Southwark Council Rouel Road District Heating Network Complete

The original district heating network was installed in 1977 when the estate was being construction and had performed well, but now needed to be replaced as it had reached the end of its design life. Vital Energi undertook the replacement project and worked closely with the council to keep disruption to a minimum.

“Dilapidated and outdated pipework affects housing across London and it’s important that we embrace new technology and install new piping of a high standard in order to prevent disruption for residents in years to come, especially over the winter months.”

Project Overview

Southwark Council was undertaking an ambitious “Revitalize SE16” programme as part of its 5-year, £326 million improvements of council properties through their “Warm Dry Safe” fund and we were delighted to win the contract to replace Rouel Road Estate’s ageing district heating main as part of these works.

The original district heating network had been installed during the construction of the estate circa 1977 and some of the pipework was now coming to the end of its design life and needed replacing.  The original pipe had performed well, but had ceased to be cost effective due to the heat losses and leaks, which required frequent repairs.  Additionally, these leaks resulted in fresh water being introduced to the system, which was causing corrosion and damage to the communal heating scheme.

Vital Solution

It was clear that the council and Vital Energi shared a core value of creating as little disruption as possible and as part of our approach, we created a communications strategy to keep residents informed.   This involved appointing a Resident Liaison Officer who would become a familiar face and help us communicate effectively and this was supplemented with a regular newsletter posted to each resident which would detail progress and include a “what next” section summarising upcoming works.

To further ensure residents were engaged, we attended all meetings of the tenants’ association, answering questions, giving updates and listening to feedback from the attendees.

Our approach to the project involved breaking it down into seven separate phases.  In phases which involved excavation, our engineers would keep trench lengths as small as possible and then reinstate them immediately, once the replacement pipework had been installed.  By using our experience to schedule works, and relying on our in-house workforce we were able to reduce the original programme by 17 weeks.

With Health and Safety being essential, Vital created a secure compound in which to store all materials and tools.  Similarly, all open trenches were guarded with edge protection and due to the high number of children in the area, Vital used its newsletter and community liaison officer to enlist the support of parents to educate their children about the dangers of construction sites. 

The district heating mains replacement would see a combination of buried district heating pipework installed into excavated trenches, and pipework installed into subterranean service ducts.  Overall, we excavated 1,090m of trenches and installed over 4,500m of pre insulated district heating pipework.

To improve the quality of the service ducts and make them safe for operatives to work in them we undertook a range of improvements which included installing modern lighting under 20 blocks as well as sump pumps which eliminated the possibility of flooding. Additionally, our on-site operatives detected asbestos and arranged for its safe removal.

Throughout the installation, our engineers undertook essential maintenance to the existing, ageing pipework, performing repairs, where necessary, to ensure the residents’ heat and hot water was uninterrupted.

Once installation was complete, the network needed to be temporarily shut down to make the newly installed mains live.  This involved turning off the heat and hot water to the estate for a 12 hour period.  This shutdown was scheduled for the warmer summer months as the communal heating only operates when the temperature fell below 17 degrees, so it would have the least impact on residents.  We have worked on similar shutdowns on projects such as Nottingham, Sheffield and Oldham and were able to successfully complete works within the timescale


  • All ducts improved to high standards of Health & Safety
  • 4,500 metres of pipework installed
  • Safe removal of asbestos
  • Minimum disruption to residents
  • Original programme reduced by 17 weeks