SUPPORT is gathering for one of Britain’s premier cross-country schooling facilities, which is under threat — and its owner is “quietly confident” about its future.

Boomerang Stables in Chilton Folait, Berkshire, lost a second application for retrospective planning permission last year after it was told four permanent fences altered the landscape in an area of natural beauty and that it had no public access rights (news, 23 October 2008).

But now owner Russ Hardy, an Australian international event rider and farrier, is set to challenge the decision by Kennet District Council (which has since amalgamated with Wiltshire Council) with a planning appeal on 28 July.

Leading riders including Pippa Funnell and William Fox-Pitt use the site that includes a 40-acre cross-country schooling facility.

In the appeal, Mr Hardy must prove the premises have been in commercial use for more than 10 years and that the permanent fences have been in place for over four years.

Mr Hardy said: “I’m feeling quietly confident. We’ve got a petition with around 4,000 signatures on it and I’m gathering material that proves the land has been in commercial use for over 10 years.”

This evidence includes a letter from Captain Mark Phillips’s wife, Sandy, who owned the yard and used it as a stud farm before Mr Hardy bought it in 2000.

He said: “If we don’t win the appeal it will be a nightmare for a lot of people because there is nothing locally to match it.

“Their nearest place is probably at Shepton Mallet, which is about 45 miles away, and Tweseldown, which is equidistant the other way.”

Mike Etherington-Smith, chief executive of British Eventing and one of the world’s top course-designers, has written to Kennet District Council asking it to alter its decision.

He said: “I’ve not been to Boomerang Stables myself but I know a great deal of time, effort and money has been invested into it, so it would be a crying shame to lose it at a time when we should be doing all we can to encourage people to use these facilities.”

Local MP Michael Ancram (Conservative, Devizes) has written to council chief executive Mark Boden offering his support for Boomerang.

A council spokesman declined to comment.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (16 April, ’09)