It’s easy to see why more people are looking into getting solar panels for their property. They have the ability to produce up to 4,271.1kWh of energy per year in the south east of England, for example (the average household uses less than this, at 3,100kWh of energy per year), with unused energy sold back to the grid. But it’s not as simple as calculating how many solar panels do you need and adding them to your roof when you’ve decided to make the switch. You’ll need to think about planning permission.

In most cases, you don’t need planning permission for solar panels, according to the official Government website. There are a few exceptions to this rule, for example if your house is a listed building or located within a conservation area. We’ll look at what to do in these instances below.

Solar panels have been given permitted development rights by the UK Government. Permitted development rights are a ‘national grant of planning permission’. This means specified building works can be carried out without needing to make a planning application.

There are certain conditions these building works (including solar panels) must meet in order for the rights to be granted, as set out by The Town and Country Planning Order 2015, Part 14. These conditions relate to things such as the placement of the solar panels (for example, how far they protrude from the roof), how the panels affect the appearance of the building, and their size. It’s best to discuss them with your local planning authority, who’ll be able to advise you.

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When to get solar panel planning permission

Here are the cases when you need to get a planning permission to install solar panels.

For domestic buildings

Solar panel installation for private dwellings is considered to have permitted development rights if both of the following apply:

  • Panels do not project more than 200mm from the roof or wall.
  • Panels are not installed above the ridgeline.

Ground-mounted solar panels

If you’re planning to install your solar panels mounted in the ground, they must meet strict criteria or you’ll need to apply for planning permission. The guidelines are as follows.

Ground-mounted solar panels, sometimes known as standalone solar panels, must:

  • Be the only ground-mounted solar installation.
  • Be no taller than four metres.
  • Measure a maximum of nine metres squared, or three metres wide and three metres deep.
  • Sit at least five metres away from boundaries.
  • Not be within the boundary of a listed building.
  • Not be visible from the highway if the property is in a conservation area or a World Heritage Site. In the UK, a highway is defined as an area that follows a specific route, where there’s a public right of passage over land at all times, “without let or hindrance”. This could be a footpath, a bridleway, or a carriageway.

Flat roofs

You’ll probably need planning permission. This is because when solar panels are installed on a flat roof, they’re placed so they’re angled towards the sun, which raises them above the 200mm limit set by permitted development rights.

Listed buildings

If your home is a listed building, you’ll need to apply for listed building consent. This is separate from planning permission, but you still apply for it through the local planning authority. Listed building consent is a way for planning authorities to assess whether proposed alterations to a listed building (such as solar panels) are appropriate. It’s against the law to carry out work which requires listed building consent before obtaining it.

Once you have listed building consent, you must then apply for planning permission.

You can find out if your property is a listed building by searching the National Heritage List for England (NHLE).

Conservation areas

If you’re aiming to install solar panels and your property is in a conservation area or World Heritage Site, you need to apply for planning permission if:

  • You want to mount them on the walls.
  • You plan to mount them on the main or side elevation walls.
  • They’re visible from the highway.

Panels fitted to a building in the gardens or grounds should not be visible from the highway.

For commercial buildings

Most solar panel installations for commercial buildings are considered to have permitted development rights if they meet specific requirements:

  • Panels do not project more than 2m from the roof or wall.
  • Panels are a minimum of 1m away from the external edges of the building.
  • Panels on a flat roof must project less than 1m from the roof surface and cannot be the highest part, excluding the chimney.
  • Panels mounted in the ground measure:
  • No more than 9㎡
  • No more than 3m in any direction
  • No higher than 4m

It’s always worth contacting your Local Planning Authority before arranging installation, so you’re 100% sure you’re able to go ahead with the work.

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Solar panels and building regulations

It’s likely you won’t need to think about planning permission, but solar panels must still meet normal building regulations. These regulations are standards which must be met by law, as they concern both the safety and comfort of the people who will live or use the building, and they apply to changes made to existing buildings and the majority of new buildings.

The building regulations most relevant to solar panels are structural safety, with the property able to support the weight of the solar panel system, and electrical safety.

Building regulations are set out in Approved Documents on the Government’s website. They’re updated as housing policy changes. For example, environmental considerations have become more prominent as our awareness of sustainability increases.
Installers that are MCS certified and belong to a Competent Persons Scheme (CPS) will make the applications for you. All of Otovo’s installers fit this criteria. The certificates will be sent to you once it’s been confirmed that your solar panel system meets the regulations.

How can I find my local planning authority?

You can use the Government’s tool to find the website for your local council. Your local planning authority is normally the planning department of this council.

Apart from the legal aspects, there are also a couple of factors you should take into account while planning your PV installation. We discuss them in our article about requirements for installing solar panels.

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