A masterclass in evolution

By Chris Langdon | 13 October 2021

Meaningful progress in tackling the social, environmental, and economic issues raised by climate change is slow and fragmented and has been too remote from our shared everyday experiences. Most industries and sectors are working hard to adapt and innovate; but there are few all-encompassing approaches that engage and demonstrate how a region, city, town or neighbourhood can change the way energy is understood and used to drive a future that will reduce the harmful effects of too much CO2 in our atmosphere.

Rugeley in Staffordshire, however, is not only leading the way in sustainable placemaking, but it might just be providing the best example of how to accelerate a green revolution.

A town with a long and proud heritage in industry and energy generation – Rugeley was home to a striking coal fired power station, which together with the four 117m high cooling towers, dominated the skyline for decades.

EQUANS (the new name for ENGIE’s services-led activities) owns the power station site, and formerly managed energy generation on it, prior to its closure in 2016. Following its closure EQUANS engaged the local community with a site masterplan to reconnect with the town and describe a vision of the future. This summer, the demolition of the former power plant completed, and we are progressing the delivery of 2,300 new low carbon homes, a low carbon all-through school, 12 acres of employment space, a new neighbourhood centre and a country park with restored wetlands alongside the River Trent; with ambitious plans to encourage greater biodiversity.

Uniquely, for such a development, we have assembled a team of industry experts, including the social and energy expertise of Keele University and local businesses, to co-design (with the community) an innovative user-centric design for a town-wide Smart Local Energy System (SLES). This is one of just a dozen pioneering programmes in the UK and will demonstrate how carbon emissions and energy costs can be reduced, while also providing environmental and social co-benefits. It is also the only SLES that is totally integrated with a major regeneration scheme, especially one that builds from the existing heritage and identity of the town.

As part of the proposals, we are investing in innovative technologies, community energy solutions, onsite renewable energy generation, smart homes and solar PV – to transform the site of a former coal fired power station into one of the lowest carbon mixed-use developments of its size in the UK.

From homes, schools, cars, shops, and the way energy is used and distributed – everything has been considered to ensure the development is not only primed for a net-zero future, but it can pave the way for similar schemes. The next ten years are critical to address the climate crisis – and in the same timescale we hope that Rugeley will become a reference of sustainable living, fit for the UK’s net-zero future, demonstrating how place-based development with a purpose, can truly catalyse system change.

The progress made is founded on collaboration. The delivery of the masterplan has relied upon continued, extensive and profound community engagement; and working with three forward-thinking local authorities (Cannock Chase DC, Lichfield DC and Staffordshire CC) united by a shared vision.

Everyone involved in this project has two key goals: to create renewed momentum in Rugeley – investing in people, homes, jobs and education, to fill the void of the power station and legacy of the coal mining era; and to build back greener and better.

If a town that was synonymous with burning fossil fuels is a blueprint for creating the conditions to establish a net-zero future place; other towns and local authorities should be seeking to follow suit and can have confidence that a better future and solutions to the climate emergency are achievable.

Chris Langdon is Development & Investment Director, EQUANS

This article is sponsored content for The MJ

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