High Court Planning Decision Boosts the Fight Against Climate Change

The threat of climate change is playing an ever more important part in the formation of planning policy. A High Court case on point concerned a householder’s fear that his neighbour’s extension plans would block light from his domestic array of solar panels.

In direct sunlight, the panels attached to the south-facing wall of the householder’s property were capable of generating up to 11kW daily. He objected to his next-door neighbour’s plan for a rear extension on the basis that it would overshadow his micro-power plant, greatly reducing its output.

The local authority, however, granted consent for the extension on the basis that it would be in keeping with the character of the area and would cause only a negligible reduction in sunlight reaching the householder’s garden and living accommodation. The council found that loss of light to the panels only engaged the householder’s private rights and was irrelevant in planning terms.

In upholding the householder’s judicial review challenge to that decision, the Court ruled the council’s approach irrational. Although his solar panels made only a very modest contribution to the reduction of carbon emissions, the National Planning Policy Framework specifically recognised mitigation of climate change as a legitimate and material planning consideration.

The council had given no consideration to why the householder’s ability to use sunlight as an energy source fell into a different category from his ability to enjoy sunlight in his garden and living room. His case that the council had been wrong to treat his concerns as immaterial was in the circumstances unanswerable. The planning permission was quashed.