Local officials have withdrawn their unequivocal support for a controversial hydrogen heating trial proposal in northeast England — just days before ministers are due to announce a decision on whether to authorise the project — citing growing local opposition and calling on the UK government to establish clear consent before it goes ahead.
The Redcar Hydrogen Village heating trial, proposed by gas distributor Northern Gas Networks (NGN) would see 1,800 properties removed from the gas grid in order to test H2 in the local pipes, a proposal that has prompted a slow but growing backlash in the community on the grounds of safety, cost and local consent.
Redcar and Cleveland Council, which is listed as a key partner on NGN’s Redcar Hydrogen Village website, initially gave its unconditional support, but has now written to the UK’s energy minister, Claire Coutinho, to flag the extent of opposition in the area.
“Over recent weeks it has become clear to me that the level of opposition to the proposed trial has grown locally,” wrote council leader Alec Brown. “I have spent time in the communities that fall within the proposed trial area, speaking to residents and listening to their concerns and the reasons for their opposition.”
He added: “I have heard a number of residents express their frustration about having the trial forced upon them without the ability to remain as they are, and I can appreciate why they feel this way.”
The government has promised that it will not approve any hydrogen heating pilot without “strong local support”, which ultimately led to the cancellation of the other proposed trial in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, in July after it became clear that residents did not want it.
Brown’s letter makes it harder for NGN and the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), which originally commissioned the proposal, to argue that NGN has the requisite level of consent.
NGN has long said that it has 76% support for the project, based on a survey carried out a year ago — although an investigation by Hydrogen Insight revealed that the survey was flawed and based on a tiny number of residents.
The gas distributor has promised to hold a public meeting on 18 December, with government officials present, to address residents’ concerns.
However, with a final decision on whether the government will support — and pay for — the trial due before the end of the year, some believe the meeting will instead be used for DESNZ to announce their decision.
NGN has previously said it is not aware of any plans by DESNZ to make such an announcement at the meeting, while DESNZ claims it has not yet made a decision.
Redcar and Cleveland Council has stopped short of actively opposing the trial itself — in fact Brown has repeatedly described his position as “neutral” in social media posts — but warned that the government may not have the strong local support it needs.
“There may be value in the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero seeking to establish the extent of support for the trial, as with the growth in the volume of opposition it is less clear than it first appeared,” Brown writes in the letter .
Many residents say they have changed their minds since NGN first carried out its survey, with others saying they never participated in the first place — leading to a growing clamour for a binary vote on the matter.
A major protest in Redcar town centre last month attracted 140 people, according to campaigners, although NGN told Hydrogen Insight it believes a maximum of 80 people attended.
Brown added that the council recognises the perceived benefits of the trial, including local employment and potential for carbon abatement.
“With proportionately high levels of carbon per capita, we are supportive of efforts to safely decarbonise residential heat and would welcome the jobs and investment that the trial would represent for Redcar,” he wrote.
A spokesperson for NGN said: “The hydrogen village is a government initiative and it’s important that the views of Redcar residents are understood. We are aware of a small, but vocal minority who oppose our proposal, influenced by campaigners who are not local, but this is not reflective of the community at large, who recognise the opportunity of switching to hydrogen or electric."