The High Court has put measures that mitigate climate change, no matter how modestly, firmly on the map when it comes to planning decisions. Anybody planning to apply for permission to extend their residential property will have to carefully consider overshadowing effects on neighbouring solar panels.
In McLennan v Medway Council*, the High Court quashed a decision to grant planning permission for some improvement work on a residential property due to the overshadowing effect of that work on the neighbour’s solar panels.
Overshadowing neighbour’s solar panels
In 2018, the claimant’s neighbour applied for planning permission for the installation of dormer windows and a rear extension. In his detailed objection to the planning application, the claimant, McLennan, who is an engineer, stated:
“Not only will the direct sunlight … to the windows below the solar panels be significantly impaired but [so will] the performance of the entire solar energy system … [and that is] … contrary to targets and objectives outlined in the Medway Local Plan Sustainability Appraisal April 2018.”
Nevertheless, Medway Council granted the defendant planning permission. On the subject of interference with solar panels, the planning officer’s report concluded that it was not a material consideration because it involved a purely private interest and did not require public interest protection.
The claimant filed for, and was granted, judicial review of Medway Council’s decision on a number of grounds, including the issue of whether overshadowing of solar panels is a material planning consideration.
Overshadowing of solar panels is a material planning consideration
In coming to its decision, the High Court took into account not only the relevant legislation relating to climate change mitigation but also national and local policies on climate change.
In quashing Medway Council’s decision, the judge found, among other things, that the planning officer’s reasoning had been deficient because it failed to appreciate that interference with solar panels is a material planning consideration by reason of the part played by them (albeit modestly) in addressing climate change. That is, optimally functioning solar panels are not just a matter of private interest because they help to address climate change, which is in the public interest.
The High Court has put climate change considerations firmly on the map by clearly stating that efforts to mitigate climate change, via optimal functioning of solar panels, are material considerations when it comes planning permission decisions. Indeed, given the reasoning of the judge, it may be extrapolated that any main stream efforts to mitigate climate change might need to be considered when drawing up and approving plans.
While this case does not provide step by step guidance on the dos and don’ts of overshadowing solar panels, it does send a clear message that climate change must be considered in the planning process. Councils are now aware, and sensitive to this. Consequently, any plans for extensions should be designed with this in mind.
*McLennan v Medway Council & Anor  EWHC 1738 (Admin)
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