Planning Snakes and Ladders: a Game of Chance
Do you know a field containing a horse or pony and a moveable shelter?
Did you think that moveable structures do not need planning permission?
Well, think again. It really isn’t that simple. In fact, it is fiendishly complicated. So you read all the rules, decide you need to apply for permission, but the planning officer – to whom such decisions are delegated unless a councillor on the planning authority opts to request its consideration by the planning committee – says ‘No’.
This is where equal opportunities, level playing fields, etc, etc, tend to break down, because if you have the sympathetic ear of your councillor, and your councillor persuades the committee that you are a pillar of the community who deserves permission, you have a big advantage.
Being a pillar of the community should have nothing to do with receipt of planning permission, but recent decisions in Carmarthenshire suggest that the applicant’s status is an important consideration for councillors when they are debating whether to ignore planning officers’ professional advice.
Carmarthenshire County Council’s planning department took exception to Mr Andrew Robinson-Redman’s moveable shelter, in a field near Broad Oak, Llandeilo, grazed at various times by horses and sheep and foraged by pigs.
This week Mr Robinson-Redman received a letter from the Planning Inspectorate in Cardiff , saying “The structure in question (the field shelter he was ordered to remove) has been determined to constitute development. …. As the structure constitutes development, planning permission is required.” The letter refers to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, which in Part III paragraph 55 (1) defines ‘development’ as “the carrying out of building, engineering, mining or other operations in, on, over or under land, or the making of any material change in the use of any buildings or other land”. The catch-all phrase “any material change” is very open to interpretation. “Building operations” has a broad definition too, including “other operations normally undertaken by a person carrying on business as a builder”.
On the other hand, paragraph 55 (2) (e) says that “the use of any land for the purposes of agriculture or forestry (including afforestation) and the use for any of these purposes of any building occupied together with land so used” does not constitute development.
‘Grazing’ horses is an agricultural land use but ‘keeping’ horses is probably not, unless the horses are to be eaten or used for farm work such as pulling ploughs or harrows. ‘Grazing’ can become ‘keeping’ if the animals can shelter from the elements in a structure, no matter how moveable, and ‘keeping’ horses in an agricultural field requires planning permission for a change of use.
To my mind the distinction between ‘grazing’ and ‘keeping’ is artificial and should be removed. When the weather is very bad, horses are no different from any other livestock in that they need some protection from the elements.
Planning law suggests that it should be possible for a moveable shelter to be placed, without planning permission, in an agricultural field in which farm livestock other than horses graze. The difficulty comes if horses graze with other animals – the horses would have to be literate enough to heed a ‘No Entry to Horses’ sign on a shelter! Mr Robinson-Redman has kept sheep and pigs in his field, and so falls onto this snakes-and-ladders board of arcane regulatory small-print. He has been trapped by interpretation and, as a recent arrival from Oxfordshire, did not have a local Fairy Godmother councillor to argue for him.
Not all councils are anti-horse, and it is another complicating factor that interpretation of the regulations varies from authority to authority, and within an authority, depending on the weight given to factors such as the number of times a horse owner plans to move a shelter, and the materials of which the shelter is made. Wyre Forest District Council in Worcestershire, for example, publishes ‘A Planning Guide to Horses and Stables’, which says “Mobile field shelters may not need planning permission, depending on their size, construction, its physical attachment to the ground and its intended degree of permanence” (my italics). About as clear as a foggy field.
Horses are grazing animals, just like cattle and sheep, and I find it perplexing that planners discriminate between them. Horses and ponies are important to the rural economy of West Wales and other expanses of countryside. Think of the amounts which owners spend on feed, vets’ bills, farriers, saddlery and so on, much of that expenditure benefiting local businesses.
Empty fields — of which there are many in Carmarthenshire — are symptoms of a weak rural economy. By creating barriers for people who want to keep horses and ponies, the planning establishment is cutting off income streams which could help protect rural communities from impoverishment.