Council accused of “cocking a snook” at solar homeowners

West Lancashire Borough Council has become the latest local authority to be accused of forcing householders who want to fit solar panels to unnecessarily apply for planning permission, in what critics have described as “a blatant money grab”.

Installation firm Eco Environments has claimed the council wrote to residents telling them an official application must be made to avoid “possible enforcement action” in the event of panels that require planning permission being fitted without formal permission.

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The company also alleges the council is unnecessarily encouraging households to spend £75 per application in return for a Certificate of Lawfulness – a claim the council denies.

The Labour government amended the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order in 2008 so that official planning permission for solar panels is only needed for listed buildings or houses in conservation areas.

In addition, Building Regulations applications are not required as long as the homeowner uses a certified contractor to fit the panels.

However, microgeneration installation firms have complained that a number of councils, including Eden District Council in Cumbria, are not applying the new rules properly and are continuing to seek planning applications, undermining the government’s efforts to accelerate the rollout of domestic solar panels.

“West Lancs is trying to make £75 per household that wants to go green, with no need or justification, and all it is doing is putting people off,” said David Hunt, a director at Eco Environments, whose campaign for clearer regulations has been backed by shadow energy ministers Huw Irranca-Davies and Luciana Berger.

“The majority of councils do comply, but a small number seem Hell bent on causing as many problems as possible,” Hunt added. “By doing so, they are discouraging people from pursuing renewable energy solutions for their homes and cocking a snook at the government’s environmental agenda.”

West Lancashire Council told BusinessGreen it was not requiring householders to obtain planning permission for solar PV, but said planning legislation did not give “blanket approval” for solar panels.

“The council fully supports the implementation and development by the public of renewable energy schemes,” it said in a statement. “However, as failure to fully meet the requirements set out in the Town and Country (General Permitted Development) Order will result in a development being unauthorised and liable to possible enforcement action, the council would strongly advise site owners to reassure themselves that their proposals are compliant with the conditions/constraints before commencing work on site.”

The council added that it had only sent letters in response to specific enquiries over whether planning permission would be needed.

“The response makes them aware of the formal mechanism for such requests (Certificate of Lawfulness) and the costs of providing that service and the advantage to them of using the service,” the statement said. “The decision as to whether or not they use the service or rely on their own, or their advisor’s interpretation of the legislation, is entirely for them.”

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