Cranbrook: “Banned from switching energy firm for 71 years”

“New-build homeowners across the country are being denied the chance to save hundreds on their energy bills because they are trapped in long-lasting contracts with a single supplier.

In the new town of Cranbrook near Exeter in Devon, residents pay nearly twice as much as the cheapest available tariff, yet they will not be able to switch for 71 years.

This is because the housing development gets its heat and hot water from an unregulated ‘district heating scheme’ run by Big Six provider, E.on.

The energy centre, half a mile from the small town, allows households to heat their homes without the need of a boiler — potentially saving homeowners £300 a year on maintenance costs.

But the heating scheme can only be run by one supplier, meaning all 2,000 homes are signed up to E.on for their heating, under an agreement which is currently in place until 2090. And a further 1,500 homes are set to be built in the growing East Devon town.

Suppliers of the environmentally friendly schemes also do not have to be regulated — so their tariffs do not have to stick to watchdog Ofgem’s price caps.

John Clements moved into his £300,000 property in Cranbrook with wife Katie, 39, a police officer, in March 2015. The couple, who have a six-year-old daughter, now pay E.on around £70 a month for their heating.

John, 56, a semi-retired child safeguarding professional, says: ‘Once you realise there isn’t any other option of switching supplier you do become concerned about the fact someone has a monopoly. You’re at the mercy of rising prices.’

Their bills are made up of a service or ‘standing’ charge — which covers the fixed costs of supplying your home including maintenance to the network — and the household’s energy usage.

Ofgem’s energy cap currently stands at 4p per kilowatt hour (kWh) for gas and £96.80 for an annual standing charge.

Yet the Clements are paying 8.7p per kWh, up from 8.19p per kWh in April 2018. And last year the couple’s standing charge went up from £196 to £205.

E.on was instructed to provide the heating in an agreement with East Devon District Council and developers, which include Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon Homes.

District heating systems distribute heat through insulated pipes, in the form of hot water and steam, after producing it off-site in an energy centre.

As the homes are all supplied by the centre, they are currently tied to the energy provider that runs it — unlike those who have a boiler of their own.

Single mother Boh Magassouba, 29, pays around £42 a month to heat the Cranbrook property she shares with her three children — the youngest of whom is four months old.

The former Exeter College cleaner, who will be 100 by the time she can switch supplier, says: ‘When I moved here five years ago, I didn’t realise I wouldn’t be able to switch provider.

‘It’s so unfair that I’m stuck with them. Sometimes when I see how much I am spending on my bills I feel like crying.’

E.on says it surveys local gas prices, standing charges and boiler maintenance packages, and prices its heat and service bills in line with them.

As these providers have to stay under the price cap, it claims its own charges are directly affected as a result.

But data from comparison site uSwitch shows the average household in the area could pay as little as £493 for a 12-month gas-only tariff with SSE.

The households are able to switch their electricity suppliers, as this utility is not supplied by the district heating system.

E.on, which operates around 60 district heating systems across the country, says Cranbrook will one day save 13,000 tonnes of CO2 a year.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) says there were 14,000 heat networks across the country last year, supplying 450,000 customers.

Around 2,000 of these heat networks were district heating systems. The rest were smaller communal networks, which supply individual buildings, such as a block of flats.

But the CMA report also cited concerns that ‘some networks may be offering poor value for money’ and concluded that district heating networks should be regulated.

David Goatman, head of energy at estate agency Knight Frank, says: ‘District heating systems have only become more prevalent in the past ten years.

‘In the next five or ten years I suspect that most new developments, especially larger ones, will probably be supplied by a district heating system.’

The Committee on Climate Change estimates that around 18 per cent of UK heat will need to come from heat networks by 2050 if the UK is to meet its carbon targets cost effectively.

Richard Neudegg, head of regulation at comparison site uSwitch, says: ‘The concept of district heating networks is sensible if we are ever going to reduce emissions from heating our homes.

‘But if households are locked in to just one provider they’ll have no escape route if they find they face higher prices.’

Mark Todd, co-founder of energyhelpline, says an advantage of the scheme is households avoid paying for and maintaining a boiler, which could be around £300 a year.

But he says: ‘Being a captive customer must be worrying to some residents.’

An E.on spokesman says details of the scheme were clearly set out to residents, adding: ‘We hope customers feel reassured by having a secure, more sustainable and cost-effective heating supply.’

E.on is a member of the Heat Trust, a voluntary self-regulating scheme which provides district heating scheme households with access to the Energy Ombudsman.

