News  ⁄  Climate & environment

South West Exeter district heating network plan abandoned

Property developers refuse to back scheme despite local authorities committing £7.3 million to project to supply 2500 new homes with waste heat from Marsh Barton incinerator, Exeter's largest single source of carbon emissions.

Exeter city council   Teignbridge district council   Devon county council   South west exeter   Marsh barton   Net zero exeter   Devon carbon plan  

A plan to supply the South West Exeter development of 2500 homes with heat from the Marsh Barton waste incinerator which was announced in February this year has been abandoned because most of the property developers involved in the scheme are unwilling to accept modest additional up front costs.

Despite Exeter City Council, Teignbridge District Council and Devon County Council agreeing to support the scheme with £3,000 per plot of funding, £7.3 million in total, and house prices in the area rising by £25,000 per plot over the past year, the majority of house builders involved in the development will not consider fronting the remaining £2,000 per plot required for its delivery.

The councils had promoted the scheme on the basis it would reduce carbon emissions from the new homes by up to 2,500 tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, compared with every home instead using gas-fired domestic boilers. This figure does not, however, account for the carbon emissions generated by the waste incinerator, which were nearly 51,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent a year in 2018 according to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, making the Marsh Barton facility the city’s largest single source of carbon emissions.

The proposed district heating network, which would have distributed heat generated by burning rubbish to nearby residential and commercial properties through a system of insulated pipes, would also have needed a new dedicated gas boiler energy centre to top it up which would have consumed nearly 5000MWh of natural gas each year.

Devon County Council nevertheless said that the scheme, which it described as “innovative”, was in line with the Government’s commitment to ending the use of fossil fuel heating systems.

The £45 million Marsh Barton waste incinerator, which is operated by Viridor in partnership with Devon County Council, opened in 2014 and is expected to remain in use until 2050. It burns 60,000 tonnes of rubbish each year.

No consideration appeared to have been given to the possibility of other sources of heat being used to supply the South West Exeter district heating network, which would have committed the city to high impact waste incineration for another thirty years.

A wide range of heat sources are used to power the thousands of such heating networks in use around the world, many of which are truly low or zero carbon. These include geothermal and solar energy and heat pumps in a variety of configurations. Denmark is expected to use renewable sources for all its energy by 2050.

South West Exeter development location map

South West Exeter development map. Source: Devon County Council.

The South West Exeter development of 2500 new homes on the Teignbridge edge of Exeter is presented as an extension of Exeter’s suburbs, although 80% of the new homes will come under the jurisdiction of Teignbridge District Council. It will include a school for 1400 pupils, shops and community facilities and will be larger than Exminster.

The 90 hectare site, which stretches from Alphington to the M5 with the A379 dividing it in two, is expensive to develop because of its steep topography, existing road layout and proximity to the environmentally important Exe Estuary. 21.5 hectares are allocated as employment land at nearby Peamore.

Devon County Council received £55.1 million from the national Housing Infrastructure Fund in February 2019 to pay for new roads and junctions, upgrades to roads, a pedestrian/cycle bridge to cross the A379, a public park and community building and a new electricity substation to help enable site development.

The funding is provided as a grant to the county council, which is allowed to reclaim the cost of providing the infrastructure from developers as the housing is built. Once funding is recovered, the county council can use it to support further development sites.


 is editor of Exeter Observer and a member and director of its publisher Exeter Observer Limited.

 


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