A High Court Judge has halted a proposed house extension in Kent after a neighbour claimed it would block light to his solar panels in a landmark case that rules ‘climate change is a legitimate planning issue’.

The resident who says his neighbour’s extension plans will block light from his solar panels won their court case to stop the project.

In a ruling that broke new legal ground, a judge said William McLennan’s solar panels demand respect as a small contribution to the fight against climate change.

Mr McLennan generates power from an array of solar panels on the south-facing wall of his home in Rochester, Kent. And he fiercely objected when his next-door neighbour, Ken Kennedy, sought planning permission for a rear extension, complete with dormer window.

Mr McLennan said the extension would ‘overshadow’ his mini-solar energy plant, which generates up to 11Kw of power per day in direct sunlight. But Medway Council granted permission in December last year, saying the loss of light to the solar panels was irrelevant in planning terms.

But now, in a ruling which will send shockwaves through the planning system, Mr Justice Lane has overturned the council’s ‘irrational’ decision. The judge acknowledged that Mr McLennan’s panels only make a ‘very modest’ contribution to reducing carbon emissions. But, overturning the permission, he added “Mitigation of climate change is a legitimate planning consideration”.

Mr McLennan said the shadow cast by the extension would ‘severely degrade the power output’ of his micro-energy generation system.

But the council said that was a purely ‘private’ matter between him and Mr Kennedy and was not a ‘material planning consideration.’ The extension would be in keeping with the area and would have no major impact on sunlight reaching Mr McLennan’s garden or living rooms.

But Mr McLennan insisted that the fight against climate change by promoting renewable energy sources is in the public interest and not merely a private matter.

Upholding his challenge, the Judge described as ‘irrational’ the council’s view that loss of light to the panels was not a relevant planning issue.

Mr McLennan, he added, had “an unanswerable case” the council was “not entitled to reject as immaterial” his complaints about overshadowing of his panels.

‘Interference with the solar panels is a material planning consideration by reason of the part played by them in addressing, however modestly, on an individual scale, issues of climate change,’ the judge ruled.

Mr McLennan had more than a “purely private interest” in the efficiency of his solar panels and it made no difference that they only served a single home. ‘They make a contribution to the reduction in reliance on non-renewable energy,’ said the judge.

‘The fact that, viewed on their own, they do so in a very modest way does not entitle the council to treat the matter as immaterial. Mr McLennan had raised issues that required – but did not receive – proper consideration by the council”.

The council granted a second, modified, planning permission for Mr Kennedy’s extension in May this year and that remains extant.

But the judge’s ruling that the council’s approach to the solar panels issue was wrong paves the way for Mr McLennan to challenge that permission as well.

16 June 2019