Agricultural and Equestrian use – Understanding the difference to stay out of trouble

Mar 22, 2019

If you are using your land for equestrian purposes and it is classed as agricultural land the Local Authority could take enforcement action against you so it is imperative you know the difference and use limits to stay within the use permission of your land.

Many land users and owners are unaware of the distinctions on land use for Agriculture and Equestrian. If you license or lease land it could be you as the owner who becomes liable for the breach depending on the agreement in place.

Section 336 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 defines ‘Agriculture’ as:

“horticulture, fruit growing, seed growing, dairy farming, the breeding and keeping of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, skins or fur, or for the purpose of its use in the farming of land), the use of land as grazing land, meadow land, osier land, market gardens and nursery grounds, and the use of land for woodlands where that use is ancillary to the farming of land for other agricultural purposes”.

In relation to equestrian use to be able to fall within the definition above means having horses and dealing with them in very much the same way as cattle, sheep or pigs i.e. for slaughter, working horses on the land (ploughing for example) and turning horses out for grazing only.

Many of today’s livery yards fall within the definition of Agriculture for equine use for grazing horses on the land, livery’s riding off site and having permission granted only for the yard and sand school. But this can become blurred if more is done to the horse apart from grazing as additional feeding on the land, rugging the horses and/ or riding on the land will fall within the “equestrian use”

You as the landowner or user may then need to apply for planning for a change of use from agricultural to equestrian. Below is a detailed note outlining possible classes and exemptions:

“Horse riding (including jumping, eventing, dressage and similar equestrian activities) are undoubtedly among the “other indoor or outdoor sport and recreations” that fall within Class D2(e), but the keeping of horses (as distinct from their use) falls outside the scope of this use class, and is therefore sui generis. The same applies to the breeding of horses, such as race horses and hunters. Thus stud farms and livery stables (stables where horses are kept for the owner, and fed and groomed for a fee) are sui generis uses.

There may be an exception in the case of stables if these are genuinely incidental or ancillary to some other use. For example, the keeping of one or two horses on a residential property for purely domestic recreational purposes would almost certainly be subsumed within the C3 use.

Similarly, if horses are stabled at an equestrian centre solely for the purpose of their recreational use there, this would generally be accepted as ancillary to the D2 use of this planning unit, but not if this is in practice a livery.

Racecourses and training establishments for race horses must probably be regarded as sui generis uses. It might be argued that for the jockeys (as well as the horses) it certainly involves physical exertion, but the primary focus is on the performance of the horses, and so there must be some doubt as to whether horse racing meets the criterion in the case of Millington and by RFU. As with other spectator sports, horse racing clearly does not involve any physical exertion on the part of the race goers. A fortiori, race horse training would not appear to pass the physical exertion test, as the object is to train the horses, and any physical exercise on the part of their riders is purely fortuitous.”[1]

If the activities above do not put you within the legal use of the land use you will need to apply to your local planning authority for change of use from agriculture to equestrian.

Enforcement can action can be taken for a number of unlawful equestrian uses such as:

  • Agricultural buildings on farms to be used for keeping horses; and
  • Turning horses out on agricultural land with additional feed, rugging and riding on the land.

Enforcement action will focus on returning land and buildings to their original state, which can cost if you have agreed a formal written lease with an equestrian tenant for such use of a building for a use that is not permitted. All is not lost you can maybe work with the local authority to understand what they will allow and put in retrospective planning permission.

If you are thinking of buying any land for a specific use such as equestrian make sure it has the correct permissions.

Please give us a call if we can be of any assistance with any planning or property matters on (01548) 854878. 


[1] Goodall, M. (2017). Essential guide to the use of land and buildings under the planning acts. 1st ed. Bath: Bath Publishing Limited, pp.217 – 219.


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