Green energy planning wrangle slows fuel poverty action in Scotland – but not England

Complex and costly heat pump restriction does not apply south of the border / Industry body argues for change to Scots law to reverse 13% gap

Green heat technology which could remove Scots households from fuel poverty is being stifled by restrictive planning conditions, according to industry body Scottish Renewables.


Air source heat pumps, which can warm buildings using a fraction of the energy of conventional gas boilers, are subject to complex building regulations in Scotland – but not in England and Wales.

Figures from energy regulator Ofgem show only 26% of domestic renewable heat installations in Scotland are air source heat pumps, compared to a UK average of 39%.

Scottish Renewables, which represents more than 300 organisations working in renewable energy, is working with government to have the planning rules – known as permitted development rights – changed.

Stephanie Clark, Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables, said: "Heat pumps are a fantastic tool with which to combat fuel poverty. Scotland has ambitious renewable heat targets and this is technology which can help us reach them.

"In England and Wales, homeowners can install an air source heat pump without the need to apply for planning permission. In most cases in Scotland, they must do so.

"This adds a significant hurdle in terms of time and expense, and is putting many people off."

An air source heat pump extracts heat from the outside air in the same way that a fridge extracts heat from its inside. The technology can extract heat from the air even when the temperature is as low as -15C.

This heat can then be used in radiators or underfloor heating systems, as well as to provide hot water in a building.

Heat pumps need a small amount of electricity to run, but the energy they extract from the ground, air, or water is constantly being renewed naturally. The technology was first described by William Thomson, the first Lord Kelvin, at Glasgow University in 1852.

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Jenny McLaren, Director of Fife business The Natural Energy Company, told how the extra time needed to apply for planning permission is "a real barrier" to homeowners wanting to replace a fossil fuel boiler with clean, cheap renewable technology.

She said: "The need to apply for planning consent creates a timescale which is a real barrier to homeowners considering a heat pump instead of fossil fuel boiler.

"Two of our customers who have finally received planning permission recently to install air source heat pump/gas hybrid boilers found the process took around three months.

"Fortunately their existing boilers are still operating and this process has been over the summer, however this would be very different if it was in the middle of winter and their boiler had broken down. The homeowner would simply not be able to consider waiting for planning permission and would therefore been forced to stay with fossil fuel heating.

"In our experience, local councils will not consider fast-tracking renewable heating planning applications and therefore actively discourage the uptake of renewables which would save homeowners money and help reduce carbon emissions from Scotland's heating sector."
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