Carms Planners Censor Field Shelter (Allowed Elsewhere in England and Wales)
Carmarthenshire’s planners have caused consternation all over England and Wales by insisting that a moveable field shelter, also called a mobile field shelter, must have planning permission.
This is contrary to custom, to the advertising of field shelter manufacturers, and to the view of the UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government.
Oaklands Equestrian Buildings of New Tredegar says “no you do not need planning permission for a mobile field shelter. They do not constitute any ground work and sit on their own base”. Prime Stables Ltd, of Rudgwick in West Sussex, says “No planning permission is required for the Prime Stables range mobile shelters”.
Manufacturers, though, are a little less emphatic than they used to be, because of Carmarthenshire’s out-on-a-limb decision. The Colt Stables firm of Bridgnorth, Shropshire, notes:
“In 2011, in a well publicised case, a horse owner from Wales was fined over£1,000 for failing to move his mobile shelter frequently enough. The case was thought to be the first conviction of its kind and shone a light on an ambiguous ruling that has many people confused and unsure of their responsibilities.”
The horse owner was Mr Andrew Robinson-Redman, and the ‘moveable shelter’ was in his field, Cae Derwen, at Broad Oak near Llandeilo. Carmarthenshire County Council had not given him time to move his mobile kit ‘frequently enough’ because, Mr Robinson-Redman said, it arrived in the first week of October 2010 and the council issued an enforcement notice with alacrity, on November 7th.
Carmarthenshire’s crackdown on moveable shelters contrasts with a much more permissive attitude to far more intrusive developments in the county’s countryside, such as two industrial-style buildings near Laugharne, constructed as a cattery without permission, but allowed to remain; a new four-bedroomed house in countryside at Henfwlch Road; and damage to the Cernydd Carmel Special Area of Conservation which proceeded in full public view.
Andrew Robinson-Redman and his wife Meg-Anne moved to Carmarthenshire from Oxfordshire in 2010 and rented a field of 6.2 acres with access from a minor road, about five miles from their home in Milo. They bought the field late in the year, and subsequently moved to Capel Isaac, within half a mile of the field — but, said Mr Robinson-Redman, the council told the Conservative AM Nick Bourne that they were not resident in the area.
The couple thought that normal practice elsewhere in England and Wales would be normal in their new county. Field shelters on metal or timber skids, and not on an artificial base, are generally regarded as ‘equipment’ and not as ‘buildings’ because, like a trailer or a water tank, they can be towed to another location. Moveable field shelters must be on skids or wheels, have towing hooks, be fully moveable, not be connected to mains water or electricity, have moveable flooring (if any), and not be on hard standing.
The odd council here and there has tried to act against moveable field shelters. Purbeck District Council in Dorset issued an enforcement notice in 2001, telling a Mr Bennet to remove his newly acquired moveable field shelter because in their view he had changed the land use from grazing to the keeping of horses with the addition of a shelter. Mr Bennet appealed, and the planning inspector said the shelter did not amount to operational development as defined in section 55(1) of the 1990 Town and Country Planning Act, and the inspector also said that grazing horses was not a change of use but fell within the definition of agriculture in section 336(1) of the 1990 Act, and so by virtue of section 22(2)(e) of the Act, planning permission was not required. This ruling gave livestock owners confidence that moveable shelters did not and would not require planning permission.
In Carmarthenshire, Mr and Mrs Robinson-Redman grazed their horses, bought a moveable field shelter and two moveable stables, and placed them in the field. Later they acquired some pigs, sheep and poultry to raise, got an official agricultural holding number and applied for the necessary animal movement licences. But everything was already fast unravelling. An adjacent landowner complained. Mr Robinson-Redman thinks the complaint likely to be linked to the fact that a previous owner of the field wanted to build a house on it, but failed to get planning permission.
An enforcement officer from the county council told Mr Robinson-Redman to take the shelter and stables away. Why? Apparently because he had put some washed river stone on part of the field to try and reduce waterlogging and, because the equipment had only just arrived, he had not shifted it around the field.
Carmarthenshire’s planners were adamant that no part of the field’s surface could be changed in any way, and that mobile shelters must be moved at least five or six times a year (although they had evidently decided not to allow time for this to happen).
A long battle ensued. The Robinson-Redmans sold the two moveable stables, leaving just the field shelter. This must go too, said the planners. The Robinson-Redmans applied for planning permission for the 24 feet by 12 feet open-fronted shelter (which elsewhere does not need permission), but were turned down. They appealed, but lost. The notice from the inspector, PJ Davies, dated October 1st 2015, did not refer at all to ‘moveable’ or ‘mobile’ structures but to ‘building’ and ‘shed’. The fact that the planners had insisted on a planning application for a moveable structure which normally does not require it probably further confused the already tangled issue. The inspector, to judge from the wording in the appeal rejection notice, may not have known that the ‘building’ was in fact a moveable shelter which is normally permitted without planning permission.
The rejection notice said: “I acknowledge the appellants’ case that enforcement issues have curtailed agricultural activity, but nevertheless, this should not prevent the submission of adequate evidence to demonstrate the need for the building (my italics) in an otherwise unsustainable location where new development should be strictly controlled.”
The meaning of the word ‘unsustainable’ is not at all clear. The county council’s case appears to be that Cae Derwen is not, in their view, sustainable as a farm business because the activity of grazing a few livestock could not yield an income sufficient for the Robinson-Redmans to live on. The field is too small to allow an agricultural building to be constructed with permitted development rights, because the threshold for this is 5 hectares (12.36 acres), almost double the size of Cae Derwen.
But, then, moveable shelters are not, officially, buildings.
So what rights do people have in Carmarthenshire if they buy fewer than 5 hectares of farmland and want to keep livestock as a hobby, and maybe to supply a supplementary income stream? Most livestock need some shelter and some handling equipment. The UK’s Department for Communities and Local Government in London allows for this and told the magazine Horse & Hound* that “field shelters are considered temporary and do not need planning permission if they are fully mobile. But it depends how long they’ve remained static, the degree of portability and if they’ve changed the use of the land”. In the Robinson-Redman case, the shelter was recently moved within the field and the land use remains agricultural.
The impasse with Carmarthenshire’s planners has cost the Robinson-Redmans a shedload of money. They paid more than £4,350 an acre for the field. They have had to pay nearly £3,000 in fines for losing, so far, their battles with the county council. Their moveable stables and shelter have had to be sold at a loss. They still have the field but without a shelter or livestock handling equipment there is little they can do with it.
The implications of this saga are serious, both for the Robinson-Redmans and more widely.
- Public confidence in the impartiality of the planning system is further damaged.
- Planners’ opinion of what constitutes ‘agriculture’ is revealed, in this case, as a stereotypical view in which agriculture is a full-time business activity. In reality ‘agriculture’ includes crop and livestock production at every scale from the hobby field to the landed estate of hundreds of acres.
- Opportunity is denied to new arrivals in the county, through insistence on planning permission when it is not normally required elsewhere in England and Wales, and through refusal of planning permission for ventures which meet all the requirements of the relevant planning policies (as in the case of Rhiw Las near Llanboidy).
Underlying these contrary planning decisions there may be a genuine if inexpressed wish to protect the Welsh language, still widely spoken among the established farming community, from dilution by non-Welsh-speaking newcomers. The other side of the coin, though, looks like a dog-in-the-manger antipathy to the interests of incomers, which harms community relations and, by implication, the long-term prospects for Welsh language and culture.
* June 23rd 2011, ‘Councils target field shelters’ by Amy Mathieson