It said its usage charges were not directly comparable to Ofcom’s cap partly because district heating is more energy efficient.

Cranbrook customers pay on a tiered system for usage whereby charges drop from 8.29p per kWh after the first 3250 kWh to 5.02p per kWh before VAT is added.

But while it is supported by the Government, as the Heat Trust is not a regulator with statutory powers, it cannot set price caps.

In April, Energy Minister Claire Perry wrote to heat network owners and operators advising that a policy consultation later in the year would set out plans for future regulation of the sector.

A Taylor Wimpey spokesman says the provision of a district heating system was a requirement for the planning permission issued by East Devon District Council.

He adds: ‘We are continually working to ensure that our customers benefit from both improved choice and flexibility.’

A spokesman from East Devon District Council says research commissioned in 2007 demonstrated it would be more cost effective to meet ‘increasingly stringent carbon performance targets at Cranbrook’ through a district heating system.”

Why is Exmouth Regeneration Board chaired by a Cranbrook councillor?

Exmouth Regeneration Board

Councillor Megan Armstrong (Vice-Chairman [Exmouth Halsdon]
Councillor Kevin Blakey (Chairman, Cranbrook)
Councillor Susie Bond [Feniton]
Councillor Nick Hookway [Exmouth Littleham]
Councillor Chris Wright [Exmouth Littleham]

Government to allow Community Infrastructure Levy to fund big projects

Oooh … just in time for Cranbrook’s latest expansion plans! AND when councils all over the country are declaring a climate emergency and trying to avoid unsustainable projects. Catch 22 there for TiggerTories!

Or perhaps it will go to a new National Park – lol.

“Councils will be required to report on the agreements reached with housing developers to pay for infrastructure, under new rules laid in Parliament this week.

Housing Minister Kit Malthouse claimed that “confusing and unnecessarily over-complicated” rules were being simplified, so that communities would know exactly how much developers were paying for infrastructure in their area.

Councils will have to set out how the money will be spent “enabling residents to see every step taken to secure their area is ready for new housing”.

The Government also claimed that the changes would make it faster for councils to introduce the Community Infrastructure Levy in the first place.

Restrictions are to be eased to allow councils to fund single, larger infrastructure projects from the cash received from multiple developments, “giving greater freedom to deliver complex projects at pace”, it added.

The Minister of State said: “Communities deserve to know whether their council is fighting their corner with developers – getting more cash to local services so they can cope with the new homes built.

“The reforms not only ensure developers and councils don’t shirk their responsibilities, allowing residents to hold them to account – but also free up councillors to fund bigger and more complicated projects over the line.

“The certainty and less needless complexity will lead to quicker decisions.”

The regulations will be debated once parliamentary time allows.

The Government has also published its response to the views received in its technical consultation on developer contributions reform.”

Cities (with highest wages) too expensive for young people to buy homes in

So, what happens when the towns and villages you do come from are just as expensive as Bristol (with wages in Exeter lower than those in Exeter)?

Well, in East Devon, you are mostly funnelled into Cranbrook – as that is where most so-called “Help to Buy” new homes are being built.

The national article uses an example of someone moving from East Devon to Bristol.

“More young people are getting stuck where they grew up or went to university because they cannot afford rents in places where they can earn more money, according to the Resolution Foundation thinktank. It found the number of people aged 25 to 34 starting a new job and moving home in the last year had fallen 40% over the last two decades. …

In 1997, moving from east Devon to Bristol increased median incomes by 19%, but rising rents cut that increase to 1% in 2018. …

Landlords blamed the government for failing to sufficiently increase the supply of new homes. The Residential Landlords Association (RLA) also criticised measures which appear to be encouraging landlords to sell up, including reduction in mortgage interest relief for landlords and an increase in stamp duty.

“The biggest threat to rent levels are the policies being pursued by the government which are choking off the supply of homes for private rent as demand is increasing,” said the RLA policy director, David Smith.

The findings came as the affordable housing commission released research found 43% of all renters were now facing affordability problems and that 5.5 million renters were unable to buy a home of their own.

The commission, which was established by the Smith Institute thinktank and chaired by the crossbench peer Richard Best, said that when rents or purchase costs exceeded a third of household income for those in work, it could lead to financial difficulties and these problems became critical where housing costs were 40% or more of household income.”

Now Tories are not in control Swire decides Cranbrook is a development problem!

Today’s Midweek Herald. SO odd that Hugo has JUST discovered that Cranbrook development is a problem … still TiggerTories involved in planning will be glad to know he is NOW onside! Such a pity he wasn’t so vocal when Tories alone were in charge!

