White Stuff founder wants to plant trees to shield unlawful tennis court

By Jonathan Morris
BBC News Online

image copyrightSouth Hams District Council/Apex
image captionSean Thomas had the building work done at his home in 2016 - without planning permission

A millionaire fashion chain boss wants to plant more than 1,000 trees to screen a tennis court, garage and skate park he has been ordered to take down.

Sean Thomas, founder of White Stuff, has made a new retrospective planning application for the additions to his luxury home near Salcombe, Devon.

A previous planning application was rejected by the council in September.

Conservation charity the South Hams Society has asked why enforcement action has not been taken.

In September, South Hams District Council (SHDC) ordered its enforcement team to start legal action "with regards to returning the land to its former condition".

The council said it did not comment about ongoing planning applications.

image copyrightSouth Hams District Council/Apex
image captionThe council wants the land restored to its "former condition", as shown here

Mr Thomas built the court, skate park and two-storey garage at his Kingsbridge Estuary home without planning permission in 2016.

A council planning officer said last year the additions were an "unwelcome and incongruous intrusion into an undeveloped countryside location".

Mr Thomas's new application includes a "substantial new planting of over 1,000 native trees" as well as a bat roost, bird boxes and the planting of wild flowers along the estuary.

It also proposes a reed clearance and de-silting of a wetland area near his property as "landscape enhancements".

The millionaire has offered to paint the roof of the garage a lighter colour "to enable the building to assimilate far more successfully into the wider landscape".

image copyrightSouth Hams District Council/Apex
image captionConservationists say the council's planning enforcement function is "not fit for purpose"

The application will be considered by the council's planning committee.

The South Hams Society said: "This is exactly what we feared.

"SHDC's planning enforcement function has been under-resourced and not fit for purpose for years.

"Cases languish unresolved as the authority takes care to avoid potentially costly legal battles. Why are fines not being imposed for wrongdoing?"

Mr Thomas said he was continuing to work with SHDC to "respond positively" to any concerns raised by it.

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