Roy Speer & Michael Dade: The green light?

Written by RLA

“Doing work on property under the Green Deal may not necessarily mean that the planners will be happy”…Roy Speer & Michael Dade examine lingering issues for landlords with Green Deal implementation.

The Government’s Green Deal is a way to make energy-saving improvements to a home without having to pay all the costs at the outset.

The sort of measures covered include insulation, such as in a loft or to walls, heating, draught-proofing, double-glazing and renewable energy – for example, solar panels or wind turbines.

There is a process that has to be followed: getting an assessment of the property to ascertain what improvements can be made and how much money could be saved on energy bills; finding a Green Deal provider to carry out the work; and signing up to a Green Deal Plan, which sets out work to be done and what it will cost in a contract with the provider who then arranges for a  Green Deal installer to do the work. Landlords must get a tenant’s permission before signing up and vice versa. When the work is done, the cost is paid off by the occupier, ie the tenant, in instalments through the electricity bill.

Planning permission

Just because the Government is making it easier for owners and occupiers to fund energy-saving measures, does not mean the requirements of the planning system have been lessened or simplified.

Some items of work envisaged for the Green Deal will not need planning permission because they are internal, such as loft insulation and draught-proofing.

Many aspects of minor external works to houses (not flats, maisonettes or HMOs) are covered by householder permitted development, which grants planning permission automatically within parameters and where certain conditions are met.

Any exterior work beyond the scope of permitted development would mean making a planning application to the council.

Solid walls

Where a house has cavity walls, insulation of the cavity is likely to be the cheapest and easiest way to improve insulation. Houses built before about 1920 will probably have solid, rather than cavity, walls.

Solid walls let twice as much heat escape as cavity walls but heating costs can still be reduced by applying insulation to the inside or outside of such walls. While insulation fixed on the inside reduces floor area, it will, at least, not need planning permission.

External insulation involves attaching a layer of insulation to the wall and covering it with some form of render or cladding. Some external cladding comes within permitted development but the matter is complicated.

Enlargements to the principal elevation of houses facing a public road or footpath are excluded from permitted development.

External cladding

Some councils considered cladding to constitute enlargement, meaning that solid wall insulation could not be applied to the front of many houses without a planning application. The Government issued a clarification of its view in January to the effect that solid wall insulation is deemed to be ‘improvement’ rather than ‘enlargement’ and thus not caught by this restriction.

However, that is not the end of the matter. There is a general restriction on external permitted development work which requires materials to be ‘of a similar appearance to those used in the construction of the exterior of the existing dwellinghouse’.

This provision in the regulations (whether it was the original intention or not) means that rendering or cladding over insulation would have to have a similar visual appearance as what was there before or is elsewhere on the building.

For properties in conservation areas, areas of outstanding natural beauty or national parks, there are no permitted development rights for external cladding consisting of stone, artificial stone, pebble dash, render, timber, plastic or tiles.

Improving windows

Like-for-like replacement of windows does not usually need planning permission and so this applies to flats, maisonettes and HMOs as well as houses. Secondary glazing does not require planning permission.

Permitted development usually allows the installation of new windows, including double-glazed units. This is subject to the same ‘similar appearance’ test mentioned above. In this respect, the Government’s technical guidance says that the important point is that they give a similar visual appearance to those in the existing house.

Under permitted development, any replacement window in a side elevation has to be obscure glazed and non-opening below 1.7 metres above floor level of the room. This applies even if there is no adjoining house which might be overlooked but would not apply to a like-for-like replacement which does not need planning permission.

Solar panels

Solar photovoltaic and thermal panels are likely to need planning permission, unless they are placed in a location which means they do not materially affect the external appearance of the building.

There are, though, permitted development rights for various types of domestic micro-generation equipment, including solar panels, which are available for houses, blocks of flats and buildings in the grounds of houses and flats. The criteria are that the panels must not protrude more than 200 millimetres beyond the wall or roof slope, be higher than the highest part of the existing roof or, in a conservation area, be fixed on a wall facing a public road or footpath.

