Blog :

Leeds PIPES: the most ambitious new DH scheme under construction in the country.

George Munson, Senior Project Manager – Sustainable Energy and Air Quality & Resources and Housing, Leeds City Council

I’ve been working on plans for District Heating in Leeds for around 10 years.  Aside from small local schemes the first tangible result was the Leeds Recycling and Energy Recovery Facility (RERF). The primary purpose was to deal with municipal waste, but we took the opportunity through procurement to ensure it was able to provide the heating for a District Heating scheme, by including a grid control valve on the steam turbine, so we could bleed heat off in future.

It took around 3 years with support from DECC (The Department of Energy and Climate Change – as was), HNDU (the Heat Network Development Unit), consultants, local stakeholders and a huge amount of internal work to identify a potentially investable project. It then took a further 2 years to procure, contract and secure investment, and a further 18 months of construction of Leeds PIPES by Vital Energi.

  • Now Leeds PIPES is a £35m investment in 2 energy centres, over 16.5km pipework, 1440 flats and 2 commercial connections.
  • It has an initial heat load of 15GWh, with the potential to grow to over 100GWh.
  • It is financed by ERDF (European Regional Development Fund), LGF (Local Growth Fund) with a £10m investment from the council’s HRA (Housing Revenue Account) and a further investment of £17m in the network by Leeds City Council itself.

This leads to the question – why would the council invest £17m during austerity?

It can be convincingly argued that it saves CO2, improves air quality, tackles fuel poverty and supports clean new developments.  It also completes a commitment to use our waste to keep vulnerable people warm. However, despite all of these clear benefits, £17m can still be considered a relatively risky investment for a cash-strapped council.  The simple answer to the question of why the council would fund this project is that no-one else will. The risk profile and low returns mean that private finance will not be willing to make this kind of investment.

We believe strongly that cities must go low carbon and a critical part of this is to decarbonise heat.  This was a once in a generation opportunity, without local authority investment, this would have been missed. It is local authorities who are able to take a longer view and invest in projects with long-term benefits. It is the City Council which has a responsibility for the people of Leeds, valuing the reduction in fuel poverty and the improved quality of life. And it is local authorities who have the levers: we run highways, local planning, housing, economic development – and we are trusted and long term. In short, local authorities have advantages that no private company can match.

The issue is that in order to achieve the huge potential for benefits from heat networks private investment is required. Our strategy is to grow the network in two more main phases, city centre this year, Southbank within 3 years, and then when we have a trading history and a pipeline of future customers seek private finance. Only at this point will the network be de-risked sufficiently to attract low cost finance.  We are taking risks and do not want to cash-in too early. Government seems to be at a heat crossroads: they are still technology agnostic, not wanting to pick winners, but we know that we can’t hit future carbon commitments with gas. The electric vehicle revolution has started, placing more demand on the grid and so action must be taken now.  New nuclear is beset with problems and so my advice to government would be to control the controllable: learn from Scandinavia and choose district heating for cities using the below criteria:

  • Use planning powers to create DH zones
  • Encourage private/public municipal energy companies
  • Invest capital to make these grow
  • View the Heat Network Implementation Programme as the start, not the end – it’s welcome but the potential is far bigger than HNIP can possibly deliver.

What needs to change?

Andrew Cooper, Green Party Councillor in Kirklees:

What needs to change?

The short pithy answer is of course lots and quickly. The IPCC Report told us that we have only 12 years to get a grip on carbon emissions as if there wasn’t enough evidence already. What frustrates me is the lack of urgency from policymakers on reducing emissions. It is like we have all the time in the world and sadly we simply don’t. We are not treating this as the climate emergency that it clearly is.

The final statement at COP24 in Katowice last December, which the UK Government signed up to, called for a much stronger relationship between national governments and Local Government on achieving the Paris Climate goals. There now needs to be a genuine and much deeper partnership between Local and National Government to work together to reduce emissions. That simply isn’t there at the moment and we need it. Used imaginatively Councils can be a swift and effective tool to deliver programmes to reduce emissions and engage citizens. We have Nationally Determined Contributions towards achieving the Paris Climate goals why not Locally Determined Contributions or Regionally Determined Contributions.

