Tower of Light set to start as budget balloons

Manchester’s Civic Quarter Heat Network, featuring a Tonkin Liu-designed ‘Tower of Light’, is set to get under way, although the project’s budget has nearly doubled in the last 18 months.

The heat network is designed to provide a number of key buildings within the city centre with low-carbon, efficient and reliable energy. In total, it has a total thermal capacity of around 27MW, fuelled by natural gas.

Although the project was originally set to begin this year, but according to council papers, the final work on the legal structure of the project is being carried out ahead of the council’s partner Vital Energi starting on site next year.

The project will get under way despite the budget nearly doubling since it was originally put forward. A budget of £14m was put forward by the council in 2016/17, but this has since increased to £26m, which the council said was down to “changes in design and specification”.

Council papers insisted the project was “still affordable within the spend-to-save financial model for the project” and there have been “some additional external funding” for the scheme.

The scheme is part-funded by the Government’s £320m Heat Network Investment project, with a capital grant of £2.87m secured. The project is also entitled to a grant from the European Local Energy Assistance grant to help cover external technical, legal and financial services costs.

The buildings to be supplied are Manchester Central, the Town Hall Extension, Heron House, Manchester Art Gallery, Central Library, the Midland Hotel, the Bridgewater Hall, and One St Peter’s Square. Of these, Manchester Central, the Town Hall Extension, the Bridgewater Hall, and the Midland are all due to have an electrical connection.

Central to the proposals is a ‘Tower of Light’ next to Manchester Central, which is designed to encase dispersion flues. The combined heat-and-power centre is due to be located under the Metrolink arch at the junction of Lower Mosley Street and Great Bridgewater Street.

Manchester City Council has set up a special purpose vehicle to manage the project, with Vital Energi acting under a design, build, operate, and maintain contract, which will see it responsible for the operation and maintenance of the network for the next 30 years.

There is an 18-month build programme, due to start this month or early next year, with penalties for Vital if the project is delivered late.

A lease agreement to facilitate the construction of the energy centre is currently being agreed and construction will begin once capital approval of the business case has been secured.

Turley is acting as planner for the project, and secured permission in April.

A Manchester City Council spokesperson said: “The Civic Quarter Heat Network is a long-term project which will reduce the city’s energy costs and carbon emissions, improve our air quality, create new jobs and ultimately pay for itself through its operations.  The increase to the budget for this important project is in part thanks to the provision of additional grant funding from government and also to provide a buffer which will allow it to significantly expand in the future.”

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Tower of Balloons would be better

By Gustav Eiffel

I like the design of the chimney and the idea of district heating but why use natural gas surely a more environmental solution like biomass could have been used?

By Anonymous

I like that they’re making a feature of it but it’s said that they’re investing in burning natural gas for the next 30 years.

By .

The curved white wall on the render looks tragic – way to make a bleak junction even worse for pedestrians.

By Ando Tadao

So basically is a chimney cover.. looks nice.. but in essence it’s just to make something unattractive acceptable to planning.


A red brick chimney would have been a nice nod to the city’s industrial past.


It’s natural gas fired CHP engines, they’re not planning to just burn gas for heating. It already *is* the environmental solution.

Biomass for 27MWt in a city centre location? Don’t be daft.

By Bored Engineer

Why aren’t they using waste heat from all the Data Centres in Manchester Science park?

By Darren Sellers

A tall chimney right in the sight line of the proposed video wall on Axis – great planning!

By Bo.

A Combined Heat and Power unit is more environmentally friendly than heating alone however the use of gas isn’t. This is a lazy and boring engineering “solution”. Biomass deliveries in the city centre to a large boiler would be a logistical nightmare however a number of smaller units providing heat spread throughout the locality would be more manageable. Overall a disappointing scheme.

By Lenny1968

Tower of light ‘to encase dispersion flues’. It’s a fancy chimney – say it like it is, we’re northern.

By taxed

A CHP engine generates power and it produces hot water via its waste heat whereas a biomass boiler or any boiler just produces steam and the waste heat produces hotwater.

The power the engine generates can be exported back to the grid for profit.

Whilst this engine been configured to combust natural gas, they can be made to run any form of gas, be it biogas produced from food and farm waste… wood gas from composting wood… if there were any coal mines left the engines could run off waste coal gas.

By Joseph Wakely

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