A former pilot who has also ridden for England has been told her partly-built “manège” or horse-riding arena in the Herefordshire countryside will have to go.

Sally Toye had applied for part-retrospective approval for the plan, within a designated local wildlife site near the village of Pipe Aston in the Mortimer Forest.

Last week, councillors on Herefordshire Council’s planning committee were asked to rule on the bid, which the council’s officer had recommended for approval, despite a petition against it having garnered nearly 800 signatures.

Christina O’Neill, who launched the petition, told the committee she had “witnessed first-hand the appalling ecological vandalism” at the site, adding that to approve the work “would make a mockery of the whole planning system”.


Another nearby resident, Mark Jones, said Ms Toye “has bulldozed her land regularly and substantially without permission since moving to the county”.

“Approving this application would send out a dangerous message to like-minded developers that destroying protected landscapes and asking for permission afterwards is acceptable,” he said.

Robert Owen, a trustee of the Friends of Mortimer Forest, said the group was particularly concerned about hazel dormice which have been found around the cottage, “and that they would have used the hedge that the applicant has destroyed, and which should be reinstated”.

Ms Toye, a retired airline pilot who has represented England in endurance riding, told the committee the “small, unlit” manège would be “a safe place to ride”.

She had “worked hard” with environmental officials to address their concerns regarding the plan, and as a result, “there is no overall ecology objection to this manege”.

She added: “Since moving to Pipe Aston I have tried to integrate myself into the small community, but have encountered local opposition to my plans which has become disproportionate.”

The council’s planning officer Amber Morris sided with Ms Toye, concluding that “with the proposed compensation and enhancements, there would be a long-term biodiversity net gain”.

She added: “Subject to conditions, there would be no significant impacts on landscape character, residential amenity, ecology, and drainage or highway safety.”

But noting that “much damage has already been done” at the site, local ward member Coun Carole Gandy said that Ms Toye had withdrawn a previous application in June last year, “but did not stop unauthorised work for a considerable period of time”.

The council’s enforcement team had obliged Ms Toye to submit the current application at the end of 2021, she said – but this had not included work such as an installed hard-standing path.

Criticising the council ecologist’s report, which raised no objections to the application, as “misleading and unacceptable”, she said: “The only acceptable outcome must be to leave the land to recover.”

The committee agreed, with member Coun Paul Rone saying that for it to now approve the application “would be like approving PVC windows on the cathedral”.

Committee chair Coun Terry James told councillors they should disregard the fact that the application was part-retrospective.

In the event, the committee voted unanimously to refuse the planning application.