Homeowners get green light for 'eyesore' wind turbines
Micro-generation is no longer just for the rich
Sunday June 25, 2006
The government is to sweep away planning restrictions so that millions of homeowners can put wind turbines and solar panels on their houses.
In a move likely to spark controversy over whether such 'micro-technologies' are an eyesore that could ruin the residential landscape, ministers will announce within 10 days proposals that mean homeowners will no longer need planning permission to install renewable energy technologies on their homes.
Micro-generation is seen by the government and environmental experts as having an important role in the country's energy mix. Research by the Energy Saving Trust suggests micro-generation could provide 30-40 per cent of the UK's electricity needs by 2050.
But turning your home into a mini-power station has until now largely been the preserve of the well-off. Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt, Darryl Hannah, Salma Hayek and Sir Ian McKellen have all installed solar panels or wind turbines at their homes. At upwards of £3,000, plus the expense of applying for planning consent, such energy-saving devices do not come cheap.
Many local authorities insist householders apply for planning consent. 'It is patently absurd that you should be able to put a satellite dish on your house but have to wrestle with the planning process for small-scale micro-generation, which is no more obtrusive and can have a real impact on tackling climate change,' Yvette Cooper, the planning minister, told The Observer
'We want much more micro-generation to be treated as permitted development. We are reviewing the impact of a wide range of technologies so we can take account of things such as the impact on neighbours or listed buildings before consulting on details later this year.'
Gideon Amos, director of the Town and Country Planning Association, welcomed government plans: 'We're moving into an era of localised renewable energy. Current planning regulations were designed for a different era.'
But concerns persist that the urban landscape will be disfigured by a surge of wind turbines and solar panels. A spokesman for English Heritage said: 'We recognise the importance of finding new sustainable sources of energy but we also recognise that some renewable energy technologies have the potential to cause serious damage.'
The Conservative leader, David Cameron, will find out within two weeks whether his 1.1 meter Stealthgen wind turbine - a relatively small installation - has been approved by Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council. Cameron has run into an embarrassing dispute with neighbours, who have registered their opposition to his attempt to go green.
Barbara Want, who is married to Radio 4 presenter Nick Clarke, is one of several neighbours on the St Quentin estate in north Kensington to have objected to Cameron's plans, calling them 'an eyesore'. She said of the government's proposals: 'I hope they exempt conservation areas. If they allow this sort of thing, it means there's one rule for those who can afford to go green and another for the rest of us who can't.' Britain still lags behind many other European countries when it comes to micro-generation. In 2004, Austria - a country of eight million people - installed the equivalent of 50,000 domestic solar hot water systems. The UK has fewer than 6,000.
Since the government introduced a new grant system for micro-generation, interest has been so strong that the annual £3.5m budget will last only five months if take-up rates continue.