This project aims to increase the adoption of heat pumps by reducing the challenges associated with local authority planning processes. The current system deters many homeowners from proceeding with a heat pump installation and creates additional work for heat pump installers. This project will identify and assess a range of ways Nesta could work to improve the planning process.
Many homeowners can install air source heat pumps at their residences without requiring planning permission, under certain conditions referred to as ‘permitted developments’. These conditions include rules around the placement of the outdoor unit, adherence to MCS standards and limits on the number of units and their size.
However, various factors can necessitate planning permission, such as larger homes needing multiple or bigger heat pumps for sufficient heating, issues with smaller gardens meeting the distance requirements and the limitations of listed or conservation area homes.
Planning rules already pose a barrier to heat pump adoption, but the problem could get worse as the UK strives to meet heat pump installation targets. Some installers already screen out houses that do not easily qualify for permitted development. Homeowners, discouraged by the expense, delay and uncertainty associated with obtaining planning permission, may then be dissuaded from pursuing heat pump installations.
This project aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the shortcomings within the current planning system for heat pumps and to identify what an alternative planning system could look like.
Between August and October 2023, we conducted research with key users of the current planning system: installers, homeowners and relevant staff in local authorities.
We heard how each council interpreted the rules in their own way. Some waved heat pumps through with no questions asked. Others were far stricter, rejecting sensible applications with little rationale.
Many homeowners told us how planning stopped them installing heat pumps. Some ran out of time, others ran out of money. One had to complete the same 30 page form as developers building a skyscraper.
To further complicate things, the rules are different in England, Scotland and Wales. Councils also apply the rules in different ways within each of these nations. Installers told us the rules took a long time to learn and did not seem to make much sense. In the end, many installers decided to focus on homes that do not need planning instead.
The UK, Welsh and Scottish Governments are currently working on figuring out ways to improve matters. We are still finalising our own thinking and will be sharing our findings in early 2024.