Harrogate council chiefs are set to overturn national planning guidelines to prevent properties overlooking the town’s Stray from installing solar panels, in a move critics say could have implications across the region.
The Yorkshire Post has learned that Harrogate Borough Council planning officers have compiled a report urging the new cabinet member for planning, transport and economic development Coun Alan Skidmore, to back proposals limiting development rights on properties facing on to the Stray.
In December, the coalition Government announced changes meaning planning permission is no longer required when installing solar panels on residential properties.
But the council’s move would mean hundreds of homes surrounding the 200-acre parkland, which was given to the people of Harrogate by King George III in 1778 and remains subject to an Act of Parliament preventing development, would have to seek special permission if they wished to install solar panels.
Coun Andy D’Agorne, leader of the Green group on neighbouring York Council, says the decision is a backwards step by Harrogate Borough Council at a time when many households are struggling to pay their energy bills.
“This clearly has implications for conservation areas elsewhere,” he said.
“Councils should be putting forward guidance for what are appropriate designs of solar panels.
“If people are prepared to invest in renewable energy, they must be encouraged to do so.
“We all obviously need to protect our heritage, but we do have to have a balance with trying to improve sustainability.
“This is a very short-sighted approach from Harrogate Borough Council. They should be looking at design guidance rather than just saying no.”
The council report, due before Coun Skidmore next week, was prompted by a recent application to install solar panels on a commercial premises on Raglan Street, which was opposed by the Harrogate Civic Society.
If agreed, the proposal to impose what is known as an Article 4 Direction, will then go before a Harrogate Borough Council planning committee for a formal decision to be made.
Henry Pankhurst, chair of the Harrogate Civic Society, said: “We do all want to see cheaper energy and an overall reduction in energy use.
“This does not mean to say that there will be no scope whatsoever for solar panels.
“It means that if they are to be allowed, you will have to apply for planning permission.
“This is not a blanket ban and we will not object to every single application.
“To protect what is valuable in terms of listed buildings and the conservation area, we have to be very careful.
“The Article 4 will only apply within the conservation area.”
Mr Pankhurst said the recent example of nearby St Mark’s Church, which in April installed 39 solar panels on its roof – the first church to do so in the Diocese of Ripon and Leeds – showed it could be done in an unobtrusive way.
Coun Skidmore said: “Following changes by the government to the general permitted development order in 2011, planning permission is no longer required when installing solar panels on residential properties.
“Officers are making recommendations under other planning powers to ensure the continued protection of this conservation area.
“I will be looking at their proposals on June 27 as the first part of the process but any formal decision would be made by the full planning committee.”