Skip to content

Norwich’s Generation Park halted, with creditors owed £3m

March 1, 2016
tags: ,

By Paul Homewood 


h/t Dave Ward




For the past year, we have been following the story of Norwich’s proposed straw burning plant at the yet to be built Generation Park.

From the start, the scheme has been the brainchild of the University of East Anglia. As the EDP reported in January last year:


£325m energy plant could be built in Norwich, with supporters claiming it will create hundreds of jobs and put the city at the forefront of tackling climate change.


An artist's impression of what Generation Park could look like from the proposed new bridge.

An artist’s impression of what Generation Park could look like from the proposed new bridge.


But, with the plant likely to need a 55m high chimney and the debacle of the King’s Lynn incinerator still fresh in the mind, those behind the scheme realise they will have to convince the public of its merits.

The University of East Anglia is one of the prime investors in the proposal for the 30 acre Utilities site – a patch of wasteland between Thorpe Hamlet and Whitlingham.

If Generation Park goes ahead, it would create 250 jobs during construction and 500 once complete.

Along with a straw-burning energy plant, it would include 120 new homes, student accommodation, an education centre, a research base, 11 acres of parkland, plus new cycle routes and walkways.

The plant would burn 200,000 tonnes of compressed straw a year to generate electricity. Developers say it would produce the equivalent of power for 88,000 homes.

That would be sold back to the National Grid, or to city businesses, while power firm E.ON would capture steam produced to heat homes and businesses. It is likely to only be new housing developments which would benefit from that ‘district heating’.

Straw pellets would arrive by train about four times a week, with freight timed so it does not interfere with passenger trains.

Professor Trevor Davies, the UEA’s pro-vice chancellor of research, has been promoting such a scheme for more than a decade.

He said: “This will reduce Norwich’s carbon footprint by 22pc and put the city at the forefront of carbon reduction.

“This is a hugely exciting and visionary scheme for Norwich that meets many needs. It delivers clean green energy as electricity, heating and hot water, whilst rejuvenating an eyesore site close to the city centre.”

Following the controversy which surrounded Norfolk County Council’s aborted plans for incinerators at Costessey and King’s Lynn, Prof Davies was keen to highlight the green credentials of this technology.

While it would burn only straw pellets, he conceded the plant would produce a small amount of pollution, such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides, and that the prevailing winds would blow towards Thorpe St Andrew.


Many experts have complained about the adverse environmental impacts, cost and impact on the straw market. Yet both Davies and the UEA’s Keith Tovey have been allowed space regularly in the EDP’s letter columns to extol the project’s virtues, which basically boil down to cutting CO2.


As was reported last August, this was not Davies’ first foray into biomass incineration, as The Norwich Radical reported:


Generation Park is a proposal to build a biomass incinerator in the heart of Norwich which is being fronted by Professor Trevor Davies, of UEA. This isn’t the first biomass development Prof. Davies has been involved in.  In 2009 he was the leading light in a project to construct a wood-burning incinerator that would provide power and heat for the UEA itself.

In assessing the suitability of the Generation Park proposals for Norwich, it might be instructive to know how successful or otherwise Prof. Davies’ biomass plant at UEA has been.

  • The plant cost £10M to build including a £1M DEFRA subsidy, and was designed to make UEA self-sufficient in power and heat.
  • After spending five years trying to get the wood-burner to work it has now completely failed and has had to be converted to natural gas.
  • During this time, the burner produced toxic ash that was deposited on the campus, at one point causing the Environment Agency to intervene.
  • Over the period the wood-burner was in operation, 2009-2013, emissions of CO2 actually went up. No figures are available for 2014. This increase is the more remarkable, given that the wood-burner was never working at anything near full capacity.

(UEA biomass plant © geograph)


  • The performance of the wood-burner was so inadequate that, during the winter of 2013/14, significant amounts of electricity had to be purchased from the national grid to ‘keep the lights on’.
  • The overall inefficiency of this installation when burning wood is highlighted by the fact that the conversion to natural gas has resulted in a five times increase in energy output.
  • Perhaps most worryingly of all, UEA themselves, and Prof. Davies in particular, have provided no information on the ultimate failure of their biomass experiment.  Indeed, UEA’s website still proudly proclaims it a success.
  • UEA’s environmental report for 2014 has not yet appeared, and there is talk of a culture of secrecy and denial surrounding the incinerator. This looks, from the outside very much like an attempt to cover up their embarrassment and avoid the inevitably negative implications for the Generation Park proposals.

Based on the evidence from UEA’s wood-burning experiment, biomass incineration would seem to be an unreliable, inefficient and potentially dangerous way of trying to produce energy. And yet Prof. Davies now wants to apply the same approach for the whole of Norwich.

Scaling up failure can only mean a bigger biomess.