Solar panels cannot be installed on a building in the immediate grounds of a listed building or on a scheduled monument. They are also supposed to be positioned to minimise their effect on the external appearance of the building and on the amenity of the area, and have to be removed when no longer needed. There is a separate permitted development right for free-standing solar systems in the grounds of houses and flats, subject to various height and location criteria.

Beyond solar, permitted development rights exist for other forms of domestic micro-generation equipment at houses and flats. These include building-mounted and free-standing wind turbines, ground source heat pumps, water source heat pumps and air source heat pumps.

Article 4 Directions

Councils can remove permitted development rights in a location, eg, conservation area, by making an Article 4 Direction, or for a particular property by imposing a condition on a planning permission. Most work (internal or external) on a listed building needs separate listed building consent. Remember too that some work, internal and external, could require building regulations consent, which is a completely separate regime to planning.

Since the rules can be complicated and open to interpretation, it is worth checking with the council whether a planning application needs to be made, before undertaking any external work.

If the council says an application is not required, get it confirmed in writing, by letter or email, although the formal way is a lawful development certificate, which necessitates an application to the council.

Street scene

Just because energy-saving work is beyond the scope of permitted development, and so requires a planning application, does not mean the council is likely to refuse permission. In many cases, the main issue with such development is the impact on the appearance of the building in its setting. In a street of uniform brick-built Victorian houses, cladding the front of one with rendered insulation might not be accepted. Positioning solar panels or a wind turbine high up or on a prominent part of a building could result in a similar response.

Even though you are proposing desirable environmentally-friendly measures, the council will not allow that to override all other planning considerations.

Discuss the work with the council (where it allows pre-application access to planning officers) when ascertaining whether you need to make an application, and ask the officer if the proposal is likely to be approved, and what, if any, revisions could help make it more acceptable.

The Green Deal could be a worthwhile scheme for property owners but the somewhat convoluted planning consequences do need to be taken into account.

As far as planning is concerned, to quote Kermit the frog, ‘it isn’t easy being green’.

Roy Speer and Michael Dade are planning consultants with particular expertise in self-build and advising landlords. They are also authors of ‘How to Get Planning Permission’. For further information, email roy@speerdade.co.uk or visit their website: speerdade.co.uk

About the author



The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) represents the interests of landlords in the private rented sector (PRS) across England and Wales. With over 23,000 subscribing members, and an additional 16,000 registered guests who engage regularly with the association, we are the leading voice of private landlords. Combined, they manage almost half a million properties.


  • I’m afraid it looks like the Green Deal is going to be a damp squib as regards wall insulation for anyone with a property that has any degree of “character”, which means many of the solid-wall period properties the policy aims to meet.

    The trouble, in my experience so far, is that Green Deal providers are requiring homeowners to accept very simple facades: for external work, they will just slap up blocks of insulated white-rendered walls around the property, with no consideration for any decorative brickwork, quoins, stone windowsills and so on. The result is just a white-rendered boxy building, with a complete loss of character. They also require the use of cement rather than lime-based renders, meaning the walls can no longer “breathe”, and which will lead to long-term damage to the wall structure unless the owner introduces a ventilation system as well.

    The proposed internal wall insulation is a little better, but they still expect homeowners to lose all decorative features such as taller skirting boards, cornices, moulded plasterwork. They also don’t “do” fireplaces or bay windows, so the studwork and insulation will only be installed on certain walls in a typical Victorian room. Instead of a chimney breast with reveals either side suitable for bookcases, the homeowner will be left with the existing uninsulated chimney breast in the centre and strange shallow reveals either side – and the task of sourcing and fixing the skirting boards because the insulation company will only use modern materials from an extremely-limited range. There’s no imagination, no finesse, no attempt to engage with the homeowner, whom they regard with a cynical eye as only interested in the ECO grant and a quick slapped-up solution. It’s all extremely disappointing and displays a completely cavalier attitude.

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