Exclusive: Labour joins fight for clearer solar planning rules

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Shadow energy and climate change minister Huw Irranca-Davies is set to write to his government counterparts today, urging them to take steps to ensure councils are not giving homeowners the wrong advice when installing solar panels.

A spokesman for the MP confirmed Irranca-Davies would be writing to the Department of Energy and Climate Change after installers claimed a local authority in Cumbria is flouting the law. It is allegedly telling people they require Building Regulations approval to fit solar panels, despite changes to regulations designed to improve the take-up of renewable energy.

Planning rules state that Building Regulations applications are not needed if the homeowner uses a contractor approved under the government's Competent Person Scheme. Official planning permission for solar panels has not been required, except for listed buildings or houses in conservation areas, since the then Labour government amended the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order in 2008.

David Hunt, a director at installation firm Eco Environments, told BusinessGreen that his company had received a number of reports from customers that Eden district council in Cumbria was insisting households apply for £77 Building Regulations approval prior to installing panels. It had also served notice on several homeowners who had already fitted them.

However, he believes the problem may be more widespread, citing research undertaken by Renewable Energy Installer magazine. This showed that the number of planning proposals related to solar panels submitted and processed by local planning authorities doubled from 2009 to 2010, despite the three-year-old rule change.

'Eden is the only council we've had problems with,' said Hunt. '[But] I know other installers in other parts of the country have been told they need planning permission, which you haven't needed since 2008.'

Cathy Debenham, founder of renewable energy advisory service YouGen, echoed Hunt's concerns, telling BusinessGreen that a number of companies she had spoken to in the South West faced similar problems. She added that homeowners were left to foot the bill to overturn decisions on appeal.

Cumbrian-based installers Sundog Energy also confirmed they had faced difficulties from councils insisting on planning permission or Building Regulation applications.

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