North Yorkshire Council unveils £1.7m plan to heat schools using fossil fuels - despite pledging to be carbon neutral by 2030

A council aiming to cut its net carbon emissions to zero within a decade has been urged to be more ambitious after revealing a £1.7m plan to continue using fossil fuels to heat schools.

Ahead of approving a plan to tackle “a significant backlog of maintenance” at dozens of schools across North Yorkshire, the county council’s leaders were told they would face criticism from environmentally-conscious pupils unless they started introducing alternatives to conventional gas boilers,

A meeting of the authority’s executive heard the pandemic had raised numerous health and safety issues at schools and the programme of works would lower heating costs for the 34 schools involved, freeing up money to spend elsewhere.

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Councillor Patrick Mulligan, the authority’s executive member for education, said benefits of the scheme also included a reduction in carbon emissions from schools as new boilers were typically 15 to 20 per cent more efficient than the ones they were replacing.

Ripon Grammar School is one of the schools featured in the council's plan

Primary schools set to see work to improve their heating systems include Northstead, Thorpe Willoughby, Stillington, Colburn, Pickering, Hutton Rudby, Thirsk, Bradley’s Both, Kettlesing Felliscliffe, Grove Road, Summerbridge, Glasshouses, Beckwithshaw, Thornton in Craven, Ingleton, Bedale, Crakehall, Lythe, Spennithorne, Settrington, Killinghall, Roecliffe, Selby and Sharow.

The council will carry out work at secondary schools, including Bedale, Wensleydale, Malton, King James, Settle, Upper Wharfedale, Ripon Grammar, Boroughbridge, Nidderdale and Selby.

However, the meeting saw the authority, which declared a climate emergency last year, twice asked to justify its decision to keeping installing conventional boilers rather than alternative heating systems, such as air source heat pumps.

Jon Holden, the council’s head of property service, said the authority was actively considering how it could introduce low carbon and decarbonised technology and was working to understand greener alternatives to fossil fuel-based heating across the hundreds of buildings it owns.

He told the meeting there was a wide variety of council-owned buildings across the county, and some of the alternative heating technology was not advanced enough to replace gas boilers.

Councillor Paul Haslam said whle he accepted different schools would need to use different alternative heating systems, but he believed the technology was already available.

He said schools could get grants for introducing heating changes and whenever a school had a heating issue the council had a golden opportunity to become a trailblazer by reviewing schools’ energy use as a whole.

Coun Haslam said: “It’s the kids who are going to be pushing for environmental change and if they know their school has a gas boiler it’s going to be them who are knocking on your door I’d really like a different type of boiler Mr Holden.”

Mr Holden said some school boilers were up to 50 years old, so any replacement would cut carbon emissions, He added the council was working with schools to promote energy efficiency.

He said: “We’ll have parents and staff coming to us if we’ve installed technology that doesn’t work and we’re not able to ensure school places are there.”