Solar PV, conservation area and planning permission: a case study
Posted by Cathy Debenham on 26 September 2011 at 8:28 am
Steve Plater's, story has a happy ending, but it perfectly illustrates that despite being a "permitted development" the path of a solar pv panel installation doesn't always run smoothly:
Our house is metres inside a conservation area (CA) boundary, only because it is built on land which used to be part of the next door care home's grounds. The reality is that the house is part of a street and estate which are outside the CA. It is not visible from within the CA because it's screened by tall trees, and for the same reason the only part of the CA visible from the street is the front of our house.
Nonetheless, the district council (Sevenoaks) required us to apply for planning permission @ £150 a time: first for our solar thermal collector, permission granted ; then for solar PV. Permission for the latter was refused on grounds of "excessive number of panels" which would harm the appearance and character of the (not in sight, recall) conservation area.
I appealed. The inspector agreed with all my arguments but then sided with the planners. Grounds: impact on the "street scene", and "possible precedent" usable by others in the conservation area. Both nonsense, since PV is permitted development under the 2008 Order and the street is outside the CA, and each application must be treated on its merits, hence there can be no precedent created.
The planners chose to ignore several Planning Policy Statements in favour of microgeneration, and national, regional and indeed their own local policy of promoting renewables to help combat climate change. Instead they focused on the sole consideration of protection of heritage and conservation area character. They just don't get it. How can solar energy be incompatible with conservation? How can there be "too many" PV panels on a roof? It is ironic that our MP is Michael Fallon, whose private member's bill became the Planning & Energy Act 2008.
We are inching towards a compromise solution allowing us 8 panels on west roof + 6 (instead of 13 proposed) on south facing roof. I'm waiting to see whether they try to force me to pay yet another planning application fee for the revised proposal. It is more than 12 months after the original one – only because of successive delays in getting responses from the planning department.
Then, out of the blue, an e-mail arrived from the planning officer, saying that he'd realised that our proposed PV installation was "likely to be permitted development". Not clear why "likely", I would have thought either it is or isn't, but never mind.
So my revised planning application falls away; instead the planning officer encourages me to apply for a certificate of lawful development. However, that would cost £75 and take 8 weeks. Having already missed a chunk of the prime generating season, and thus of feed-in tariff income since the 'FiT year' runs April-March, I'm going with his other option: just go ahead and do what we want.
The government's Planning Portal now states the following:
Roof and Wall Mounted Solar Panels
The following limits apply to roof and wall mounted solar panels:
- Panels should not be installed above the ridgeline and should project no more than 200mm from the roof or wall surface.
- If your property is a listed building installation is likely to require an application for listed building consent, even where planning permission is not needed.
- Wall mounted only - if your property is in a conservation area, or in a World Heritage Site, planning consent is required when panels are to be fitted on the principal or side elevation walls and they are visible from the highway. If panels are to be fitted to a building in your garden or grounds they should not be visible from the highway.
There is a small but significant change regarding PV in conservation areas: it now requires planning permission only if the panels are to be mounted on a wall, i.e. vertically. For roof-mounted panels, permission is only required if on a listed building.
I don't know whether this change is already, or will be, enshrined in a new Order in Council; or whether it is simply a change in guidance from central government, and our planning officer at least is following it. In any case, we seem to be in the clear. 9 panels for our south facing roof are on order [they were installed at the end of July 2011].By Cathy Debenham
If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.
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