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Here are all the updates sent out to the mailing list. The  2015 updates will go on this page, and you can see the earlier years via the links at the bottom.

 

3 November 2015

** PRESS RELEASE **

The directors of Abingdon Hydro have decided that we should not continue with this project.

Abingdon Hydro is a “BenCom”: a society created not for our own benefit, but for our local community. This was a true community project, offering something for everyone – not just sustainable electricity, but a place to view the river and see water power up close, a fish pass designed as a natural flowing stream, an area that was formerly overgrown with brambles replanted for people and wildlife, better provision of white water for the canoe clubs, an educational resource, a tourist attraction, and a community fund to support other environmental projects.

But the finances and the clock were against us. We had deadlines to meet, and the sheer complexity of the regulations was slowing progress. Then over the last few months the incentives that were designed to encourage groups like ours have been cut drastically. As invitations to tender had already been issued, we waited for the returns before making a final decision. But construction is a seller's market at present, so the cost, and the risk of delay, turned out to be too high to justify.

We are very grateful to our 420 members, without whom this project would never have happened. They were willing to invest for a possible long term reward that would never be more than modest. We would also like to thank those public officers who showed patience and a willingness to help as far as they could, despite the burden of ever expanding rules and regulations.

Over the years of attendance at public events we have met thousands of people, and know that the great majority wanted this project to become a reality. One day, when conditions are right, perhaps it could.

15 August 2015

Since the last update we have been to some events and added more names to this mailing list. However attention has been mainly on getting ready for construction. It is slower than we would like, with seemingly endless demands from the many different parties we have to deal with. Bureaucracy just keeps growing – short list invited of things we can still do that do not need anybody's permission (or payment)!

Anyway, that is all a prelude to getting the engineering done. As you may be aware, we took the plunge and signed up an engineering consultancy. They are now well into the detailed design. They produce the information that contractors need to bid for the job, and manage the tendering process. We provide as much information about the site as possible, for example core samples to help them work out what foundations are needed. This all costs a lot, but by doing it in advance, we hope to gain from the lower cost to the contractor. Note that the figures on the web site are currently out of date.

The timetable has the tender documents being issued by the end of August, with 6 weeks for the contractors to respond. Then at last we will have a clearer picture of the finances. We will have a stand at the dragon boat racing on 6 September, and thought we might relaunch the shares there, but it made more sense to wait until the finances are clearer. Also this time round we want to get the prospectus legally verified, which takes time. So it looks like November, about a year after the original launch. Shares as a Christmas gift with a difference, perhaps?

Allowing time for all the planning conditions to be discharged, the contractor will probably only do preliminary work before the Christmas holidays. Abbey Meadow will be quieter in the winter, but the programme will have to allow for the winter conditions.

A question that comes up locally is how we will manage access, and keep the footpath open. The formal answer is that the design that goes to the contractors only tells them what to build, not how to build it. However we do have backup answers. Contractors usually prefer the most direct way in, and that would be the path from Audlett Drive, and a temporary bridge over the Abbey Stream, with lorries controlled by banksmen. Most of the construction, including the screws, is downstream, south of the footpath. So there could be a fence along the footpath to keep it open while the lower part is built, then the footpath could be diverted round the screws while the inlet is built.

Can I add a request that I hope won't apply to any of you: please note that we do not want the lock keeper bothered by people asking about this project. He is simply doing his job for the Environment Agency (and doing it well) - he is not a front man for them, we deal with the EA direct.

Finally, tax relief: at the last budget the Enterprise Investment Scheme was changed, to stop it being used for tax avoidance. Community benefit organisations like ours were to use Social Investment Tax Relief instead. The transition to SITR is intended to be smooth, with the 30% tax rebate continuing much as before, but government is still working on the SITR regulations, so for the time being HMRC is continuing with EIS.

 21 June 2015

The last update was nearly 3 months ago - apologies, there has been so much to keep up with since then. I continue to be amazed at the number of different agencies and interests that get involved in some way. At our last meeting with the Environment Agency there were seven topics to discuss. Well that's the service economy I suppose, all adding to the GDP - but at the end of the day we want something tangible to come out of it.

We are now signed up with a consultancy who will take on the engineering, project management, and tendering. The screw suppliers delivered their drawings on Friday, so the engineering design can start on Monday. Before the design goes off to contractors for quotations their quantity surveyor will estimate the cost, and at that will enable us to put together a better financial model and relaunch the shares. But I don't expect that to be until August.

If you are passing the site in a couple of weeks or so you may see a small drilling rig taking samples. They are for physical and chemical analysis, to help with the design. The idea is that the more certainty there is beforehand, the less the contractor will add to cover risks. So by spending now we save later. But remember there will still be risks - if there were not it would have been done by now and there would be no tax relief.

We hope share sales will eventually cover the entire cost, but meanwhile we need to know there will be enough money to pay the bills, so we have been talking to lenders as well. One thing they want to know is what is our social impact? This project is intended to have a strong social dimension as well as generating sustainable electricity, but we don't know how to express it in lenders' language. So we took advantage of an offer by Oxford University's Careers Dept to find a student to do a short internship, and he will spend next week finding out. If social impact measurement is something any of you know about, feel free to reply and I'll put you in contact.

