Claims about cost of new Crawley heat and power network disputed

Crawley Borough Council has denied that its planned district heat network will cost almost £7.5m to produce.

Friday, 1st March 2019, 2:00 pm
Updated Friday, 1st March 2019, 2:10 pm
Artist's impression of new heat and power network which will be delivered as part of the redevelopment of Crawley town hall

The network will pipe heat and electricity from a combined heat and power plant at the new town hall development to nearby buildings, reducing their carbon and energy commissions.

At a meeting of the full council, Kim Jaggard (Con, Maidenbower) shared details of a report from the government’s department for business, energy and industrial strategy, which said Crawley’s network would cost £7.48m to complete.

Mrs Jaggard asked the meeting: “After the government grant of £1.25m, how is the £6.25m balance going to be funded, how much is it going to cost council taxpayers of Crawley, and how long will the payback time be before we break even?

“Or will the equipment be worn out before it pays for itself?”

Geraint Thomas, cabinet member for environmental services and sustainability, said the figure was not accurate but, because he had not been told the question was coming, was unable to give further details.

A council spokesman said the document referred to by Mrs Jaggard was based on a very early bid for the project.

Since then, both the cabinet and full council have received reports setting out the latest costs, budget, scale and scope of the project – but due to reasons of commercial sensitivity, they have not been discussed in public.

The spokesman added: “The original scheme referred to in the document was for a much larger town centre scheme, which has over time been significantly reduced in scope and size – and costs.

“This has all been agreed and approved with the government department.”

Questions were also raised from the public gallery about the use of natural gas in the network rather than exploring other options such as hydrogen.

Tahir Ashraf, a commercial barrister from Langley Green, said: “I’m extremely conscious and aware of hydrogen technology which is thoroughly tried and tested and exists today and is very much in use.

“My very serious concern is that we continue to invest in natural gas in circumstances where natural gas is likely to be phased out in the very near future.

“And, of course, that housing is being built for example in the 2020s where it is simply not going to be allowed for properties to run on natural gas.”

It was a question previously raised by Brenda Burgess (Con, Three Bridges) when the heat network was being considered by the council’s planning committee.

Leader Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate) said the council was keen to explore new technologies as they emerged, adding: “At this point in time, when we’re investing quite a lot of public money, we want to make sure that the technology we bring forward is something that’s in a complete state as opposed to at the very early level of its development.”

When Mr Ashraf pointed out that the hydrogen technology had been used for more than a decade, Mr Lamb said: “It’s worth bearing in mind that the officer who developed this proposal for the council has just left the local authority to become the government’s lead adviser on district heat networks so this very much is the cutting edge of current thoughts around sustainability.”