Beacon Of Light, Manchester City Council, P Walker Sime
A visual representation of Manchester's low-carbon Civic Quarter Heat Network, the Tower of Light is illuminated every evening. Credit: via Walker Sime

Manchester launches Civic Quarter Heat Network with Tower of Light

Julia Hatmaker

Those walking by Manchester Central at night will now have their path illuminated by a 40-metre-tall tower, which lights up every night using power generated from the city’s new low-carbon heat network.

CQHN has been years in the making and will deliver both heat and power to many buildings in central Manchester.

Walker Sime managed the project, which uses natural gas to produce electricity. The network then captures the heat by-product of that production and uses it to heat water. That water is sent to both heat buildings in the network.

“It’s a far more efficient use of energy,” said Benjamin Smith, senior project manager with Walker Sime. “It dramatically reduces the carbon that the buildings used to emit from their outdated plant.

“What’s more, the network is designed to double in capacity, enabling many more buildings (new and existing) to join the network, making it even more efficient,” Smith continued. “It also presents space-saving opportunities for new developments as there’s no longer a need to accommodate flues and large boiler rooms.”

So far, the CQHN is connected to the Town Hall Extension and Central Library, Bridgewater Hall, Heron House, Manchester Central Convention Centre, and Manchester Art Gallery. The buildings are connected to the energy centre, which sits beneath the railway arches near Manchester Central, by 2km of underground pipes.

The energy centre was built by Vital Energi, which will also operate and maintain the network for the next 30 years.

Manchester City Council said that it hopes to transition the heat network from being fuelled by natural gas towards a more sustainable option, such as biomethane and hydrogen, in the future.

Cllr Tracey Rawlins, executive member for environment for Manchester City Council, called the heat network a “trailblazing system”, adding that it “demonstrates Manchester’s determination to cut our carbon emissions”.

“As a council, we are committed to playing our full part in limiting the impacts of climate change as the city strives to become zero carbon by 2038 – at least 12 years ahead of the national target,” she said.

“It’s a complex challenge but ambitious projects such as this network show that we are taking action to rise to it,” Rawlins continued. “As well as looking beautiful, we hope that the Tower of Light will be a beacon for this kind of work.”

Law firm Browne Jacobson advised Manchester City Council on setting up CQHN.

“We are delighted to have been involved in this ambitious and significant project for Manchester City Council,” said Browne Jacobson legal director Alex Kynoch.

“The council are passionate and serious about hitting their net zero goals in carbon, waste and climate resilience by 2038 and this impressive energy infrastructure will be imperative in helping them to achieve that and sets the scene for more local authorities and UK cities to follow suit.”

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Not gonna lie I absolutely loved this addition when I visited.

Once the town hall is revamped and they’ve finished pedestrianising bits this area will look pretty impressive.

By Anonymous

Natural gas oh dear

By Andt

Why is this system not connected to and supplying Central Manchester Hospitals Foundation Trust Buildings that are along Oxford Road ?.Most of these hospital buildings are fed by gas and converted into steam which is an expensive energy system.Most of the hospital buildings are within the PFI contract agreement and they probably do not have any incentives to save NHS running costs.Should the NHS Energy Manager be consulted ?

By Paul Griffiths

Paul Griffiths – there’s another energy centre proposed for the Oxford Road/Hathersage Road area, due to start on site before year end I think. I expect that will connect to the NHS estate.


Great system and looks spectacular at night. The civic quarter is really coming on.

By Anonymous

So in effect is this a gas fired power station in the city centre?

By Martin

How did they construct the underground pipe network? And how do they expand it? I don’t recall huge excavations so presumably it utilises existing utilities? Be interested to know more…

By Swampy

More Andy Burnham garbage.


Gas power station…Hydrogen pipe dream

By Anonymous

If Manchester City Council want to appear to be green and environment friendly get the traffic moving instead of stationary, Trafford Rd at the Quays is a disgrace.


@MFH if you’re that concerned about the polluting effect of cars why don’t you hop on your bike? Otherwise I’m sure there is a good reason for the congestion on Trafford road that, in any case, sits outside MCC’s jurisdiction.

By Flaneur

Not sure MCC can do a great deal about traffic in a different borough

By Manc

MFH if you are going to post comments please try to get basic facts right. Andy Burnham has nothing to do with this project it is a Manchester City Council initiative not a Greater Manchester initiative and the Quays are in Salford so nothing to do with Manchester Council.

By Anonymous

Despite lots of strange and off topic comments this is an impressive feat of engineering and will save a huge amount of co2 even before it’s converted to hydrogen. Well done

By Anonymous

Agree with Anonymous. Every building that taps into it can retire outdated heating systems so must be a huge energy reduction. Seen the pipes going in on Mount Street for the Town Hall and they’re 2 pipes about a foot in diameter.

By Landscapeman