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It is becoming increasingly common for planning authorities to require developments to commit to connecting to existing or future planned area-wide heat networks. From our experience, extreme caution should be taken in considering whether this is reasonable and in the best interests of the development and its future residents.

The theory behind district heating is that bigger heat networks are better: that the capital costs will be lower; operational efficiency higher; better carbon performance; and lower heat prices for customers. Area-wide networks which provide heat to multiple buildings and development sites are therefore being promoted.

However, experience has shown that area-wide networks are not always able to outperform what can be achieved with an onsite strategy.

We therefore advise that prior to committing to a connection that the heat network operator should provide guarantees regarding the following:

– Carbon factor of heat;

– Connection charge to the developer;

– Guaranteed service levels (availability of heat; response times to faults);

– Customer heat charges;

– Connection date.

If the above is not available, then planning conditions and S106 Agreements should be worded to enable a later assessment of the viability of making such a connection against an onsite strategy. In these circumstances, the designs should allow for either option until a confirmed strategy is agreed.