‘Saving planet more important than good-looking buildings’ - planners defy recommendation and support Stalham High Street solar panels

Businessman John Dace has won his battle to keep solar panels on the roof of 129 High Street, Stalham.

North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) planning councillors today overturned their officers' recommendation to refuse the application and decided trying to save the planet was more important than any damage the panels might do to the appearance of the town's Conservation Area.

But their decision prompted a warning from the council's conservation chief, Philip Godwin, who said: 'If we continue to allow the erosion of our Conservation Areas, we will have no alternative but to consider de-designating Stalham - and even Holt.'

Mr Dace, who owns a number of properties in the High Street, argued that the panels helped keep costs down for the two shops and three flats occupying the building and were in line with government policy which said planning authorities should allow renewable-energy schemes unless there were exceptional circumstances for refusing them.

Stalham was not a chocolate-box town and in the context of the varied High Street townscape, Mr Dace said the benefits of the solar panels outweighed any other impact they might have.

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Robert Stevens, councillor for Stalham, cited apocalyptic examples of increasing global warming and said he had been in New York when the great storm Sandy struck.

'There were fallen trees, enormous winds, and road signs were flying down the street. We must do all we can to save the planet for the benefit of future generations,' he said, calling on the development committee to support Mr Dace's retrospective application.

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Mr Godwin felt there was a fine balance between sustainability issues and preserving the Stalham Conservation Area which included a number of important buildings.

But Barry Smith told fellow councillors the panels did not alter the structure of the building and could be removed at the end of their life-span.

He did not notice the panels when walking down the High Street and felt the garish sign on the neighbouring Original Factory Shop was a far worse sight.

A total of 10 councillors voted to approve the panels, with two abstentions.

Afterwards, Mr Dace said he felt vindicated and thanked the hundreds of people who had supported him.

But he said there should be a public debate on Conservation Areas.

'There are far too many of them and many unjustly impinge on people's rights. We should be allowed to get on with running our businesses,' he said.

The committee also agreed to ask the council to raise its concerns with government about businesses such as the Original Factory Shop being allowed to erect unsuitable signs.

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