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Are council planning departments making it difficult to install solar panels?

Posted by Rob Palgrave on 18 August 2010 at 9:27 am

Installing solar PV panels should be easier for home-owners since a planning appeal confirmed what is allowed under permitted development.

Planning departments at some councils in England seem to want to make it difficult for householders to install photovoltaic solar panels. But as a result of the appeal case in Poole last month, home-owners will be able to persuade planning officers that they do not need a planning application.

As background – in April 2008 the planning rules for roof-mounted solar panels were changed. Permitted development rights under the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) were introduced for solar panels meeting certain conditions.

The intention of the change was to take away the requirement for planning permission on what might be called a standard installation. One that fits close to the roof, and doesn’t protrude above the ridgeline.

But Guildford Friends of the Earth heard earlier this year of cases where the local council was interpreting the April 2008 PD order differently, and was insisting that homeowners apply for permission. Their logic – the panels were either too big or were too visible to other houses or to a street. A campaign was started to persuade the council to follow the spirit of the permitted development order and allow these solar panel installations regardless of size or orientation.

We were making progress until we found Guildford planners had searched around to find other cases in England where this same issue was being disputed. They were following a case in Poole, where a homeowner had appealed against the council’s decision to require planning permission. They hoped that the decision would go in favour of the council and give them a precedent. But On 21 July 2010, the planning inspector decided that Poole Council had been wrong to say that the panels in question needed planning permission.

In his decision the planning inspector said this about the size of the installation:

“As to size, plainly a smaller array would have a lesser effect, but that could be said of any installation; condition (a) is concerned with siting, not size. Had Parliament intended to impose a size limitation it would have been a simple matter to do so.”

And regarding the effect on ‘visual amenity’, he said:

“Condition (b) is that solar PV or solar thermal equipment shall, so far as practicable, be sited so as to minimise its effect on the amenity of the area. In this case the only effect on amenity is visual – the appearance of the building – and accordingly I conclude that this condition also would be met.”

Now Guildford Council has relented and has allowed the case we were campaigning on to go ahead without needing planning permission. It is working on new guidance for its planning officers to (hopefully) ensure that they apply the permitted development rights correctly in future.

Photo: by Abi Skipp

About the author: Rob Palgrave is a guest blogger

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