Planning hurdles to be cleared when keeping horses

Farming | Published:

Horses are an expanding element of the rural economy and often provide a source of diversified income for farming businesses.

Angela Cantrill, of Moule & Co, rural chartered surveyor and planning consultant

However, because in the main they are not "agricultural" they often present problems to applicants proposing development and to planning officers alike, so it’s worthwhile having an understanding of what’s deemed acceptable to achieve the desired outcome.

The planning definition of "agriculture" dates back to the 1940s so in planning terms, only horses kept for "food, wool, skins, fur or farming the land" are deemed "agricultural."

This not only covers the equestrian use of buildings but also extends to the use of the land. While the use of buildings, structures and land for agricultural livestock may not require planning permission, for horses planning permission will generally be required, including grazing paddocks!

Existing agricultural buildings will need planning permission for change of use or conversion to stables, arenas and tack rooms. Other facilities such as car parking, manèges, horse walkers, turn out areas, floodlights and gallops will also require planning consent.

Many farms which have horse facilities may have been operating for a number of years without having obtained official planning consent.

If the use has been constant for at least 10 years, up to and including the date of application, then a Certificate of Lawful Existing Use or Development could be submitted to prevent the local planning authority from taking enforcement action, often resulting in the equine use being stopped. This would formalise the equestrian use or building, which would then become lawful.

Planning permission for residential dwellings either for the applicant and/or their full-time staff is possible on site if there is an "essential need," in a similar way to agricultural dwellings.

Guidance is limited as the National Planning Policy Framework doesn’t make specific reference to equestrian uses. Paragraph 83, "Supporting a Prosperous Rural Economy" can be used to support cases, which generally refers to promoting a strong rural economy, supporting the expansion of all types of business and enterprise and the development and diversification of agricultural and other land-based rural businesses. So, a good business justification can really help an application.


This doesn’t prevent domestic equine developments provided that proposals are of a scale and design in keeping with the application site and surrounding landscape character.

The message is, that farmers or landowners contemplating any sort of horse enterprise on their land are strongly advised to research the planning issues early in the thought process and seek professional help when needed.

Angela Cantrill, of Moule & Co, rural chartered surveyor and planning consultant


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