Work is set to begin on solar carports which will help power two council-owned leisure centres as part of plans to tackle climate change following planning approval.
Pilot schemes at Kingfisher Leisure Centre in Sudbury and at Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket will see solar car ports producing energy to help run the centres. The technology, to be installed as part of the £1.4m project, will also provide battery storage and a number of electric vehicle charging points.
The initiative forms part of the councils’ Carbon Reduction Management Plan and follows approval of over £600k in funding by both cabinets and £800k of Government matched funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government’s Getting Building Fund to support the scheme. Awarded by the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, the match funding is to help deliver jobs, skills and infrastructure in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Among the first rural UK councils trialling the technology, the authorities’ hope is that by championing innovation, their example will encourage others to follow suit. Works, which are being carried out by East Anglia-based Polysolar, are expected to start this autumn, with completion due by spring 2022.
Cllr Jessica Fleming, Mid Suffolk District Council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “This is a great step forward in reducing the carbon footprint at our leisure centres – one of our highest emitters – and takes us closer to meeting our ambition of becoming carbon neural. It’s also an exciting opportunity to set an example for others to follow, by using our own assets to generate electricity by making best use of available space.
“Encouraging sustainable travel and improving air quality in the district, while making sure our towns are places people want to visit, is fundamental in supporting a greener future and vision for our key towns.”
Cllr Elisabeth Malvisi, Babergh District Council’s cabinet member for environment, said: “With the installation of solar carport technology in Sudbury ready to get underway, it clearly demonstrates our forward-looking approach for our towns. We want them to thrive, by leading the way when it comes to clean growth and technology – and this is just one of the ways we’re doing that.
“Suffolk, and Babergh, are a natural fit for solar, receiving more sun hours on average than the rest of the UK. I hope this project will help to ensure Babergh continues to be a place in which people are proud to live and work.”
Chris Starkie, chief executive of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is an exciting project which has the potential to offset local end-user energy costs and support our decarbonisation transition. All organisations and businesses in the region need to look at what they can do to reduce their carbon emissions if we are to achieve net zero.
“We recognise they will need support in this, so one of the main areas of focus for the recently launched New Anglia Clean Growth Taskforce will be business support, ensuring grants and advice are available to help them make the changes they need, and our forthcoming Clean Growth for Business events will provide businesses will plenty of ideas and inspiration.
“As the UK’s Clean Growth Region, we are committed to being at the forefront of tackling the challenges and opportunities of climate change and this initiative by Babergh and Mid Suffolk shows the kind of innovative approach we will need to take to deliver on those ambitions.”
The scheme has been looked at holistically, as part of the wider town visions for the districts. This ensures other projects and local initiatives – such as the councils’ parking strategy, wayfinding improvements and active travel schemes – are joined up.
It will also link in with £1.4m of further carbon reduction measures being put in place at the councils’ leisure centres, bringing the total investment in green energy saving measures at the centres to almost £3m.
While capital spend was approved by both cabinets so work could start without delay, further external funding options will continue to be explored to ensure best use of public money.