When it comes to planning there are certain terms that will be useful for you to be aware of. The below are not planning definitions but are helpful to distinguish for the purposes of understanding this guide.

  • Operational development / building works – the building of something attached to your land
  • Change of use – the change of use of land or buildings
  • Permitted development – certain development (building or change of use) is permitted by planning law and does not need planning consent from the Council. However, it often requires ‘prior notification’ to the Council to inform them that you intend to use your permitted development rights.

Planning basics

On the whole, whenever you undertake operational development i.e. the building of something, you will need to demonstrate you either have permitted development rights or will need planning consent.

See also: Animal and equestrian business ideas

You can generally change the use of land from agriculture to ‘something else’ for up to 28 days per year without the need to make a planning application through permitted development rights. However, anything that occurs for over 28 days in a year will generally require permission, even if it is only seasonal.

Do I need planning permission to graze horses on the farm?

If you are purely grazing horses, without using the field for anything else, including jumps or exercise, and without any structures such as stables, portacabins or containers then no you don’t need planning permission.

Do I need planning to exercise horses on the farm – either myself or as a business?

If you are planning on using a certain area of your land to ride on regularly i.e. over 28 days in a year, then yes you will need planning permission for a change of use to equestrian or mixed if still used partially for agricultural.

See also: Business start-up guide - Livery yard

Do I need planning to put up stables?

Mobile field shelters are a grey area in planning terms. All built stables where they are constructed on site or placed onto concrete pads will almost certainly require permission, whether they are used for personal or commercial use. Generally, most Councils will grant permission for a modest couple of stables for personal use, subject to normal planning considerations.

If you seek to change the use of existing buildings, for example installing stables inside existing steel frame buildings, in most circumstances whether for personal or commercial use this will be acceptable in planning terms.

If you are considering putting up larger sets of stables for new commercial use, this will be more rigorously tested and require a higher level of detail and justification.

Do I need planning for a manege?

Yes you will. If it’s just using an existing field for exercise, with or without a fence boundary then it’s a planning application for a change of use. If you intend to build a manege, for example, dig out the ground, put in drainage and then resurface, this is operational development and also requires planning for the installation. An outdoor, low key manege is normally acceptable to most Councils. If you are likely to have a high level of usage or require flood lighting then you may have to provide additional justification and evidence that the development won’t adversely affect the area or neighbouring residents.

Larger scale commercial (for business) equestrian buildings - including new build stables, gallops, indoor arena’s and ancillary accommodation

Are such projects generally supported and approved?

There are some issues which can be ‘deal-breakers’ when applying for planning consent. The two main factors which Planning Authorities may consider cannot be overcome are Greenbelt and Highways issues.


Some parts of the country are covered by a designation called Greenbelt, which is a policy tool the Government uses to prevent urban sprawl among other priorities. In planning terms, Greenbelt is considered to be very important and therefore Council’s give a high level of weighting to whether a proposal is ‘appropriate’ in the Greenbelt.

Generally speaking, the Greenbelt planning policy is to prevent any change of use or building of anything other than a few exempted items. Occasionally you can demonstrate what’s called ‘very special circumstances’ to overcome the Greenbelt ‘no’ position. It’s recommended that if you are located in Greenbelt always seek professional planning advice before you approach the Council. To determine if you are located in a Greenbelt area you can use a tool called Magic Maps.

There are other designations such as SSSI’s (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and AONB’s (Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty) which can make planning harder but should not be completely prohibitive like Greenbelt can be. Again you can check any designations using Magic Maps, and take early advice.

See also: Keeping your equestrian business legal

Highways / access

If your site does not have good enough access off a highway then your development is unlikely to be successful. You could have an amazingly exciting project but if it cannot be accessed safely then it is highly unlikely to gain approval. Don’t forget you may be able to put in alternative accesses though.

Other matters considered in a planning application:

  • Siting
  • Design
  • Scale
  • Use
  • Residential amenity
  • Visual Impact
  • Landscape impact
  • Water management / drainage

If you can overcome and clearly show how your application deals with or meets all of the above, and any local criteria, then as a general rule of thumb, local authorities are supportive of planning applications that support rural businesses, create jobs, support farm incomes etc.

It’s recommended that you include a planning statement giving information about your proposed business, how it’s going to run, how it meets planning policy, and provide additional detail on each of the above planning matters.

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