Councils demanding cash for home solar projects

Local councils are charging homeowners who want to install solar panels for planning permission which isn’t needed. This is the accusation of environmental campaigners, who want government to do something […]

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By Vicky Ellis

Local councils are charging homeowners who want to install solar panels for planning permission which isn’t needed.

This is the accusation of environmental campaigners, who want government to do something about it.

According to David Hunt at design specialists Eco Environments, homeowners have been asked to pay councils, when actually a change in the rules three years ago means that they don’t need permission as long as they use a registered solar installer.

A Labour-initiated change to regulations in 2008 changed solar panels (PV) to a permitted development, only needing consent from councils if they were particularly large, he added.

Mr Hunt told ELN: “It’s mostly to do with councils who can no longer make money from the planning permission. Essentially they’re making sure they get fees when they shouldn’t.”

The worst offenders were in the south west along with a few local councils in Cumbria, he suggested.

Eden District Council in Cumbria has been caught up in the issue, receiving media attention for allegedly charging £100 per building application.

Gwyn Clark, who is responsible for planning permission at Eden District Council, challenged the claims. He told ELN that the Eden District Council has consulted with various authorities that believe the legislation only covers the electricity installation and not the structural side.

He would also like the laws to be cleared up. “We would like the situation to be clarified. Our concern is to the homeowner, without checking their roof there might be serious consequences. We asked for a buildings rating application of £77, which is not large considering, so that the roof structure can be examined.

“We are definitely not against low carbon energy development. In fact we’re very, very supportive of it in Cumbria.”

A spokesperson for the Local Government Authority also dismissed the claims. He told ELN that research by the Planning Advisory Service shows the average cost of processing a planning permission was nearly 60% higher than the average fee asked for from applicants. He added that in parts of Cumbria, “they do need to secure approval, because it’s a conservation area. There’s no evidence to suggest that this is a national issue.”

Cathy Debenham, from renewables site Yougen which offers advice to consumers, said that government should make it clear so that people aren’t put off by confusion. She told ELN: “There’s stress, anxiety and unnecessary expenditure already for people trying to do what government want.”