Thermal insulation: can the municipality's master plan prohibit it?


Emma Potter

In the Italian urban planning and construction panorama, the issue of installing thermal insulation on existing buildings has generated debates and controversies, especially when such interventions seem to conflict with local land planning regulations.

A recent verdict by the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court has, however, shed light on the priority that must be given to energy saving objectives compared to the limitations imposed by municipal regulatory plans. There sentence no. 215 of 03 March 2022 marks an important turning point, highlighting how the higher law oriented towards energy sustainability can prevail over less updated local regulations.

This article explores the implications of that decision, outlining a future in which energy efficiency could trump outdated zoning restrictions.

The case study: a legal battle for energy efficiency

In the heart of Lombardy, a property owner found herself facing an ordinance from her municipality, which ordered her to remove a thermal insulation layer that had just been installed on the facade of her building. The Municipality considered this intervention to be an unauthorized building renovation, in violation of local land planning regulations.

The situation was further complicated with the assumption that the addition of the thermal insulation could influence the regulatory distances between buildings, thus requiring the consent of the owners of the adjacent properties.

In response, the owner decided to challenge the ordinance at the Regional Administrative Court (TAR) of Lombardy, triggering a legal dispute that would test the boundaries between local urban planning regulations and energy sustainability needs on a national scale.

This episode raises crucial questions: can an intervention aimed at improving the energy efficiency of a building be hindered by obsolete local regulations? And how do higher laws relating to energy saving integrate or prevail over municipal urban planning?

The resolution of the Lombardy TAR

The ruling of the Lombardy Regional Administrative Court (ruling no. 215 of 03 March 2022) clarified unequivocally that thermal insulation interventions, such as the installation of a thermal coat, fall into the category of extraordinary maintenance. This means that they can be started with a simple Certified Notice of Commencement of Works (CILA), without the need for more complex building permits.

This decision is based on article 119 of the Relaunch Decree, modified by the Simplifications bis Decree, which raises the priority of energy efficiency interventions compared to the restrictions imposed by local planning regulations.

The TAR underlined that the national legislation, focused on energy saving and environmental sustainability, must prevail over less updated local regulations which do not take into account the current climate urgency. Furthermore, the decree specifies that these interventions do not influence the calculation of legal distances between buildings, removing a significant obstacle to the adoption of thermal insulation solutions.

This ruling not only represents a victory for the owner of the property but also marks an important legal precedent that could facilitate future energy improvement interventions on existing buildings throughout Italy. It highlights the growing need to harmonize local urban planning policies with national and international objectives of reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Beyond the case: control of qualifications and relationships between private individuals

The last crux of the matter concerns the role of the municipal administration in controlling qualifications, such as the CILA. The ruling reiterates that, for extraordinary maintenance activities such as the installation of a thermal coat, the Municipality is not responsible for carrying out a preventive check on the admissibility of the intervention. This underlines a fundamental principle: the citizen's self-declaration takes on a central role, reserving to the local authority the power to subsequently verify whether the works comply with current regulations.

This interpretation reinforces the idea that, in matters of energy efficiency and sustainability, we must proceed with a more flexible approach focused on self-regulation, while still respecting the laws.

The ruling of the Lombardy TAR therefore represents an important point of reference for all those who work in the construction sector and for local administrations, indicating a clear direction towards energy efficiency and environmental sustainability as a priority also in compliance with urban planning regulations.