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Don’t fall at first planning hurdle when keeping horses

Rebecca Roberts, rural expert at Bruton Knowles, advises on equestrian planning pitfalls.

For planning policy there are only six types of horse to worry about
For planning policy there are only six types of horse to worry about

Ask anyone with limited knowledge of equestrian matters how many different horses there are and you are likely to face obvious guesses, from shires to racehorses.


Indeed, even some within the equestrian sector may struggle to list every single breed of horse without missing the odd one. However, when it comes to planning policy, there are only six types of horse to worry about and correctly navigating the system could make or break a planning application for change of use.


In recent years, the number of equestrian businesses operating in the rural economy has significantly increased, which means more agricultural and rural land being bought and sold to support increases in horse-related activities. However, when it comes to applying for a change of use, many people fall at the first hurdle.


In nearly all cases, planning permission is required for keeping horses, building stables and any other buildings or facilities connected with their use, for example a ménage.

Type of horse

If you turn to the Government for clarification, it states horse owners need permission for stables for riding or breeding purposes.


There are exceptions that could provide opportunities to avoid applying for a change of use. The working horse is defined by those animals kept and bred for agricultural use.


The grazing horse occupies the land for no specific purpose other than grazing and, this is again viewed as an agricultural use.

Yet should you decide to erect a cross country course of a few jumps or decide to use the grazing land for stud, you are immediately changing the use of the land from agricultural to either leisure or commercial equestrian. This is then requires permission.


If you keep a horse or pony at your home, the residentially incidental horse (‘incidental to the enjoyment of a dwelling house’), doesn’t need planning permission either. However, this definition is affected by how large the curtilage to the dwelling is.


Horse riding and other equestrian activities can fit in well with farming activities, helping the farm to diversify successfully in a difficult rural economy.


Rural Planning Policy Statement 7(PPS7) is particularlyencouraging for equestrian uses of land and property assets.


It specifically covers the re-use of farm buildings for small-scale horse enterprises – involving up to 10 horses – providing a useful form of farm diversification.


The only thing to bear in mind is although you aren’t likely to need permission for keeping horses on the farm, you would need it for any change of building use, or building redevelopment.

So, when do you need to obtain equestrian planning permission? Obviously construction of any new building from stable block to training ring or indoor arena will need planning consent. There is always the possibility of converting an existing building, barn or other rural building.

Other structures – such as lighting columns, ménages and permanent jumps – all need planning consent. These structures tie in with commercial horse activities.


As racehorses cannot be described as livestock for keeping or breeding, in the eyes of the law, this type of equestrian use requires permission. Keeping horses on a commercial basis also requires a licence under the Riding Establishments Act.


Recreational horses in rural activity centres or riding schools are obviously the backbone of popular equestrian activity. If you are considering opening a riding school it is worth confirming whether the land you are intending to use is currently registered for agricultural use, because you may be about to change the use without realising you need to apply for permission.


The common mistake often made is people believe if you don’t need to physically alter buildings you don’t need planning permission and this is when they can fall foul of the system.


In navigating the planning system for equestrian use and development, there are more obligations and hurdles than there are opportunities, and for that reason alone, it is important to take advice or take time to thoroughly understand the do’s and don’ts.


There are also some clear opportunities to connect different types of use to avoid the need for applications for change of use, as with the riding horse kept with the working horse on land which is still mainly agricultural.


In all of this, although planning permission is not required, landowners do have a duty of care to ensure activities are visually in keeping with their surroundings and that they do not clash with the typical rural aesthetic. It is not uncommon to hear of local authorities claiming any semi-permanent jumps or ménage can visually clutter the land and distract from the rural appearance, which they are keen to maintain.


To give an example, four hectares (10 acres) split into 10 units with equestrian fencing, can sometimes leave the land looking like an artificial patchwork quilt.


It may seem a little controlling when planners specify the different types of use they approve of, but remember, although equestrian activity can be economically beneficial, it can also be visually intrusive as far as planning officers are concerned.


As a result, they are keen to reduce the impact of more ‘untidy’ activities in open countryside. These officers are extremely cautious, not only of the types of horses, but also of what they term as the ‘paraphernalia’ also associated with horses – the placing of items such as horseboxes, jumps or equestrian fencing.


Bear this in mind and demonstrate a responsible approach, and you stand a much better chance of securing their confidence.


The tide is turning, however, for the equestrian sector with the wider application of PPS7 which strongly encourages horse-related business activities.


Planning facts

  • Agriculture/working horses
    Using working horses in farming qualifies as agricultural activity and falls outside of the scope of planning
  • Grazing horses
    When the principal activity is grazing and no additional feed is supplied these horses are also exempt
  • Equestrian enterprises
    Racing stables, stud farms, riding schools and livery stables, etc all need suitable planning consents as well as a licence under the Riding Establishments Act 1964 and 1970
  • The incidental horse (for personal use)
    May or may not need planning depending on the scale of the activity, whether it is kept at a private dwelling, etc
  • Manéges and other structures
    Indoor arenas, ménages, permanent jumps, lighting columns and other permanent structures need planning permission
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