A UK village that saw furious protests over plans to test hydrogen heating in 2,000 homes has been dropped as a candidate for the government’s controversial heating trial because of a lack of “strong local support”, the UK government has confirmed.
Lord Martin Callanan, a minister in the UK’s Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) responsible for facilitating the Hydrogen Village trial, announced yesterday evening (Monday) on Twitter that the village of Whitby, in Ellesmere Port, northwest England, is no longer in the running.
The Whitby scheme, put forward for the UK government trial by gas network operator Cadent Gas, was one of two proposals competing to win a contract to test hydrogen in 2,000 properties — the other being Northern Gas Networks’ (NGN) for Redcar, northeast England, which now appears to be the winner by default.
“After listening to the views of residents, it’s clear that there is no strong local support. Therefore Whitby will no longer be considered as the location for the UK’s first hydrogen village trial,” read Callanan’s tweet. “Discussions with NGN re: Redcar are ongoing and we’ll announce next steps shortly.”
DESNZ confirmed the news — and the veracity of Callanan’s tweet — to Hydrogen Insight, while Cadent Gas expressed its disappointment.
“[DESNZ] has informed us that ours is not the preferred proposal for the Hydrogen Village trial,” a spokesperson for Cadent said in a statement. “We understand that this means that the government is likely to progress the trial in Redcar rather than in Whitby in Ellesmere Port.
“We know that this will be disappointing to the many residents who told us they wanted their community to play a pioneering role in decarbonising how we heat our homes in the UK,” the statement continued. “We are incredibly grateful to everyone in Whitby who has given us their time and attention over the last year as we have developed our proposal.”
But campaigners in Whitby were elated at the development, celebrating a “monumental achievement against all odds”.
“Cadent's [campaign], was built on manipulation, misinformation and deceit,” Whitby resident and campaigner Kate Grannell told Hydrogen Insight. “This may initially seem formidable, but it is no match for the indomitable power of the people. History has shown that when individuals unite against falsehoods, manipulation, and deceit, their collective strength can bring down even the most cunning schemes.”
She added: “The government, Cheshire West Council [the local authority], Cadent and [partner company, utility] British Gas have all promoted and lobbied an unethical greenwashing campaign that has manipulated, misled and deceived our community — and are now facing the consequences.
“Let's hope they all learn to listen to the public.”
Residents in opposition to the trial in Whitby mobilised a major campaign highlighting their concerns about the proposal — on the grounds of safety, 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.
Householders staged protests outside Cadent’s Hydrogen Experience Centre in Whitby in freezing temperatures last December, and demanded — and received — both a public debate on the trial and a promise of a public vote.
The public outcry was such that the government — which intends to use the outcome of the Hydrogen Village trial to inform its 2026 decision on whether or not to approve the replacement of fossil gas with H2 in people's homes — was forced to mandate “strong local support” as a condition for any trial going ahead.
And in March, Cadent gave into local pressure and made a U-turn on plans to cut off natural gas supplies to all homes in the trial area, and offered a host of new incentives to willing participants, including £2,500 in cash.
But this proved to be insufficient, perhaps because the gas distributor had already lost the “hearts and minds” of the local community and elected officials.
Even UK Energy Secretary Grant Shapps seems to have lost enthusiasm for widespread hydrogen heating, recently declaring that he does not believe it is the way forward for the UK.
A smaller, more muted protest movement has formed in Redcar as well, with a petition demanding a public debate now garnering more signatures than those answering in favour of the trial in NGN’s independent public consultation.
"This shows there is not strong local support in Redcar either," argued Peter Dunsby, who organised the petition in collaboration with Redcar's campaign team. "The Redcar trial should be scrapped or residents should, at the minimum, get the same debate and vote opportunity as happened in Whitby, Ellesmere Port."
“Hundreds of residents in Redcar are far from happy with the way NGN have been trying to force this upon us and the way they have presented false representation of the residents it affects,” added John Mudd, a resident in the trial area, in response to Callanan’s tweet yesterday. “Please don’t fall for their excuse of a report they have submitted to the government.
An investigation by Hydrogen Insight found that the gas company has only surveyed a maximum of 35% of Redcar residents — leaving open the question of whether NGN can claim to have the “strong local support” mandated by the government in order for the project to go ahead.
“Obviously the need for a proper public debate on this is paramount at this moment, and probably talk about how NGN will be hoping to avoid the kind of informed discussion that happened in Whitby,” said another Redcar resident on a local Facebook group in response to the news. “Do they think people don't share information?”
NGN remained tight-lipped about the schedule for the Redcar hydrogen trial, telling Hydrogen Insight it is a question for the government.
"We continue to work closely with the government on our demonstration of hydrogen for home heating," a spokesperson for NGN said. “We need to look at a range of energy sources to replace fossil fuels as part of the legal commitment to reach net zero by 2050. Hydrogen can be used in the same way as gas is now - it is right that we consider how to repurpose the extensive gas network and infrastructure that already exists so it can carry clean energy sources, while offering consumers choice.”
But the local Member of Parliament for Redcar, Jacob Young, former chair of the self-appointed All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hydrogen — which is financially supported by fossil-fuel companies — reiterated his support for NGN’s proposal and made unsubstantiated claims that the Whitby campaigners had perpetuated misinformation.
“The Hydrogen Village trial is vital to demonstrating Hydrogen’s potential for heating our homes,” he said on Twitter yesterday. “It’s disappointing to see that this project and Cadent Gas have been the subjects of a campaign of mistruths in Whitby, which has led to undue concern amongst Whitby residents.”
Hydrogen Insight has contacted Jacob Young for comment.
UPDATE: to reflect that Jacob Young is no longer chair of the APPG on hydrogen, and to clarify that the number of signatures on the Redcar campaign's petition exceeds the number of those in favour of the trial, according to NGN's independent survey