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Council must put all its energy into getting the most out of Goods Yard developer

You may remember that I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about the energy strategy submitted by Bellway Homes for the residential units at Solum's Bishop's Goods Yard development by Bishop's Stortford railway station.

This strategy proposed a carbon emissions reduction of 3.22% below building regulations, far short of the 20% proposed in the initial planning application. (Confusingly, the original energy strategy proposes a reduction of 20% but then goes on to demonstrate how a reduction of 24.6% may be achieved.)

I asked East Herts Council to comment and it has now come back with a response. This confirms that as a condition of planning, the developer must submit an energy strategy for each phase of the development. If approved by the council, the strategy must then be implemented.

A spokeswoman for East Herts confirmed that the 3.22% proposed by Bellway Homes is "clearly lower than that described in the strategy that accompanied the planning application – although that figure applied to the site as a whole, rather than to individual phases. The Bellway strategy has been submitted for the council to either approve or refuse. No decision has been made on that submission at this time but the council will take the contents of the original strategy that was submitted with the planning application into account when making its decision."

What about the work already under way?

According to the spokeswoman: "Works being carried out at the site currently comprise early/infrastructure works and the multi-storey car park. No further energy strategies have been submitted by the applicant relating to these works."

Hmm. It seems a bit of a stretch to describe the works as ‘early’. More importantly, it appears that the developers are either in breach of their planning conditions, or that this work does not constitute a ‘phase’ for the purposes of planning. If this is the case, then it looks like a major mistake.

To install infrastructure, decisions must have been made about how to heat and power the site. Without an energy strategy, it’s hard to see how these decisions have been scrutinised or approved by the planning department. If challenged at a later stage, the developers will be able to say that their hands are tied by the infrastructure that is in place.

To add further context, an Energy & Sustainability Appraisal of the planning application, commissioned by East Herts, was produced in May 2018. This concluded that "(the initial) energy strategy does not satisfactorily address energy, carbon and overheating concerns… a number of claims are not substantiated and should be expanded to provide justification for the decisions take… it appears a decision on strategy has been taken without robust technical appraisal."

With regard to the overall emissions reduction target, the report asked "should 20% be accepted, or should this be increased? A 35% improvement is becoming the norm, driven by standards imposed by the Greater London Authority." So East Herts Council’s own sustainability advisers were pushing for both stronger targets and more evidence.

This has implications that reach far beyond the Goods Yard.

The planning application for 8,500 homes at Gilston is open for public consultation until Thursday (August 15) and is due to be decided by Christmas.

The developers have proposed a 19% cut in carbon emissions against building regulations. This seems scandalous for an entirely new community which, through innovative design, could be zero carbon or even energy positive, meaning that it would generate more energy than it consumes and sell it back to the grid.

The target date for the council to decide on the Bellway proposal is August 19, although this may be subject to an extension. Given the size of this development, and the emissions reduction shortfall proposed, it is hard to see how East Herts could accept the revised energy strategy. We await its decision.

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