Now the EDP is reporting that the whole scheme at Generation Park is to be halted:


Proposals for a £370m energy park on the edge of the city centre have been halted, with the company behind it owing £3m to creditors.

And the University of East Anglia, a member of the company’s board, has set aside £1m to pay back between 50 to 60 investors, who will only get back about a third of what they put in.

Norwich Powerhouse, set up to oversee the creation of Generation Park, between Thorpe St Andrew and Whitlingham, revealed at the end of November it was struggling to secure investment.

The project had been backed by the UEA, which put £2.25m into the project, and energy company E,ON, which had put in £1.4m. But, after the board called in an insolvency practitioner, a Company Voluntary Arrangement has been approved.

Its creditors have agreed to get back 33p for every pound they invested. If an investor comes forward in the future, the project could be resurrected.

It is understood investors had considered putting more in, but the interest has not yet been followed up with actual investment. E.ON is understood to still be considering its next move.

So, for now, the scheme, which was due to include a straw pellet-burning plant, 120 new homes, student accommodation, an education centre, a research base, 11 acres of parkland, plus new cycle routes and walkways, has been shelved.

A spokesman for the UEA confirmed £1m had been set aside to pay investors and that the scheme had been “mothballed”. so it could be revitalised if private investment was forthcoming.

The proposal, with its 90m-tall chimney, had attracted criticism. More than 250 people had objected to the planning application which had been lodged for the scheme.

Campaigners, including from the group Say No To Generation Park had expressed concerns about possible pollution from the plant. Developers had said the height of the chimney would disperse emissions far from the city.

Broadland District councillors, who are being consulted on the plan, last year decided to defer their decision on whether to grant permission, saying they needed more information on the environmental impact of the plume which will come out of the chimney.


Let us be absolutely clear about this. The UEA, but in particular Trevor Davies, have blown a lot of public money on this pet scheme of theirs, based, it seems, on a very weak business case. Indeed, the only purpose the project seems to have had is to satisfy their desire to put the UEA and city at “the forefront of carbon reduction”.

Not only have they wasted taxpayer money, they have also cost creditors a good deal.

There should now be a full investigation by the proper authorities, to decide whether this is a misuse of public money.

  1. March 1, 2016 12:14 pm

    I welcome the efforts of universities to become self-sufficient, but only if they go all the way and disconnect themselves from the electricity and natural gas grids. That simple disconnection rule would do wonders, providing the “sustainability” zealots with an excellent education in the realities of energy.

    At present they are just subsidy fishing, dressed up in the modern language of green virtue, at taxpayers expense.

  2. March 1, 2016 12:19 pm

    Paul: has anyone pointed you towards this?

    Macklin gave a remarkably level headed interview on the Wales segment of the BBC News at 10 last night.

    Or have I missed earlier versions of the story?

    • A C Osborn permalink
      March 1, 2016 12:30 pm

      That backs up what Paul and ohter have been saying about the current floods and climate not being as extreme as the they were in the past 200 years.

  3. March 1, 2016 12:55 pm

    The likes of these people such as Trevor Davies are so laser focused on CO2 reduction that they can never see the bus hitting them

  4. March 1, 2016 1:04 pm

    I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Thomas Sowell, Economist, Senior Fellow Hoover Institution of Stanford University: “Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it.”

    This following, is the result they cannot avoid: “Reality is not optional.”

    Both these opinions of Sowell, perfectly describe the climate change wizards on parade.

    • March 1, 2016 1:27 pm

      so the NHS and CEGB were examples of failure. The first now being sold off in bite-sized chunks and the second privatised at a stroke. Yet the new ‘reality’ is not working in either case.

      • March 1, 2016 8:50 pm

        That “reality is not optional” applies to none of their goofy plans. They don’t and won’t work but you will kill and impoverish a lot more people–that is reality and not optional in what their plans lead to.

  5. March 1, 2016 1:24 pm

    makes you wonder how Drax is getting on with its biomass conversion…

  6. March 1, 2016 1:57 pm

    “There should now be a full investigation by the proper authorities, to decide whether this is a misuse of public money.”

    Isn’t there someone who audits the public sector?

  7. William Baird permalink
    March 1, 2016 2:03 pm

    It seems that we have to live through this mania somehow. We cannot be far now from hitting the energy buffers, when we live largely in the dark and run businesses, deliver food, etc. only on those occasions when the wind enables ‘sustainable power’ to feed in.

    How long to ‘green suicide?

    (Retired Chartered Envronmentalist, and realist).

  8. RogerJC permalink
    March 1, 2016 2:28 pm

    It may be a little off topic but I see from Utility Week yesterday (29/02/16) that National Grid are predicting that there will be an electricity shortfall of up to 2.3Gw for eleven weeks in the coming winter.

