Horse ownership in Kent
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Horse ownership can be a complex business, even if the animals are only kept for private leisure use.
Most developments of land or buildings for equestrian purposes will require planning permission of some sort and unless the horse is purely grazing, there may be change of use issues if the field was previously farmland.
The difference between keeping and grazing a horse is an important one. When horses are being kept (which usually means given additional food, for example in the form of hay, straw or horse nuts), the land is then seen as no longer being used for agriculture.
In the same way, if a field has been subdivided into ‘pony’ paddocks or farm buildings have been converted to stables or livery use, this may require permission for change of use.
New structures usually require planning consent, from new stables to riding arenas, permanent jumps or cross-country courses or even flood lighting. There are exemptions, such as the use of mobile field shelters for horses, which do not normally require permission, as long as they are not fixed to the ground and allow the animal free access in and out.
Temporary uses of land, such as for gymkhanas, jumps in fields or horse shows are also usually allowed, as long as they do not exceed 28 days in a year. So whether you are just thinking about buying your first horse, or considering building new stables or other permanent structures related to equestrian activities, planning issues should be kept in front of mind.
Some instances where planning permission is usually required are listed below. These are just as likely to apply to someone buying a single pony as to a riding school:
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• Using farm land for equestrian activities such as riding schools or regular exercise and training of horses
• Building of stables, indoor/outdoor riding areas, permanent jumps and other structures related to equestrian activities
• Conversion of farm buildings to equestrian use
It is also worth remembering that planning regulations relating to equestrian uses can also be more stringent in National Parks or Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In addition to planning issues, horse owners also should be aware whether they are affected by business rates, which can apply to stables, arenas and fields used for equestrian purposes.
For those claiming Basic Payments under the Common Agricultural Policy, while horse-grazing land can remain eligible, care should be taken to ensure that cross-compliance rules are adhered to.
Unfortunately, the cost of horse ownership and scarcity of land for grazing in some areas does mean that we are hearing of more instances of fly grazing, where horses are abandoned and illegally left to roam free. This poses problems of animal welfare, but also risks public safety when horses escape onto roads and it threatens the livelihoods of farmers and landowners affected by damage caused to crops and fencing.
However, recent changes in the law, following lobbying by the CLA and others, mean that the horses left illegally can now be taken to a place of safety immediately, as long as the police are notified within 24 hours. If no owner is identified within four days, the landowners can then re-home the horses or sell them privately.
Farmers and landowners can also take action to protect their land from fly-grazing, by making it difficult to access water or by cutting off water supplies if the land is not being used and fully checking the details of anyone wanting to use the land for grazing.
Horses are an integral part of rural life for many people and bring an enormous amount of pleasure, whether they are used for racing, show jumping or weekend rides in the Kent countryside. As with any land use, it brings its own responsibilities and ensuring that both the fields and buildings comply with planning law is important as the penalties can be significant.
FIND OUT MORE
In June, The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) is publishing a new handbook on Horses and the Law. For full details go to the CLA website: www.cla.org.uk.