Homeowner anger at college heat pumps behind house without planning approval

Three heat pumps, wrapped in blue tarpaulin, are pictured, with fence panels in the foreground.
-Credit: (Image: Ferdinando Covati)

An angry homeowner has hit out at a college’s decision to place part of a new heating system directly behind his home with planning approval yet to be awarded. Ferdinando Covati’s house in Brooksby – a village between Leicester and Melton – backs onto a campus belonging to SMB College Group, a further education college formed by the 2020 merger of Brooksby Melton College and Stephenson College, in Coalville.

The college wants to replace the Brooksby campus's heating system with a new environmentally friendly one funded by the government and has asked Melton Borough Council for planning permission to split the system across two sites: one behind Mr Covati's house, and the other nearby. Mr Covati is upset that despite a council environmental health officer expressing concerns over how noise from the system will impact his home, and with planning approval yet to be given, the college has already moved the pumps into place.

But a spokesperson for the college says the pumps have been put into position to meet government deadlines associated with the decarbonisation grant, with a decision on planning permission being affected by 'delays in the planning department'. The spokesperson insists they won’t fully install or use the equipment until planning permission has been granted, and said they are working to resolve concerns over noise caused by the equipment once it is operating.

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Mr Covati has contacted the council over the matter and compared the site to a power station, adding the college should stop work and move the pumps to a previously proposed location elsewhere on the campus. He said: “We would like to know why work has been allowed to start and carry on, it is now looking like Hinckley Point Power Station. There seems to be a total disregard and respect to our property. It seems like they can do what they like when they like, with no questions asked.”

The scheme proposes a combined air source and water source heat pump system, with the college’s current preferred location for the water-source pumps – which it says have ‘the lower noise power output’ of the system – just a few metres from Mr Covati’s property line. The air-source pumps are slightly to the south-east, and behind an electricity substation.

Two other sites were considered according to the college’s planning documents with both sites large enough to fit both pumps, but these locations were dismissed, with one being considered unsuitable due to the loss of ‘yew hedge and many trees’ as well as being close to a college hostel building. The second discarded option was said to have a ‘very harmful impact’ on two nearby accommodation blocks.

A council environmental health officer visited the site earlier this year and found the water source pumps that are closest to Mr Covati's home are 'acoustically acceptable', but said he had asked the college to 'reduce the noise impact' of the nearby air source pumps on the house. The officer proposed a new site, big enough to house both pump components, and further away from Mr Covati’s home.

"At this time, I am not satisfied that all mitigation options have been explored," he added.

A Brooksby Melton College spokesperson said: “The college and its representatives are working with the planning department. The original [environmental health officer’s] specific comments and concerns around noise impact have been addressed through the design and operation of the equipment as part of an ongoing constructive consultation with the planning department and are awaiting final determination.

“You may be aware that the college secured central government funding under the Public Sector Decarbonisation 3b scheme. The project was scheduled for completion by March 31, 2024 as stipulated within grant conditions. However, due to delays in the planning department, site preparation activities and equipment placement has taken place while awaiting a determination to ensure compliance with grant stipulations. The full installation and commissioning of equipment will proceed only upon the approval of the application.

"A comprehensive location assessment has been conducted, and the corresponding report is appended to the planning application, accessible through the planning portal.”

Melton Borough Council said the application was ‘a live application, which is currently open for consideration’, adding: “As it stands, environmental health raised concerns with the proposals which have been discussed with the applicant. The applicant now has the chance to provide feedback and implement necessary changes before the application undergoes assessment and a decision is made. We are unable to provide additional comments on this matter as it is still in progress.”

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