Freeing ourselves from the shackles of heat pump planning permission

In his latest column for elemental, Graham Hendra navigates a path around the current planning challenges for those involved with heat pump design and installation

As it stands, planning permission is a massive hurdle to the implementation of heat pumps and solar panels – let me make clear where we are today.

If a homeowner wants a heat pump, they will almost always need planning permission. Yes, there are exceptions to this, but since all the modern heat pumps are more than the permitted 0.6m^3, most will still need to got through planning. In many cases, solar PV installations will face similar requirements.

Then there is the oft-quoted planning stipulation that prevents homeowners from installing a heat pump within 1 m of their garden fence. This is despite this fact that this will be pretty much the best place to put it.

I’m not sure who made these rules, but they don’t exactly help make it easier for the heat pump industry. I think the rules must come from a time when heat pumps were a) noisy and b) small. Nowadays a heat pump will be a lot quieter than the boiler they replace.

It means that working with planning for a heat pump is often just plain weird. Let me give you two examples:

I can build a shed in my garden which is 10 times the size of my heat pump with no permission needed at all, under the system called ‘permitted development’ –  if you meet its terms, you can go ahead and put that shed up. You can store a load of heat pumps in the shed if you want, but woe betide you if you put the heat pump outside.

Alternatively, you can put your wheelie bin collection anywhere you like, with no permission required, even though they are uglier and bigger than your heat pump. You can, if you like paint a picture on the wheelie bins to make them look like a heat pump – no planning required.

But all is not lost, as the Department for Levelling up, Housing and Communities has recently held a consultation on permitted development in a bid to address this very matter.

If, fingers crossed, heat pumps and solar panels do come within the terms of permitted development, it is one more hurdle to acceptance that the industry can ignore and another couple of hours saved for installers on every job so we can just get out there and bend the tubes.

It can’t come too soon.

For a start, many installers now routinely ignore the planning permission requirement for heat pump. I am not allowed to say that I endorse this behaviour, as I am writing for a respectable industry publication. But it’s a ridiculous piece of red tape.

Let’s be honest, these days you can’t get the council to act if your neighbour is hosting all-night raves at the bottom of the garden, so what chance is there of getting them to come round if someone has dared to put in a heat pump without filling in the planning forms?

But there’s another reason. We live in a world where people genuinely believe that if you fill in lots of forms. It means that the job will be done well. Nothing could be further from the truth.

If we can concentrate our energies more on getting the heat losses and the controls regimes right and less on planning applications, the heating industry will definitely be better off.

Graham will be presenting at InstallerSHOW on 25-27 June. Register for FREE tickets here: