Concerns are growing that there will soon be a shortage of riding schools and livery yards, following a change in government planning policy which allows for change of use on greenbelt land.

The government’s planning laws introduced in 2012 allowed for greater flexibility within urban locations for change of use of designated greenbelt land where additional housing is required to meet local demand.

But the effect of these laws is now being felt more strongly as the demand for housing increases.

“This will negatively affect the sport on a national scale as equestrian centres close their doors, despite latent demand for these facilities,” said the British Equestrian Federation’s (BEF) Alex Copeland.

Over the past few months, the BEF has visited inner city areas in London, Milton Keynes, Sunderland and Liverpool to look at how facilities are meeting the needs of the local areas.

Of the 14 yards visited in Liverpool, five were derelict and two are due to close in the next month.

“People are trading in the development potential of yards on the edge of all cities in England,” said Keith Hackett, a former Liverpool councillor and member of the British Horse Society (BHS) Merseyside committee.

Among those visited was Wheathill Riding School — which has already been sold as a speculative housing site.

The school was once the largest riding and livery yard in the greater Liverpool area, with 70 stables.

“It was sold eight years ago and the owners have failed to get planning permission,” said Mr Hackett. “Meanwhile it has been gutted and left empty.”

Gateacre Park Riding Centre was sold 30 years ago, with the owners waiting for the greenbelt planning line to move so that it could be developed. The site now consists of housing.

A prominent local landowner has just applied for a change in greenbelt status, which will affect another local livery yard with 22 horses.

“It is still a livery yard but may not be in six months’ time,” said Mr Hackett.

The conversion of livery yards into housing has created a shortage of equestrian facilities in the area.

“You will not find an empty livery stable in the winter anywhere in greater Liverpool,” said Mr Hackett.

One of the city’s municipal riding schools that is up for development is considering exchanging footprint (moving the original buildings to relocate the yard).

“Livery owners should be able to exchange footprint to relocate yards if they have to,” Mr Hackett told H&H, “and a mechanism needs to be found to make public funds available to assist, as they are for other sports where facilities are threatened by planning policies.”

Sarah Phillips, the BHS’s director of participation, said: “It is very worrying that we are losing riding schools and livery yards to the demands of housing and development on rural land. There is a huge demand for riding lessons and livery and if opportunities are removed by new building development this can only be of detriment to those who ride or would like to.”

Mr Copeland added: “The BEF and Sport England are working to protect places to ride across the country and to ensure that where greenfield areas are reallocated for housing, additional equestrian facilities are provided”.

Ref: Horse & Hound (4 December 2014).