ENERGY CENTRE: New details emerge for Solihull town centre plan
New details and designs have been released for a major new energy centre set to be built in the middle of Solihull.
The striking structure, to be erected next to Tudor Grange Leisure Centre, is intended to serve as the “beating heart” of a district heat network which will plumb in to buildings across the wider area.
The council, which has been working on the project for several years, had always said a central hub would be needed to run and maintain the system.
Once up-and-running, the network is intended to provide “low carbon” heating and electricity to the likes of council buildings, offices and school/college sites in the vicinity.
A first image was unveiled in January and now, with a planning application due to drop within weeks, more information has been posted online in an attempt to try and answer some of the most common questions.
Where will the centre be located?
The two storey building is set to be built next to the car parking area at Tudor Grange Leisure Centre, in Blossomfield Road.
Why have they settled on this site?
The council has said the right location will be “critical” to the success of the centre.
Officers argue it needs to be close to the various buildings that the system will serve in the vicinity of the town centre, while being large enough to house all the necessary equipment.
Highways, ecology and flooding officers have all carried out assessments as part of the process.
How will energy be generated?
The network will mostly be powered by air source heat pumps – renewable energy technology which draw heat from the the air. Although gas boilers will provide back-up on cold days.
The heat pumps rely on evaporator units on the roof. This start the process which allows for pressurised hot water to be carried via underground pipes to the various buildings which form part of the network.
What about the plans to draw heat from an underground lake?
Residents may remember that bore holes were drilled in the park back in 2019, amid hopes that the network could draw on heat from a water source deep beneath the soil.
As we reported later that year, the council eventually ruled out using this as an energy source and switched to plans for the air source pumps.
While there was a sufficient supply of water at the right temperature, the aquifer – a water-bearing rock – was deeper than originally thought and the speed at which water could be reabsorbed was deemed too slow.
Will trees need to be cleared to make way for the centre?
The proposals will involve the removal of some vegetation, although the council has said that “the majority” of trees on-site would be retained.
They have committed to planting new greenery as part of the scheme to ensure a “net gain” in wildlife habitat.
Detailed site plans are likely to be released when the application is submitted shortly.
What do we know about the design?
The colour is intended to blend in with the surrounding parkland, while the “perforated cladding” is intended to resemble the tree canopy.
The materials used are expected to be agreed when the construction contract is signed-off, but there is obviously a strong expectation that the choices will be environmentally-friendly – given the purpose of the site.
What is the timetable for works?
With a planning application expected to be formally submitted within weeks, it is likely to go to councillors for a decision in the coming months.
Subject to approval, building work is scheduled to begin in December of this year and would last around 14 months.
In response to concerns about noise and disruption during this period, the council has committed to keeping disturbance to “a minimum”.
It was originally hoped that the network would be up-and-running by late 2022, although the construction timetable suggests the “energy on” date could be pushed back to the following year.
Words: David Irwin, Local Democracy Reporter
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