July 23rd, 2019
An Bord Pleanála has overturned a decision from Limerick City and County Council that blocked a resident from covering her roof with solar panels.
In a landmark decision on an appeal from Elzbieta Joanna Pasinska of Gouldavoher Estate in Doradoyle, An Bord Pleanála has overruled its Inspector decision and permitted the development of a 21 panel array.
In May 2017, Ms Pasinska installed the 21 panels on her roof without realising that planning permission is required for panels that take up more than 12 square metres – seven panels – or 50 per cent of the roof area.
The mother of three young girls applied for permission for retention, stating that 21 panels were required to meet her home’s energy requirements. she argued that she would need to supplement power needs with fossil fuels if she were only allowed to keep seven panels installed.
Her application was refused by the council, with the Board siding with the council’s decision on appeal. In her decision, senior planning inspector Mary Kennelly said that the “scale and extent” of the panels would affect the townscape and character of the estate.
She said that the cumulative effect of additional roof slopes being covered by PV panels in the estate would likely “further alter the character” of the estate and result in “visual disharmony and clutter”.
Ms Kennelly added that no alternatives were considered such as free-standing arrays, or any evidence provided that glint and glare would not be “give rise to detriment to residential amenity”.
The Inspector concluded that the solar array installation would “fail to encourage a high-quality living environment” and would thus not be in accordance with the County Development Plan or Local Area Plan.
In line with proper planning
In its decision issued earlier this month, however, the Board determined that the rooftop panel array would not seriously injure the visual and residential amenities of property in the vicinity.
“The Board considered that the development proposed to be retained would not be visually obtrusive, would not give rise to nuisance from glint and glare, would not seriously injure the visual or residential amenities of the area, and would not establish an undesirable precedent,” the decision reads.
Therefore, the Board said, Ms Pasinska’s solar array would be in accordance with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area.
Ms Pasinska said that she was delighted with the decision after a two and a half year battle to keep the panels. “I can now look in the eyes of my three girls and say that I was following what I believed in, and that is an important lesson for them”.
Last September, Ms Pasinska also contested enforcement proceedings in the Limerick District Court brought by the council for not removing the panels. She told the court that she had removed 14 panels after she was informed by a member of the council’s planning department that this would bring the development in line with regulations.
She told the court that she was forced to burn fossil fuels in order to heat her home after removing the panels and also challenged a €900 bill from the council for the cost of inspecting her house and for issuing the enforcement notice.
Several environmental groups, including Friends of the Irish Environment, Friends of the Earth Ireland, and An Taisce, sent in submissions to the Board in support of Ms Pasinska, arguing that restrictive planning rules are preventing the growth of solar energy in Ireland.
Ian Lumley of An Taisce said that the case caused “widespread concern in impeding the advancement of rooftop solar PV”. The Board’s decision, he said, sets an “important precedent” for accommodating domestic roof installations in the national housing stock outside of architectural heritage protected areas.
Tony Lowes of Friends of the Irish Environment added that the decision means that the Minister for Housing and Planning, Eoghan Murphy TD, should now amend the planning regulations “without delay” via secondary legislation.
“We have a vast and immediately available untapped potential for renewable energy in our rooves alone that the Planning Board has now made clear is compatible with residential amenities,” he added.
Kate Ruddock of Friends of the Earth agreed that the “current overly restrictive planning rules” need to change fast as they are not working for sustainable energy on homes and for schools and community buildings, where the rules are even stricter.
At present, schools need to apply for planning permission to install even one solar panel. “We need to see more people, communities, farms and businesses enabled to take part in this transition away from fossil fuels,” Ms Ruddock added.