Reader question: We want to buy a property with some land in northern France to keep horses (for pleasure rather than commercial reasons). We intend to put up simple shelters, fences and an outdoor riding arena. Will we need planning permission?
Rules have tightened up over the years but France is still an easier country for projects like yours than the UK.
It is unlikely you will have any problems – if you do, it will be because the plan local d’urbanisme (PLU) for your commune, or the plan d’occupation des sols, forbids it.
Cases where this might happen include if the land is next to a historic monument, if it has been designated in the PLU for housing, or if the land is in an environmentally special or sensitive area.
Find out by going to the local mairie and asking. It will be a good time to introduce yourself – something that, as well as being polite, can have practical benefits too.
Minister caused confusion
If the land is designated as agricultural, then, since 2004, the rule has been that equestrian activities in France are considered under the same rules as agricultural buildings, which means stables and shelters are usually allowed to be built.
Around 10 years ago, the then-minister of agriculture provoked a storm when he said horse shelters put up on land under Zone A (agricultural) on local plans would not be approved if the request did not come from a farmer.
He backtracked, but the damage was done and there are some rural areas which are anti-horse.
Land issues are sensitive
As a general rule now, agricultural buildings, including horse shelters and stables, can be built on agricultural land but it is best to speak to the local mayor, who is best-placed to judge on the situation with regard to the area’s local plan.
Ask him or her if there is any problem with keeping horses. Land issues can be a sensitive area in rural France.
In fact, legally, in order to keep a horse, you have to provide a suitable shelter.
If the shelter has a floor area of less than 20m², you can put it up with a simple déclaration préalable de travaux, which in larger communes has to be done online.
You are good to go if you do not receive notice of opposition within a month (two in certain protected areas), and it is rare that declarations are challenged.
For shelters over 20m², a permis de construire, including plans, a photomontage or drawings showing impact on the landscape, and how it will be linked to water and electricity, will be required.
A temporary solution
Usually, projects for agricultural buildings go through. The only time you do not need permission for a horse shelter is if the shelter is temporary and will be moved after three months.
Some horse forums claim using army tents, available from military surplus stores, solves the problem, but the team here has yet to see any on travels in rural France.
For the horse arena, no permission is required if it is outdoors – as long as it does not break rules in the PLU relating to distance from historic monuments, classified natural areas and so on.
If you put a roof on it, it changes from being a carrière équestre to a manège, and requires full planning permission.
Garden shed tax
There is a lot of confusion about taxes, but Kelly Desomes of Doitrand Equestre, which makes horse shelters, says shelters with three sides are not subject to the one-off taxe d’aménagement (France’s so-called ‘garden shed’ tax), even though some mairies have tried to argue otherwise.
Your taxe foncière will not change either – buildings used exclusively for agricultural reasons (including keeping a horse) are exempted.
As for cost, Doitrand Equestre sells a 6mx3m three-sided shelter, which can be put up with a déclaration préalable de travaux, for €4,750, plus transport.