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Richmond Council says 'no' to solar panels

Church with solar panelsWe are deeply disappointed to announce that planning officials at Richmond Council have recommended that an application for solar panels on our new roof be rejected. The Church has been fundraising to replace its roof for several years now and we are hoping to start work next Easter. A key part of our plans were a bank of solar panels on the sunny Station Road side of the building. The church congregation wanted to make a positive contribution to tackling the climate crisis, and use their necessary building work as a chance to make their building as green as possible. However, Council officials unexpectedly turned down the application last week, stating that the panels would have “a major adverse visual impact on the character of the conservation area”. 

The Minister of the Church, Rev’d Geoffrey Farrar, writes: “The congregation is stunned and deeply disappointed by this extremely negative response. The panels would be on the road side of the building, not the Common side, and would be invisible to nearly everyone passing by. We love our historic building but responding to the devastating threat of climate change must take priority. The irony was that we received the e-mail from the Council in the same week as millions of people took to the streets across the world, demanding action. Even Richmond Council has declared a climate crisis and is preparing to hold a climate change summit. This cannot be the right decision.” The Church is now trying to overturn the officials' recommendation and have the matter reviewed. 

How to help: Please consider contacting your local councillor to ask for this decision to be changed. We have written to all the councillors in Barnes, the Leader of the Council, our MP and the Mayor of London.

The full text of our letter may be read below:


Dear Councillor,

Barnes Methodist Church Building Project

I am writing on behalf of Barnes Methodist Church Council to ask you to intervene in a serious planning matter relating to proposed building work at the church. 

As you may be aware, for several years we have been raising funds to replace the roof on our building, which is now over 110 years old. We are now in the position to proceed with our plans and have developed a scheme that will secure the building’s future as a community asset. Specifically, it will:

  • replace the leaky and now dangerous 113-year-old slate roof;
  • install solar panels to create green electricity;
  • install much-needed insulation to reduce the church’s carbon footprint; 
  • adapt a downstairs room to make a more flexible, inviting welcome space; and
  • install sound insulation and comfort cooling to make the main hall more fit for purpose.

We have appointed an architect and hope to begin the work shortly after Easter next year. More details of what is proposed may be found on our website.

You will note that a significant element of this scheme is to reduce our church’s carbon footprint and to become a source of green energy. This reflects the commitment of the Methodist Church nationally, and our congregation locally, to be part of the solution to the global climate crisis that we are facing, and to witness to the sanctity of God’s creation. We believe we share these values and this vision with our local community, regardless of faith. 

We were, therefore, dismayed to be informed last week by Mr Jim Thomson, Planning Officer for Richmond and Wandsworth, that he would recommend in the strongest terms that our application to install solar panels be rejected by the Council. He stated that the Church’s “aspiration to reduce its carbon footprint is to be applauded and is consistent with the Council’s Local Plan policy LP 22”. However, he went on to note that the church is a Building of Townscape Merit (BTM) set in the Barnes Green Conservation Area. He stated that:

The addition of a significant number of proposed PV panels to the south western roof slope would significantly alter the architectural character of the building and be in conflict with it. These additions would also be highly damaging to the wider character of the conservation area as the roof is seen from a number of public viewpoints.

The proposal has been reviewed by my Conservation colleagues and we conclude that the proposals would result in significant harm to the roof of a landmark BTM in a prominent location and would have a major adverse visual impact on the character of the conservation area in one of the oldest areas of Barnes Village.

As it stands, it is proposed to recommend refusal as the proposals would conflict with Local Plan policies LP 1, LP3, LP 4 and LP 5, as well as sections 193-197 of the National Planning Policy Framework (2019).

While we recognise that we have a responsibility to preserve the historic building that has been bequeathed to us, as a congregation we feel very strongly that this is an extremely short-sighted decision. Its timing was especially ironic, given that it came in the same week as the global day of action against the climate crisis, which brought millions of people onto the streets across the world. We also note that Richmond Council itself declared a climate emergency in July and is currently planning its own climate change summit. Surely this cannot be the right decision in this global and national context. Even Mr Thomson, when pressed, admitted that there seemed to a “potential tension between our sustainability and conservation policies”. 

We would further ask you to note the following:

  • there were no recorded objections to our planning application from local residents, and nor have we received adverse comments ourselves, despite displaying the plans for some months (including at Barnes Fair) and advertising our intentions locally.
  • the solar panels will be on the Station Road side of the building, not the Common side.
  • the panels will be set into the roof, not on top of the tiles, and will be barely seen by passers-by. 
  • the building is very attractive and we are very proud of it, but it is not listed and it is certainly not unique in London.
  • there are now numerous churches across the UK with solar panels, including a number of Grade 1 and 2 listed buildings.

Please could we ask you to intervene on this matter at the earliest possible opportunity, and seek for the application to be called into planning committee. 

I would be delighted to meet with you at any time to discuss this matter further, if it would be helpful.

Rev’d Geoffrey Farrar