And so the weeks go by. As the consultant pointed out, the actual engineering is pretty straightforward, a small job with some steel and concrete and machines and cables - it's all the other stuff that makes it complicated. The amount we have to spend up front can be a bit scary, but that's the way it is done.

28 March 2015

A quick update, as it's a busy time. The first batch of share certificates is with the printers, but just a reminder that if you would like to buy shares for this financial year (ending 5th of April), there is still time! We set the closing date at 31st March to leave a few days to spare, because applications can be slow to arrive in the PO Box (can also drop them in at Added Ingredients in Stert Street though). A good number are coming in at present, and membership has passed the 400 mark, with investments over £780,000. Although they will take time to process, the date on the certificates will be this financial year.

As for next financial year, the transition to Social Investment Tax Relief is expected to be fairly seamless, so there is not the cause for concern that there was earlier. There may be details in the legislation yet to be ironed out, but we need a pause for breath anyway. The prospectuses have almost run out, and before printing another batch they will need some rewriting to take account of SITR.

Meanwhile, our technical group has been comparing tenders from three screw manufacturers, asking them further questions, and we plan to visit reference sites. Evaluating them prompted a question: other things being equal, which is more important - the capital cost, or the total cost of ownership (estimated over 20 years)? If we just wanted to get it built, the answer would be the capital cost, but the point of a community benefit society is that community benefit is the important thing. That implies a long term commitment.

They have also been talking with the civil engineering consultants, and we have to work out the best way to discharge the many planning conditions. Time is pressing, as there is much to do before construction can start.

The events season has started too. There was the ATOM science festival in the market place last Saturday, with a steady stream of visitors despite the cold. Then we have the cycle festival, then the Air and Country Show, then Fun in the Park.... should still be able to squeeze in the odd extra event though.

7 March 2015

Busy as ever, here's where we are....

The share offer
At present we have about 385 members who have invested over £740,000. The "tipping point" (where we can afford to top up with a commercial loan) looks like being around £900,000.

We were advised earlier that share certificates should be issued before the end of the financial year, because EIS is being used for too many tax avoidance schemes, so HMRC plan to end it. So we set the closing date at 31st March. It turns out that EIS will not end so abruptly, and there will be SITR (social investment tax relief) for legitimate projects like ours. However the picture is still evolving, so we can at least make sure that existing investments are secure.

Thinking of investing?
You still can, for the rest of this month. The tax rebate would apply to years 13/14 and/or 14/15 (but note the usual caveat – this is not tax advice!)

We want to reopen the share offer in the new tax year, but there could be delays. EIS is not just about income tax relief, there is also inheritance tax relief and capital gains tax relief, and the rules could change in unexpected ways. Then of course there is the election coming up. We are signing up with an accountancy firm that should be up to date on these matters and can advise on what goes in the prospectus.

Construction
We are into the strange world (for most of us) of civil engineering contracting, a world of risk and complicated documents. But we have people to guide us through it. We need a fixed price contract, because we don't have spare cash, and the difficulty which we did not understand earlier is that civil contractors can't work out a cost until the design and drawing work has been done. That is an expensive process, and they may well decide that it is not worth the expense if they don't have a good chance of winning the contract.

So the reasoning is that if we pay for the design work, we end up with a better deal. But the design should not be too prescriptive, because there are some parts of the job, such as access or how to get the screws in place, where we should give them freedom to do it their own way. It is a delicate balance. Other costs are investigations such as boreholes to see how deep the piling needs to go. If we don't pay for for these things the quotation will be higher, to allow for unexpected problems. The aim is to eliminate as much risk as possible. So the up-front cost gets a bit scary.

At the moment the four screw manufacturers have invitations to tender. The winning one has to produce drawings that specify how the screws go, and how to shape the channels that take the water in and out, and those drawings go to the civil contractors.

Site clearance
You may have seen the Abingdon Herald report of the site clearance. It was arranged at rather short notice with the park staff, and a total of 40 volunteers signed in. It was a good time, with pleasing teamwork and ideal weather. It could have been a good news story, but unfortunately a string of complaints turned it into a rather confused and distasteful story. I have been in correspondence with the person concerned, to get a better understanding on both sides and normal diplomatic relations.

Abbey Meadow
Something more for locals: you are probably aware of the Abbey Meadow consultation (booklets in the Guildhall, Added Ingredients, etc, or online at tinyurl.com/AbbeyMeadow). The Town Council and District Council see Abingdon Hydro as an important attraction to our waterfront, but we are not mentioned in the consultation. Perhaps you could put in a word for us on the Other Comments page? 

12 February 2015

This is mainly for local people: you may be aware that we have cleared the site. There are pictures on the web site – see the news items on the left side of the front page.

