Chorley town hall to go green with new heating system - but will the cost savings tempt businesses in the borough to follow suit?

The gas boilers that heat Chorley town hall are set to be ditched in favour of an environmentally-friendly alternative.

Monday, 9th May 2022, 4:41 pm
Updated Monday, 9th May 2022, 5:37 pm

An air source heat pump will be installed on the roof of the landmark building as part of a plan to decarbonise the facility.

Chorley Council is aiming to be carbon neutral by 2030 and recently produced a climate change action plan in which it lays out how it intends to achieve its green goals.

It is estimated that the town hall heat pump will cut the authority’s carbon footprint by at least 58 percent and slash its gas usage by 80 percent.

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The current boiler system is 33 years old and a recent meeting of the full council was told that it would not survive another winter of high-intensity use.

The authority has received a grant of £285,000 from the government’s Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme to fund part of the works, while it will borrow £1.3m to cover the balance.

Cabinet member for resources Peter Wilson said that the move would see the Labour-run authority “setting an example” to other businesses and organisations in the borough which could “learn from what we do”.

Chorley town hall's current gas boiler-powered heating system is over 30 years old - and has come to the end of its life (image: Silver Energy Management Solutions, via Chorley Council website)

However, Conservative opposition group leader Martin Boardman said that while he fully supported the use of air source heat pumps, he was not convinced that the figures for this particular scheme stacked up - either for the council or others who might have been inspired to follow its lead.

“It’s a £1.5m project [and] we currently spend…just shy of £30,000 per year on gas and electricity, which will see us saving just over £9,000 based on 2019 figures. That's [roughly]160 years' payback.

“My concern is that if the example [we set] is that we can get some grant funding for around about £250,000 and then borrow £1.3m to make a saving of £9,000 a year, that’s the wrong example we should be giving to businesses in this borough.

“We should be looking for efficiencies and savings which pay for themselves over a shorter period of time,” Cllr Boardman added.

A report presented to councillors stated that it would take 30 years for the savings generated to cover the grant element of the scheme - but stressed that that timeframe did not take into account “the positive impacts of a more pleasant working environment and having a net-zero flagship asset for Chorley”.

Council leader Alsiatir Bradley said that the payback period would be “an awful lot quicker” were town hall a newer building. However, he defended the merits of the project.

“We all know..that most of our gas bills have probably nearly doubled in the last six to 12 months - so we’re in an uncertain energy world.

“Energy prices could double again in the next five or ten years, at which point, [the scheme] becomes far more viable - it's already…twice as viable as it was when this plan was put together.

“What this is about is de-risking our supply, so that we can rely on something that’s there for nothing [and] that we can tap into, which is the air…as opposed to uncertain energy markets,” said Cllr Bradley, who added that the council was also concerned with “doing the right thing”.

Overseeing his final meeting as Chorley’s mayor, Cllr Steve Holgate - a long-time environmentalist - said that it would be “missing the point” to treat the heat pump plan as a “standard business exercise” based solely on cost savings.

“We’ve declared a climate emergency - that’s because it's real. One of the biggest savings you’ll get from…green initiatives like this…is to save the plant - that’s how serious it is,” Cllr Holgate added.

The work will be carried out in tandem with other changes being made as part of the council’s wider rethink of how it uses its buildings, with the authority having recently committed to a hybrid way of working for its staff. These include energy efficiency measures such as the installation of LED fixtures, double glazing and heating controls.

It is estimated that £150,000 will be saved by undertaking the decarbonisation activity alongside implementing the council’s accommodation strategy, with the latter having the potential to further increase the size of the carbon footprint reduction generated by the air source heat pump.

The three-storey town hall was built in the 1870s and last underwent a major refurbishment back in 2005. It already has solar panels on its roof.

Planning permission will need to be sought for the installation of the heat pump. Subject to that approval, work on site will begin in September and will need to be completed by March 2023 in order to fulfil the conditions attached to the government grant money.