Derbyshire solar panel protester defiant despite court threat

Mary Smail outside her home
Mary Smail said the panels are not visible from the street and have not been the subject of any complaints

An environmental campaigner is facing a large fine and possible prison in a dispute over solar panels.

Mary Smail has installed 16 panels on the back of her house on Church Street, Ashbourne, Derbyshire, in defiance of planning laws.

Ms Smail said climate change was a crisis which demanded "rapid and radical action".

Derbyshire Dales District Council said it is reviewing regulations but has to enforce laws as they stand.

Ms Smail lives in house which is over 200 years old on the main shopping street in Ashbourne.

She said she was told by the council she had no chance of getting planning permission for solar panels due to the historic nature of the area.

In May 2019 the district council declared a climate emergency but Ms Smail says she felt they were not backing the idea.

After the council failed to "engage in a dialogue" about the solar panels, Ms Smail decided to confront the issue by putting them up anyway.

She said: "Sadly it is very often the case that when you need to get things changed you have to break the rules in order to open the dialogue.

"If bad laws are not challenged then they never get changed and we can see that through things like the suffragettes and civil rights in America."

She has spent £10,000 on legal fees and is facing a bill for council costs of £9,700.

After the deadline of a court injunction to remove the panels passed in June, she is also facing possible imprisonment.

'Alien shape'

"I knew that I was going to get into a lot of trouble for it but I thought it was worth it.

"We need to address the climate problem we have," she said.

A council spokesman said: "The District Council is aware of Government proposals to reform the planning system, including proposals to conserve and enhance historic buildings and areas, ensuring their significance is conserved while allowing, where appropriate, sympathetic changes to support their continued use and address climate change.

"To date however there has been no update to national planning policy which means we have to continue to abide by the existing policy framework and legislation.

"Unfortunately, the solar panels installed on the roof introduce an alien shape, grouping, texture and reflective quality in place of the existing matt finish, texture and appearance of the clay tiled roof.

"Our planning committee agreed that the modest general public benefit of the installation was clearly outweighed by the harm caused to the heritage assets in this case."