James Palmer: Shawfair’s ambitions to bring green power to its people
Highlighting the energy strategy behind making Shawfair as sustainable as possible, James Palmer said the project can become an exemplar for others to follow.
In 2005 Apple launched the iPod Nano, mobile phones were used for making calls, and Al Gore began working on his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth” which was, for many, the first time that climate change penetrated our collective consciousness.
As a society we were more environmentally aware but, in the context of this global climate emergency, it seems incredible that we accepted our fossil fuel dependence without question.
I mention 2005 because that was when we began to properly plan the new town of Shawfair. Our vision centred on landscape, community and sustainability. Fifteen years later, it’s clear that our commitment to a zero-carbon future is what will support the entire fabric of this emerging community.
This was underlined last week with the announcement that Midlothian Council – a partner alongside Shawfair LLP and SEPA in a Sustainable Growth Agreement for Shawfair - has appointed Swedish company Vattenfall as its energy partner.
The first project will be to create a district heating network. Shawfair town centre will be powered by zero-carbon heat from the adjacent energy-from-waste centre, meaning lower-cost energy for homes, businesses, schools and community buildings, and not reliant on fossil fuels.
A core network of underground pipes and energy centre will be completed during 2021. Even better, the proposed back-up system technology allows zero-carbon heat too which means a guaranteed 365-day sustainable supply.
This puts Shawfair ahead of the game, where it needs to be. In January, the Scottish Government announced new rules to ensure all new homes built in Scotland from 2024 use renewable or low carbon heating. A welcome £30m investment fund will provide the impetus for traditional housebuilders to up their game.
Another major strategy in the town will be to ensure a robust electricity supply to match future demand. To reduce loading on the national grid, we are exploring options for a ‘private wire’ supply as well as a town solar farm and geo-thermal supply, both of which could bring further cost savings for the Shawfair community, embedding environmental responsibility into the masterplan from an ‘infrastructure-first’ agenda.
We are advocating a lifestyle that focuses on wellbeing, an active lifestyle and less reliance on the car. To support these aims, we’re developing an integrated public transport network with Park & Ride at Sheriffhall linked with the new railway station located at the heart of what will be the new town centre. And we’re planning e-bus, taxi, car club, e-bike and scooter infrastructure to link with these.
The move to electric vehicles is happening fast and all new housing will have e-charging infrastructure integrated as a matter of course. A super-fast electric charging ‘filling station’ is also planned for residents living in flats and visitors to the town.
We may be building 4000 new homes but Shawfair will also have lots of green space, criss-crossed with walking and cycling paths to encourage active lifestyles. Attractive and well-maintained open space will provide fantastic amenity space for the new community and we are also looking at ways for the landscape to be productive; both in terms of energy and food.
Discussions with Green Space Scotland, a social enterprise organisation, continue apace. We’re keen to embrace their ParkPower programme, which installs energy-producing infrastructure, such as ground-source heat pumps, in green spaces to deliver a financial income. If we get it right, the cost to the Shawfair community purse of maintaining their green spaces to a high standard could be zero, while also contributing to the town’s sustainable energy network.
So what does this all mean? It means we are working hard to create a town with a high level of self-sufficiency; responsible for its sustainable energy and integrated transport needs. We have great assets to work with and we’re hopeful that with continued focus and ambition the town could be viewed as a future exemplar for other developments in the same vein.
- James Palmer is an associate director at Shawfair LLP