A grassroots campaign taking action against mammoth fuel bills and working

towards an affordable, sustainable and democratic energy system

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Website                   fuelpovertyaction.org.uk

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Fuel Poverty Action’s response to the 2018 Draft New London Plan

Information about the London Plan and a note on the structure of our response

The London Plan is ‘a strategic plan which shapes how London evolves and develops. All planning decisions should follow London Plan policies, and it sets a policy framework for local plans across London.’

The London Plan is necessarily broad in scope, and therefore many sections are not directly related to Fuel Poverty Action, and lay outside our areas of expertise. As such, we have made the decision to focus on the following sections of the plan: District Heating, Energy Infrastructure, Housing (inc estate regeneration, quality, affordable housing supply), and building strong and inclusive communities.

We briefly touch on other areas, and begin with an executive summary of FPA’s impression of the Draft New London Plan.

The main body of the response comprises comments on the relevant sections of the plan. To be best understood, we recommend that our comments are read alongside the Draft New London Plan, which can be accessed here.

Executive Summary

For the past two years Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) has been working with heat network customers in seven inner and outer London boroughs, many of whom have been having terrible problems with their District Heating systems in terms of reliability, service, and/or cost.  (We here use the term District Heating (DH) to refer to all forms of heat network.)  We have seen District Heating work well elsewhere, and we remain supportive of an option that can bring substantial reductions in both carbon emissions and poverty.  But it has to be done well.

Based on the Mayor’s draft Environment Strategy published last year, FPA were optimistic that the London Plan would bring improvements in the way District Heating was decided on, procured, and funded, and in the development and enforcement of standards to protect both District Heating customers and the environment.  We are sadly disappointed.  It appears that instead of moving forward, the Plan takes us backwards in a number of respects.

Key among these backward moves are:

  1. District Heating by default – instead of the promised “hierarchy of energy systems” which was to include CHP systems (Environment Strategy 4.4.4b) as one among several options, we see bald statements like “Major development proposals within Heat Network Priority Areas should have a communal heating system” (SI3D).  The Heat Network Priority Areas cover most of London and almost all of Inner London, on the basis that the “heat density is sufficient for heat networks to provide a competitive solution”.  This density does not necessarily mean that heat networks are the best solution for a specific site, and the London Plan does not ensure that they must be that.
  1. There is no definition of “competitive” which would include the long-term interests of customers.
  2. There is no indication that costs to consumers in tariffs, standing charges, and in some cases capital levies, will be measured accurately and using a realistic comparator with gas boilers, and then fully taken into account
  3. There is no definition of “competitive” which would include the potential costs of DH to air quality or even greenhouse gas emissions, taking  account of the fact that energy need should be dramatically increasing under a strategy that begins with being “lean”. Using less energy precedes using cleaner energy in the energy hierarchy but this is not reflected in the presumption of DH.
  4. There is no requirement for comparison with renewable energy (eg solar or hydrogen gas) which the Plan commits the mayor to considering under SI2, and which may not work well in combination with District Heating.
  5. In fact, the default requirement for DH does not include any conditionality that would protect customers or other London residents.   District Heating is assumed; the hierarchy offered in SI3 concerns only the source of fuel.

  1. Consultation and evidence -- Even in the aftermath of the Grenfell catastrophe, there is not a word about consulting local residents, or potential residents, even those who could easily be reached for consultation about heating systems, because they are expecting to move into regenerated homes in the same area they live in now.  If DH is indeed the best solution for most parts of London, it must be possible to make a clear case for it, with evidence, and allow Londoners to choose it, as they have in Aberdeen, and, indeed, in Cranston Estate in Hackney.

  1. Funding – instead of direct investment in partnership with LAs through a District Heating Network Delivery Body (see below, section on Funding), the plan relies on subsidising bodies which may be public, or may be private corporations (through DEEP).

  1. Developing standards  In the environment Strategy you undertook to  “update London’s guidance on design and specifications for heat networks and consumer standards in light of latest standards and feedback from Londoners.” Perhaps optimistically, we took this as a welcome recognition that Heat Trust standards of service, and CIBSE technical standards are a bare minimum, even where they are currently enforced.  Instead, the London Plan asserts that these existing standards “set out principles for good design, specification and operation of networks and can help ensure fairness for customers of heat networks”.  There is no longer a word about developing or improving them to ensure that “design, specification and operation of heat networks are of a high and relevant standard.”

  1. Enforcing standards – The Environment Strategy promised very little on the crucial issue of ensuring that standards, and contracts, are not simply disregarded.  However, there is growing recognition of the need to prevent bad DH schemes from developing in future: this has been a concern not only of residents and organisations like ourselves, Citizens Advice, and the Consumer Association, but also of the ADE, Ofgem, the CMA, and BEIS.  In this context it is very disappointing to see the London Plan ignoring the issue.  One potential way forward is licensing of suppliers; this has been put forward by Scottish government, has been suggested by Ofgem as a possibility, and the CMA are considering it.  (Scotland and Ofgem footnotes below; CMA from conversation.) Licensing of landlords has been effective in enforcing housing standards in some boroughs.  The appropriate body to move forward on this – and other effective measures – is the GLA.

