CCHP – When Is A Policy Not A Policy?

Our readers will be well aware that climate change is one of the major issues of our time, and that the British Government has international obligations requiring significant improvements in energy efficiency and major reductions in carbon emissions. Government legislation aimed at furthering these objectives is reflected in the London Plan and again in the RBKC Core Strategy, which requires all new development in the Royal Borough to meet stringent standards in terms of energy efficiency and carbon emissions.

There are a number of Strategic Sites identified in the Core Strategy at which major development is planned in the near future. Among these are the Kensal Gasworks site, the Earls Court Exhibition Centre site, the Wornington Green site and the Kensington Leisure Centre site. At these four Strategic Sites the Core Strategy requires the provision of district heating networks, which it is presumed will be based on combined cooling heat and power technology (CCHP), to meet the required high standards of environmental protection and contribute to greatly improved energy efficiency and significantly lower carbon footprints in the surrounding areas.

These are noble aspirations which we would certainly support. We were shocked therefore, but not entirely surprised, to discover that plans to include a district-heating network in the KALC development have been quietly dropped by the Council. We were un-surprised because the KALC plans have already driven a coach and horses through other parts of the Core Strategy, and have unapologetically breached RBKC policies on housing, open space, residential amenity etc.

When we researched this latest breach we discovered the reasons for the U-turn.  When the Council’s KALC consultants studied the feasibility of the proposed district heating network they decided that the existing pipe network serving Lancaster West Estate would be too expensive and difficult to replace and would have to be retained as part of the proposed new district heating system. However, they also recognised that this same pipe system was so enormously wasteful and energy inefficient that using it would completely negate the energy savings and environmental gains that the new network was intended to achieve.

A choice would have to be made between delivering the district-heating network required by the Core Strategy, with improved energy efficiency for the whole neighbourhood, or delivering a less environmentally ambitious project that fit the Council’s preferred tight-fisted costings. Inevitably, environmental ambitions lost out to baser Tory instincts and it was decided to drop the district-heating network from the project.  As ever the Council’s alleged grand ambitions for the KALC project were not matched by a willingness to spend the money necessary to make the development truly exceptional.

In order to fully appreciate the significance of this decision, it’s important to have some knowledge of the history of the Lancaster West communal heating system, which has been the bane of residents’ lives for many years, and has been a source of ongoing conflict between Lancaster West EMB and RBKC/TMO. The TMO has repeatedly abdicated its’ responsibility for replacing this clapped out system, as have the Councillors with ultimate responsibility for oversight and scrutiny of the TMO’s activities. The TMO went so far as to commission at least two consultants reports, in 2005 and again in 2008, but has repeatedly failed to act on the urgent recommendations contained in those reports.

The feasibility study by KALC consultants Max Fordham looks likely to be another case in point. It describes the Lancaster West heating system thus;

“The existing heating systems within the Lancaster West housing blocks are considered by the TMO to be life expired. The pipework and boilers are both from the original installation in the 1970s. The boilers have become very unreliable and are costly to repair. There are also significant problems with the heating systems inside the flats which lead to wasted energy and uncomfortable conditions. The tenants have no control over the heating, it simply operates off the central, building-wide control whether it is needed or not. The hot water storage in each flat is uninsulated so loses heat constantly which causes overheating.”

Even though the TMO declared the Lancaster West heating system as ‘life expired’ in 2008, they subsequently failed to commit the funding needed to replace this obsolete, horribly expensive, and obscenely energy inefficient system, and the Council now look set to follow suit with a similarly negligent and disdainful attitude towards the Lancaster West community.

The great irony and scandal of this is that the very reason why the proposed district heating network is so urgently needed has instead become the excuse for it to be dropped from the scheme.  Councillors were well aware of the parlous condition of the Lancaster West heating system when they drew up the Core Strategy policy requiring the creation of a new district-heating network to serve this area. A requirement to include Lancaster West Estate within the new system was subsequently written into the KALC planning brief for this very reason.

Ultimately, the solution proposed by the KALC consultants is the same one previously proposed by the TMO – to replace the existing Lancaster West heating system with individual combi-boilers in all homes at an estimated cost of £5.5 million. Unfortunately the TMO stopped short of committing the funding to pay for these works. It would be a shame, and a disgrace, if the Council now followed suit by passing the buck straight back to the TMO, and missing yet another opportunity to finally put the Lancaster West heating scandal right.

The Council’s failure to act on this would be a double whammy. It would be yet another betrayal of the thousands of Lancaster West residents who are forced to pay exorbitant charges for an obsolete and dysfunctional heating system. But it would also be a betrayal of the Government’s global warming strategy, of the environmental policies in the London Plan, of the Council’s own environmental policy, and of its’ duty to make a meaningful contribution to solving to the climate change crisis threatening the entire planet.

The Council claims that on a cost/benefit analysis the proposed KALC district heating network comes up short, and that there are better and more cost-effective ways to deliver the energy efficiency gains that are required. Their consultants suggest that the TMO’s proposed solution of individual combi-boilers for Lancaster West can deliver the desired environmental benefits. This may indeed be true.

However, the Council’s current plans do not include any commitment to pursue the original objectives set out in the Core Strategy and the KALC planning brief. The plan to include Lancaster West as part of a new energy efficient district heating network has simply been dropped, and there is no commitment to deliver to Lancaster West the alternative combi-boiler system recommended by the consultants.

When the Council approved the KALC budget in December 2011 the original costings included an estimate of £5.3 million for the CCHP element of the project. By cancelling the CCHP they have contrived to save that £5.3 Million from the budget, but have not committed a single penny to replace the obsolete Lancaster West heating system that was part of the original plan. The buck has thus been passed straight back to the TMO with no certainty as to when or how the funding for these essential works will be found. This is not acceptable. The £5.3 million saving should be spent on the urgent replacement of the Lancaster West heating system,  just as Policies CE1 and CA4 of the Core Strategy intended.

When the KALC planning application comes before the Major Planning Development Committee on 26th September, the Committee should impose a S106 Planning Obligation (ie a unilateral undertaking), requiring the replacement of the Lancaster West heating system within a specific timeframe – we would suggest three years, and not a minute longer.

Anything less than this would be a disgraceful betrayal of many of the Royal Borough’s poorest residents, and a dishonest and dishonourable travesty of the rules that were supposed to govern delivery of the KALC project.  

£80+ million for Holland Park School
£36 million for Chelsea Academy
£32 million for a Crossrail station that might never happen
£20 million for Exhibition Road

£5.5 million for Lancaster West heating.

This is affordable and is URGENTLY NEEDED.


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