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"Grand Designs'" victory for Hackney eco-warriors

PUBLISHED: 16:07 03 May 2011 | UPDATED: 12:38 05 May 2011

Homeowners in a De Beauvoir conservation area have won their legal battle to keep the solar panels on their roof.

Robert Cohen and Bronwen Manby who live in Culford Road are “relieved and delighted” that Hackney Council’s Planning Inspectorate ruled that the panels - which cost £10k - can stay.

The couple appealed against a council enforcement notice telling them to take them down after complaints from neighbours that the panels – a different design to those the couple obtained planning permission for - were ugly.

After a green-makeover, energy use in the house – which featured in Channel 4’s Grand Designs magazine – was cut by 80 per cent, through the use of the solar power electricity and super-tight insulation.

Annual energy bills were reduced from £1,300 to zero.

After a hearing last month, a planning inspector has decided that although the panels do not enhance the conservation area, they are not a big deal compared to alterations the council already allowed to the house.

He added that there is public benefit in mitigating the effects of climate change but said the case did not set a precedent.

“This case demonstrates the difficulty that can emerge from time to time when trying to balance the need to safeguard our historic environment and encourage greater use of renewable energy,” said council spokeswoman.

Energy consultant Robert and Bronwen believe their case is of national importance, given that the government’s pledge to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2015.

“The bottom line is the benefits outweigh the disadvantages, and I think it’s helpful for the future of solar power, as it says in theory a decision does not create a precedent - but in practice it does, even if it’s not cast in stone,” said Robert.

“Fundamentally, we all have to drastically reduce our energy consumption ... and conservation areas can’t be excluded from that,” added Bronwen.

“In so far as there is an impact to our neighbours, which we regret, that harm is much less than the benefit those panels are contributing to this house, De Beauvoir and the planet - and pretty much every house in the richer world is going to have to follow suit.”

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