The quickest and easiest answer to the question ‘Do you need planning permission for solar panels?’ is:
“No, not usually.“
Most domestic systems are installed on pitched roofs, well within any kind of building regulations, so they won’t be subject to planning permission.
Similarly, commercial installations on existing business buildings would usually come under ‘permitted developments’.
But, there are a few scenarios in which getting planning permission is essential, we will take a look at those, but first, let’s talk regulations.
Building Regulations for Solar Panels
When you embark on any kind of home improvement, whether it’s a new bathroom or an extension, you’ll need to be aware of building regulations.
While building regulations aren’t generally checked by anyone, not adhering to them will affect your home’s insurance, saleability and safety.
So, make sure any installation you have is by an MCS approved company and all the regulations are adhered to.
Solar panels should be no higher than the roof, meaning they must not stick out above the apex or ridge tiles.
They also shouldn’t overhang the side of the roof. In fact, they need to be fitted at least 15cm from the edge.
When will I need planning permission to fit solar panels?
As mentioned previously, planning permission for domestic solar panels is only needed in specialist cases.
Utility installations, and some commercial ones, are a completely different prospect and will need planning permission.
Interesting to note that between January 2021 and July 2022, planning on 23 solar farms was refused across England, Wales and Scotland.
The UK government was also rumoured to be placing bans on solar farms across the country.
Planning permission for solar panels on listed buildings
Before you even consider applying for permission to put panels on a listed building, you’ll need a ‘Listed Building Consent’ from your local council.
You will need this for any work on a listed building if the work affects the building’s character or alters anything of special architectural or historic interest.
You apply for this with the local planning authority, they will liaise with Historic England and the National Amenity Societies on certain listed building consent applications.
If listed building consent is granted, it may come with conditions such as: how much the solar panels project above the roof, how quickly they need to be removed at the end of their useful life, and the colour of the framework.
This is separate from any need for planning permission which must be gained AFTER The listed building consent.
Planning permission ground-based domestic solar panels
Not many people mount their solar panels on the ground due to floorspace and shading.
However, it’s a perfectly normal thing to do if the roof isn’t big, or strong, enough.
If you can get all the panels you need within a 9-metre square area, then you won’t need to get planning permission.
Always check the following though:
- The installation is no higher than four metres
- The installation is at least 5m from any boundaries
- It’s not installed within the boundary of a listed building
- If it’s in a conservation area, or on a World Heritage Site, it must not be visible from the road
- You can only have one standalone, ground mounted solar installation
Planning permission for solar panel on places of worship
PV systems can be installed in modern day places of worship without much problem.
However, if the building is listed, then you need to get permission from a denominational advisory committee or get listed building consent.
Some denominations are covered by Ecclesiastical Exemption if so, you will still need consent from the advisory committee.
The Ecclesiastical Exemption does not exclude the need for planning permission.
More information on listed places of worship can be found here.
Scheduled monument planning consent for solar panels
A scheduled monument is a site that is legally protected due to its historical importance.
Planning permission in relation to these sites must be granted by the current Secretary of State, not the local planning authority.
The Secretary of State will instruct Historic England to manage the process.
How birds and bats affect solar panel fitting
We are all aware that bats are protected, and you cannot disturb them, but this also applies to nesting birds.
Planning permission could be denied if bats or birds are present in your building.
Bats and their roosts, and all wild bird species along with their eggs and nests, are protected by law.
If you suspect you have any of our winged chums residing in your home, you must contact Natural England for advice about wildlife licences.
Birds can be worked around, depending on what species they are and when nesting season is.
But, even the simplest of PV system installations could disturb bats.
The Bat Conservation Trust Helpline provides advice for homeowners.
Planning for solar PV installs on commercial property.
Commercial solar isn’t solar farms of solar parks, it’s solar fitted on commercial buildings and land.
Much like domestic solar panels, there is no planning needed if the panels on the building comply with all the usual regulations.
- Can not project more than 200mm from the wall surface or roof slope
- Panels need to be situated at least 1m from the edges of the roof, or the wall joint, that they sit on
- With flat roof installations should protrude less than 1m from the roof surface and be lower than any other roof furniture
- As with domestic installation, a ground mounted array cannot be more than 9 metres square
- Ground mounted arrays must not be higher than 4 metres from the ground
- Again, you are only allowed 1 array without planning permission
In all cases these regulations apply to the PV panels only, any other equipment will need to be looked at separately.
Planning permission for utility solar panels or solar farms.
Now, your average solar farm is likely to be over 9 metres square, so they do need planning permissions.
Unfortunately, despite our 2030 Net Zero commitment, the road to building a solar farm is ‘beset by pats from the devils own satanic herd’ – as Captain Edmund Blackadder might say.
Planning for utilities is a devolved matter, so the law may differ between England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. In England they must adhere to the National Planning Policy Framework.
It’s also down to the Local Planning Authority to investigate and make their recommendations.
A few things that affect planning being granted for a solar farm are:
- Flood risk – no building of flood plains!
- Material considerations – NIMBYs and other local objections
- Use of land – good quality agricultural land will be considered inappropriate for solar
- Location – proximity of supply chain and infrastructure.