Schools, businesses and farm buildings will no longer need planning permission for solar panels following an announcement by Environment Minister Alex Attwood. The change came into effect on 30 April and applies to solar panels with capacities up to 50kW. The developments must be minor and non-contentious. Households are already free to install solar panels without planning permission.
“This is a good boost for a cleaner, greener Northern Ireland,” Attwood stated. “It is also little appreciated that much of Northern Ireland is in a ‘solar belt’ where the quality of light and sun makes commercial solar feasible. I want to see domestic and commercial solar [energy] grow.”
The Skainos Square development, owned by the East Belfast Mission, included solar panels at the design stage of the project. Its facilities manager, Trevor Dornan, said: “Solar energy makes sense for the environment and for our business. We have reduced electricity and heating bills and harnessing the sun’s energy fits with our organisation’s overall green aims to reduce, reuse and recycle.” Removing the need for planning permission will make the process “easier, quicker and more economical.”
The proposal is contained in the Planning (General Development) (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2013. The exemption also applies to biomass boilers and fuel stores, ground and water source heat pumps, and small developments undertaken by utilities and public bodies.