Work is nearly complete on a programme of works to decarbonise Oxford City Council leisure centres and support local renewable energy production.
The £14 million decarbonisation projects followed the award of £10.9 million of Government funding under its Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, announced last year, with work on the ground starting in October 2021.
The scheme is funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and delivered by Salix Finance.
The upgrade work, which is part of the grant-funded decarbonisation projects to reduce the carbon emissions from public leisure centres, has seen a significant proportion of the heating provided by gas boilers replaced with heat pumps that transfer heat from the air or water.
At Ferry Leisure Centre, Barton Leisure Centre, and Leys Pool, the council is currently in the commissioning phase of completion that will see the new systems integrated and tested.
At Hinksey Outdoor Heated Pool, which will see the installation of a heat pump from Hinksey lake, the council is working with SSEN to install a substation that will strengthen the local network. Once the substation is installed, final commissioning work can also start at Hinksey.
Leisure centres currently contribute around 40% of the City Council’s carbon footprint, with swimming pools among the most energy-intensive as they must be kept at a constant temperature. The project will cut carbon emissions from the council’s operations as a whole by around 21%.
The council aims to ensure that all communities benefit from action on climate change. By reducing the carbon footprint of these leisure centres, the council is securing the long-term future of the centres to provide valuable leisure and community spaces across the city.
The council has been working closely with leisure partner Fusion Lifestyle and contractors Willmott Dixon to minimise the disruption in providing leisure facilities in the city.
The work has been carried out in phases so that leisure centre members have been able to use other facilities if their local site was temporarily closed.
The work at Hinksey Outdoor Pool has been taking place during the planned winter closure period. And all leisure facilities in the programme have operated with minimum disruption during the works.
The work is a key part of the council’s aim to become a Zero Carbon Council across its own estate and operations by 2030. It also supports the wider goal of achieving a Zero Carbon Oxford by 2040.
Another key part of the council’s decarbonisation programme is its investment in Ray Valley Solar. Ray Valley Solar is the largest community-owned solar park in the UK being built near Bicester and is fast approaching completion.
The project is the first of its kind for local social enterprise – Low Carbon Hub – but will be their 48th renewable energy project, adding 18 GWh of clean electricity generation to their portfolio every year.
So far, over half of the 35,000 solar panels have been installed on-site, with an expected completion date of late April.
The council has provided two low-interest loans totalling over £4 million for the development of the project. The excellent terms mean more money generated from the project will go towards supporting community benefits across Oxfordshire.
The council is currently generating over 10% of its annual electricity consumption from Solar PV on its own buildings. It is actively seeking ways of further increasing that percentage through the addition of more solar installations.
The investment in Ray Valley Solar is helping the council to meet its ambitions through the transfer of high quality, traceable renewable energy guarantee of origin (REGO) certificates that authenticate the green electricity supplied.
Councillor Tom Hayes, Cabinet Member for Zero Carbon Oxford and Green Transport, said: “Leisure centres make up 40% of the council’s carbon footprint, and in order to achieve a Zero Carbon Council by 2030, we need to reduce our own emissions. Work has been progressing over the last couple of months on this exciting decarbonisation project, and I am looking forward to the completion of these final steps.”
Councillor Mary Clarkson, Cabinet Member for Culture, Leisure and Tourism, said: “Our leisure centres are key for the wellbeing and health of our residents. I am delighted that work is almost completed, and that soon these sites will be not only a resource for health and community but will also be low carbon at the same time.”