The reason for doing it now was that we did not want to risk having to wait until the end of the nesting season before the trees could be removed. The tree by the path with the bat excluder bags turned out to be very fragile so it should have come down anyway. There were no droppings or signs of bats, so the bags had done their work. The work was done by about 20 volunteers, led by two people who are trained and experienced in this work. The three days they picked last week had the best weather of the week! We are very grateful to the volunteers, who worked hard, and we hope went home satisfied with a valuable job done. We are also grateful for the co-operation of the parks staff. This is work which would otherwise be done as part of the civil engineering contract, and although the contractors have big machines to do it quickly, the saving is estimated at £6000. At the end of the project there will be an opportunity to tidy up and replant, giving a similar saving.

The trees produced a large quantity of firewood, which is there for the taking, free of charge. Most of it has now gone but there is still some stacked at the side of the site. The nearest access is from the Health & Wellbeing Centre on Audlett Drive (2 minutes walk, over the footbridge), but the car park gets very full during working hours, and weekend walkers seem to be discovering it too.

As it is a public area, do not use chain saws to cut up logs. There were notices to that effect, and they also said do not trouble the Lock Keeper (the land belongs to the District Council, not the Environment Agency). However the notices were taken away. There appears to be someone trying to stir up trouble for us, so we would be grateful if you could help yourself to the wood sooner rather than later.

Investments continue to grow, now past £700,000, and we are looking for the best way of financing the construction. Soon the events season will return. If you are in an organisation that would like a display or a visit, do get in touch.

1st February 2015

Time for a quick update, as we have had our AGM a week or so ago. About 150 of our 370 members came. Preparation for the meeting was rather frantic, so we had to cut corners, and made mistakes. But the vote at the end was a great encouragement, and we are grateful for the continuing trust of the members.

If you want to know more, there is a new page on the web site, that has the AGM documents: www.abingdonhydro.org.uk/the-company/agm-2015/ .

The focus is shifting now to the engineering. However we still need investment, and the share offer is open. But not all that long, because on 6th April the Enterprise Investment Scheme (the 30% tax rebate) will end, to be replaced by Social Investment Tax Relief (SITR). That means we will have to issue share certificates before budget day. The legislation for SITR will not be published until summer, so it is not yet clear how we will manage the gap. It is very inconvenient, but any long term project has to face this kind of uncertainty, living under the threat of a bureaucrat's pen.

Osney Lock Hydro is now running! Tomorrow, Monday, there is to be an item about it on BBC1. It is either at 6.30, South Today, or 7.30, Inside out England, I'm not sure which. OLH has taken many years to get there - mere striplings like us hope to do it faster!

11 January 2015

The dust is settling on the share offer, but applications are still coming in and we are up to about 370 members and £660,000 of investment. We are not yet where we want to be, but it is very encouraging, and we press on.

The next step is the Annual General Meeting. This is an important meeting, for members (those who have bought shares). The engineering consultancy's draft report is imminent, a working group of members will be responding to it, and there will be a presentation at the AGM. The cost figures will go into the financial model so that the financial position can also be presented at the AGM. Then the members can vote on the options for the future.

There have been a few queries about share applications that went astray, nearly all sorted now, but there may be others that we do not know about. The PO Box service is very erratic, and last week I picked up a bundle of letters most of which were posted more than 3 weeks before. They have not yet been processed. If you have sent in an application with an email address and do not receive an email before the AGM, then feel free to come anyway, and perhaps we can track it down: It is at 7.30pm, Friday 23rd January, in the Guildhall.

I find we have been blogged: sarahhay.com/adventures/gentle-revolution-oxford. Maybe we are in other blogs out there. There is of course the Abingdon Blog (www.abingdonblog.co.uk), which is mainly for those who want to follow local events, and we are grateful for Alastair's reports on us from time to time. Social media are unfamiliar to most of us, but a member has now taken up this challenge. He is also doing a thorough search for possible sources of grants for the 'add-ons' - the fish pass, the walkway, etc - that could be the applied for separately.

I'll also mention an idea that we are looking into, that may appeal to those who cannot afford the £500 minimum investment. Crowdfunding is giving rather than investing, in which a lot of people put in relatively small amounts of money to achieve some objective together. The idea would be a crowdfund that would add up to a good sized block of shares for the Earth Trust. As you may be aware, the Earth Trust has a local presence, as they manage the Thrupp Lake and Abbey Fishpond reserves. The fund would have a double benefit: it would help build Abingdon Hydro, then the income from the shares would go to the Earth Trust, long term.

The pages below are all the other updates that have been sent out over the years. The mailing list has been growing steadily, over 900 people currently.

 2014 updates 2013 updates

2012 updates

2011 updates
2010 updates 2010 launch 

If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please click Join right at the top of the page, and fill in such details as you want to reveal. 

font-size: small; color: #000080; This Friday, the 7th, is a Green Drinks event. Paul Buckingham wanted to know numbers before deciding where to book, but I think he has decided on the back room at the Old Anchor. Better check the venue before coming though: http://www.greendrinks.org/Oxfordshire/Abingdon. I