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Planning permission and building regulations: the rules for solar installations explained

Posted by David Hunt on 14 June 2011 at 9:50 am

Councils asking for planning permission, or building regulations applications for solar panel installations has been much in the press of late. Indeed much of that press has been linked to the campaign by YouGen and ourselves.

The campaign has been picked up and supported by shadow climate change and environment ministers Huw Irranca-Davies and Luciana Berger. Climate change minister Greg Barker has now responded saying he will look into the matter.

The crux of our campaign is that so many councils are interpreting the rules incorrectly, or blatantly ignoring them. So in short, here are the correct rules.


Planning permission

See more recent article: I want to install solar panels on a listed building - how do I proceed?

Since a change in legislation in April 2008, the installation of solar panels has been deemed ‘permitted development’ and therefore planning permission IS NOT required, unless the building is listed, or in a conservation area.

Being in a conservation area does not in itself stop you from an installation. Indeed we have many formally approved installations in conservation areas, including on the road facing roof. But you do need to notify you council and the conservation team of your desire to install. But without any real valid reason permission should be granted.


Building regulations

See more recent article: How to ensure your renewable energy installation is done safely - Competent Persons Schemes and Building Regulations.

This is where there has been more of a contentious issue with many types of council not following latest government advice. Most building works you wish to have done to your house are subject to a building regulations application UNLESS you use a contractor/installer that is a member of an approved ‘competent persons’ scheme. In which case the contractor is able to self-certify.

The latest guidelines clearly state that there are a number of ‘competent persons’ schemes eligible for Microgeneration technologies including solar panels. These schemes are also part of the MCS (Microgeneration Certification Scheme). A full and clear guide to all of this is available from the Communities and Local Government (CLG) department and can be found here (clicking this link will download a pdf document). The bottom of page five clearly shows the list of schemes that are eligible, including for example NICEIC.

Just make sure your installer is MSC accredited and a member of one of the listed schemes. And as ever is the case, seek local customer recommendations and check their standing on YouGen.

Ed's note: The following Competent Person Schemes cover installation of microgeneration or renewable technologies: CORGI, HETAS, NAPIT, NICEIC, APHC, BESCA, BSI, ELECSA, OFTEC, STROMA. The first four are also accreditation bodies for the MCS scheme.


About the author: David Hunt was Head of Commercial for Renewable Solutions UK Ltd. He no longer works in the renewable energy sector.

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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12 comments - read them below or add one


zoltronixComment left on: 21 November 2017 at 12:58 am

I'm looking at a DIY plug-in-solar solution, I am electrically minded coming from an electrical engineering background.

I have since been told our roof isn't suitable for solar due to loading issues plus the amount of panel I want to put up there (16 or 4kW) I can't get on the roof due to space requirements. So I decided on building a pergola in the garden but with solar panels built into the structure.

Has anyone got ideas if planning permission is required for such a project or does it come under permitted development still. I know out buildings and sheds cannot cover more than 50% of the garden to the rear of the property and I am fine on that issue, and the height of the pergola at its highest point is below the 2.5m limit for the eaves height as the panels will be built in flush with the eaves.

But I wondering on if there are limitations on placement of panels in the garden and the size of the array for it to fall within permitted development.

Any ideas?

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planning permission

planning permissionComment left on: 11 June 2013 at 1:46 pm

It is nonsenseicle that there are so many potential problems, delays and obsticals in the way of initiating the generation of renewable energy. It really does seem that you can't have something for nothing. Even when it is your own property it's not truely yours to do with as you wish. From psollich's comment I can see why some people are over hasty and do not seek advice with matters regarding building planning permission - very strenuous

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ZCarlComment left on: 24 November 2011 at 7:45 pm

Have you heard about the new building regulation? 

As they said,

" the lower the U-value the slower the heat loss, thus it helps minimize your energy consumption."

ZCarl from Building Regulations Watford

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LepusComment left on: 6 September 2011 at 6:41 pm

The legislation was amended again on 1 October 2008 and the prohibition on road-facing roof slopes in conservation areas was removed,

So you do not need planning permission for such a site and there is no need for you to contact the council or the "conservation team" as long as you follow the other guidelines.

The planning policy statement: Planning and Climate Change states:  "In particular, planning authorities should ... "ensure any local approach to protecting landscape and townscape is consistent with PPS22 and does not preclude the supply of any type of renewable energy other than in the most exceptional circumstances". The Council has legal duty to design local development policies "to promote and not restrict renewable and low-carbon energy and supporting infrastructure."

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 2 August 2011 at 7:54 am

Click here to see the response to Malcolm's question below about roof structures, which has been posted on another similar blog.

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HenGusComment left on: 26 July 2011 at 6:35 pm

A company that I am dealing with has proposed a 9 panel PV Solar system. Reading the advice on this and other sites, I am content not to seek planning permission or ask for a chargeable Certificate of Lawful Development. The Company has also told me that it is one of the few PV companies 'permitted' to carry out roof loading calculations and they have confirmed that my roof does not need additional strengthening. I rather assumed that all installers would have a duty to carry out strength calculations. Have I misunderstood what I was told?