Housing and specifically new build housing is within most councils’ remit as planning authorities. We can make a difference. In July Government told us that Councils could set our own energy efficiency standards in our Local Plans for new housing. That’s good and I am pushing for the Passivhaus Standard in Supplementary Planning Guidance to the Kirklees Local Plan. If Kirklees agrees it and government allows it and I succeed, then that will be one Local Authority out of hundreds. Why doesn’t government just improve building regulations and actually properly enforce them with an independent publicly managed Building Control system to ensure their quality of build and energy performance?

It’s not just hew homes but the ones that already exist that pose one of our biggest challenges. We need to rapidly improve the energy efficiency of the existing homes to reduce energy demand, with all the health and income benefits that would come with that. So we desperately need a mass retrofit programme. The easy stuff has largely been done in terms of loft and cavity wall insulation. It is the solid wall properties with attic rooms that we need to address with internal drylining, room in roof insulation and external cladding where appropriate and we need to aim for the Enerphit standard for retrofit. Yes it needs paying for and a combination of ramping up the Energy Company Obligation and use of general taxation is what is required. We can spend countless billions on HS2 and the expensive dangerous folly that is Hinckley C but wouldn’t it be better to invest those funds in a programme like this that would directly help millions of people, with substantial additional benefits.

So how can we find the necessary funding to help achieve our low carbon ambitions? Financing ambitious carbon reduction projects is always a challenge and because government policy is constantly shifting it means that innovative projects have to react to whatever works in the current policy context. Before the Feed In Tariff  Kirklees helped fund solar PV schemes for householders by placing a second charge on the property to pay for installations. Back in 2009 this was the Winner of the British Renewable Energy Awards. The Feed in tariff made this approach unnecessary but now it’s going it could be revived as a way of supporting household installations. Many carbon reduction schemes make financial sense and have short payback periods such as low energy lighting schemes that often have payback periods of less than 2 years. When considering projects such as a switch in Council vehicle fleets to electric the business case has been made in Kirklees on the basis of lower revenue costs in terms of fuel and servicing. We also need to challenge assertions that higher environmental standards mean higher costs. With the price of modular construction homes built to the passivhaus standard, for instance, are rapidly dropping in comparison with homes built to current building regulation standards, we should ensure that information on costs for the lower carbon option are made on the basis of complete information not a partial case designed to rule it out.

We need to reboot and re-energise the mass solar PV sector and give it a sustainable future with no chopping and changing of Government policy every 6 months. This would enable it to be a mass market product again but this time with a strong focus on community owned renewables and energy storage.

The effective ban on onshore wind projects needs to be lifted. It is ludicrous that our cheapest form of renewable energy is basically a non-starter and if we do re-energise it we need to encourage more publicly owned and community owned renewables.

Renewable heat and Combined Heat and Power need to have a much stronger focus from government. I’m not a big fan of the incineration of waste but it’s not just the waste that goes into these that I object to but the waste heat going up the chimneys. Some great work is going on in Leeds and other authorities, but it is not the norm. It is not mainstream.

We need to stop subsidising fossil fuels. We hear all this talk from some politicians about the renewable sector having to stand on its own two feet in the energy market, yet we subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of £12 billion/year and renewables £8.3 billion/year. The balance is wrong and doesn’t reflect where Government support is needed. Local Government and wider public bodies need to divest from fossil fuels which if we are serious about addressing emissions will become worthless stranded assets (according to the Governor of the Bank of England). Some have already done so, others need to like the West Yorkshire Pension Fund for instance.

I’d love to see a mass tree-planting project with large scale civic engagement, and I hope the Northern Forest proposal becomes that. Every school child in the UK should be given the chance to plant a tree.

The revolution in electric vehicles needs to be accelerated and Councils and large fleet operators incentivised to act more swiftly with infrastructure and in their own procurement. Leeds is doing well with 200 electric vehicles, but there are others who are lagging behind.

Fracking. We need to keep it in the ground. Ban it like so many other civilised countries in the world have and Scotland.

We need to ensure we do these things but focus on those on the lowest incomes first. We don’t just save the world, we must create a better world.

Do all this and it will be a good start.

City Leaders across country join forces to call for diesel scrappage fund worth up to £3,500 to each car and van driver.

A group of city and council leaders from across the country have announced their support for a nationwide scheme to help rid our streets and roads of the most polluting diesel cars, vans and buses.


