Chester Cathedral – A ‘green’ retrofit

  • | Anne-Marie Hayes

As Cathedral Architect for Chester Cathedral, we have successfully integrated solar panels on the Grade I listed building, the most ever fitted to a British cathedral.

At Insall, we strive to demonstrate that historic buildings are part of the solution to the climate emergency. Chester Cathedral made the decision to reduce its future energy bills and its carbon footprint not only to maximise its financial resources, but also to signal how ecclesiastical buildings of another era can find ways to make significant energy savings.

Image of solar panels, Chester Cathedral (c)Luke Unsworth/Insall Architects

We were therefore encouraged to have received consent planning and approval to install 206 roof-mounted solar panels, the greatest number yet fitted to a British cathedral. Following a successful fundraising campaign, the solar panels are now discretely in place and producing electricity.

Insall carried out an analysis of every view of the roof across Chester (primarily from the south as this is where the solar panels would be fixed). Our Chairman, Tony Barton, even kept sustainability at the heart of the project by cycling around the city, visiting all the key views and photographing these. In our analysis we demonstrated, with the use of photos and maps, that the solar panels would not be visible, mainly because of the parapet which hid this section of the roof, therefore demonstrating that the visual impact would be minimal.

Chairman, Tony Barton, said:

Historic buildings can and must play a leading role in mitigating climate change. This project to update a Grade I structure almost invisibly with solar panels demonstrates precisely what we have been advocating for: a creative conservation approach accompanied by a degree of flexibility within the planning system that acknowledges our responsibility to both our built heritage and the planet. Collectively, we need to ensure that historic buildings are not left behind in our race to achieve carbon net-zero.”

Chester Cathedral with solar panels (c)Luke Unsworth/Insall Architects

The blessing of the solar panels, Chester Cathedral (c) Chester Cathedral

Chester Cathedral (c)Insall Architects

Drone footage of the solar panels