The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is the first council in the country to introduce a new listed building consent order, giving consent for solar panels on most Grade II and Grade II* listed buildings, without the need for individual listed building consent.
Kensington and Chelsea have many listed buildings (over 4000) in the borough, of which around 70 per cent are in a conservation area. These listed buildings require listed building consent before solar panels can be installed. This means owners of listed buildings were required to gain individual listed buildings consent if they wanted to install solar equipment.
This made it difficult and expensive for homeowners to install solar panels, making it an unrealistic choice for many people.
The Council introduced a Local Listed Buildings Consent Order, now residents of Grade II and most Grade II* listed buildings no longer need to apply for individual consent to install solar panels. There are conditions about the positioning, materials and fixings that can be used, protecting the appearance and fabric of listed buildings, requiring a simple application to the Council.
Applications for listed building consent are free, although processing them still requires officer time. For the Council this means that for a relatively small amount of effort up front they will free their specialist heritage officers for other, more complex, applications with no loss of income.
Residents will be saved the time and expense of preparing a full application for listed building consent. They will normally be able to get sign-off of the details using the information provided by their solar equipment installers.
The Council hopes that this policy will encourage more residents to consider solar as an energy source, helping them to meet their 2040 net zero target for the whole borough.
How is the new approach being sustained?
The Council is keen to promote take-up of this measure and will be providing information, including design advice for residents, intended to encourage its use. Development management officers have already been briefed on the Order and will be receiving more detailed training to help them in signing off the details.
This is a new venture, and they will be monitoring its take-up and effectiveness, to be published in an annual report. The Order can be modified to respond to changing circumstances, such as technological improvements. The Council will ensure that it remains effective in enabling the take up of renewable energy while continuing to protect the borough’s historic buildings.
Measures such as this Order (and the similar Heritage Partnership Agreements) are sometimes characterised as requiring too much time and resource in preparation to justify their use. The Council has found that the preparation of the Order to be a relatively straightforward and rapid process. While they are looking for high levels of take up, even moderate take up would represent a proportionate use of resources.
The predominantly nineteenth century character of the borough means that they can be confident that most listed buildings will be capable of accommodating solar panels without harm to their special interest. Given the form and character of the historic environment in London it is likely that there will be other boroughs in which there will be at least large numbers, if not all, of their listed buildings capable of accommodating similar adaptations without harm.
The public consultation revealed strong support from those residents who responded, and from local conservation societies. This suggests a strong public appetite for measures such as this.