I regret saying,“Riding School”... It will be written on my grave

Martyn reckons it cost him six-months of his life and over £5,000 in extra costs

Never call a Riding School, a Riding School. Martyn Fowdrey did while he was negotiating with Wealden Council to establish one of the first equestrian re-habilitation centres in the county and he reckons it cost him six-months and over £5,000 in extra costs. “It will be engraved on my tomb-stone,”he says.

It happened in January 2000. Martyn, a former Chief Riding Instuctor for the King’s Troop  the Royal Horse Artillery, was running a livery yard . He wanted to establish an equestrian re-habilitation centre.  For three-years he had been looking for the right location. He had also been researching the planning policies of Wealden Council. He knew that if he was going to be successful he had to find a property that was no smaller than 15 acres, no larger than 60 acres and had, ideally, a run-down barn on the land.

His planning consultant, David Collins, told him that if he found any land that matched the Council’s criteria, any planning application should go through without a hitch. Suddenly in December 1999, it all happened. Woodside Farm in Arlington, East Sussex came on the market. It was a redundant turkey farm. It was 22 acres. And it had no end of derelict farm buildings.

Within a month, he had bought it. Within another month, because he had already done all his homework, Martyn submitted his planning application to Wealden Council.  Everything was in writing. Everything was documented. He included not only all the necessary plans but also projected costings. It should have sailed through.

Then came the fateful meeting with Council planning officials that will forever haunt Martyn for the rest of his life. What type of buildings are you planning to build? They asked him. He told them. He was going to up-grade  two of the derelict buildings and turn them into stables. He wanted to convert  one shed into a tack room. He was going to install  toilets. While all this work was being done,  he planned to live on the site. He also wanted to build – Those forbidden words – a Riding School.

“You could have cut the air with a knife,” he says today. “The whole mood suddenly changed. From listening, they became anti. It was unbelievable.” They turned down his application.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, local Arlington villagers were also anti. Eventually, he called a special meeting in the village Hall, explained to them exactly what he wanted to do and they calmed down. Even the Parish Council decided to support him although he doubts whether it did him much good.

Now began months of anxious negotiations with the Council to start all over again. “Our legal team, says Martyn, “ would meet their legal team. The trouble was they didn’t trust anything we said. They also had all the time in the world. They didn’t have to worry about deadlines and time-tables and costs.

”We tried to explain to them what a riding school was. They thought it meant outsiders coming in and riding our horses, which meant cars, increased traffic on the country lanes, parking and so on. We said, No. A riding school, as far as we were concerned,  was an area where we schooled and exercised our horses and re-habilitated them. Eventually we got our argument across. But it took a lot of time. It also cost me a lot of money.”

After six-months of meetings, argument, debate and more and more paperwork, the Council gave Martin the planning permission he wanted.

But still the Council were not finished with him. They insisted on one further condition. They insisted he signed what is known as a Section 106, a special legal agreement within the planning contract in which he had to agree that the riding school was only for members of Woodside Farm and not for the general public.

“No problem,” says Martyn, “I signed it there and then.”Martyn finally had the go-ahead. Within  3  weeks work began. Within  12  weeks it was completed Martyn’s equestrian re-habilitation centre was open. He had also learnt a very important lesson when it comes to dealing with planning authorities. A riding school is not a riding school. But if it’s not a riding school what is it? “It’s a covered riding surface,” he says. “If I had said that I wouldn’t have had any of these problems.”

When is a stud farm a stud farm?

Get it wrong and the Council could knock your house down

Always use a Country solicitor. Three-years ago Mark Clerkin was a gas-fitter living in Shepherds Bush in the shadow of the BBC Television Centre.

Today he is running a stud farm in Bletchingly, Surrey with 14  horses,  four pregnant mares not to mention several dogs and eight lawnmowers from a golf course in Wimbledon.

And it’s all because of a clause in the planning agreement. When Mark and his partner, Nicky Long, bought Spring Meadow Stud and its surrounding 20 acres  in 2006 their solicitor – A Townie solicitor – failed to tell them that the moment the stud stopped being a stud their house would be removed by the Council, and the area returned to how it was before.

“How did I know?” says Mark. “A friend had recommended the solicitor. When the solicitor tells you anything you believe them. They didn’t tell me anything about having to be a stud. I thought we could do what we wanted.

It could have been worse. At least, Nicky was horsey. She had been riding since she was a child. She had competed at dressage at Hickstead. She was renting a livery yard at Epsom. She was also working part-time as a groom at a stud farm owned by a Polish count.

“But a stud,” says Mark. “I didn’t want to be running a stud. I don’t know anything about horses. The only time I got on a horse, I was thrown off.”

The problem only came to light two years after they had bought the property and moved in bringing Nicky’s horses with them. Shortly afterwards , they applied for permission to build an extension on to the back of the house. The Council agreed.

A few months later, they applied for permission to build a six-foot fence at the front of the property facing the road. “One morning a Council official turned up without an appointment,” says Mark. “Nicky was here. I was out. Nicky thought he was here for the fence. He asked if he could come in. Nicky let him in. But he didn’t take any notice of the fence. He asked Nicky if there were any horses on the property, Nicky said, Yes. He went to the stables. He asked Nicky if any of the horses were pregnant. She said, No. He asked if any of them were going to be pregnant. She said, No. He was obviously checking whether we were a stud. He then said, If you’re not going to be a stud we’ll have to take the house down.  Nicky was horrified, the words just kept repeating in her head.

