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Bridgend Council to withdraw from Hybont energy project

Hybont Protestors (Pic: Lewis Smith LDR)

BRIDGEND Council has announced that it will withdraw its financial support of the controversial HyBont green fuel project this week, following predictions of a multi-million pound budget deficit for the 2024/25 financial year.

The project, which has been named the HyBont Green Hydrogen Project, could see a hydrogen powered plant built by developers Marubeni on Brynmenyn industrial estate, if approved later this year.

If given the go-ahead it 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, 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, officers at a cabinet meeting held on September 19, recommended that Bridgend Council withdraw its financial support of the plans due to concerns over costs and “its inability to meet the significant financial commitments required.”

The report read: “when BCBC were approached by Welsh Government in 2021, to ask if we were interested in an investment opportunity for a Hydrogen Demonstrator Project in Wales, it was not clear at that point the substantial revenue and capital implications, that would need to be invested by BCBC, and that are now known.”

The plans have previously led to major backlash from members of the local community, with protests held 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.

While developers at Marubeni Europower Ltd have said they will still go ahead with the planning application submitted for the site, which may now be called in for a decision by Welsh Government – with the local authority withdrawing its financial support from the project, they would now need to find alternative partners for when it is complete.

Speaking at a meeting of Cabinet earlier this week, Leader Huw David said: “By signing a memorandum of understanding with Marubeni Europower and confirming our support for developing a hydrogen starter project, we recognised the urgent need to develop cleaner sources of fuel and energy in the face of rising costs and climate change.

“While that need continues to remain a priority, we now find ourselves in a position where we may soon be forced to choose between providing financial support for such projects, or ensuring that we have sufficient resources in place to be able to continue to provide and prioritise essential front-line services.

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“We have to ask ourselves, can we really afford to commit to spending around £6.5m on this project when, like other councils, we are also predicting a multi-million pound deficit and hugely significant new budget pressures for 2024/25?

“Faced with such difficult choices, we must always prioritise essential services for local people, and it is for this reason that we have decided to reluctantly withdraw our financial support for the HyBont project while also continuing to recognise the importance of sourcing alternative fuel and energy sources.”

Councillor John Spanswick, Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Environment, added: “You only have to look at what is happening at other councils around the UK to know that we are all facing similar extreme financial difficulties and severe challenges.”

Tim Thomas, is an Independent Councillor for St Brides Minor and Ynysawdre, and said he was staggered to hear that the council had overlooked these costs, and urged members to listen to local residents when it came to the future of the plans.

He said: “I am alarmed that the Leader of the Council and his Labour administration has shown such a cavalier attitude towards public finances, as to sign a legally binding memorandum of understanding, and not enquire as to the council’s future financial commitment towards the project.

“To overlook revenue costs of over £1m over the next two financial years and additional millions in capital costs is staggering. The cabinet meeting revealed that this unpopular and controversial HyBont venture has already cost in the region of £150k – when the council are trying to fill a £10m financial black hole.

“Moving aside the administration’s financial short-sightedness for the time being, it is high time that the Cabinet listened to the concerns of local businesses, residents and opposition independent councillors over concerns over health and safety, environmental issues and the impact the project will have on traffic congestion, water supplies and energy constraints.”

A spokesperson from Marubeni Europower Ltd has said with the planning application still live, the company are committed to making the project a reality, and are currently in talks with other partners.

They said: “Marubeni Europower would like to thank Bridgend County Borough Council’s Cabinet for its continued support in our exciting plans for HyBont – a green hydrogen production and refuelling facility at Brynmenyn Industrial Estate.

“The commitment from the Cabinet to hold additional discussions with Welsh Government and other partners to explore how they can further support HyBont is extremely welcome and, despite the Council no longer being in a financial position to invest, is a clear endorsement for the project.

“We are already in discussions with other partners on future funding and are absolutely committed to making the HyBont project a reality, bringing economic benefits to the local community, creating jobs and promoting sustainable growth in the region.”