The INQ secured a grant from the DTI to plaster solar panels across the south facing roof of our HQ earlier this year, which will deliver more electricity than the entire building needs in a year, allowing us to sell the rest to the National Grid.
But the small print in the grant said it was important to check with the local council to see whether planning permission was necessary. When we called Harrow Council it didn't appear to have a clue about solar panels and has no policy on it.
That was confirmed by local councillor Thaya Idaikkadar, writing in the Harrow Times: "Harrow Council has absolutely no advice notes or systems in place to help residents wanting to install solar panels and/or wind turbines in their homes, thereby hoping both to save energy and to fight global warning."
The engineer - who would have fitted the panels to the INQ roof last week if it wasn't for the delay - said: "If the house is not listed and not in a conservation area you shouldn't need to go through planning permission." He pointed to this guidance released by the UK government.
But that advice obviously hasn't filtered through to the local bureaucrats. Idaikkadar, who is a member of the planning committee at the council, told the INQ that Harrow encouraged people to apply for a certificate of proposed lawful development but that fees apply which depend on the value of the work. The London District Surveyors Association is mulling over the matter, while the time limits on the grants from the DTI tick away. Originally, installation on roofs was considered to be exempt from Building Regulations Control by Harrow Council.
"We are very concerned that the planning costs plus the cost of the equipment is very expensive for the least well off and might deter them," said Idaikkadar in his letter to the Harrow Times.
But the engineer contracted to fit the panels had a more robust view. "Planning officers sometimes just don't know what they're meant to do so take the safest and easiest (for them) option," he said.
He added that local councils in the UK varied in their approach to solar panels - some were enlightened while others were in the dark. Meanwhile we're still in the dark as we try to penetrate Harrow's byzantine corridors and cloisters. µ
*INQBLOT The London Borough of Harrow has over two hundred thousand people in its care.
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