One of the favourite areas of diversification for farmers is the equine industry. Horses occupy an ambivalent and grey area in agricultural law and, as a consequence, the issues raised by changes to equine use are often challenging. A recent case decided in the High Court emphasised the difficulties that can arise.
In the West Midlands, Mrs Davis was granted a planning consent several years ago for a change of use from agriculture to a paddock for grazing and exercising horses with a manège facility. However, the consent was framed so as to specifically exclude commercial use. What is more, the local authority specified that no other structures e.g. shelters, trailers, jumps or lighting should be used without prior written consent. Quite rightly, the local authority specified that the object of the condition was to protect the rural character of the area and to stop any intensification of the use.
Mrs Davis established with the Council that she could have four mobile stables on skids but that they would have to be genuinely mobile and moved regularly around the site. This was clarified to require a twice-yearly move to a completely different location within the property.
Inevitably, a dispute arose and an Enforcement Notice was served in 2014. The Notice specified two breaches which concerned, respectively, erection of field shelters and stables and, secondly, the installation of hard-standings.
The Planning Inspector had decided that one of the shelters which had been erected was permanent and therefore did not have permission. The case was appealed to the High Court and the Judge had the unenviable task of reviewing the evidence and the Inspector’s conclusion. The Court decided that the Council had already made its position regarding the required temporary status of the shelters perfectly clear and, in effect, Mrs Davis was asking permission for something which had already been agreed as unacceptable.
The Judge concluded that the Inspector’s approach could only be criticised if it were unreasonable which was not the case in this instance.
On the face of it, this was a clear instance in which an owner tried to push the planning boundaries too far. It is a long way from the other case which has received national publicity recently in which another farmer built a mansion behind hay bales so as to disguise its existence from the planning authority! However, the moral of the story is clear and it is one which will serve to encourage planning authorities as they seek to control development with appropriate conditions.