The millionaire founder of White Stuff, Sean Thomas, has triumphed in a four-year planning dispute to retain a tennis court and skate park he constructed without permission at his luxury waterside residence.

South Hams District Council had previously ordered him to dismantle the sports facilities and a double garage after denying planning consent. However, the planning inspectorate overruled the local council's decision following an appeal by Mr Thomas.

The controversy began in 2016 when the development was erected on farmland behind his house near West Alvington, a wealthy and picturesque area in Devon where properties typically fetch £1m. Local residents and conservationists voiced concerns that the plans would adversely affect the rural coastal location, which is situated in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

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Mr Thomas completed the work in 2016, and it was only it 2019 that he sought retrospective planning permission for the development. The council dismissed the initial application, insisting that the land be returned to its previous state as an agricultural field.

Undeterred, Mr Thomas submitted a new application featuring 'substantial new planting of over 1,000 native trees', a bat roost, bird boxes, and the sowing of wildflowers along the estuary. However, the council's planning department once again dismissed the application, and the matter was passed on to the enforcement team to restore the land to its previous state.

Gerston Point
Gerston Point

Subsequently, he presented a lawful certificate to the council, arguing that the development should be allowed to stay as South Hams District Council had not taken any enforcement action in four years. The council responded by stating that according to the law, the enforcement action remains valid and would only become 'immune from enforcement action' after a decade.

Later on, Mr Thomas lodged an appeal with the Planning Inspectorate. In documents viewed by MailOnline, planning inspector Andy Harwood stated that the development could stay provided the solar panels installed on the double garage were removed.

He said: 'With these conditions, the development would not have a harmful effect upon the character and appearance of the countryside and would conserve the landscape and scenic beauty of AONB. Furthermore, this would respect the scenic quality of the area, maintaining the sense of place and would not have a detrimental effect on the undeveloped character or tranquility of the coast."

Gerston Point
Gerston Point

The inspector also instructed Mr Thomas to provide details to South Hams District Council about several new hedgerows that were to be planted. Further applications detailing the landscaping have since been submitted and approved by the council.

White Stuff, founded by Mr Thomas and his friend George Treves in the French Alps in 1985 selling T-shirts and sweatshirts to skiers, now boasts over 130 retail outlets in the UK and overseas. Earlier this year, it was reported that the founders had sought the expertise of investment bank Rothschild to navigate an offer following an unexpected takeover approach.

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