The government has unveiled legislative proposals to extend street works powers to heat network developers.

The proposal to legislate for extended statutory rights and undertakings is outlined in a consultation document issued today (6 February) by the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS).

The new powers, which are part of a wider package aimed at encouraging heat network development, are designed to remove “costs and uncertainty”.

Heat networks are not currently classified as statutory undertakers and therefore lack the range of powers available to traditional utilities.

These include rights to carry out certain development and highways works, such as laying pipes under roads and being able to access them to carry out maintenance and repairs.

The lack of such powers means that heat networks have to apply for a license, which tends to be limited in scope and can drive up the price of the work.

According to the consultation, the absence of statutory undertaker rights has helped to inhibit the growth of heat networks.

It also makes it more difficult for heat networks to maintain and repair their assets, which means that they are not able to offer the same quality of service to their customers,

However, the consultation proposes stopping short of a full licensing regime, which it says would create an “unduly burdensome approach” on the heat network market.

Instead they will be subject to an “inherently lighter touch” and more flexible general authorisation regime, which will not involve full-blown licencing.

The consultation paper also carries forward the Competition and Markets Authority’s recommendation that Ofgem’s regulatory remit should be extended to heat networks, giving their customers access to similar level of protections as those enjoyed by other energy customers.

Heat networks will also be required to report on price and quality of service standards, as well as options for redress if things go wrong.

The publication of the consultation paper has been tied with the award of £40 million for seven heat networks, serving around 30,000 homes in Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool and London.

Five of the heat networks to be awarded funding are run by local authorities and two by private companies.

Two of the projects are extensions of existing schemes in Bristol and one entirely new district heat network will be installed in the town centre of Barking, in east London.

The funding will also support the development of heat networks at major new developments in the north London borough of Enfield and the Liverpool Waters scheme.

Vieola has been awarded £5.5 million to create new pipework that will convey heat from a Combined Heat and Power energy from waste plant in south east London to 3,500 new homes. And Leeds City Council has won £2.2 million to extend its recently completed city centre heat network.

The funding from the government’s Heat Networks Investment Project could save 154,300 tonnes of CO2 over the next 15 years.

The Committee on Climate Change has estimated that around 18 per cent of UK heat must come from heat networks by 2050 in order for the UK to meet its goal of net-zero emissions.