  1. Whole-area planning – There is a map, and a guiding intention to produce a “coordinated”, “strategic”, “holistic” plan, with integrated policies that are  tangible and concrete.  There is a promise (9.3.1) that “the Mayor will work with boroughs, energy companies and major developers to promote the timely and effective development of London’s energy system (energy production, distribution, storage, supply and consumption)”..  But in relation to District Heating we see nothing like the detailed commitment to overall planning proposed by, e.g., the Scottish government, or already in place in Europe.  As far as we can see, in relation to DH, you do not propose even to take this critical opportunity to provide London-wide information on prices, London-wide standards and enforcement of standards, ways for local authorities to pool expertise and best practice, or a point of recourse for residents or local authorities when things go wrong.

  1. Air quality – as Londoners, we are all glad to see what appears to be a strong personal commitment to improve London’s air quality.  However, the commitment to ensure that DH fits into this imperative appears to have gone round in a loop referring back to the Environment Strategy, which itself referred forward to the London Plan.  In practical terms, there appears to be a contradiction between the presumption that DH “should” be installed, and on the other hand the statements on the air quality problems with CHP, which are not expected to be resolved (see below).

  1. Greenhouse gases -- In the London Plan, the imperative to reduce greenhouse gases is clearly a key motivation for making District Heating a default choice.  Yet the evidence is missing which would show that this is always, or even generally, the most effective way to move towards a zero carbon city.  Moreover, some crucial protections are missing.

  1. Community energy -- One of the best ways of ensuring that DH systems have the support of the community, and are properly monitored in action, is for them to be actually run by an accountable community organisation.  Community energy is supported in previous London policies (eg the former Mayor’s Sustainable Design and Construction Supplementary Planning Guidance suggests funding through carbon offsets) but as far as we can see, is not mentioned in the London Plan.

  1. Saddest of all is the failure to seize the opportunity of the London Plan to ensure that DH is brought in appropriately and wisely, on a rational, cooperative basis, nd with clear protections for Londoners.

    We hope you will reconsider.

*****

Last year we compiled evidence and positive proposals in response to your consultation on the environment strategy.  Below, we have updated this response with the latest information and with reference to the draft new Plan.

  1. Londoners’ experience of District Heating

  1. promises made at the time of applying for planning permission are not necessarily kept, or effectively monitored, and
  2. a number of assumptions that have been made about the alternatives to DH are not necessarily true, even if they were true a few years ago. The carbon emissions associated with electric power have fallen, changing the equation when compared with gas CHP.  Other low-carbon options, eg. solar and heat pumps, have developed, and the price has come down. Meanwhile previous estimates of demand for heat have been shown to be way off the mark if housing even approaches passive house standards.  Energy storage also affects peak demand and the need for quickly responsive systems.

  1. A thoroughly researched and publicly debated case must be made for DH in general and in specific situations where it is to be installed, comparing it to alternatives in relation to carbon emissions, air quality, reliability, overheating, use of space, and costs, present and future, including realistic provision for conversion to fossil free energy sources.  Given what so many people have experienced, it is not reasonable to expect Londoners to embrace, live with, and pay for, technology for which no convincing evidence or argument has yet been presented.  Any such argument should be open to robust challenge and debate, to avoid a situation where a case is made on faulty information (e.g. see below, Section F, re Redbrick Estate). The same, of course, should apply to other technologies, including gas boilers and electric heating.
  2. Prospective tenants, leaseholders, and freeholders should be made fully aware of the nature of the system they are intending to move into, and its costs, including future costs.  In cases of redevelopment or refurbishment, existing tenants should be given an opportunity to make an informed choice about the heating system for their estate.
  3. Any heat networks approved from now on should be based on renewable energy sources, or at least designed to be convertible to renewable energy; this includes the pipes and the appliances in homes.

  1. Greenhouse gases and District Heating

  1. Air quality and District Heating

Through the new London Plan, the Mayor will consider new policies on heat and power provision to make sure CO2 and pollution targets are achieved in a coordinated way with no air quality disbenefits The Mayor has set ambitious long-term targets to both reduce harmful pollution emissions and to become a zero carbon city. In the past, some policies have had the result of addressing one of these issues to the detriment of the other. The Mayor’s energy policies will take a holistic approach to overall emissions while ensuring no air quality disbenefits. Through the London Plan the Mayor will consider a hierarchy for energy systems that contributes towards improving air quality. In particular, while combined heat and power systems (CHP) can have benefits in terms of carbon emissions, gas engine CHP plant usually gives rise to higher emissions of NOx and/or PM10 emissions than ultra-low NOx gas boilers, even when abatement equipment is used.

