Save Nora's (and everyone's) solar panels!
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Please tell legislators to save Nora's (and everyone’s) solar panels!
There is currently no legislation to prevent overshadowing of existing solar panels by new neighbouring buildings, so the issue is one which will potentially affect thousands of other Victorians (and Australians)
Maybe even you!
My friend, Nora, is a pensioner, living alone and 12 years ago was one of
the first people to install solar panels on her roof in Victoria. She did this not just for future financial savings, but also to reduce her carbon footprint, being passionate about renewable energy. She installed the solar panels to comply with all existing regulations at the time, and ensured she had a site report certifying there were "no encumbrances" to hinder her panels from exposure to maximum sunlight.
Now her neighbours are planning "to build to the boundary." They wish to build an extensive renovation right up to, and with the rooms of their house actually replacing, the fence line. The neighbours are relying on the new updated "set- back" building regulations which allow them to do this. These regulations will be retrospectively applied. (Under the previous regulations, upon which Nora relied, it would not have been possible). The renovation will overshadow and disastrously impact the solar power system for which she worked and saved so hard, not to mention blocking the sunlight into her living spaces.
She will be devastated. This could happen to anyone!
How could it be fair? And how could any “retrospective regulations” be fair?
Over a period of seven months, Nora has now contacted by phone, email, writing or in person, over 90 offices, administrators, councils, councillors and authorities; all have told her “regulations are being complied with” and “it’s not within our jurisdiction” So where can she turn? Where can anyone turn?
In addition, she has been informed by the relevant authorities that any neighbour’s proposed building plans (for a single-house extension) must be kept secret from the adjoining neighbours; the building regulations are intentionally framed to prevent these neighbours from knowing how they might be affected. This is said to be due to “privacy laws.” There is to be no displayed “notice of prior building”, and therefore of prior objection. There is no court or administrative process to adjudicate, and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) will not deal with “single-house” extensions. The Building Authority has even told her that any objection can only be made after building has already started, and has confirmed that neither she nor anyone else has any rights to see the neighbouring plans beforehand.
This issue of “secrecy” also affects us all.
To make matters worse, the builders have been granted a special "individual exemption" by the local Council in order to waive a longstanding "one metre clearance” rule: this rule prohibits any building within one metre of an adjacent easement/drain (which, in this case, runs along the common boundary between the two properties) There is no transparency in the method of granting such exemptions.(One Council employee told Nora "it all depends to whom you speak") However, all previous neighbours for the last 50 years (at least) have complied, and for good reason: the street floods extensively to knee-height depth during heavy rain, and the drain will obviously need refurbishing and re-working at some future date.
However, such a “special exemption” will now allow the neighbours to construct “flush against the boundary” (and, therefore, the drain). This will be without any regard for the consequences to Nora’s solar panel overshadowing, to any future street flooding, or to any inappropriate building there (such as a noisy garage to be sited under Nora’s bedroom window). It will be completely and solely with regard to their own financial profits. Selfishly, it will not affect their own lifestyle in any way, only Nora’s.
If this “special exemption” proceeds, Nora will have a wall about a metre from the windows of her sunny living area, "bricking her in," so she will thus lose all her sunshine and amenity. She also cares for wildlife, and all the vegetation in this border area will now be obliterated, including their habitat and feeding trays.
But, most importantly, there are no regulations protecting existing solar panels, (set up at the time to comply with existing regulations) so we are ALL at risk, whether we live in Victoria, and (by implication, example and precedent) other parts of Australia and overseas.
Nora has been told that courts and legislators are considering a ‘‘compromise situation” whereby “only a percentage” of blockage occurs (even if it is a major percentage); this is a ludicrous situation and it would not apply in other situations (e.g. a car dealer could not claim the same price for a car if it were "only 50% dented"; nor could a householder claim the same present or future value, if, say, a cricket ball shattered "only a percentage" of the panels).
In any case, Nora's panels (as with many others) are of the inter-connected type, so that when one panel goes out, they all do.
As a matter of urgency and as soon as possible, enact legislation/regulations to protect Nora (and all of us) from
*1. the overshadowing of solar panels and window sunlight
*2. building regulations being retrospectively applied
*3. secrecy regarding neighbouring single-house extension plans, under the the guise of “privacy" laws
*4. the power of local councils to grant special, "individual exemptions" to clearance regulations….. and to confirm this power as residing solely with the Minister for Planning (or a legal authority) so that it can be applied with uniformity and transparency.
In addition: set up a court or legal authority and, most importantly, a PROCESS, by which disputes between neighbours regarding single-house extensions can be adjudicated, especially regarding overshadowing.
No such institution currently exists.
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