“By this time, I’d got home. I asked him if instead of being a stud, could we be a livery yard. He said we would have to get planning permission. That would have meant getting in a consultant, drawing up plans, applying to the Council for permission without any guarantee that any planning application would be successful.

“So we decided to become a stud. We went to Norfolk to buy a mare. We then brought it back here to introduce her to one of our own mares. Then we took both of them to Cheshire to be covered. I then bought two more pregnant mares. The whole business must have cost me about £5,000.

“I kept the Council informed of our progress, telling them, We’ve  got four mares. They’re all pregnant. We’re a stud. A few days later they rang me back and said, You’re a stud. The news was fantastic for us both”.

Mark, however, is the first to admit he doesn’t know what makes a stud. Whether mares and stallions have to be housed on the stud site. How many mares and stallions make a stud. If studs have to be registered. And so on. However,  the couple are loving their new lifestyle and the challenges it brings , Mark and Nicky are on the lookout for more mares and hope to bring in a stallion very soon.

All he knows is the Council are satisfied and not going to come and knock his house down.


The government-backed Technology Strategy Board is to fund the cost of seventeen intensive building performance evaluation studies covering a total of nine domestic developments and thirteen non-domestic buildings, following funding awards in the first phase of an £8 million open competition. Expert evaluators will help the successful applicants to determine how the buildings perform and why.

The in-depth study of the initial case study buildings – and many other buildings that will be evaluated over the next four years – will enable the construction industry as a whole to better understand the performance of different building types, design strategies, construction methods and occupancy patterns, and the relative contribution of various factors to the eventual performance of the buildings.

Richard Miller, left, the Technology Strategy Board’s Head of Sustainability, said: “The government has set the challenging target of an 80% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the UK by 2050.  With 45% of the UK’s CO2 emissions coming from buildings, we need to stimulate innovation towards achieving these goals.  A key challenge is to ensure that building designs lead to physical buildings that perform as intended.”

There is typically a significant discrepancy between the predicted energy performance of a building, and hence its CO2 emissions, and actual performance.  The energy requirement of a building can easily be twice that predicted, and often between four and seven times when taking into account the energy used as a result of the activities undertaken in the building.  These discrepancies arise from a variety of sources, ranging from the initial design and modelling tools used, the build process and build quality, systems integration and commissioning, handover & operation through to the understanding, comfort and motivation of occupants.  The studies to be carried out will look at these issues, highlighting areas for improvement and innovation, and increasing understanding.

Stephen Stone, Chief Executive of Crest Nicholson, said: “It is becoming increasingly important to develop homes that are sustainable in use, as well as design, and a better understanding of actual energy performance against design intention will play a vital role in helping us to improve the design, construction and delivery across all of our future sites.  The knowledge gained from this study will deliver vital learning and developmental improvements that will be of benefit to the entire industry.”

Judit Kimpian, Aedas Head of Sustainability and Advanced Modelling, said:  "We are delighted to be able to conduct this detailed building performance evaluation of five Aedas-designed buildings.  Growing our understanding of the way in which occupants interact with our buildings is the very essence of our design approach."

Mr Peter Phelps, Energy and Environment Manager at the University of Bath’s Department of Estates, added: "This evaluation will educate our current and future plans, as well as provide vital research in a key area for achieving the UK's challenging carbon reduction targets.

Tim Cutting of ECOS Homes, said: “ECOS homes are delighted to have been selected to take part in the Building Performance Evaluation project, which we feel is helping to overcome significant barriers that face developers who want to undertake performance monitoring of the buildings they construct.”


How green is your building?

Over twenty new building developments across the UK are to be subjected to a detailed and intensive assessment of their environmental impact in the first phase of a four year programme that will help to deliver more energy efficient, better performing buildings

The Old Apple Store. Built by Ecos Homes for Sustainable Building

Landlords with empty properties in for a big financial shock

The Federation of Small Businesses is concerned that small firms that have empty properties could have to pay thousands extra in business rates with changes to the exemption from paying empty property rates due to come into force from April this year

The exemption, introduced in 2009, meant that businesses with an empty property in England with a rateable value below £18,000 did not have to pay business rates. The Government plans to cut this threshold from £18,000 to just £2,600, placing a very significant burden on many small firms that are struggling in the current economic climate. 

Just as alarming is the fact that the Government will not re-introduce a 50 per cent relief and that small firms will not be able to claim Small Business Rate Relief on the property. 

This means that struggling business owners who have had to vacate a property and cannot rent or sell it will have to pay more in rates than if they were running a company from the property. 

The FSB has written to local government minister, Bob Neill MP, to express its concerns that this move could put some small firms out of business.  If the threshold is going to be cut then the FSB calls for a return to the pre-April 2008 situation of granting 50 per cent relief or at the very least, allow a business to claim Small Business Rate Relief on their empty property. 

Roger Culcheth, Local Government Policy Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses, said: "The Government has said that small businesses have a vital role in driving economic growth and getting the recovery on a firm footing, yet for some businesses this additional tax could tip the balance and force them into insolvency. 

"The result of this cut in the threshold without restoring the 50 per cent relief will make small business owners worse off than they were prior the 2009 change and significantly more so then they were in 2009 and 2010. We urge the Government to look closely at this matter and, at the very least, allow the business to claim Small Business Rate Relief."