Dales pony centre given consent after hedge row

Malham, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Picture: Google.

A centre helping secure the future of an endangered breed of ponies native to the Yorkshire Dales has been given the green light to retain a bank of mirrors beside its training arena following complaints a hedge used to screen them spoils the traditional look of one of the national park’s most visited villages.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s planning committee heard Great All Rounders’ retrospective application for the 20m-long training safety equipment at its base in Malham had come decades after the venture had been granted consent providing it did not add any structures.

Members were told the centre, which focuses on breeding and training Dales ponies, had installed the bank of mirrors as an essential safety aid for riders, as the ponies could become spooked by nearby cars, school trips or lawnmowers.

Ahead of the meeting, the application had received support from numerous of the centre’s users, including the Dales Pony Conservancy of North America, which brings groups of American breeders and riders to study there, an equine vet and an international freelance dressage instructor.

In documents submitted to the authority the vet stated: “The use of mirrors in training horses is a recognised and proven way of reducing their stress and anxiety. A horse will see the reflection of themselves as a companion horse, and as a herd animal, the presence of other horses working next to them provides a sense of safety and therefore relaxation.”

Other supporters of the scheme said as Malham is a traditional farming village which was increasingly being overtaken by tourism, it was important to nuture “a local family making their livelihood”.

However, the meeting was told while Kirkby Malhamdale Parish Council supported the installation of mirrors at the centre, it was adamantly opposed to the use of a “notoriously aggressive” growing leylandii hedge to screen the mirrors.

The council said the centre had not acted “in the spirit of being cooperative” with it, despite the council having been “generous and supportive” of the application, by planting the non-native species in the heart of the village and not including the plants in its planning application.

The council said it was seeking “an agreeable compromise and solution to support the installation of what are very prominent mirrors adjacent to the riding arena, whilst respecting the visual appearance of the site for the neighbours and from the adjacent national park’s car park”.

In a letter to the authority, a parish council spokesman said: “Had the proper approach been followed we would have immediately requested that any hedge was made up entirely of native tree species…

“In reality that future management of a leylandii hedge is impossible to police and then it would become a cause of real contention and result in possible disputes with neighbouring properties.”

However, the meeting heard the hedge was not a planning issue, while the centre’s owners told members they had sought to address the concerns of the parish council deeply and were “committed to conservation”.

Members heard the centre had sought advice from professionals over the hedge and that the soil there was “incredibly thin”.

Ahead of members approving the mirrors, member Richard Foster suggested native species could be planted between the leylandii trees, but as screening was needed the leylandii hedge was the best short-term solution.