A controversial 2,000-property hydrogen heating trial that has already seen one proposal tanked by furious public opposition, is likely to be reduced in size at the request of the UK government, according to local officials.

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Hydrogen Insight has learned that the gas company behind the Redcar proposal in northeast England, Northern Gas Networks (NGN), met with councillors in affected wards (local-government administrative areas) this week and informed them of the decision — without confirming by how much the scheme would be reduced by or on what basis.

A WhatsApp message from a local official to affected residents, seen by Hydrogen Insight, suggests that the trial may be reduced by re-drawing the trial boundaries.

Currently, two wards are earmarked for hydrogen heating under NGN’s Redcar proposal, Coatham and Kirkleatham, although by far the majority of properties in the original 2,000-property plan are located in Coatham.

Councillor Alec Brown, who represents the ward of Kirkleatham, said this week in public Facebook post that NGN’s move to scale back the trial is due to pressure from the UK government.

“The government asked NGN to make the trial area smaller, hence why there has been some confusion over the last few months,” he said, pointing out that 26 flats in the 300-year-old almshouses (homes owned by a charitable trust for those in need) have also been excluded from the trial.

“Others [sic] homes may be excluded from the trial before the proposal comes forward,” he added. “The trial may not yet happen and is pending the government decision.”

Hydrogen Insight has also learned that the government has scheduled a decision on whether or not to move ahead with the proposal for December this year.

The government department responsible for commissioning the trial, the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), had not responded to questions from Hydrogen Insight at the time of publication.

The aim of the trial is to gather information about converting the gas network to run on 100% hydrogen to help the government decide whether or not to support the use of hydrogen for heating — a decision it plans to take in 2026 (although the current Conservative administration is widely expected to be out of power by then).

Energy regulator Ofgem had set the design parameters at a maximum of 2,000 properties when it originally solicited detailed design submissions for the hydrogen village trial from gas network operators in July 2021 — at the behest of the UK government.

“Our expectation is that between 1,000 and 2,000 meter points may be appropriate to generate evidence of rollout methods and conversion processes, and to produce representative findings from a diverse range of participants and building types,” read the invitation letter from Ofgem to the gas companies.

NGN has remained tight-lipped about its plans for the Redcar trial.

“We’re continuing to discuss our proposal with government,” a spokesperson for NGN told Hydrogen Insight. “If there are any changes to the scope, we’ll let customers know.”

NGN’s plan is the last proposal standing after Cadent Gas’ proposal for Whitby, in Ellesmere Port in northwest England was shelved by the UK government this month in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

Residents in Whitby mobilised a major campaign highlighting their concerns about the proposal — on the grounds of safety, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, having no option to continue using natural gas, and a basic lack of information, including what would happen at the end of the two-year pilot.

The backlash was such that the UK government placed an extra condition on the project sponsors to prove “strong local support” for the scheme.

Opposition to the Redcar scheme has been muted compared to the outrage in Whitby, but is nevertheless growing in volume and is now benefitting from support from the same campaign team that opposed Cadent’s scheme.

NGN may also be hard pressed to prove strong local support, especially as a Hydrogen Insight investigation found that NGN’s official independent survey, carried out as part of its bid submission, only managed to survey a maximum of 35% of affected residents.