Therefore in preparing his London Plan, the Mayor will consider whether, in areas which exceed legal air quality limits, the policy should prevent emissions from energy production plant, including from CHP, that would exceed those of an ultralow NOx gas boiler. Energy production plant used in other areas should meet all relevant emission standards (which may require abatement equipment) as considered by the new London Plan, as well as not causing unacceptable local impacts on air quality. To better understand the pollution impact of existing CHP systems in London the Mayor will develop a new CHP register which will be reflected in future versions of the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory. (emphasis ours)

  1. Enforcing standards in District Heating

Accountability

We are most concerned about a likely gap between intention and what will be implemented in practice.  

E. London-wide cooperation and a common Code of Practice for DH

  1. Explore co-operation with and between local authorities, as you plan to do in relation to private sector energy efficiency.  This would include  facilitating and encouraging exchange of experience and expertise between boroughs, and ensuring that those boroughs whose residents have been unprotected understand the need to bring their practice up to the standard of boroughs who have had engaged and consumer-focused District Heating advocates.  Training should also be offered.
  2. Where it cannot be satisfactorily achieved at a local level, itself take on inspection and monitoring of heat networks  
  3. Give residents access to a fully funded and responsive body that will address their complaints, and either fix the problem (permanently, not again and again) or ensure that those responsible for it do so.
  4. Set up a unit as supplier of last resort to take over badly functioning schemes if an Energy Service Company is not performing in the interests of its customers  

  1. have clear lines of responsibility with one named overall responsible body, regular reporting, and effective complaints procedures, compensation, and sanctions.
  2. offer active support for customers – eg meeting space, independent advice, secretarial support with minute-taking, recording of problems, etc., as requested, for residents’ organisations.
  3. have a clean track record.  No company or public body should be allowed to be involved in commissioning, building or operating any new network until they have dealt with any significant outstanding complaints about networks they have already been involved in. As Lambeth councillor Jacqui Dyer, explained to BEIS, there are vulnerable people at risk here – there should be a DBS service with disclosure and barring of anyone whose track record is bad, before they are considered for public support.
  4. ensure that effective and deterrent compensation to end users is a part of any contract made with GLA support.
  5. dispense with the practice of developers being paid capital contributions by ESCOs as a way of securing the contract.  

  1. Funding of District Heating

Therefore, we believe

An energy supply company for London

Policy SI1 Improving Air quality


Policy SI2 – Greenhouse gases

SI11 Fracking

Chapter 4. Housing

On policies H1, H5, and H7

  1. Effective mechanisms and commitment to listen to local residents and act on what they say both before any refurbishment or regeneration, and after completion.
  2. Developers and contractors should not be awarded funding, planning permission or contracts while major problems remain in homes they have already built.  The outstanding problems must be resolved first, for the benefit of both existing and future residents.
  3. Reparations for inadequate  performance and unfulfilled contract obligations should go not only to a local authority but to the residents directly affected.
  4. The GLA should press for the de-privatisation of the British Research Establishment (BRE), for testing and inspection regimes that are fit for purpose, and for building regulations free from loopholes and representing  the interests of residents, rather than developers or, for example, the plastics industry.

On Policy H10

  1. Require a ballot of residents, as committed to in the Mayor’s Good Practice Guide.  This ballot must be on the basis of independent advice, including on energy efficiency improvements and heating systems, being made available to residents in a way that enables them to understand it and make genuinely informed decisions.
  2. In terms of energy and climate calculations, should include embodied carbon.

Policy H1: Increasing housing supply

4.1.4: FPA supports the Mayor’s aim for more proactive intervention in London’s land market to unlock and accelerate housing delivery, including compulsory land purchases. We have written elsewhere that compulsory purchase orders should be considered a priority if we are to meet the UK, and London’s, housing need. However, we would like more detail on how the Mayor’s Office plans to assist (and compel ) local boroughs to achieve this.

Policy H5: Delivering affordable housing

Policy H7: Affordable Housing tenure

Policy H10 – Redevelopment of existing housing and estate regeneration

 


[1] 555 homes due on completion of stage 4.  It was argued that the £4m was not available.

Policy H13: Build to Rent

Improving tenant involvement, voice and rights

Co-operative / community led housing

We propose that the Mayor should work

  1. with existing, newly formed or developing London-based co-operatives, TMOs and CLTs to assess their existing and future potential (including resources and capacity) to develop new social / low-cost rented homes;
  2. with the boroughs, to identify and set aside public land that might be available to them to deliver community led housing;
  3. with the boroughs, to develop a London-wide list / online map of potential small development sites to match co-operatives / community led housing organisations with available development sites (particularly public land) for homes that will remain in perpetuity at costs that can be afforded by households of below median income levels;

and should provide support social housing tenants who wish to manage or collectively own their own homes.

Community energy