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Public money could heat Northern Ireland Ferrari showroom for next 20 years

By Jonathan Bell

The Renewable Heating Incentive - the flawed government grants system that wasted millions in public cash - was used to heat a Ferrari showroom.

The scheme was found to pay out over the odds to businesses despite government receiving warnings that the scheme was seriously flawed.

it encouraged businesses to use sustainable ways to heat their properties. However, unlike a similar scheme in England there was no cap on payments.

The more businesses that installed biomass boilers burned fuel, the more they were paid. For some, for every £1 of heating they spent, Stormont paid out £1.60.

Whistleblowers described hotels, businesses and care homes constantly using their heating systems while windows were opened. Huge empty agricultural sheds were heated in order to generate income.

It's estimated the taxpayer could pay out over £400m because of the government mistake.

More:

Pressure mounts on Arlene Foster to quit over energy scheme fiasco as advisor denies he met whistleblower

Free-for-all as 99% of applicants to botched £270m heating scheme approved 

Everyone knew energy scheme 'too good to be true' so why didn't officials? asks whistleblower

Farmer 'gets £1m of public cash to heat empty shed' - 'catastrophic’ blunder threatening to drain hundreds of millions from Northern Ireland’s block grant 

Now, it's been found that the scheme was used to heat the Charles Hurst Ferrari showroom in Belfast and could potentially continue to do so for the next 20 years.

There is no suggestion that Charles Hurst has done anything wrong and speaking on the BBC Stephen Nolan Show which made the revelations, a spokesman stressed they had not set out to abuse the system and were advised it was the most "cost effective" way to heat the business.

"We would not have sat down and said someone has got their figures wrong, that there is a chink in the armour - we would not have done that," he said.

"Someone in government got their calculations wrong.

"It was cost effective for us to install it and we did not consider it free heating. Nobody said this was not an unethical heating grant - we were not heating empty sheds.

"The fact someone [in government] got this wrong can not be laid at our door. It is not something that we would consciously do.

"Someone in the operation said this would be the most cost effective way to do this - why wouldn't you do it?

"If a government grant is available, it is an ethical government grant.

"Our business is selling cars and car parts."

He continued: "It is not just the Ferrari showroom but other areas of the business.

"Had we had the information back then, that we have now we could have made a different decision."

The spokesman said he didn't know how viable it was to change the heating system for the business and if they would continue to use it.

"The issue is with whoever devised this scheme," he said.

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, Charles Hurst said: "Like many businesses and organisations across Northern Ireland, Charles Hurst legitimately and fairly engaged with the RHI scheme based on the information which was provided and which was publicly available at the time.

"As a responsible business with almost 1,000 staff at locations across Northern Ireland, reducing our carbon footprint is a key priority for us and the scheme as it was presented was usefully employed to assist us in meeting that requirement.

"Charles Hurst entered into the scheme entirely in good faith and we publicly and specifically outlined our engagement at the time, as well as the environmental benefits which it offered.

"At no stage did we seek to disadvantage taxpayers and we were not in receipt of any knowledge at the time that this might be the case.

Read more

Ferrari crash: Belfast millionaire accused of drink driving smash has case adjourned 

"It was our understanding when we invested in the equipment required to support our participation in the RHI scheme that the funding available was ring-fenced by the Northern Ireland government to support the overall objectives of the scheme, to ensure its success and to promote legitimate take-up from businesses across a variety of sectors.

"Given the information that has come to light over the past few weeks, we will be undertaking a review of the scheme and how it applies to our business.”

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