road and Station Road say the development is completely out of character with the Victorian streets.

Mrs Campbell said: "We pay council tax towards the upkeep of the area, which used to be picturesque and unspoilt. Now it's just a building site with an ugly building protruding out into the street. We want someone to listen to us."

Plans were submitted to extend the flats, in Station Road, Eaglescliffe, and without residents knowing, they were approved and work started.

The application was approved in May last year, but after the mistake was spotted, it was resubmitted in January, when it was approved.

A spokesperson for Stockton council said: "The planning committee granted approval for these flats following consultation with neighbouring residents and two site visits by council members.

"Regulations do not allow people to withhold council tax for any reason and we strongly advise them not to follow this course. We have no option but to follow standard recovery procedures for everyone who chooses not to pay."