Solar panes vision for all new homes in Northumberland falls flat

Planning viability rules and practical concerns have scuppered a call for all new-build homes in Northumberland to be fitted with solar panels.

By Ben O'Connell
Friday, 31st July 2020, 9:17 pm
Updated Sunday, 2nd August 2020, 5:21 pm
Stock image of solar cells on a roof. From Pixabay
Stock image of solar cells on a roof. From Pixabay

Northumberland County Council declared a climate emergency last year and has been developing its climate action plan ever since.

As part of this drive to reduce emissions, a petition, signed by 112 people, had called on the county council to require all new houses to be built with solar photovoltaic panels installed.

It stated that the impacts of such a change would be the ‘reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as the solar will generate roughly the same amount of electricity used within the homes (not counting electrical heating), the creation and protection of jobs in solar installation companies within the region, and the reduction of electricity bills for homeowners of approximately £300/year/home’.

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However, at the Thursday, July 30, meeting of the county council’s petitions committee, director of planning Rob Murfin explained that the problem with this approach was how it affected the viability of house-building, something which is a key part of Government planning law.

“We do share the desire to roll out sustainable construction methods across the county,” he said. “But we do have to convince the Government, via the Planning Inspectorate, that whatever additional requirements we put on above national requirements are viable.

“We have to check that the total shopping list will not affect the viability of developments.”

He added that solar PV panels may not always be the most suitable or best value-for-money option and that the council’s ‘policy approach is to look for opportunities wherever they come up’.

Members of the committee accepted this point and also raised concerns about the practical impacts of a blanket approach.

Referring to ever-improving technology, the petitions committee chairman, Cllr Richard Dodd, said: “I do sympathise and I do think it will be the way to go when we are ready to go forward.”

Mr Murfin added: “Not doing it is about practicalities now rather than a long-term approach.”

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