    Will power cuts exert enough pressure for government to have a rethink of our disastrous energy policy.

    • March 1, 2016 3:44 pm

      This paragraph never found its way onto the BBC:

      “National Grid’s projections are based on the assumption that hydro-power plants will be running at full capacity and wind farms will operate at loads consistent with their past performance. It means low winds and reduced rainfall could result in even worse supply gaps.”

      Both Ofgem and National Grid fully embrace the Green Blob agenda and assume substantial contributions from wind, rather than the figure ZERO that they should use for capacity assessment.

  9. March 1, 2016 3:28 pm

    Hot green investment tip : Elon Musk’s ..SolarCity
    ..just don’t look at the share price graph before you buy
    best investment opp since Hanergy !

    • March 2, 2016 8:54 am

      Ah FT have a great podcast that explains their deconstruction of the Hanergy story.
      “mysterious pattern, where everyday the stock price would rise just before closing after falling all day, “things were not going well, their only customer was another division of Hanergy”, “Why were they borrowing at twice the market rate ?”
      – They allege that it reflects typical skulduggery in China and that many factories are running at only 70% of capacity.

  10. March 1, 2016 4:50 pm

    Well done to Dave Ward for keeping this massive failure in the news at the EDP, a newspaper notorious for promoting useless “green” energy schemes. Keep sticking it up ’em at the useless UEA, Dave.

  11. markl permalink
    March 1, 2016 4:54 pm

    “UEA’s website still proudly proclaims it a success. ” More false propaganda and downright lies from the Green machine. When are people like this going to be held accountable?

  12. John F. Hultquist permalink
    March 1, 2016 6:19 pm

    A small city near me (Washington State) did a wind project with other people’s money. It failed. That was 2 years ago. There has been no information since. All has quietly sunk beneath the waves. I suggested to the local paper that a story was needed. No response.

  13. Cowen Jones permalink
    March 1, 2016 11:43 pm

    See the updated article on the Norwich Radical posted only two weeks ago showing that the failure of UEA’s own biomass plant was far worse than first thought – £15M wasted, the plant NEVER WORKED, workforce made redundant and UEA have COVERED IT UP – refusing FOIs and saying nothing about it in their accounts or environmental reports. A scandal – see the details here

  14. ralfellis permalink
    March 2, 2016 9:19 am

    If the UAE biomass plant was so inefficient, when burning wood pellets, then how is Drax managing to generate anything? This prompts many questions.

    Why did the UAE plant fail? What were they doing wrong? Why was gas so much more efficient? And… What is the efficiency of the Drax biomass generators? How much are they below their original specifications? Is Drax now a 2gw plant, instead of a 4gw plant? Have these reductions been taken into account, when calculating total UK generating capacity?


    • Joe Public permalink
      March 2, 2016 1:43 pm

      ” … Why was gas so much more efficient?”

      Possibly because it is clean-burning; requires less flue emmissions-control; doesn’t carbon-foul the inside of the combustion chamber at turn-off; is capable of finer fuel/combustion-air control; responds more-rapidly to demand increases/decreases; its heat-transfer is mainly via convection rather than radiation so produces heat-transfer along a much longer pathway.

      Gas fuel delivery is fully-automatic; requiring no lorry access, no frequent lorry deliveries; no expensive & bulky on-site storage, no ash disposal (via lorry), no dedicated boiler plant-room staff.

      • ralfellis permalink
        March 2, 2016 6:00 pm

        Indeed, much as we might expect. But five times more efficient?? That is quite a difference. And what does it say about the performance of Drax? Is Drax failing in the same fashion, and they are not telling anyone?


  15. March 2, 2016 12:55 pm

    ‘the scheme has been the brainchild of the University of East Anglia’

    Brainchild makes it sound vaguely intelligent. In reality, not so much – do they even know that wood pellets are manufactured, which requires ‘energy’?

    And then they produce loads of CO2 when burnt, which may happen before they even make it to the generating plant.

  16. March 3, 2016 1:43 pm

    The Guardian have today published a story – ‘University of East Anglia abandons ambitious biomass scheme’

  17. July 1, 2016 10:47 am

    See the latest on Generation Park Norwich and how they ripped off their creditors:

  18. July 24, 2016 1:37 pm

    Generation Park Norwich withdraws planning application but is to resubmit at a later date:

  19. December 13, 2016 8:44 am

    See latest article in EDP on damning independent report about UEA’s abandoned biomass plant:

  20. December 13, 2016 8:49 am

    Here is the Norwich Radical article on the ‘biomess’ which has a link to the FOI report mentioned in the EDP:

    • Tony McKenna permalink
      December 13, 2016 12:45 pm

      I think there is an opportunity for a UK person to lead the country and drain the swamp. Peter Lilley for PM?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: