Do you need planning permission for solar panels? It’s not as simple as you might think

We reveal when you might need planning permission for solar panels and when you can install them without it.

Solar panels are a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bills. That’s why more of us are looking to install solar panels on or near our homes. But before you go ahead and install them, do you need planning permission for solar panels?

We have the answers, because it’s not always a straightforward yes or no. Factors include your home’s location, whether it is listed, and whether you own a house, flat or maisonette. In many cases you won’t need full-on planning permission but you will need to follow the rules of permitted Development (PD), as we’ll explain.

Solar panel array on roof of a residential homeCredit: Shutterstock / Brian Clifford

Do I need planning permission for solar panels?

There are rules that mean you probably won’t need planning approval

Permitted development (PD) rights are a set of rules that allow you to make certain changes to your property without applying for planning permission. The good news is that current PD rights mean installing solar panels to the roof of your home will, in most cases, have been granted without having to seek planning approval. That’s one big tick.

But there are rules that you must adhere to. PD rights come with a set of strict criteria that apply to different renovation works. Installing solar panels has its own set.

What are the permitted development rules for solar panels?

There are some rules you must meet

The main caveat that you must meet to avoid the need for planning approval is that the solar panels must not protrude more than 20cm (8in) from the roof slope or the highest part of the roof.

Furthermore, the Government’s Planning Portal stipulates that there are a couple of conditions that should be observed but aren’t mandatory. These suggest solar panels should be positioned on a roof to avoid damaging the external appearance of the house and surrounding neighbourhood. Any solar panels that aren’t in use should be taken down as soon as is practical. However, these conditions aren’t rigorously checked.

Do my solar panels need to meet any building regulations?

Building regs are there for a reason

Even if you don’t need planning permission to install solar panels on your roof, this does not mean that you can ignore building regulations, which are separate from planning rules. Building regulations are there to ensure that your solar panels are safe, efficient and durable.

To comply with the building regulations for conservation of fuel and power, you need to ensure that your solar panels have a minimum energy performance rating of A+, and that they are installed by a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) accredited installer. Your installer or electrician will need to provide an electrical installation certificate and a commissioning report to building control to confirm that the system is safe and efficient.

Building regulations sign-off will be needed by building control. This is required for solar panels if they affect the structure or performance of the building. For example, you may need to check if your roof can support the additional weight and wind load of the panels, or if you need to upgrade your electrical system to meet the fire safety standards.

Who signs the work off?

Your local authority will have approved building control inspectors who can assess the work and sign it off. Alternatively, you can hire an independent approved building control officer or use a competent person scheme that allows installers to self-certify their work.

Either way, you will need to get a building control certificate to confirm the work is satisfactory and meets the regulations. ‘If you later sell your house, you will need to provide this to the new owners before the sale can go through,” says Exceptional’s homes editor-in-chief, Amy Cutmore.

When will I need planning permission for solar panels?

If you fall into one of the categories below you will need approval

PD rights for the installation of solar panels don’t apply to certain properties if it is:

  1. In a conservation area, a national park, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or a World Heritage Site.
  2. A listed building or within the curtilage of a listed building.
  3. Subject to an Article 4 direction. This is where some local councils remove or limit permitted development rights in their area which restricts what you can do without having to apply for planning permission.
  4. A flat or maisonette.
  5. Had its PD rights removed by a condition imposed with a previous planning consent.

In these circumstances, you will need to submit a planning application. If so, or if you are unsure if the above applies to you, you should contact your local planning authority. It would be wise to speak to them before installing, even if you are confident that you can do it under PD rights. A planning consultant can also offer advice, and can help with planning applications, if needed.

Don’t give up if you need planning

Even if you can’t use permitted development rights, don’t give up. I worked on a project recently to get solar panels approved in the garden of a beautiful old, listed building in Cornwall, and I’m working on another in the Cotswolds. The key to both has been to show how we can avoid negative impacts on the significance of the listed buildings. And, because of the climate crisis, most councils will look favourably on solar panels, so talk to a professional about how to get your solar panel project approved.

If you're a leaseholder…

Or a tenant, you will almost certainly need to seek permission from the freeholder or landlord to install solar panels on your home. 

How many solar panels can I install without planning permission?

There’s no limit as to how many you can install on the first installation

There is no specific limit on how many solar panels you can install without planning permission, as long as they do not exceed the size and position criteria mentioned above.

But what if you want to add more solar panels later on? Will you need permission? If you already have solar panels installed, you will need to check if the additional panels you want to add will still comply with the PD rules. Should they not, you will need to apply for planning permission for the whole installation, not just the new panels.

Installing solar panels in a garden

You can add a solar panel ground array

If you don’t have space on your roof, or the orientation of the roof makes installation a no-go, you can install solar panels in your garden, as a ground array. Of course, you’ll need to have the room to site them as there are PD conditions on size that apply.

For example, the solar panels will need to be at least 5m (16.5ft) from the boundary of the property. Also, no part of the installation can be higher than 4m (13ft). The array of solar panels can’t be more than 9 sq m (30 sq ft or 3m wide by 3m deep).

Can neighbours object to me installing solar panels on my roof?

Your neighbours can’t formally object but it’s a good idea to talk to them

If your solar panels do not require planning permission, your neighbours cannot formally object to them. Even if you do need to make a planning application, neighbours’ opinions don’t count a great deal in the decision-making process.

However, it is advisable to talk to your neighbours before starting the process. That’s because there’s still a chance they might be able to persuade the decision maker to look less favourably at your application. To this end, you may want to consider using low-profile or integrated solar panels that blend in with your roof tiles.

Can I install solar panels myself?

Getting a professional installation certificate is well worth it

The installation of solar panels is best left to the professionals. If you try and do it yourself, you may affect your eligibility for certain incentives and grants. Grants that can help you with the cost of solar panels include the Smart Export Guarantee or the Green Deal.

You may invalidate your home insurance or find it difficult to sell your property if you do not have a professional installation certificate. What’s more, you will still need to comply with building regulations and get a building control certificate after installing your solar panels. So it’s recommended that you use a qualified and accredited installer who can guarantee the quality and performance of your solar panels so that the work can be signed off.

Simon Rix

Written by Simon Rix he/him

Published:

Simon Rix is a professional planning consultant. He began his career working in local government in the 1990s. He was later an elected councillor, so he knows how the planning system works from both sides. He then went on to set up Planix.UK – a planning consultancy that advises on and helps people get planning permission.