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Community / Appeal in the pipeline after planning consent rejected for Papa Stour Kirk solar panels

The Papa Stour kirk, pre-renovation. Photo: Papa Stour History and Community Group

PLANNING permission has been refused for solar panels to be installed on the historic Papa Stour kirk as part of its major renovation.

Planning officers ruled that the 12 black panels would “adversely impact the special architectural and historic interest of the building”.

The decision is now due to be appealed.

The local history and community group bought the B-listed building – which is more than 200 years old – from the Church of Scotland in 2016. It is now in the process of being redeveloped.

Contractors have been on site to make the building wind and watertight ahead of a second phase of redevelopment, with the end goal of it becoming a community centre on the small island.

As part of the renovation the history and community group applied for planning permission for photovoltaic panels on the south pitch of the kirk’s roof to improve energy efficiency and tackle rising costs.

The plan was for the panels to supply electricity to a new mechanical ventilation system inside.

The south side of the building, where the panels would have been located, is said to be hidden from view from the north approach by the only access road to the kirk.

The planning application also included introducing a white finish to the external harling of the building.

Planning staff said as the church still benefits from ‘ecclesiastical exemption’ listed building consent was not required for the proposed works, but planning permission was still needed.

Work has been taking place on the exterior as well as the interior. Photo: Papa Stour History and Community Group

Whilst they understood the idea behind the panels reducing running costs, planners said the “sleek modern appearance of the proposed PV panels would be out of keeping with the historic appearance of the listed building and its prominent setting within the historic landscape of Papa Stour”.

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“They would be an unsympathetic addition to the listed building and would have a significant adverse impact on its special architectural interest, character and appearance,” planners added.

They concluded: “While there is general support for renewable technologies within heritage contexts, they should be carefully and discretely located so as not to compromise the special architectural interest of the building.

The ruling added that the “harm to the historic environment would outweigh the benefits of the proposal”.

It added that the proposed development is therefore considered to be contrary to national and local legislation, policy and guidance.

But Papa Stour Community and History Group’s Peter Bardell questioned why the application has been turned down given the B-listed St Andrew Episcopal Church in Fife was previously given the green light to install 22 photovoltaic panels.

He said funding worth more than £20,000 from the Scottish Government had been awarded for the solar panels in Papa Stour, but the time taken to make a planning decision could potentially see it voided as it needs to be used by the end of August.

The planning application was first submitted at the end of October last year.

Bardell said a pre-planning enquiry for the solar panels came back with word last summer that the application was likely to be rejected.

But he said the thinking was that the application, if refused, could be appealed and then “common sense might prevail”.

Bardell explained that due to the timeframe the group will also not be able to utilise scaffolding already up for the first phase of the renovation, meaning it would have to be taken back to the island at a cost.

He added that “99 per cent” of visitors to the kirk would not be aware of the prospective solar panels due to them being located on the south side.

“We’re a bit bemused that they’ve refused this given the climate crisis, and given that the SIC are hosting a climate conference in the next few weeks,” Bardell said.

There were no objections from any outside bodies to the proposal during the planning consultation process.

He added that the community has gone through “huge efforts” to secure funding for the kirk redevelopment.

Shetland West councillor Liz Peterson said she could not comment on the planning process as the applicant has the right of appeal.

But she said she was “disappointed” that the application has been refused, while also pointing to the example of the church in St. Andrews.

“This is a very exciting project, and Papa Stour History and Community Group have worked hard to make sure that the restoration is done sensitively, and to this end have secured the services of a specialist conservation architect, who is ensuring work is carried out in accordance with best traditional conservation practices, approved by HES,” she said.

“The group hoped that by installing solar panels, they would be able to economically heat and light the kirk, on a small budget, and thereby safeguard the future of this beautiful building.”

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