Heated debate sparked by plans for hydrogen homes in Whitby area of Ellesmere Port

Video report from ITV Granada correspondent Andy Bonner

Two thousand households in a Cheshire town could become part of a trial which may determine how we will all heat and cook in our homes in the future.

The Whitby area of Ellesmere Port is on the shortlist to become a 'hydrogen village' as the government explores ways to create its green industrial revolution.

However, it has sparked a heated debate amongst residents with some fearing they would have no option but to take part.

Kate Grannell, who opposes the project, told ITV News: "We have not been consulted at all. If the trial goes ahead you are forced off natural gas. They have us over a barrel."

How welcome hydrogen is in Whitby is still being debated. Credit: Cadent

Natural gas delivered through today's gas network has carbon in it, something that will need to change if the government is to meet its aim of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Around 85% of the country is on the grid, with 11 million properties connected by network operators Cadent.

"Given the scale of the challenge its really important we understand how we can reuse that infrastructure with a low-carbon gas," explained Helen Boyle, the firm's head of regional development.

Burning hydrogen is seen as the possible alternative, and something the existing gas industry is keen to explore.

A booklet distributed by Cadent and British Gas to households in Whitby says the "exciting programme will demonstrate how the rest of the UK can become more environmentally friendly when it comes to heating and cooking with gas."

However, a committee of MPs has just published a report concluding that "hydrogen is not likely to be practically and economically viable for mass use in the short and medium term for heating homes."

Boilers will need to be replaced if the trial goes ahead. Credit: ITV Granada

Some home-owners also doubt hydrogen's true green credentials and question the cost to the consumer and hydrogen's safety record.

Tom Baxter, Visiting Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, said he feared having the gas in a domestic setting could expose residents to an increased risk of explosions and fires.

He said: "Hydrogen is different from natural gas. It's much more explosive, much more likely to ignite, much more likely to leak than natural gas.

"So you're starting off introducing a heating substance that you know is less safe than the gas that you're using at the moment. To me, that's an absolute retrograde step."

A decision will be made in Spring 2023 about whether Whitby will be chosen to become the hydrogen village.

In the meantime, preparations for the project have been ramping up.

Free in-home hydrogen assessments have been taking place and a new visitor centre has opened, where people can cook pancakes in a pan on a hydrogen-powered hob.

If Whitby is picked, every property on the trial will get free boiler upgrades to new hydrogen-ready versions.

Kimberley Walters, a customer liaison officer for Cadent, said: "A lot of people are saying, why has Whitby been chosen and what's the catch? Why is everything free?

"There's no catch."

Protest signs have been placed in the windows of some homes. Credit: ITV Granada

Project bosses have guaranteed that, for its two-year duration, residents will pay the same to use hydrogen as they would pay for using natural gas.

Nobody who takes part in the trial will be worse off as a result, they say.

Yet there are concerns that prices and maintenance costs could rocket once the trial is over.

Residents who don't want to turn to hydrogen could choose electric instead.

Keith Lewington, who lives on the edge of the area, has his reservations.

He said: "There is no opt out. It's as simple as that.

"The only choice I've got is to go hydrogen or go electric. I don't have a choice of do nothing.

"People are absolutely despairing because they feel helpless. They are not supported.

"There's nothing they can do about this. They're being driven down this road by the oil and gas industry and have absolutely no say in it."

Andy Rogers gets advice from Cadent's Kimberley Walters Credit: ITV Granada

Some residents are happy to jump on board with hydrogen.

Andy Rogers decided to sign up after his home visit.

He said: "The way they explained it to me, I just thought this is a no brainer.

"We've got to go hydrogen. It's the way forward.

"My boiler is about ten years old so we'll get a new boiler. So I'm happy with that."

Others, like Kate, fear they are being forced to become lab rats.

She said: "The anger of someone coming into your privately owned house and just saying, I want to try this and you don't get to say it, I'm just going to cut you off gas and you have to choose one of these options, none of which will be beneficial to you - it is very frustrating."

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