'Groundhog Day' quip after end of latest in heat pumps saga at Northumberland County Council

Three heat installations in Northumberland have now been approved, after the county council itself initially failed to seek planning permission.

Wednesday, 4th December 2019, 4:46 pm
Updated Monday, 9th December 2019, 6:05 pm

As previously reported, the issue, relating to ground source heat pumps, only came to light when the authority applied to claim its payments from the Government under the Renewable Heat Incentives (RHI) scheme and sought advice from the planning department.

The reason for the confusion is that these installations are often covered by permitted development rights, but an application is required where the system lies outside the curtilage of the building and/or it contains more than one pump.

Councillors were told that it was ‘quite complicated’ and that ‘there’s not a lot of information out there and it’s not particularly clear’.

In September, the council’s strategic planning committee had to grant retrospective permission for a pump at the authority’s depot in Stakeford.

Members unanimously approved three more retrospective bids for arrays at Seahouses Primary School, Cambois Primary School and Ashington Community Football Club.

Coun Jeff Reid said: “How can we challenge other people about retrospective applications when we can’t get it right ourselves?

“Can our departments not ring up the planning department before to check if they need planning permission?”

Planning officer Katherine Robbie responded: “The department in question is now well aware and comes to ask me and we are trying to get better about this across the council.

“The new director of planning is keen that the planning department is more involved in projects from the outset.”

Coun Guy Renner-Thompson, who represents the Seahouses area, accepted there has been some ‘bad publicity’ on this issue, but he pointed out that the scheme has ‘very good intentions’ in that it helps to reduce heating bills and therefore pressures on school budgets, ‘meaning there’s more money to educate the children’.

As the committee moved onto the second of the three applications, however, it was clear that the councillors could see the funny side, with Coun Reid saying: “It seems like only a minute ago that I was talking about retrospective applications.”

Coun Gordon Stewart added: “I hope there’s not another one!”

Another member described it as groundhog day, before Coun Reid quipped that it was ‘ground source day’.