West London faces ban on new homes as power grid reaches capacity
West London developers face a potential ban on new housing projects until 2035 as the power grid runs out of capacity to support new homes, jeopardizing homebuilding targets in the capital city.
The Greater London Authority wrote to developers this week warning them it could take more than a decade to increase network capacity and restart developments in three west London boroughs – Hillingdon, Ealing and Hounslow.
In these boroughs, “the major new applicants for the distribution network . . . including housing estates, commercial premises and industrial activities will have to wait several years to receive new electricity connections,” according to the GLA memo, which was seen by the Financial Times.
A recent distribution grid candidate was told there was “not enough electrical capacity for a new connection” until 2035, according to the memo.
The three boroughs had almost 5,000 homes in 2019-20, or 11% of London’s housing supply. Blocking new projects would worsen a chronic housing shortage in a city that already regularly exceeds its delivery targets.
But new projects are being rejected because the region’s power grid has reached capacity, according to the GLA.
In its memo, the GLA said the strain on the network in west London was particularly acute as a number of data centers have been built nearby in recent years, taking advantage of the fiber optic cables that run along the corridor. M4, before crossing the Atlantic.
According to the GLA, “Data centers use large amounts of electricity, the equivalent of cities or small towns, to power servers and provide in-service resilience.”
SSEN and National Grid are working to upgrade their networks to meet greater demand for electricity, but this work could take years.
Developers “are always aware of this, but our basic understanding is that developments of 25 or more units will be affected. Our understanding is that you simply cannot build them,” said David O’Leary, Policy Director to the Home Builders Federation, a trade organization.
He said the GLA memo had already prompted an HBF member to reconsider buying land for development in Ealing.
In London, the problem is particularly acute because high land values make it difficult to add a power supply.
But the problem is likely to spread, O’Leary says, due to new rules that mean new homes must support low-carbon technologies such as heat pumps and electric vehicles, which will put additional pressure on the network.
The GLA, SSEN and National Grid are working on a solution to unlock development. Options include examining the needs of individual customers, incentivizing the use of electricity during low-demand times of the day, revising regulations governing the number of connections possible, and installing cables to connect to less constrained networks nearby.
The GLA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.