Solar Panel Plan for King’s College Chapel Roof Opposed
HISTORIC ENGLAND has strongly objected to plans to install solar panels on the roof of King’s College Chapel.
The iconic, 15th century building is Grade I listed and best known as the location of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols broadcast on Christmas Eve to millions of viewers and listeners globally, as well as attracting thousands of visitors each year.
Part of the University of Cambridge campus, King’s College Chapel also leads daily worship, and hosts student graduations and choral concerts.
The roof of the chapel now needs replacing. As part of the replacement, Kings College want to install solar panels in order to generate their own 106,000 kWh/pa of electricity, saving around £20k in energy bills and 23 tonnes of carbon a year, and to help meet zero carbon targets.
The 300 ft roof has two pitches facing north and south covered in lead. It is plain in its design being largely invisible from the ground and most surrounding perspectives. It is supported on a timber structure and boards.
Temporary repairs have been made to the roof for the last three years to stop leaks from the splits and slips in the leadwork.
The plans to install a 492 solar PV array on the roof of the chapel were first proposed in 2021.
Although a listed building, the chapel is nominally under the jurisdiction of the Church and has to secure consent from it. However, in practice the Church has consulted with Cambridge City Council Conservation Officer and other authorities involved, including the Greater Cambridgeshire Planning Authority, SPAB and Historic England.
Historic England’s Opposition
Despite approval from the Planning Officer, Historic England has made significant objections to the proposed solar installation, centering on their impact on the appearance of the Chapel roof.
A Historic England Inspector said the solar panels would “harm the Chapel’s appearance, character and architectural interest. The visual impact of the solar panels would effectively create a conspicuous reflective screen across the roof.”
In response, the plans moved the solar panels further down the roof to prevent them being seen from ground level and other views.
Historic England then asked King’s College for “an explanation as to what other alternative sites have been considered for PV and to justify why the college considers the roof of this Grade I listed building of national importance to be an appropriate location for the PV.”
A planning statement sent to the Greater Cambridgeshire Planning Committee says: “The college fully understands the heritage significance of the Chapel as custodians of the building since its foundation in 1441. A major repair of the roof is needed and this is, therefore, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undertake works which will… help the college respond to the challenges of climate change”.
Continuing to reject the proposals in a letter to Ely Diocese, Historic England concluded, “Wherever they would be visible, the solar panels would be discordant: their appearance would shift with the weather and be alien to that of the Chapel’s historic materials.
“Their discordant character would detract from the Chapel’s appearance and erode its authenticity and integrity. While the solar panels would be visible only in some views, their impact would not be insignificant,” they add.
However, architect’s Caroe Architecture states the solar panels will have little visual impact: “The roof can barely be seen through the tracery of the parapet. …it is unlikely, due to the great height of the Chapel and distance from the bridge, that a full solar array could be seen … and view would be of neutral impact”.
King’s College is awaiting the outcome of the submission to the Cambridge Planning Committee sitting on 7 February 2023.
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