The UK Government is relaxing the requirement to apply for planning permission for the installation of rooftop solar panels on non-domestic buildings. From 6 April 2015 developments generating up to 1MW of electricity will benefit from permitted development rights contained within the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015.

This change, which only applies in England, will allow the owners of commercial premises to generate their own clean energy without the need to apply for planning permission. Currently, the threshold for permitted development rights stands at 50kW; with the change vastly increasing the allowable energy capacity, this will provide a boost for the solar industry.

Jean-Pascal Boutin, a partner in Eversheds’ commercial team, specialising in the energy sector, noted that “this will assist greatly on the projects we are advising upon and is all in line with the support/incentives that Government is providing for rooftop solar”.

Other hurdles and limiting factors for rooftop installations

However, while the new threshold is aimed at removing one of the current barriers to deployment, those looking to take advantage will still have to overcome some hurdles:

  • applicants will go through a prior approval process with the local planning authority to determine whether approval will be needed for the design and external appearance of the panels;
  • this prior approval process can still take up to 56 days, the equivalent to the current determination period for a planning application.

In determining such applications for approval the local planning authority will still need to consider a range of conditions which form part of the existing permitted development regime, including:

  • whether the development is ‘sited so as to minimise its effect on the external appearance of the building’;
  • whether the building is a Listed Building; and
  • whether the panels will be installed on a roof slope which fronts a highway within a National Park, Area of Outstanding Beauty or conservation area, in this case permitted development rights would not apply.

Conclusion

Nevertheless, the measures will be welcomed. Paul Maile, partner in Eversheds’ planning team commented “the real benefit for developers is that as the result of these changes, the principle of larger scale rooftop solar development is approved. Whilst retaining the need for prior approval may not significantly speed up the consenting phase, the basis on which consent can be withheld is in practice very limited. Consequently, you can invest with a degree of confidence in the outcome”.