Profit before planet – developers duck opportunity to reduce carbon footprint

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Councils serving the South West Exeter area have been forced to shelve an innovative district heating system designed to cut carbon emissions and reduce heating costs for future residents because most developers are unwilling to absorb any of the additional costs.

Although house prices have risen by £25,000 per plot in Teignbridge over the past year, the majority of housebuilders involved in the proposed development to the South West of Exeter were not prepared to contemplate an additional £2,000 a plot in potential development costs, despite the scheme benefits of a 70% cut in carbon emissions compared with natural gas fired boilers.

Announced earlier this year, the carbon cutting heating system which would have used heat already being generated from waste, was supported by a consortium including Teignbridge District Council, Exeter City Council and Devon County Council. Due to the benefits of tackling climate change, the £23 million project would have been backed by the three councils with up to £7.3 million capital investment funding – the equivalent to £3,000 a plot.

In addition, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) offered an additional £9 million through a mixture of loans and grants to support the scheme.

The scheme for 2,500 new homes, shops, community facilities and a new school campus near Exminster would have taken heat from the nearby Viridor Exeter Energy Recovery Facility at Marsh Barton and was supported by BEIS.

Annual carbon savings of 2,500 tonnes would have been secured by the scheme as well as lower energy costs for those who bought the new homes. The scheme was in line with the Government’s commitment to ending the use of fossil fuel heating systems.

In addition to the £7.3m contribution, Teignbridge was prepared to make a £50,000 advance payment for preliminary infrastructure.

Although smaller developers such as locally based Cavanna Homes demonstrated its green credentials by being prepared to support the scheme, the lack of sufficient housebuilder support means that the development, which has historic planning permission, is likely to go ahead with less energy efficient heating systems.

Teignbridge will continue to apply its approved carbon reduction policies and will need to approve plans prepared by the developers but the resulting emissions savings will not come close to the benefits of the district heating network.

Teignbridge Council leader and local County Councillor, Cllr Alan Connett said he was deeply disappointed that an impasse had been reached. “It seems to me that the developers are out of step with the public mood which understands the importance of doing everything we can to tackle climate change. Their actions do not seem to reflect the commitments in their annual reports to deliver low carbon developments.

“Sadly it seems that despite huge increases in returns over the past year due to the housing boom, many developers have taken a short sighted view, preferring to maximise profit before cutting carbon emissions and protecting the planet for future generations.

“We would have invested £3,000 a plot to achieve this fantastic carbon cutting scheme but the developers will not meet us even part way. Their decision makes it worse for the climate and future residents will also likely face higher heating bills as a result of this decision.”

Cllr Connett praised the organisations who had been involved in the project for their support of a common cause of providing high quality housing with low carbon, efficient heating.

Cllr John Hart, Leader Elect of Devon County Council, which is responsible for the Energy Recovery Facility site, said: “It is very disappointing that this scheme, to include the district heating system, is not going ahead because it would so clearly help address the Devon climate emergency. I am extremely keen to make use of the surplus heat from the waste to energy plant, and hope to see it being used in future housing projects.”

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