Edited 27 Jul

I spoke to another company today and raised the question of roof loading. Their response was along the lines that the panels weighed less than the man putting them on the roof!  The 9 panels weigh 135Kilos which makes for a pretty big man.  The more objective assessment of roof loading that I have seen shows that the additional panel loading on the roof would be 10% of the roof dead load figure: that is, 5% below the max roof loading.

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andynicComment left on: 21 July 2011 at 3:53 pm

One problem with the guidelines for permitted development is that they don't cover flat roofs. The general "no more than 200mm above roof surface and not above ridge obviously doesn't apply to a flat roof as the panel is always going to contravene that, yet councils seem completely unprepared for that. We've just had to go through a three-month process to get planning permission (missing out on three sunny months), when we almost certainly didn't need to, which was very frustrating. A flat roof is ideal for solar panels, and surely councils should be doing everything they can to encourage installation, rather than making it unnecessarily hard.


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Malcolm Comment left on: 25 June 2011 at 11:11 am


Having read your reply as to roof loadings in this blog ( Malcolm, to address your point, your installer should calculate the roof loading and wind factor (neither of which are substantial) I contacted your company for a quote. I have now received the paperwork and was very surprised to see the following paragraph  :-

Most roofs are more than adequate to cope with a solar array being mounted. However, if you have any concerns about your roof structure we would recommend you have it checked for its integrity and ability to support the weight of the solar array.

This leads me to ask the following question do you as the installer do the calculations and take responsibility? as per your reply, or does the customer have to have their own calculations done via an architect/structural engineer.

Malcolm Blake

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John of Truro

John of TruroComment left on: 24 June 2011 at 4:44 pm

I have a stand-alone array of 22 panels - I was lead to believe that I did not need planning permission - on the Energy Savings Trust's website it states that you do not need pp if the array is under 9m2 - I took that to mean nine meters squared, in other words 81 square meters - our local council (Cornwall) insist that you do need pp if the array is over 9'2m (sorry, I cant do the little 2) which is 9 square meters - I had to apply for pp retrospectively which cost well over £400 - I informed EST but their advice is still the same - have I got something wrong? or have they?

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David Hunt

David Hunt from Comment left on: 21 June 2011 at 9:37 pm

Hello PSollich, 

 This is exactly the point of our campaign, it is unnecessary and serves no purpose other than to make the council £75, with the added 'bonus' that it puts people off of installing. Craziness. Greg Barker has promised to pursue our cause, but nothing concrete has been done yet. But the regulations on Planning Permission are very clear, so just go ahead with your installation if you and your installer are sure that you meet the criteria for 'permitted development'. And Bromley should be named and shamed.

 Malcolm, to address your point, your installer should calculate the roof loading and wind factor (neither of which are substantial). If they are on the 'Competent Persons' schemes listed above building control do not need to be notified (see the DCLG document referred to above). As for your insurance company we've never had a customer be requested for a structural engineers report, except on large installations on commercial buildings. But I can't comment for every insurance company.

 David Hunt

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psollichComment left on: 18 June 2011 at 8:15 pm

Thank you for the useful summary.

Does your campaign address the issue of how councils deal with applications for certificates of lawfulness? Our local council, Bromley, are being really very unhelpful on this. They refuse to issue anything other than "informal" advice on what constitutes permitted development (which is useless should I want to sell the house). For formal advice, i.e. a certificate of lawfulness, I had to shell out 75 pounds, and submit an application that's almost as long as for proper planning permission. Then there was a delay of several weeks until they even get round to acknowledging the application as valid. Now I've been sent a letter saying it could take another 8(!) weeks until I get a decision, and I've already been told that they will insist on a site visit some time before then.

All this strikes me as completely at odds with the point of the legislation that made solar PV permitted development, which was to remove exactly these sorts of barriers (fees, having to draw up plans, waiting around for months on end) to renewable energy installations. How hard would it be for councils to issue formal responses like "Yes, if your solar PV installation complies with the relevant rules (no more than 200mm above roof surface and not above ridge) and you're not in a conservation area, it is permitted development"? Why do they insist on making all this work for themselves, and creating barriers for renewable energy?

I've emailed my local MP and the councillor in charge of planning to flag this up as an issue but have had no reply. Is this something that YouGen could take up on a broader basis?

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Malcolm Comment left on: 15 June 2011 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for that David,

This is one of the areas (building regs) I’ve been concerned about. I’d just like to be absolutely clear on this, 

I've built a few houses and know how important it is to have calcs for roof trusses. Considering the weight and "sail" potential of PV (I'm considering a 3,99kw 21 panel Schucu system in excess of £10k) who takes responsibility if this lot blows off or you get some structural damage? The insurance company I'm sure will ask for calcs and building regs approval or structural engineers report and his insurance details are you saying ‘competent persons’ scheme  covers all this?

I’m aware you have to advise your insurance company of the increased rebuilding costs.

I await your advises,



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