Extraordinary meeting of Bridgend Council called to discuss Hydrogen plant proposals
Lewis Smith, local democracy reporter
Bridgend Council held a scrutiny meeting this week to discuss the authority’s decision to withdraw from the controversial HyBont green energy project that is being proposed for the area.
The meeting, which was held on October 2nd, was called in order to discuss the plans which could see a hydrogen powered plant built by developers Marubeni on Brynmenyn industrial estate, Bridgend.
If approved, the site would include a hydrogen production facility with electrolysers that generate hydrogen from electrical power by splitting water, along with hydrogen storage, and a hydrogen refuelling station on the land.
Under the plans, and with a memorandum of understanding in put in place, Bridgend Council would have been one of the facility’s main customers, with the plant expected to fuel hydrogen-powered refuse vehicles, buses and HGVs, as well as providing heating for the Ynysawdre Cluster through a 1.2km underground pipe.
However, despite having already spend around £150,00 on the early concept stages of the project, they decided to withdraw their involvement due to what they said were financial issues, and a multi-million-pound budget deficit expected for the 2024/25 financial year.
It led to five members calling in the decision for further discussions this week, as they wanted to know if due diligence had been done with regards to the project’s feasibility, along with seeking clarity on how the decision would impact the council’s net zero target moving forward.
Councillor Tim Thomas said: “The reason why I’ve called this in is because a lack of clarity over the due diligence over the financial handling of the project. That’s the main reason for me, and lacking detail in some of the questioning as well.”
Councillor Freya Bletsoe asked if there was a lack of “professional curiosity,” when it came to the questioning by cabinet, and requested that such items be viewed with more of a “scrutinising eye” in the future.
Councillor John Spanswick responded to the questions by saying that the only reason the council had withdrawn from their involvement in the project was purely on financial grounds, with around £500,000 of further investment required to continue, which was not currently available.
Officers added that this sum would have been used to carry out due diligence and further investigate the feasibility of the project before progressing to the next phase.
They also added that while they would have no further involvement in the process at this stage, if planning was to be approved for the Hydrogen plant and development was to go ahead, Bridgend Council could still potentially become off takers of hydrogen produced at the site in the future.
Following a lengthy debate, some members wanted to refer the decision back to cabinet for further discussions on the potential returns of the project. However, others felt with the money not available to continue at this time, it would only delay the process and voted not to send it back.
While Bridgend will have no further involvement at this stage, developers at Marubeni Europower Ltd have said they will still go ahead with the planning application submitted for the HyBont site, which may now be called in for a decision by Welsh Government later in the year.
A spokesperson from the company said with the planning application in place, they are still committed to making the project a reality and are currently in talks with other partners.
Plans for the HyBont Hydrogen site have previously led to major backlash from members of the local community, with protests even held outside the council offices on Angel Street in June, due to what they said was a lack of clarity and safety concerns over the facility’s proximity to local housing near the village of Bryncethin.
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