Like many local authorities across the UK, Northumberland County Council (NCC) has set itself the target of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
But according to the experts tasked with getting the county across the line, the organisation’s own regulations may need to be overhauled to make the target realistic.
“It’s quite a technical example, but if someone wants to put a heat pump in their home, the technology, as it currently works, means some homes are too big to have just one heat pump which serves the whole property,” said Matthew Baker, NCC’s director for climate change, business intelligence and corporate performance.
“I think, and there may be other local authorities [where this is the case], we’re the only local authority which requires planning permission for more than one heat pump.
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“There is no legal or guidance reason why we would have to do that, it’s just a legacy.
“There’s a number of things in our planning guidance which are legacies of a previous time, which tie our hands a little bit.”
Greater collaboration with the county’s planning department has been identified as a key priority in helping the council hit its environmental targets.
Proposals being considered include district heating networks, tree planting and increasing provision of electric vehicle (EV) charging points.
However, as those measures are likely to take several years to implement, bosses are also eyeing easier wins, such as improving home energy efficiency, particularly rural properties not connected to the electricity grid or gas network.
Efforts to do this at the council’s own properties, however, have seen it fall foul of its own rules.
In 2019, the local authority was left red-faced after failing to seek the necessary planning permission for a ground source heat pump at its Stakeford depot.
Baker also revealed some homeowners have faced barriers when trying to install EV chargers on their properties in areas governed by the strictest planning rules.
He added: “It’s probably not in our rules anywhere, it’s just our interpretation. There’s a number of things which are surfacing that we’re working with the planning department to change.
“Connected to that, if we look at the bigger picture, we’re now a consulted party on all planning applications which could affect climate change.”