Lancaster City Council

Salt Ayre Leisure Centre Decarbonisation Project

Briefly describe the initiative/ project/service; please include your aims and objectives

On 30th January 2019 Lancaster City Council declared a climate emergency after councillors unanimously voted to work towards creating a zero-carbon district by 2030.
The decision triggered a new approach for the council and challenged officers to think differently about how services could operate and better appreciate the impact each has on the environment. The following year the council set up a Climate Emergency project team to develop a comprehensive strategy and delivery plan to achieve the council’s net 2030 ambitions. This focused on targeting key CO2 emitters and developing detailed proposals to reduce emissions. As the single largest CO2 emitter in the council’s portfolio, a Heating and Thermal Efficiency review of Salt Ayre Leisure Centre took place in August 2020 to review decarbonised heating solutions and building fabric improvements. The report detailed that significant CO2 reductions could be achieved by replacing the ageing gas boilers with a two-stage district heating system using air source heat pumps combined with retrofit glazing and LED lighting upgrades.

As a district authority the specialist expertise was not available inhouse, working with APSE Energy and other specialist consultants, officers further developed plans to include a 1.3MWp solar array on a nearby disused landfill site owned by the council and connect it to the leisure centre with a direct wire. Full feasibility was completed, but funding needed to be found. In September 2020, the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) announced £1b of funding for public sector decarbonisation scheme funding and the city council submitted a bid for £6.8M to fund the full scheme at Salt Ayre. In January 2021, the council was informed that it had been successful and was the third highest recipient of PSDS grant funding in the North-West and the single-highest recipient for a district council. Officers have been working at pace with APSE Energy, Unify Group and specialist grid consultants, Roadnight Taylor, to deliver the challenging full scheme by March 2022. Due to the significance and scale, it is anticipated that this single project will reduce the council’s entire carbon footprint from natural gas by as much as 35%, saving in the region of 642 t(CO2e) p/a when combined with the council’s REGO-backed green energy tariff. This enables the leisure centre to achieve carbon neutrality status once the project is complete.

What are the key achievements?

The carbon reductions anticipated on completion of the scheme are significant and the design of the scheme along with the technology being utilized will enable further developments over the coming years. The success of the Public Sector Decarbonisation funding has enabled the council to save and, in some cases, redirect capital funding originally ringfenced to the leisure centre to other priority projects. Modelling suggests that the scheme should generate a positive financial return once delivered.
Based on the revised energy demands expected and capital savings, the council expects to make revenue savings of £114kover the next 10 years. Whilst a relatively modest sum, this should be considered alongside a net CO2 reduction 35% from natural gas. Natural gas constitutes 48% of the council’s direct emissions and the delivery of this scheme represents a significant reduction.

It would not have been possible to deliver such a large CO2 reduction and a positive financial outcome without PSDS funding and methodical modelling and design. To provide further futureproofing, the planning application, lease negotiations and updated restoration plan for the landfill site are based on a 3MWp solar array with battery storage. This will enable the1.3MWp solar farm to be extended when local grid restrictions are lifted by 2026. This provides the council with an opportunity to increase solar energy production, supply more renewable energy directly to Salt Ayre Leisure Centre and provide a commercial opportunity from sales to the grid and access to the ancillary markets. Sleeving arrangements to other buildings and venues will also be considered.

How Innovative is your initiative?

The council understands that once fully complete, Salt Ayre Leisure Center could be the first leisure center in the UK to reach carbon neutrality. In order to achieve this, a holistic approach to decarbonisation was adopted to maximize CO2 reductions and create an exemplar site. The council engaged with energy management experts to develop and design a heating system that could supply the heat loads required to completely remove the need for natural gas. A bespoke design was required, and the council settled on a two-stage district heating system using Air Source Heat Pumps connected to water to water heat pumps. The council isn’t aware of any other leisure centre in the UK that has taken this approach due to the complexity, design requirements, cost implications and head loads required. Innovation and creativity were required to overcome the hurdles and achieve complete decarbonisation.

Due to the timescales, officers formed a comprehensive project group. Expert advice was provided by APSE Energy, UnifyGroup and grid specialists, Roadnight Taylor to develop concise, robust delivery plans that are currently guiding the project through to the final stages of delivery. Officers have worked at pace, in an agile manner and pulled together all key stakeholders, both internal and external, to fast track the project whilst ensuring all necessary diligence is completed. Members and Cabinet have been briefed along the way and supported the fast-track approach, providing key officers with delegated authority to make decisions to ensure timeframes can be adhered to. This has been a huge achievement and demonstrated that local government can work swiftly and effectively. The funding success and pace at which officers have worked to deliver the project has demonstrated the agility at which local authorities can work and has been an impressive achievement considering the constraints associated with such a complex scheme.

The scheme is on track to be fully completed by March 2022, with all work at the leisure center itself reaching mechanical completion by December 2021 and the project was delivered whilst keeping the leisure center open to the public and during a national pandemic when much of the internal support and focus was allocated to other priority areas. Energy Consultants that have helped support the scheme have referred to the project as a ‘Rubik’s Cube’ due to the complexity and degree of problem solving required to overcome some of the challenging hurdles. The project has been an enormous collaborative effort that has demanded a high degree of organisation, problem solving ability, dedication and negotiation skills to deliver. Officers also considered social value during procurement. In line with the council’s social value and local wealth building ambitions, a 10% weighting for social value was allocated for all packages over £100k. This is expected to provide further benefit to local supply chains and employment and is estimated to be worth £155,928

What are the key learning points?

Challenges have included unexpected restrictions from the DNO, complexities on the former landfill site limiting the systems that could be used, amendments to restoration plans, consultation with the Environment Agency, development of construction plans, ecological appraisals, lease negotiations, full planning, internal governance, and delivery whilst maintaining an open leisure centre. Streamlining internal governance at the start was important, especially given the timescales required for delivery. As a local authority there are several steps and approval processes required before decisions can be made. Officers placed key decisions early and sought approval from cabinet to provide delegated authority to the Chief Executive. This provided officers with the freedom to quickly procure and award contracts, without the need to return to cabinet.

The scheme has been developed and led by two council officers, with additional support from consultants who were procured to substitute known knowledge gaps. Knowing what we didn’t know and bringing in relevant expertise was important. Due to the timescales needed for design, planning, prioritisation and understanding the interdependency of tasks and activities was key. As was understanding quite early on what issues could completely derail the project. Focusing efforts of these areas and addressing them early paid dividends, even though some would not normally be encountered until several months later into the programme. Understanding the gird is somewhat of a black art. The project needed to substantially increase supply to the centre, allow generation and sales back to the grid. Detailed modelling on generation from the solar and electrical demand from the heat pumps was required. Network studies with the DNO revealed what was possible, requiring some amendments to plans. There are time limits for grid acceptance offers and grid consultancy support was one of the single-most important things we obtained. Consultants helped us navigate the process, challenge the DNO and provide some creative solutions.

Additional Comments

2 min YouTube Video of the full project: Video: