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PCC of St Luke’s, West Holloway, and Victorian Society reach compromise over solar panels

31 December 2021

St Luke's, West Holloway

St Luke’s, West Holloway, in north London

St Luke’s, West Holloway, in north London

THE Victorian Society has agreed a compromise with the PCC of St Luke’s, West Holloway, over the PCC’s proposals for the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Grade II listed church.

The Vicar of St Luke’s, in north London, the Revd John Mackenzie, complained last month that, at a time when a climate emergency had been declared, the Society was standing in the way of efforts to reach net zero emissions, after it had expressed the opinion that the panels on the nave roof would be too prominent in the position that had been proposed (News, 12 November).

“It was a reaction from the Victorian Society and other amenity groups that I have experienced in this church and in previous churches who want to say ‘No’ as their first response,” he said.

“I believe these societies have undue power in the planning system. They don’t seem to include in their terms of reference the situation we find ourselves in. They seem more concerned with preserving the past than addressing the future.”

But the Society’s senior conservation adviser, James Hughes, said: “It might be nice to have that power occasionally, but we are not in a position to stop anything. It is not our experience that single-issue groups like ours have excessive influence with planning authorities — often, it can be the opposite.”

The Society’s opinion is among the advice considered by the diocesan advisory committee (DAC) when it considers whether to support an application to the Chancellor of the diocese (London, in this instance) for a faculty. “We and the DAC can only advise,” Mr Hughes said. “The only person who can direct is the Chancellor, who has to take into account everyone’s views and make a decision.

Historic buildings are as much about the future as the past; we don’t preserve them to preserve the past: we preserve them for future generations to appreciate and to learn from, and to better understand where they come from, who they are, and the places they live in.

“We are not by any means opposed to solar panels in principle. Like everybody, we recognise absolutely the increasing urgency of needing to address the climate crisis, and we recognise that solar panels can be an important way of doing that.

“But, with solar panels, there is the issue of invisibility. To make them most useful they should be on a south-facing roof, which, in many cases, is a very prominent roof. We and the parish have to consider the significance of the building, and the roof they are putting them on.”

Panels should be the last element of a package of works to reduce a carbon footprint, he said. “There also is the embodied carbon to think about. Yes, it will produce green energy, but a certain amount of energy goes into creating and installing them.

“We have to be wary of parishes that come forward with solar-panel proposals when they have not considered replacing an inefficient boiler, or draft proofing, insulation, or secondary glazing. Also, we often find ourselves complaining about the quality of documentation with applications. Often, they don’t do the parishes justice; they don’t make their case very well.

“In St Luke’s case, it turns out that they have done all sorts of other things, and have presented it as quite clearly the final solution. The C of E has statutory guidance on solar panels, and we very much endorse that. Parishes could do well to go through that, but it is quite clear that they and even DACs are not always aware of it.”

The Society has now said that it will support St Luke’s proposals, if the panels are placed on a lower aisle roof, and traditional Welsh slates are use in re-roofing, instead of Spanish ones originally suggested.

Mr Hughes said: “I think St Luke’s felt they were at loggerheads with us, but it was a misconstruction of the situation. There was a series of consultations, and, where we do raise concerns, it is not because we are fundamentally opposed: it’s just that we think it can be achieved in a more sympathetic manner.”

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