Founder of White Stuff REFUSES to tear down development

Founder of White Stuff REFUSES to tear down development

February 8, 2021

Wealthy founder of White Stuff fashion brand REFUSES to tear down ‘eyesore’ tennis court, garage and skate park he built at beauty spot without consent – insisting it’s now ‘legal’ after council waited four YEARS to take action

  • Sean Thomas claims two-storey garage, tennis court and skate park are legal
  • He says enforcement action wasn’t taken for four years so development is legal
  • South Hams Council have been accused of ‘dragging their heels’ over decision 

The millionaire founder of the brand the White Stuff has refused to tear down a development at a beauty spot built without permission – and has now declared it legal.

Sean Thomas claimed that despite twice being refused retrospective permission for a two-storey double garage, tennis court and skate park it must now be allowed to stay.

He claims that enforcement action was not taken for four years since he finished the development – prompting criticism from conservation groups that the council has been ‘dragging its heels’.

White Stuff founder Sean Thomas has been ordered to tear down a two-storey double garage, a skate park and a tennis court (outlined in red) at his beauty spot mansion

The development, on farmland behind Mr Thomas’ house near Salcombe, Devon, was criticised for being an ‘eyesore’ within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

After being refused planning permission, Mr Thomas and his wife were ordered to return the land to its former condition, but no remedial work was carried out.

Pictured: Sean Thomas, the founder of White Stuff

During the delays both South Hams Council and Mr Thomas claimed discussions were ‘ongoing.’

But the lack of enforcement action prompted the South Hams Society to launch a blistering attack on the council and accused it of ‘dragging its heels’.

And Mr Thomas has now claimed that since South Hams District Council did not act act within the four years since he completed the work, it was now legal.

He has applied for a certificate of lawfulness which has been submitted on the grounds that the time limit for taking enforcement action has passed.

The application says under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, the time limit for taking enforcement action is four years.

A planning statement submitted on behalf of Mr Thomas says the works ‘were substantially completed by May 2016’ and says ‘on the balance of probabilities… the construction of the outbuilding, tennis court and skate bowl are lawful’.

South Hams Council planners will determine the fate of the application at a later date, but it represents the latest chapter in an bitter planning row that has already nearly two years.

Mr Thomas’s house is in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), which covers 337 square kilometres of south west England 

Neighbours and the local council complained about the development and a retrospective application was initially rejected in 2019.

South Hams District Council said the construction was ‘detrimental’ to the ‘highly sensitive’ local environment.

Mr Thomas then submitted new plans, including planting more than 1,000 trees, but this was also rejected in November 2020.

The council then handed the case over to its enforcement team to start legal action but according to Mr Thomas this was begun too late.

The site is in the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and alongside the Salcombe to Kingsbridge Estuary Site of Special Scientific Interest

South Hams District council previously said it had delayed taking enforcement action as it was talking to Mr Thomas ‘to try and resolve the issue’.

But conservation charity the South Hams Society said it should have acted sooner.

A spokesperson said: ‘The council’s failure to act sends the wrong message and erodes trust in the planning process.

‘The overall impression is that the owners have no respect for either the landscape in which they are privileged to live or the law.’

An image taken from council documents shows the double garage as viewed on the approach to the home

Council report on October 29th, described the development as an ‘unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location’

Pictured here is the view of the tennis court looking towards the two-storey double garage with solar panelling

Sean Thomas founded the White Stuff fashion brand in 1986 with George Treves while the pair were working in the French ski resort of Méribel.  Today, White Stuff has 151 stores across the UK

The skate park, tennis court and garage were branded an ‘eyesore’ in a ‘unique and iconic landscape’ in an objection lodged by West Alvington Parish Council.

What are the rules under Town and Country Planning Act 1990?

The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 states: 

‘Where there has been a breach of planning control consisting in the carrying out without planning permission of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of the period of four years beginning with the date on which the operations were substantially completed.’

However, if the use of the development has changed since it was initially built, enforcement action may be taken until it has been four years since this happened. 

The act states:  

‘Where there has been a breach of planning control consisting in the change of use of any building to use as a single dwellinghouse, no enforcement action may be taken after the end of the period of four years beginning with the date of the breach.’

The house was itself built after a controversial planning application in 2011, on the site of a bungalow formerly owned by the environmentalist Tony Soper, co-founder of the BBC’s famous Natural History Unit.

That development was finally approved in 2012 after some scaling back of the original plans.

Mr Thomas and his wife later acquired an adjoining strip of agricultural land to build the tennis court, skate park and garage, which was finished in 2016. 

Planning documents said the reason for refusal of the application was that the development ‘represents an unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location that is within the South Devon Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Undeveloped Coast’.

The planning committee concluded the building results in ‘significant adverse impacts to the natural beauty, special qualities, distinctive character, landscape and scenic beauty of the South Devon AONB’.

Speaking after the original decision Mr Thomas said: ‘This is a complex procedure which I am working on with the help of a consultant.

‘However, please be assured that I and my family very much appreciate the special nature of Gerston Point and feel privileged to have lived there for the past seven years or more.’  

Cllr Hilary Bastone, deputy leader of South Hams District Council, said: ‘We can confirm that we have received an appeal against two enforcement notices served by the Council in respect of unauthorised building works and a material change of use at Gerston Point, Salcombe.

‘There are many complex elements to cases such as these, which we of course, cannot go into during an ongoing investigation. As this is now a Legal matter, not a Planning one, a full enquiry will be carried out by the independent Planning Inspectorate, which deals with planning appeals, to decide if the change of use and subsequent works are allowed to remain.

‘The Council can also confirm that it has also received an application for a Certificate of Lawfulness in respect of the unauthorised building works. This will be determined by the Council in the usual way, but at this time it is thought that the outcome is unlikely to materially affect the Council’s view on the appeal.’

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