The mayors and political leaders, who collectively represent 20 million people, signed up to the pledge in advance of the #LoveCleanAir summit convened by The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the cities network UK100 at Tate Modern on Valentine’s Day 2019. At the summit, political leaders signed pledges promising to establish the toughest air pollution targets in the world, linked to WHO limits and to create an independent clean air watchdog. [link to story 1]


The event was attended by the Environment Secretary Michael Gove, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, and the Chief Executive of the NHS Simon Stevens. Asked about the plans for a national scrappage scheme, Mr Gove said “We’re going to make sure that the Treasury hears loud and clear the united chorus that we need to do even more to make sure that our air is healthy and clean.”


The scheme, which would be targeted at low income families and small businesses, would provide a £2,000 credit towards an ultra-low emission car for anyone scrapping an older, polluting diesel car registered before 2015.


Alternatively, people would be offered credit towards free or cheaper public transport, access to free car clubs or bike hire and purchase schemes. For small businesses, there would be a £3,500 credit for those scrapping a diesel vehicle registered before 2016 to buy a new ultra low emission van or minibus.


Polly Billington, Director of UK100, said: “We know that low income families need a bit of extra help to do the right thing, and are often those most affected by toxic fumes. A national scrappage fund would support hundreds of thousands of people and small businesses to move from older polluting vehicles into clean transport, cycling and walking so we can all love clean air.”


It would be up to local areas to manage the scheme which would be targeted at areas with Clean Air Zones, but research by UK100 shows it would take 300,000 of the most polluting cars off the road, 171,000 of the most polluting vans and potentially even retrofit 18,000 buses to make them ultra low emission, bringing the total to nearly half a million vehicles (484,000).


Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, said: “If we’re going to tackle the health crisis and social injustice caused by air pollution it is vital and only fair that a national vehicle scrappage scheme is funded and supported by the government.”


The research by UK100 shows that the scheme would cost approximately £1.5bn, based on an adaptation of a TfL proposal, and could be funded by savings identified in the Government’s Clean Air Strategy 2019 of £1.7bn annually.


As part of the package, £260 million in London would pay to take 130,000 high polluting vehicles off the roads, and in Manchester £200 million could take all private vehicles that do not meet air quality standards off the road and offer everyone scrapping their old car free public transport.


The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Air pollution is linked to the equivalent of 1,200 early deaths each year in Greater Manchester alone. Greater Manchester’s ten local authorities are showing leadership in developing a Clean Air Plan. But we urgently need government to guarantee the right level of powers and funding to help us tackle the scale of the problem without damaging our local economies. That includes adequate funding so we can help businesses make the change to cleaner vehicles.”


Signatories to calls for £1,5bn national vehicle renewal fund

  • Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London;
  • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester;
  • Steve Rotheram, Mayor of Liverpool City Region;
  • Dan Jarvis, Mayor of Sheffield City Region;
  • Cllr Adam Larke, Deputy City Mayor, Leicester
  • Cllr Ian Ward, Leader of Birmingham City Council;
  • Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, Leader of Bradford Metropolitan District Council, Chair of West Yorkshire Combined Authority;
  • Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader of Newcastle City Council;
  • Cllr Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council;
  • Cllr Christopher Hammond, Leader of Southampton City Council;
  • Cllr Alex Ganotis, Leader of Stockport Council and Greater Manchester Green City Region Lead;
  • Cllr James Lewis, Deputy Leader, Executive Board Member for Resources and Sustainability, Leeds City Council;
  • Cllr Andrew Waller, Deputy Leader and Executive Member for the Environment, City of York Council;
  • Cllr James Noakes, Cabinet Member – Streetscene, Transport & Highways and Air Quality, Liverpool City Council;
  • Cllr Sally Longford, Portfolio Holder for Energy and Environment, Nottingham City Council.

City leaders representing 20 million people sign up to world’s most ambitious clean air plan

On Valentine’s Day 2019, UK100 and the Mayor of London brought together a cross party group of mayors and council leaders from across England to agree the world’s most ambitious clean air plan.

With representatives from Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield and Bristol, the #LoveCleanAir summit, which was supported by Unicef UK, hammered out an agreement that would include the world’s toughest air pollution targets alongside new powers and resources to reduce pollution from vehicles, agriculture and industry.

