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Planning permission for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems

Updated December 2016: In recent years there have been some major changes to the UK planning system mostly in favour of installing renwewables. The planning permission requirements for installing solar panels and solar PV systems have in most cases been simplified and relaxed for most residential, commercial and agricultural solar PV system installations.

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Planning permission for solar PV systems supplying residential properties

The key piece of legislation effecting planning permission for the installation of solar panels for residential properties is The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Ammendment) (England) Order 2008. This ammendement clasifies the installation of a residential solar PV or solar thermal system as 'permitted development' meaning planning permission is not required before work commences assuming that the installation fulfills the following conditions:

Roof Mounted Solar PV Panel Installation

Roof mounted solar panel installations on houses:

  • The solar PV array must not protude more than 200mm above the roof line;
  • The solar PV array must not be higher than the highest part of the roof excluding chimneys;
  • The solar PV array must not face onto or be visible from the highway if located within a conservation area or a world heritage site;
  • As far as practicable the array should be sited to minimise the effect on the external appearance of the building.
Roof Mounted Solar PV Panel Installation on a Stables

Roof mounted solar panel Installations on garages / sheds / stables and other outbuildings:

Assuming that the outbuildings are already built and they are located within the curtilage of a residential property such as barns, garages, sheds and other outbuildings the installation of a solar PV system is classified as 'permitted develpment' with the same conditions applicable as to houses (see above).

Ground Mounted Solar PV Panel Installation

Ground Mounted Installations

The installation of small ground Mounted solar PV systems comes under 'permitted development' when:

  • The solar PV array must be no more than 4m high;
  • The solar PV array must be installed more than 5m from the property boundary;
  • The size of the solar PV array must not exceed 9m sq (4-5 large solar panels);
  • The solar PV array must not face onto or be visible from the highway if located within a conservation area or a world heritage site.

Ground mounted systems of greater than 9m sq (4-5 large solar panels) will require planning permission.

Solar PV Panel Carport

Solar PV Canopies & Solar PV Carport Installations

The installation of solar PV canopies and carports may or may not come under 'permitted development' depending on the nature and size of the installation and the local authority.

In general, considerations when building solar PV carports and canopies to be aware of include:

Solar PV Panel Canopy
  • Carport and canopies should be open on at least two sides;
  • The carport or canopy should not extend further than the front of the house;
  • The carport or canopy should have a coverage of under 30m2;
  • The carport or canopy should be under 4m high (highest point);
  • The carport or canopy should be no wider than half the width of the original house;
  • The carport or canopy should only be used for residential purposes i.e not used for conducting business;
  • The carport or canopy should not take up more than 50% of the available outside space.

In all cases, as so much comes down to interpretation, we advise contacting the local authority before commissioning work on bespoke structures such as solar PV canopies & carports.

Planning permission for solar PV systems supplying commercial properties

Permitted Development Rights were applied to solar PV systems installed onto commercial, industrial and agricultural roofspaces in England on the 6th April 2012. The key piece of legistaltion is The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) (England) Order 2012. Our understanding of the legislation is that installing a solar PV panel system will now in most cases come under 'Permitted Development' if the installation is as below:

Commercial Flat Roof Solar PV Panel Installation

Commercial Roofspace solar panel installations

  • Pitched roofs: The solar PV array must not protude more than 200mm above the roof line;
  • Flat Roofs: The highest part of the solar PV array must be less than 1m higher than the highest part of the roof (excluding any chimney);
  • The PV array must be sited more than 1m away from the external edges of the roof;
  • As far as practicable the PV array should be sited to minimise the effect on the external appearance of the building.
Ground Mounted Commercial Solar PV Panel Mounting System

Ground mounted installations on commercial, agricultural or industrial land

The installation of commercial ground Mounted solar PV systems only comes under 'permitted development' when:

  • The solar PV array is no more than 4m high;
  • The solar PV array is installed more than 5m from the property boundary;
  • The size of the solar PV array does not exceed 9m sq (4-5 large large panels);
  • The solar PV array does not face onto or be visible from the highway if located within a conservation area or a world heritage site.

As most commercial solar PV system installation are much bigger than 9m sq, planning permission will be required for commercial ground mounted solar PV systems in nearly all cases.

Commercial Solar PV Panel Canopy

Commercial solar PV canopies & carports

Planning permission is required before building carports, canopies, smoking shelters and other PV mounting structures that will serve commercial, industrial and agricultural buildings.

Planning Permission Required - What's Next?

The need to get planning permission before installing a solar PV system should not put anyone off from installing a system. The installation of solar PV technology is generally well understood and welcomed by most local authorities but understandably some protections need to be in place. The recent changes to 'permitted development rights' are proof of the positive approach taken by central government with regards to installing renewables.

In our experience a planning application with a considered and well designed system that takes account the wider environmental impact and minimises any negative effects of an installation is likely to be treated fairly. Most local authorities have their own guidance about installing renewables available on their websites and many have implemented local plans to promote the further uptake of renewables in their areas.

Planning Permission Required - Key factors the planners will consider.

Efficient Land Use - Development of brownfield and previously unused land is encouraged wherever possible. Where greenfield or agricultural land is to be used, dual usage (such as PV + grazing animals) or increasing the biodiversity in and around the installation area is encouraged.

Temporary Structures / Minimal environmental impact - Although solar PV arrays have a long lifespan the planners especially in the case of ground mounted systems will want to see that the installation area could be reinstated with as little environmental impact as possible should the system be decommissioned.

Preserve Views and Heritage Assets - There is a recognised value in the preservation of views and landscapes. The visual impact of a solar PV installation in areas that could be described as containing heritage assets should be minimised. A heritage asset could be a series of buildings, a landscape, a view, an archaelogical site etc. A heritage asset does not need to be a legally protected asset such as a conservation area. A heritage asset could be anything of special interest, of national or local importance or offering some other value that could be adversely affected through the installation of a solar PV system. The cumulative effects of multiple solar PV systems within an area will also be considered.

NB: It is also always sensible to involve local authority planners and particularly AONB and Conservation Area officers involved in planning permission decisions in sensitive areas as early as possible in the planning and system design process.

Building Regulations

Not the same as planning permission but still the responsibility of the local authority is compliance with the Building Regulations. In one way or another solar PV installations will always need to be in compliance with the building regulation (e.g.. the safety of electrical systems and structures). We give examples of where building regulations will likely apply and need to be referred to here: Solar PV Safety and The Building Regulations.

Further Reading, policies and guidance (pdf docs open in a new browser window).

We have experience in preparing planning permission documents, plans and preparing technical drawings for ground mounted systems, roof mounted systems and bespoke solar PV mounting structures. Our design engineers have experience with the planning system, with working with listed buildings and within conservation areas, we can help to design appropriate systems and guide system owners and developers through the planning process.

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