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Private Stables Not Liable to Business Rates: Corkish (VO) v Bigwood [2019] UKUT 191 (LC)

Cain Ormondroyd

The Lands Chamber of the Upper Tribunal has found that an extensive equestrian complex at the home of Olympian Fiona Bigwood is 'domestic' and therefore not liable to business rates.

The Tribunal gave helpful guidance on when stables, and other such buildings, would be considered to be an 'other appurtenance' so as to be classified as domestic property. It will be necessary in each case to consider whether the stable is 'intimately associated' with the main house so as to be 'part and parcel' with it and constituting an integral whole with it. The fact that the stables are large is not by itself an obstacle to a conclusion that they are domestic [61], [55]. It is necessary to look at the "nature and function of the buildings and other facilities themselves, their proximity to each other, and the general layout of the site." [54]. Function is a more important consideration than size [64]. The success with which a private equestrian pursues their activities is not relevant [65].

The Tribunal specifically rejected two arguments advanced by the VO. First, it did not agree that it was helpful to ask whether the buildings would have passed on a pre-1925 conveyance without mention. The answer to that question depended on whether they were an appurtenance or not, which was the question in issue: [58]. Second, it did not agree that there was any further requirement that the use of the stables should be considered to be in "essentially domestic use" before they could be treated as domestic. It disagreed with the VTE's reasoning in Cornwall v Alexander which had suggested that there was such a requirement [67]-[69].

In general, the Tribunal observed that "stables are a category of building which falls readily within the scope of appurtenant property" [59].

This case will probably be seen as something of a setback for the VOA, which has pursued a policy of rating large stable buildings which it deems not to be in 'domestic' use for some years. This was the latest in a line of cases on the question, although the first to have reached the Upper Tribunal. It will now be much easier and more straightforward for private equestrians to show that their facilities are 'domestic' and therefore not subject to business rates.

Cain Ormondroyd appeared for the successful ratepayer.