Attendees at the National Clean Air Summit who collectively represented over 20 million people, discussed their concerns directly with the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, the Health Secretary, Matthew Hancock and the Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens.

Asked about the plans, Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, said he hoped to be able to agree to the plan “soon” and that “we’re going to make sure that the Treasury hears loud and clear the united chorus that we need to do even more to make sure that our air is healthy and clean.”

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Our country’s filthy air is a national disgrace that shortens lives, damages our lungs, and severely impacts our NHS. City leaders across the country are united in raising the alarm about the dangers posed by poor air quality. I know Michael Gove and Matt Hancock both share my commitment to clean up our filthy air and protect the health of future generations – but for this to happen they must recognise the scale of this issue, dip in their pockets and urgently match the ambition of our city leaders.”


In addition, the summit saw calls for a new national scrappage scheme worth £1.5bn to remove the most polluting cars, vans and buses from our roads. [link to story 2] and an announcement from the Mayor of London that he would double the number of vehicles eligible for the scrappage scheme in London before the introduction of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) in April 2019.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “We urgently need government to guarantee the right level of powers and funding to help us tackle the scale of the problem without damaging our local economies. That includes adequate funding so we can help businesses make the change to cleaner vehicles. Without this support we won’t be able to do what’s required to clean up our air, keep our region an attractive, sustainable and healthy place to live and work and – ultimately – save lives.”
Participants also pressed ministers to set up an independent clean air watchdog with the powers and resources to hold national Government to account.

School children from Henry Maynard Primary in Walthamstow joined the start of the summit to explain how polluted air affects them and why they #LoveCleanAir.


Polly Billington, director of UK100, added: “Air pollution is a national health crisis. Government should work in partnership with local leaders by providing new powers and adequate funding: that will make a real difference to drive urgent and effective action. Many councils and mayors are acting, but an extra £1.5bn is needed to support people and businesses to switch from older polluting vehicles into low emission transport, cycling and walking so we can all love clean air. We also a need a new clean air law including tougher, legally binding WHO air pollution limits and an independent watchdog that will hold Government to account.”


The city leaders and environmental groups who attended the #LoveCleanAir summit at Tate Modern called for the Government’s proposed Environment Bill to include the following provisions:

  • Adopt World Health Organisation recommended air pollution limits as legally binding targets to be achieved by 2030to guarantee the highest health standards that are supported by improved monitoring that assesses air quality and the powers to enforce.


  • Create an independent watchdog that is adequately funded and empowered to hold the Government to account, including through legal action and the levelling of fines, and review and be able to require action needed to reduce air pollution from Government and other public bodies such as Highways England.


  • Grant Local Authorities the powers they need, with necessary resources, to deliver zero emission transport networks.


  • Enable the setting and enforcement of ambitious standards for local air quality, including for solid fuel stoves. Including powers for regional authorities to control emissions from other fixed sources, such as boilers and combined heat and power sources as well as set energy efficiency standards including for existing buildings.


  • Establish adequately resourced local powers to set and enforce emission zones for Non-Road Mobile Machinery such as construction, industry and agricultural equipment.


  • Require co-ordinated action from private and public bodies to improve air quality, such as: ports, Highways England, Network Rail, Homes England, Environment Agency and Directors of Public Health, and provide necessary resource to enable activity


List of the signatories:

  • Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London
  • Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester
  • Dan Jarvis, Mayor of the Sheffield City Region
  • Steve Rotheram, Mayor of the Liverpool City Region
  • Councillor Ian Ward, Leader, Birmingham City Council
  • Councillor James Lewis, Deputy Leader of Leeds City Council
  • Joe Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool City Council
  • Cllr Adam Paynter Leader, Cornwall County Council
  • Sarah Muckle, Director of Public Health, Bradford Metropolitan District Council
  • Cllr Craig Cheney, Deputy Mayor of Bristol
  • Cllr Adam Clarke, Deputy City Mayor, Leicester City Council
  • Cllr Toby Neal, Cabinet Member – Community Protection, Nottingham City Council
  • Cllr Christopher Hammond, Leader, Southampton City Council
  • Cllr Susan Brown, Leader, Oxford City Council
  • Cllr Nick Forbes, Leader, Newcastle City Council
  • Cllr Lewis Herbert, Leader, Cambridge City Council
  • Cllr Tim Warren, Leader, Bath and North East Somerset Council

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

How to accelerate local progress towards carbon neutrality

From passing a climate emergency motion to a meaningful programme of action

Simon Roberts OBE, Centre for Sustainable Energy, 18 March 2019

The roll-call of local authorities which have passed motions declaring a climate emergency grows day by day. What started in Bristol in November last year has been spreading like a benign virus through council chambers across the land and encouraging councillors of all parties to commit to taking urgent action to cut carbon emissions rapidly to virtually zero.

