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Restrictive rules for domestic solar energy ‘make not a jot of sense’

Solar Energy UK

25 September 2023

Threatening a woman for installing solar panels on her home with jail time illustrates how planning rules have become uneven and unfair, says Solar Energy UK.

According to the BBC, Mary Smail, of Ashbourne in Derbyshire, applied to her local council for planning permission to install the solar panels, “but said she was advised there was no chance of it being granted due to the historic nature of the area. She then installed them anyway while the council was considering her application and applied retrospectively for permission, which was refused.”[1]

In response, Derbyshire Dales District Council obtained a court injunction to force her to take them down, later warning her that she could be jailed for two years for not complying. She is now arranging for her 16-panel array to be removed, having already spent almost £20,000 on legal fees and costs alone, according to the story.

The root of the issue is that Ms Smail’s home is both in a conservation area and is a Grade II listed building. Under current rules, both listed building consent and planning permission would be needed to make the installation lawful, though this does not apply everywhere.

“While Ms Smail’s actions were unwise, the rules that led to this situation make not a jot of sense and offer no public benefit. We strongly encourage the Government to implement recently proposed reforms to permitted development rights, so that people like Ms Smail will be able to enjoy the same benefits that solar now gives to over 1.2m UK households: cutting bills, cutting emissions and avoiding burdens on over-stretched planning departments,” said Chris Hewett, Chief Executive of Solar Energy UK.

Last year, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council introduced a Local Listed Buildings Consent Order, allowing most residents of Grades II and II* homes to install solar panels without prior approval. It was the first such order in the country.[2]

“It is important to promote environmental improvements and innovation while protecting London’s important heritage, and the principle of this approach is very welcome. I anticipate that such approaches will encourage the installation of more solar panels in the borough, which I support in light of my aim to make London a zero-carbon city,” said Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in response to the order.

Solar Energy UK would like to see this same approach extended nationwide. Solar Panels are already deployed on many famous UK heritage buildings – among them York Minister and Chester Cathedral.[3, 4]. Photovoltaics are even helping to power the Vatican and Pompeii, illustrating how they can be set up without causing harm to buildings of global importance.[5,6]

Generally speaking, smaller-scale solar power can be installed on homes without needing to obtain planning permission. But permitted development rights are limited, being subject to undue limitations and conditions that are holding back the solar “revolution” demanded by Chris Skidmore MP’s Review of Net Zero.[7] The problem was identified in last year’s British Energy Security Strategy, which committed to reviewing the rules.[8]

Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities opened a consultation on extending permitted development rights for photovoltaic equipment on and within the grounds of domestic and non-domestic buildings earlier this year.[9] It heralds a general relaxation of conditions, raising specific proposals such as a new right to install solar equipment facing the highway in a conservation area home, and a similar right for non-domestic properties in conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty, the Broads, national parks and world heritage sites.

Solar Energy UK is calling on the Government to implement these plans forthwith, and to extend permitted development rights more broadly.

[1] Derbyshire solar panel rebel backs down to avoid prison

[2] Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea: Local Listed Building Consent Order

[3] York Minster installs solar tiles in historic first

[4] Solar Panels installed at Chester Cathedral

[5] High tech meets historic – solar energy in the Vatican

[6] New ‘invisible’ solar panels in Ancient Pompeii imitate Roman terracotta tiles

[7] Review of Net Zero

[8] British Energy Security Strategy

[9] Permitted development rights: supporting temporary recreational campsites, renewable energy and film-making consultation

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Editor’s notes:

For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Gareth Simkins, Senior Communications Adviser |