Cranbrook to get massively BIGGER – first planning test for no-overall-control council

The first test of The Independent Group on large-scale development. It got to make up the EDDC Cabinet and its Leader, Ben Ingham, has appointed several current and former Tories to positions of influence.

What will each group’s stand be on large-scale development? And what happens if the smaller parties have different views to that of the Independent Group and Tories if they agree? Interesting.

There are a few worrying words in this press release – potential, proposed, outlines, capable of, vision, could, opportunities. Lots of leeway for developet mund-changing at a later date.

And missing words: affordable and social housing.

Plus our local NHS Trust wants more than £1.3 million before it considers the proposal sustainable for health needs.

“Plans for 930 new homes as part of the western expansion of Cranbrook have been revealed.

The proposals for the Bluehayes site would also see a primary school, sport and recreational facilities, community uses, green infrastructure, as well as a mixed use area of shops, food and drink and professional services built.

The Bluehayes site, which lies between the existing Cranbrook development and Broadclyst Station, is one of four proposed expansion areas of Cranbrook.

A new link road that would run from the Cranbrook railway station to London Road and to Broadclyst Station, through the middle of the Bluehayes site, is also proposed in the scheme handed in recently to East Devon District Council planners.

And the plans also reveal that a footbridge over the London Road that would connect the Bluehayes site with the proposed Treasbeare site, south of the road, could be built.

The Cranbrook Plan was backed by East Devon District Council’s Strategic Planning Committee in February which outlines the land where a further 4,170 new homes will be built.

It allocates 40 hectares of land at the Bluehayes Expansion Area for around 960 new dwellings, land capable of accommodating a community building, formal open space recreational land, a 420 pupil place primary school, formal play space with facilities for children and youth and allotments totalling an area of 0.55 hectare of land

Details with a planning statement submitted with the planning application says: “The submission of the new outline application for the Western Expansion of Cranbrook and the change of use of agricultural land to the north of Cranny Brook to SANG land, is consistent with the planning policy and the longstanding policy to deliver new homes to meet the needs of the area.

“The submission of the application for the Western Expansion area and their progression delivers certainty required in the long term delivery of growth and of the delivery of the vision for Cranbrook.

“The proposals have been designed to be residential led with the potential for the delivery of a new primary school and formal outdoor sports pitches to provide complementary community and social infrastructure to meet the needs of new residents.

“The application demonstrates provision of the necessary infrastructure to include internal roads, public transport provision, formal and informal open space uses to support itself and to mitigate any impacts of development on existing communities and wider infrastructure.

“Cranbrook and its Western Expansion have been fully justified in the context of local planning policy and in the context of the growth agenda and the national and local need for housing.

“The proposals will result in substantial and demonstrable benefits in terms of meeting the need for new homes in a sustainable manner, fostering economic development and further underpinning the sustainability of Cranbrook.

“The proposals will also help deliver the vision for Cranbrook and underpin the planning and delivery of infrastructure and the town centre.”

A 1.14 hectare site for a one-form entry primary school could come forward as part of the plans. The primary school will be built in either the Bluehayes or the Treasbeare allocation, depending on which is constructed first.

Details with the scheme also outline that a new link road from the Cranbrook station to London Road and to Broadclyst Station will be built.

There will be a new frontage to London Road which will comprise a mixed use area, providing opportunities for a range of residential, retail and small scale employment uses, and in future, a crossing over London Road to the southern expansion area may be accommodated.

But the Royal and Devon Exeter NHS Foundation Trust have requested a contribution of £1,332,313 from the developers, cash which will be used directly to provide additional health care services to meet patient demand.

Commenting on the application, they say: “Without the contribution being paid, the development would not be acceptable in planning terms as the consequence would be inadequate health services available to support it.”

Having considered the cost projections, the Trust say that they will require the full figure to ensure the required level of service provision is delivered in a timely manner.

They add: “Failure to access this additional funding will put significant additional pressure on the current service capacity, leading to increase delays for patients and dissatisfaction with NHS services.

“The contribution will ensure that Health services are maintained for current and future generations and that way make the development sustainable.”

The Bluehayes expansion is one of four proposed expansion areas for Cranbrook, which development also proposed for Treasbeare and Grange, south of the existing town, and Cobdens, to the east of the town.

A reserved matters application has also been submitted for 80 homes, for which outline planning permission has already been granted, for land north-east of the Cranbrook Education Campus.

East Devon District Council planners will determine the fate of the applications at a later date.”