District heatingThis image has been created during "DensityDesign Integrated Course Final Synthesis Studio" at Polytechnic University of Milan, organized by DensityDesign Research Lab in 2016. Image is released under CC-BY-SA licence. Attribution goes to "Laura Toffetti, DensityDesign Research Lab"., District heating, CC BY-SA 4.0

On the 10th July 2019, SMDC  declared a Climate Emergency, stating that they would  ‘Start working with partners, across the district and region, towards making the Staffordshire Moorlands carbon neutral by 2030; taking into account emissions from both production and consumption'..

To achieve net zero by 2030 is a difficult task but not impossible if we make a rapid start. Immediate investigation of some of the possibilities promoted in the Government’s 10 Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution would have been an obvious early step. However, the collapse of their Green Deal scheme for energy saving grants, which was poorly advertised, and the withdrawal of the feed–in-tariff for solar have caused many to lose their jobs fitting solar panels to residential properties. This is a disaster, as many training positions have disappeared, depriving the country of a trained workforce. The stop/start nature of incentives to make homes climate-friendly is not a good way to create the confidence in the construction industry that the government actually needs if it is going to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, let alone SMDC achieving it in 2030.

One of the cheapest ways for urban areas to achieve net zero is via community initiatives, such as community-funded solar projects on council property. However, there is as yet no evidence that such community schemes will happen in the near future in the Moorlands or that SMDC is showing any interest in supporting them.

Many countries in Europe are now building communities that are carbon neutral, yet the cancellation of building regulations in England has allowed continued construction of substandard homes in terms of energy efficiency.  The tragedy is that starting with a clean slate makes planning and designing for optimal energy use much simpler in such developments.  Retrofitting to the existing housing stock is much more challenging but nevertheless essential.

Looking to the future, we need to ensure that existing urban areas become carbon neutral as soon as possible. One way of doing this is to provide every building with a centralised heat pump. As an example in Leek, buildings to the north of Stockwell Street, (St Edward’s Church, Moorlands House, Foxlowe Arts Centre, Buxton and Leek College and a few others) could band together to utilise solar power from Brough Park Leisure Centre’s roof to supply partly warmed water from the culverted stream to their individual heat pumps. The addition of inter-seasonal storage of heat collected from the Leisure Centre car park would add to the efficiency of the scheme.

It would be surprising if similar schemes in Biddulph and Cheadle could not also be investigated, if necessary using community boreholes in the absence of a ready source of water near the scheme. Other communities, such as villages and parishes near a body of water such as a river or canal, might also benefit from similar schemes, especially if most of the buildings have been brought up to a high insulation standard.

MCA suggests that SMDC could facilitate this by applying for funds that would allow initial investigation of such developments to help produce a firm business case. And the sooner the better, as we all know the climate won’t wait. It’s 2 years since the declaration was declared and what have we achieved so far?