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DAC blocks solar-panels plan for church roof in West Holloway

12 November 2021

The Victorian Society has objected, saying that there is not a strong enough justification

Stefano Cagnoni

The Vicar of St Luke’s, West Holloway, in London, the Revd John Mackenzie

The Vicar of St Luke’s, West Holloway, in London, the Revd John Mackenzie

A FACULTY to install solar panels on the roof of St Luke’s, West Holloway, in London, has been blocked by the diocesan advisory committee (DAC) after an objection from the Victorian Society.

The application, which includes repairs to the church roof, was filed by the Vicar of St Luke’s, the Revd John Mackenzie, in 2019, but the process has been delayed by the pandemic. Faculties require consultation with the relevant statutory authorities. In this case, because the church is Victorian, this includes the Victorian Society, which campaigns to protect buildings from that era.

Mr Mackenzie said on Tuesday: “We are committed to reaching the Church of England’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Heat and power make up a huge proportion of the church’s carbon emission. We want to put some PV panels on our south-facing church roof, which is hidden from the road and can only be seen by six houses from the next street.”

The Victorian Society has objected, however, on the grounds that “the church is a significant Grade II listed building by the architect Charles Leem” with an “imposing street presence”, and that there is not a strong enough justification for “visible and intrusive” panels.

Mr Mackenzie said: “We really feel quite angry about this, as both the Church and the DAC have declared a climate emergency, and we feel [the solar panels] would go a long way towards caring for our Victorian church, keeping it relevant to those around us, and becoming net zero by 2030. We feel that the climate emergency should take precedence over any negative aesthetic.”

In an email to Mr Mackenzie in July, the interim churches conservation adviser for the Society, Connor McNeill, writes that, while the Society respects the desire to meet the C of E’s aim of net-zero carbon by 2030, “this is not a satisfactory justification and it must be recognised that if it were, it could justify any proposals, however damaging to a building’s significance.”

His written objection goes on to say that “smaller and simpler solutions, many of which could address the average parish’s carbon footprint” were preferable.

“Given the expense of solar panels and the undeniably intrusive nature of their installation on a listed building, the Society would expect to see evidence that the parish has undertaken the basic solutions outlined in the Church Buildings Council’s checklist. . . While the Society recognises that the south-aisle roof would be the most sensible place to install solar panels from a purely technical point, the photograph of a similar installation at St Augustine’s church makes it clear that they would be visible and intrusive.”

Mr McNeill concludes: “With a church whose significance has already been harmed by internal alteration yet retains a reasonably intact exterior — and makes such a noble contribution to the local built environment — the proposals would further undermine the significance of the building and erode its status and positive contribution as a prominent landmark building.

“While the Society appreciates and supports the parish’s aims, we cannot accept the introduction of solar panels, at least not until a more robust justification is provided.”

Should the Society continue to object, Mr Mackenzie said that he was willing to take the process through the consistory court as far as church funds allowed. “That is a very lengthy and expensive legal process,” he said. “What we would want is for the Society to not make an objection as their first response without putting it into the context of the climate emergency.”

He continued: “The Church of England has hundreds of acres of south-facing roof spaces at its disposal because of the way churches are built, and we could show our communities that we take seriously the climate emergency . . . and put our money and efforts to tackling this. I don’t see why we should have to hide these PV panels from our communities.”

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