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Medway Council told to refuse own solar panel plan for 'historic' headquarters

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Medway Council has been told to it should refuse permission for its own plan to install solar panel on council offices.

Like all planning applications, Medway's scheme to put eight new panels on its headquarters in Gun Wharf, must go to the council's planning committee, which is due to meet on Wednesday, June 29.

Gun Wharf in Dock Road, Chatham Picture: Andy Payton
Gun Wharf in Dock Road, Chatham Picture: Andy Payton

But the scheme has been complicated by the council's own planning officers' recommendation to refuse permission, on the grounds the panels would be harmful to the Grade II listed building - a concrete and brick office block built in the late 1970s.

A report to the planning committee explains: "The proposed solar panels would introduce a modern, incongruous, and out of character feature to a prominent elevation of the Grade II listed building and therefore would be harmful to the architectural and historic significance of this building."

It adds that such harm is contrary to policies in the Medway Local Plan and sections of the National Planning Policy Framework 2021.

The new scheme would consist of a 41.4kWp roof mounted 'solar photovoltaic system' on the existing roof with an energy production of 42.9MWh per year to serve the energy requirements of Gun Wharf - a building which is said to account for 71% of council energy consumption.

The headquarters already has 26 sections of 15 solar panels on the south, east and west facing roofs of Gun Wharf, all of which are internally facing.

Solar panels. Stock image
Solar panels. Stock image

The reports adds: "Solar panel units currently exist at Gun Wharf and are installed within the internal facing roof slopes of the courtyards at higher levels, so that the visibility of these are restricted.

"It was the intention, that no other units were to be proposed as additional installations as they would start to have a negative effect on the character of the building in long views and that within the Brompton Lines Conservation Area.

"The proposed photovoltaic panels would be highly visible on the externally facing sloping roof on the south facing southern elevation of Gun Wharf. Due to the cumulative impact of the proposed panels and the fact that the roof slope elevation that they sit on is highly visible, it is considered that the proposal would result in the loss of the integrity of the original roof finish, materials, and its original design intention to this Grade II listed building.

"It is generally not considered sympathetic to a building's appearance to have a solar panel or other equipment fixed to its main elevations. Although not considered the principal elevation, the proposed panels would be visible from the car park, the public footpath leading down to the river, and from the riverside walk facing the building. The prominent siting and tiered roof formation of Gun Wharf also increases the visibility of the proposal."

The application also includes plans for 10 dual fast chargers to serve 20 parking spaces within the Gun Wharf car park, and for 'sustainable and ecological waterless urinals'.

Rainham Eco Hub, a group which works to tackle the climate emergency, said the application raised wider questions on the balance between protecting historic building while improving their green credentials.

Eco hub members Kayleigh Ward said: "Rainham Eco Hub is encouraged by the Council’s desire to introduce sustainable energy and the decision of the planning committee raises an important issue on the need to protect and preserve the heritage within our towns whilst dealing with a climate emergency. This isn’t just a local issue but one of national importance and we would encourage English Heritage to urgently invest in research on how we can make heritage sustainable."

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