Whether or not you need planning permission to change the use of land currently used for agricultural purposes to allow equestrian activities depends on whether or not the equestrian activity falls under the legal definition of “agriculture”.
Planning permission may seem irrelevant for raising horses on agricultural land, as no operational development per se is required. However, keeping a horse in a field may constitute a change of land use from ‘agricultural’ to ‘recreational’ or ‘other’, which will require planning permission.
NB: Planning permission will be required for any operational development that takes place on the land. For example, any permanent equestrian construction including a stable, a permanent field shelter or a riding hall. The discussion of planning permission for operational development goes beyond the focus on “significant change of use”.
What is Agriculture in town planning law?
The Land Use Planning Act 1990 defines “agriculture” as including horticulture, fruit growing, seed production, dairy farming, animal husbandry and the raising of livestock (including any creature kept for the production of food, wool, hides or fur, or for its use in the cultivation of land), the use of land as pasture, meadows, reed beds, market gardens and nurseries, and the use of the land for woods when this use is incidental to the exploitation of the land for other agricultural purposes.
Courts have held that “breeding and keeping of livestock” does not apply to the breading and keeping of horses, unless the purpose of the breeding and keeping of horses is for their use in the agriculture of the land.1 For example, the use of land as a stud farm will require planning permission. Similarly, planning permission would be required for the breeding, keeping and training of show jumping or racing horses, as they are intended for a specialized form of sport and not for breeding.
The use of agricultural land as pasture for horses will fall under the legal definition of agriculture and will not require planning permission. If the land is used for grazing, the courts have held that it does not matter whether the land is grazed by a racehorse or a draft horse.2 However, the main purpose of the land should be grazing; any incidental use may result in obtaining a planning permit.3
Factors the local authority will take into account when determining whether horses are only pastured on the land
- Are the horses fed? – If horses are fed alternative feeds and any grazing is secondary, the land use is unlikely to be considered agricultural.
- Use of the field – where horses are exercised and ridden in the field, the use of the land will not be considered agricultural.
- Field Structures – any structure related to the welfare or training of horses, such as jumps, horse drills or a training surface, will indicate that the horses are kept there for recreational purposes rather only for agricultural purposes.
Overall, planning permission for equestrian land uses, on currently existing agricultural land, is a complex area that requires consideration of all of the above factors. However, in summary, for equestrian land use to fall under the definition of “agriculture” and not require planning permission, the horses must be working horses on the land (e.g. pulling a plow ) or horses taken out
uniquely for the purpose of grazing this land.
1 Belmont Farm Ltd v. Minister of Housing and Local Government (1962) 13 PCR 417
2 Fox vs. First Secretary of State  4 PLR 26
3 Sykes v. Secretary of State for the Environment (1981) 42 P. & CR 19
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.