So what needs to be done locally to turn this fresh political commitment into meaningful programmes of action and participation which genuinely accelerate local progress in cutting emissions?

Beyond a typical response

A typical response would be for a council to commission a swathe of analytical work detailing how the new emissions target embedded in the motion (typically carbon neutral by 2030) might be achieved locally – if at all. The analysts and consultants are called in and everyone waits to find out what the plan is.

This is not a useless exercise; it will tend to produce a list of technological choices (from building retrofit to EV take-up) which details the quantities in which they have to be adopted from now until 2030 to meet the target. But such an exercise misses the point.

The problem is not that we are unfamiliar with the actions which need to be taken to cut emissions such that we must have them spelled out to us (though perhaps some do still want this).

The problem is that the individuals, communities, businesses and organisations that together make up a local area are not yet doing these actions in sufficient quantities to cut emissions fast enough. There are reasons why this is currently the case and it is those ‘reasons’ which must be tackled to accelerate progress.  

So another approach is required if these motions are to generate the meaningful and above all effective programmes of local action which they seek.

Stimulating the great acceleration

This approach involves treating the climate emergency motion as principally a call to accelerate the pace at which we’re collectively making all the changes we already know are required to cut emissions: to scale up, speed up and start up the things we know need to happen and know how to do. And to give up doing things which are incompatible with the local area becoming carbon neutral.

Immediately the focus becomes how to recruit the initiative-takers, enrol the key institutions and businesses, and reach beyond the council to build a partnership of the willing to contribute to the great acceleration in action to cut emissions sought by the motion.

Local authorities differ in the extent to which such wide-ranging and inclusive partnerships are already in place or emerging in their localities. But nurturing one is undoubtedly a necessary condition for success for the society-wide transformation inherent in achieving carbon neutrality.

Within such partnerships and more widely, individual and organisational commitments to contribute need to be concentrated quite specifically on what each individual or organisation is going to do next. Their ‘first next steps’ start from where they find themselves and seek to change something so more can be achieved. The steps must be possible without someone else taking action first (typically ‘national government’). Of course, there’s a need to look at what others with power need to do to make action by everyone easier, cheaper, quicker, better, more inclusive – and lobbying for these changes could be one of the first next steps.

We can’t outsource change

But to leave it there – a list of recommendations for ‘someone else’ to deliver – would be to outsource change. It would be to ignore the role we each have through our own direct actions in our lives and in our work and through the influence we can bring to bear on others. And it would be to underestimate how that role played well can lead to more systemic changes which would re-shape everyone’s actions.

Achieving carbon neutrality needs people and organisations to make huge changes in their own practices and choices and in how they seek to influence others. By doing so they can set new norms of behaviour, drive new initiatives, and secure wider participation. And they help to create the conditions in which others will find it easier to take action themselves and join in – including national politicians and regulators who design market rules and set funding priorities.

That’s why at a recent Bristol Green Capital Partnership event on ‘accelerating progress towards a carbon neutral Bristol’, one of the asks of the 180 attendees from across the city was to make and share their own commitments to ‘next step’ actions ‘at home’, ‘at work’ and ‘in our communities’.

We were putting into action the aphorism ‘If not us then whom? If not now, then when?’, much quoted by proposers of the climate emergency motions in different councils as they closed their debates and moved to a vote. Aside from a resonant rhetorical flourish, the aphorism provides a useful starting point for building the meaningful programme of action and participation required in response to the climate emergency: start with the willing and focus first on what they will commit to do next to accelerate progress.


Simon Roberts OBE is Chief Executive of the charity the Centre for Sustainable Energy and a non-executive director of Bristol Green Capital Partnership CIC.