Historic homes expert broke planning laws after council delays

Historic homes restoration expert, 72, broke planning laws by carrying out work to his Grade-II listed £1.5m Cotswolds farmhouse without permission after he became ‘frustrated’ at council delays

  • John Evetts, 72, began renovations amid frustration over planning delays 

A wealthy historic homes restoration expert has been hauled into court and convicted of breaking planning laws at his own Grade II listed £1.5 million farmhouse.

John Evetts – a former council planning chairman and consultant at the Landmark Trust – ‘jumped the gun’ amid frustration over planning delays from his local council.

The 72-year-old – whose grandfather was Lord Ismay, Winston Churchill’s chief military assistant and first Secretary General of NATO – has fallen foul of the rules he thought he understood when it came to his own home.

Evetts – who served as a councillor for 30 years – had bought the 17th century traditional Cotswolds stone house as a ‘restoration project’ but began repairs without seeking permission, the court heard.

He was accused of ‘affecting the character’ of the building he purchased three years ago by removing a ‘listed stone boundary wall’ and installing internal double doors said to be ‘unheard of’ for that type of house. 

At Winchester Crown Court he was given a conditional discharge and ordered to pay £6,000 in court costs.

John Evetts, 72, was taken to court over unauthorised renovations he made to his £1.5 million property

Winchester Crown Court, Hampshire, heard that Evetts bought the five-bedroom, 14.75-acres property in the Saintsbury conservation area of Gloucestershire in April 2020

During interviews, Evetts ‘made it clear’ that he knew the planning requirements, but due to a rising ‘apathy’ between him and his local council, as well as a belief that these changes did not impact the character of the building, he went ahead with the changes without approval.

In court, he escaped with a conditional discharge after pleading guilty to a single charge of carrying out unauthorised work to a listed building.

Winchester Crown Court, Hampshire, heard that Evetts bought the five-bedroom, 14.75-acres property in the Saintsbury conservation area of Gloucestershire in April 2020.

Jack Smyth, defending, said the house had previously been owned by Gloucestershire County Council, and had ‘fallen into disrepair’.

‘It fell into a poor state of repair and when the site was put on the market, there were no buyers for four years until the defendant bought it,’ he said.

‘He bought the property as a restoration project.’

The property had been owned by the council for 65 years and was put on the market for an asking price of £1.5 million.

At the time, Evetts was serving as Chairman of the Planning Committee for Tewkesbury Borough Council where he had been a councillor for nearly 30 years.

He had a rich history of working in restoration and in 2021, sold Wormington Grange in Stanton, Gloucestershire, which was once owned by his grandfather Lord Ismay.

The 18th century house had been in his family since the 1920s and is valued at more than £14 million.

The court heard that whilst living in the attic of his new home, Evetts began making changes to the house between the period of July 2020 and December 2021.

Without approved listed building consent, the fomrer councillor removed a historic stone boundary wall attached to the south-east corner of the house and installed double doors in the ’18th century part of the house’.

In May 2021, Evetts was sent a ‘formal letter’ from Cotswold District Council informing him that the work must stop or ‘enforcement action’ would be taken.

The row centred over the removal of a boundary wall (pictured) and the installation of glazed double doors

According to the the council, the installation of the double doors was ‘untypical of such a house’.

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The council added: ‘Single doors would have been the norm, glazed double doors are unheard of.’

Prosecuting, Christian Hawley, told the court these doors ‘affected the symmetry’ of the house, and they were also not of ‘the appropriate character’.

In regard to the wall, planning inspector Simon Hand, who attended the property said the front lawn did need regrading, but he did not think the ‘wall should be removed permanently’.

Mr Hand added: ‘Currently the front garden meanders off into an area of trees which creates an unsatisfactory sense of incompleteness to the front of the site and in my view the requirement for the replacement of the wall is reasonable.’

In June last year, Evetts was charged with carrying out unlawful works to the property.

Mr Hawley told the court: ‘The defendant is well experienced with dealing with heritage buildings, having been chair of the planning committee and Tewkesbury County Council and a long trustee with Landmark Trust.

‘In his interview, he made clear that he knew the listed building statutory framework.

‘The defendant’s position is that in his view, because all of the work he was undertaking did not affect specific historical and architectural qualities of the building, no permission was required.’

He added: ‘The defendant given his experience and his position knew of the regime he was operating within.

‘It’s clear in the interview that he was of the opinion, that his opinion prevailed.’

Evetts is a furniture consultant at the Landmark Trust and is credited with shaping ‘the presentation of Landmark’s buildings for over 40 years’.

His ‘proudest project’ at the trust was when he restored the family home of the House’s of Parliament architect Augustus Pugin in Ramsgate, Kent.

Mr Smyth said his client was ‘passionate’ about restoration and went ahead without seeking planning approval because he ‘jumped the gun’.

He told the judge: ‘He is guilty because he jumped the gun.

‘He sent a listed building consent application in the summer of 2020 but for reasons I will come to, he did not await the outcome of that.

‘He was frustrated because of delays due to covid, he was living in the attic of the property and had arranged for builders to attend.

‘There had also been an element of apathy that had developed between my client and the [planning] officers.

‘One can understand how a degree of apathy may lead both parties to more more entrenched than they would be.’

Mr Smyth said the planning inspector who viewed the property took a ‘favourable view of the overall project of restoration’.

Furthermore, he said Evetts ‘always intended to replace the wall’.

Ending his submissions, he said: ‘[He] was motivated to spend thousands of pounds to restore a listed house.

‘If it weren’t for him to jump the gun, this would be a case of celebration.’

Sentencing Evetts, Mr Recorder Don Tait said: ‘You knew that you should not be embarking upon this work until you received the relevant consent but you carried on with it anyway.

‘I have read all the decisions of this case and I have heard about your character.

‘You are a man of exemplary, or impeccable, character. You have dedicated your life to listed building restoration in this country, and elsewhere, and have been very active in the Landmark Trust.

‘You have been active in the council for a number of years but as I have already said, you knew that you should not have been undertaking this work.’

Recorder Tait said there had been ‘no serious harm to the building’, and imposed a 12 month conditional discharge on him.

He also ordered him to pay £6,000 in prosecution costs which Mr Evetts agreed to pay within 28 days.

As per an enforcement order, Mr Evetts has already reinstated the wall and doors.

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