Almost 500 solar panels to be put on Cambridge's King's College Chapel

King's College in Cambridge during last summer's heatwave, which many scientists said was a sign of the impact of climate change. Credit: PA

Hundreds of solar panels will be put on the roof of King's College Chapel in Cambridge, despite concerns it could impact the Chapel's significance.

Cambridge City Council approved the application, with councillors saying the plans would be a “symbol” for others around climate change.

The application by King's College Cambridge requested permission for the installation of almost 500 photovoltaic panels on the north and south slopes of the King’s College Chapel.

The 492 solar panels on the chapel roof would contribute to a 1.4% reduction in carbon consumption across the estate.

A representative of the College told councillors at a city council planning committee meeting on Tuesday that the panels would meet the Chapel’s entire energy demand.

They also highlighted that the solar panels would not be permanent and could be removed without damage if technology advancements meant they were no longer needed.

They said: “In the context of the climate emergency we consider the very minimal visual impact caused by the panels to be insignificant compared to the benefits.

“The Chapel is part of a wider strategy. While each element has not been large, the impact of the whole is significant.

“This site is important to the strategy, there is no other surface in the area, the entire college grounds, that could deliver the electricity output of the proposed panels on the Chapel roof.”

King's College Chapel, Cambridge Credit: @avaragado on twitter

People would not be able to see the panels for the famous west side view, adding that the test panels which were installed were “almost unnoticed”.

Some were not happy with the application though, with objections from Historic England which said it believed the solar panels would “harm people’s appreciation of the Chapel’s extraordinary architectural character”.

The city council conservation officers also objected and said: “The PV panels would effectively form a roof covering of different character and appearance than the lead roof and the visual differences would be apparent albeit in a limited way.

“The degree of harm to the Chapel’s significance would be modest, but given the building’s importance this harm has to be of concern.”

Councillors said they believed on balance that the benefits of the scheme did outweigh the harm.

Councillor Alex Collis said they were all “committed” to a net zero carbon future. She said the city council had called on other organisations and institutions to “play their part as well”, and said the plans were doing that.

She highlighted that other “significant” buildings had also had solar panels installed, including Buckingham Palace.

Councillor Martin Smart said: “We have extreme weather events around us all the time, this is not about saving money, it is about saving carbon, about saving the world.

“We talked some time ago in Cambridge City Council about the carbon we can save as a council as it was a small percentage of the total carbon in the city, but it is still worth doing it."

When the plans were put to a vote the committee councillors unanimously voted to approve the application.

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