COUNCILLORS and officers will be able to turn down every application for a flat conversion in eight Waltham Forest wards, under new guidelines.

In recent months, planning committee members have become frustrated at what they see as their lack of ability to reject flat conversions under the council's current Unitary Development Plan (UDP), which is not due to be updated until 2011 Enterprise cabinet member Cllr Terry Wheeler has repeatedly pledged to look at other ways of changing council guidelines in the meantime to make it easier for flat conversions to be rejected.

New guidelines have now come in with immediate effect.

The rules now state that no conversions at all will be allowed in eight wards in the south and part of the centre of the borough.

The restricted wards are Cann Hall, Cathall, Forest, Grove Green, High Street, Hoe Street, Leyton and Leytonstone.

Cllr Wheeler said these wards were chosen because they have been the most affected.

The current size of houses eligible to be converted has also been increased from 105 sq metres to 120 sq m.

And another new rule will prevent flat conversions from being granted permission anywhere in the borough if there is already another converted property within 200m.

In a letter to councillors, Cllr Wheeler said: "It has been a matter of concern to me for some time the volume of flat conversions that we as a council have been allowing and the resultant damage to our family housing stock and character of our residential areas.

"We are confident that this new approach will enable us to ensure that development of residential property taking place in the borough takes account of the requirements of all our residents."

THE new guidelines have been broadly welcomed by members from all three political groupings on the council.

Liberal Democrat councillor and planning committee chairman Farooq Qureshi said: "These measures will finally give the committee the ability to show some teeth when it comes to defending local residents' interests.

"Sensibly restricting the conversion of family housing into flats is crucial to the future of Waltham Forest. Retaining family housing in the borough should be a central tenet of our sustainable communities strategy.

"The number of conversions has been a real concern for residents for a long time now and planning committee members have often been powerless to help them."

Conservative group leader Matt Davis said the guidelines will "serve a useful purpose" and he added that applications are already being turned down as a result of their implementation.

But he added that only eight wards have been identified as "restricted", saying that he is concerned about displacement of applications to other wards.

THE council is also clamping down on rogue developers and members are calling on people to report developments which they believe have not been given proper planning permission.

Extra investment has gone into the authority's planning enforcement team, meaning it is better placed to tackle rogue developers, says the Labour group on the council.

Markhouse ward councillor Midge Broadley spotted a development in Chingford Mount Road which she suspected did not have permission.

She took photographs as evidence and reported it to the council, and the developer is now being prosecuted.

Cllr Broadley said: "People should be under no illusion that we mean business and will not tolerate this kind of flagrant abuse of the law and planning system."

The authority can order that building work is halted and if it continues a person can be liable to a £20,000 fine or, if the conviction is on indictment, to an unlimited fine.

Enterprise cabinet member Cllr Terry Wheeler said that people should report rogue developers.

He added: "These breaches will prove very expensive for this developer and others who break planning rules.

"Cllr Broadley is to be commended for her vigilance."

l To report suspected planning breaches call the council on 8496 3000.