Wirral Council advances £40m Birkenhead Heat Network plans

Wirral Council is looking to take the next step on £40m plans to transform how new homes will be heated in Birkenhead.

Plans for a Birkenhead Heat Network – part of the local authority’s regeneration proposals – are to be reviewed by members of its economy and regeneration committee next week. The scheme seeks to heat thousands of homes using renewable energy sources.

Heat networks power homes via a network of underground pipes carrying hot water from a central source.

The council was given £230,000 to develop the plans and create an outline business case with a proposal to use waste heat from the Birkenhead Wastewater Treatment Works and water source heat pumps from the Birkenhead docks. 

Councillors will also be asked to approve an application for government funding as well as review the different options on how to deliver it.

This proposal could generate 49.6 gigawatts of heat per year and save more than a quarter of a million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in its lifetime compared to gas-fired boilers and air source heat pumps. A gigawatt is enough to power 1m homes for an hour.

The current proposed network covers planning developments across Birkenhead including the area around Cleveland Street south of Birkenhead Park and the Hind Street Urban Village, an ambitious plan to turn derelict industrial land near Birkenhead Central into 1,600 homes.

It could be expanded to include Seacombe and Wallasey as funding has been recieved to explore proposals in these areas.

The report said the project costs are more than £40m, with an expected return of around 13%.

However this is dependent on the heat network project meeting deadlines for Hind Street and while the council said it is “highly unlikely” the local authority could take the financial risk on itself, “it is very likely to be an appealing project to the private sector” due to the money expected to come back in.

Almost £200,000 has been used so far to develop the plans with the remaining £35,000 expected to develop the plans to the point an application is submitted to Green Heat Network Fund, a government grant totalling £288m supporting the construction of low carbon heat networks.

The UK government in 2019 committed to no longer allowing fossil fuel heating to be installed in new homes from 2025, and estimates that around 18% of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost-effectively.

Similar plans were submitted by Peel Energy in 2023 to create a heat network energy centre at Vittoria Studios, one of its Wirral Waters developments on Duke Street. Discussions are ongoing but the Peel proposal will currently just supply heat to Peel’s own developments. This is still waiting to be approved.

Image: The Hind Street urban village. Credit: Wirral Council

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