Mobile Field Shelters – Why They Do Not Require Planning Permission…or do they?

by Sarah Macey

This is an age old question, with many differing opinions. Many council planning departments will insist that you do need planning permission and others will say you do not.

My aim today is to bring some clarity to this, so that you may confidently install a mobile field shelter in the full knowledge that you are not in breach of UK Planning Laws.

Should you be reading this as a planning officer, I trust that you will find my research useful, and it will save you a lot of time and precious council resources coming to your final conclusions on this matter.

So, why is it that there is this conflict of opinion?

Let’s look at this from a planning officer’s perspective. They have a report come in to them to say a large timber building has arrived in a field. “A building put in a field? That must need planning approval” they assume.
On the face of it they are right. Buildings need planning approval, so they issue a note to the land owner stating that a breach of planning control has taken place and the field owner must either remove the building or apply retrospectively for planning permission. Quite straight forward one might assume.

Now to be fair to our planning officers, who, let’s face it, do a great and sometimes difficult, demanding job ensuring our countryside does not get over developed. There is a myriad of new legislation on development to learn on an almost daily basis and I personally feel it is impossible to fully be aware of all of the legislation all of the time.

Therefore, those who are aware of a particular historical planning case in regard to mobile field shelters will tell you that you do not need permission, whereas those who are not aware of it, will tell you the opposite.
I am going to go over and quote from an appeal decision relating to a case involving, a Mr Bennet, following his decision to buy and install a Mobile Field Shelter in Dorset, Wiltshire in 2001. He was asked to remove it by his council.

Way back in 2001, Purbeck District Council issued an enforcement notice to Mr Bennet after he had just taken possession of his mobile field shelter, stating that, and I quote directly from the appeal decision;
“Without planning permission, he had committed a “change of use of the land from grazing to a mixed use comprising the keeping of horses and the siting of a horse shelter.”
They demanded that he “cease using the land for storing a horse shelter and completely remove the shelter from the land.”

Mr Bennet appealed this enforcement notice as he firmly considered that his shelter did not fall under any planning requirements, as his structure was a piece of equipment that was mobile and could be moved at will from location to location and it did not have any ground-works associated with it.

The appeal was decided by an independent inspector appointed by The Secretary of State for Local Government, amongst other titles.

Stick with me, I know this is just getting a bit heavy and your eyes are starting to glaze over, because it will be worth it in the end.

The inspector visited the site, took on board all the arguments on both sides. He acknowledged that:
“No preparation of the ground was required prior to the erection of the mobile field shelter.”
“There is no physical attachment to the ground”
“There are no services connected.”
“It is not permanently sited”
“It is designed to be moved”

The inspector then concluded:
“ Having regard to the foregoing, it is my conclusion as a matter of fact and degree that, on the balance of probability, the stationing of the field shelter on the land did not amount to operational development as defined in section 55(1) of the 1990 Town & Country Planning Act. The enforcement notice which alleges the erection of a horse shelter is therefore not applicable and will be quashed.

Now there was a second element to this enforcement notice, namely Purbeck Council believed that there was a change of use on the land  to a mixed use, and I quote again directly from the appeal decision.

“The argument for the appellant is that notice land is used by horses for grazing; that the judgement in the case of Sykes v SSe and South Oxford DC; South Oxfordshire DC v SSe and Underwood and others [1981] JPL 285 confirmed that such a use falls within the definition of agriculture in section 336(1) of the 1990, and that, by virtue of Section 22(2)(e) of the Act, planning permission was not required.

In the inspectors final conclusion he states;
Consequently, the siting of the mobile field shelter in connection with this use would similarly avoid the need for planning permission.
If you are still reading, well done. The appeal decision goes in to great detail with regard to Mr Bennet’s horses need to eat grass, his riding and possible leisure usage being undertaken.

Here are further direct quotes from the Inspector;
“What the council are saying is that there has been a change from use from grazing to a mixed use compromising the keeping of horses and the siting of a horse shelter.”
“There are two horses on the holding which the Appellant explained provides their entire feeding requirement. They graze the grass and a hay crop taken from the land is stored elsewhere and brought back as required in the winter months.”
“The council submit that the land is being used for a hobby purpose. Because horses will eat grass when put into a field, it does not follow that grazing is the primary use.”
“Because there is no reason to assume that any of the leisure riding or associated activity takes place on the land I find, on the balance of probability, that there is no direct leisure use of the appeal site itself.”
“Consequently, I do not accept the Councils contention that there is no agricultural element in the use currently being undertaken.”
And the inspectors final conclusion;
“Consequently, no planning permission was required and the notice will be quashed. In the circumstances, the deemed application for planning permission does not fail to be considered.”
“I conclude that in the particular circumstances of this case neither the mobile field shelter nor the use of the appeal site fall within the scope of planning control.”
So there it is, from that day back in August 2001, planning law was set on the subject of Mobile Field Shelters. They do not require planning permission and you not need to apply for a change of use for your horses to graze the land on fields with mobile field shelters in.

Councils all over the country now have to follow what the inspector concluded when assessing the siting of Mobile Field Shelters.

As a final piece of essential information on this subject, the site in question we are referring to here, sits in “An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.” Therefore we can conclude that even if you wish to site a mobile field shelter in an A0NB. You do not require planning permission.

Should your local planning officer insist that you do need planning approval, quote to them the Appeal decision reference number.

That number is; Appeal A: APP/B1225/C/01/1057144.

They will be able to access the full appeal decision from their database and read it in full for themselves.

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