City councillors have failed to see the light over an energy-saving initiative to put 42 solar panels on a historic Birmingham church rooftop.

A preservation order on the 15th Century St Mary’s Church, on St Mary's Row, in Moseley, has put a stop to the plan to provide free energy and boost parish funds.

There were angry exchanges as the council’s planning committee voted by a narrow seven to five margin to refuse the green initiative.

Church leaders, supported by local community groups, argued that the move would secure the financial future of the parish by reducing the hefty burden of fuel bills, as well as doing their bit for the environment.

Professor John Dowell said: “I care about the preservation of historic buildings and conservation of the climate. These panels would be secured in a discrete way.”

Moseley councillor Ernie Hendricks (Lib Dem), speaking in support, added: “There are some council planning policies supporting sustainability, the climate change agenda and those for the conservation of historic buildings. We believe the balance here is in favour of the environment. The panels can be removed easily.”

But city council conservation officers and advisors decided that the panels would be too great an eyesore on the Grade II listed building.

Coun Paula Smith (Lib Dem, Hall Green), chairwoman of the conservation panel, said: “We employ people to advise us on conservation and when they say that this is unacceptable we should take heed. Suppose if they wanted panels on the Council House or the Town Hall, we would not stand for it.”

She was backed by Coun Bob Beauchamp (Cons, Erdington), who said: “These solar panels are most inefficient when placed like that. They should not be allowed on a Grade II listed building.”

But Coun Mike Sharpe (Lab, Tyburn) argued that the very future of the church is at stake. “We have a church in my area which was not allowed to modernise because of a conservation order. Nine years it has now been empty and it will cost a quarter-of-a-million pounds to restore the roof.”