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The Chester Hydro Electric Building

Chester, England

Chester Heritage and Sustainability Enterprises CIC (CHASE)

Grade II

To convert a disused hydroelectric station into use as an environmental educational hub

The hydroelectric station was constructed on the site of the 13th-century Dee Mills. Built in 1913 in red sandstone as a neo-gothic structure to match the Dee Bridge and located between two main shopping streets in Chester city centre, it is the only hydroelectric plant in England that has generated power with both tidal and headwaters. The Chester Hydro stopped producing power in 1951. It is currently owned by Cheshire West and Cheshire Council, with a long lease held by United Utilities, which has not occupied the building since 2015.

Cheshire Historic Buildings Preservation Trust initially applied for a grant from the AHF to help them explore the possibilities around a response to the climate emergency as a role for the Hydro. They carried out a viability study, also supported with funding from the local council. They also looked at the condition of the building, established estimated costs, carried out a community consultation, and did an options appraisal of various end uses of the hydro,  developing an initial business case to see if the project could become self-sustaining in the long term. The study concluded that the project had the potential to be sustainable, and the Trust then took the decision to create a separate organisation to move the project forward. They brought together a range of suitable and enthusiastic individuals and stakeholders to form Chester Heritage and Sustainability Enterprises CIC (CHASE).

CHASE intends to convert the building into a careers, education and heritage attraction to enable residents and visitors to learn about both the history of the site and the River Dee and the future of low-carbon industry. The turbine hall will become the hub of the centre with a range of interpretive and interactive displays and educational resources. A new-build glazed structure on the roof, meanwhile, will house a multi-purpose room for seminars, events and pop-up hospitality. CHASE is presently looking at the prospects of re-introducing an element of hydro power generation for the project, while progressing discussions to enable CHASE to take over the building and deliver the project with support from a range of partners. 

The project viability report considered different operating models, ultimately suggesting that a mix of charges for services would be most effective to secure the long-term future of the Hydro. CHASE are working with key stakeholders, including the University of Chester, as well as industry and skills providers to make this potential a reality.

AHF Funding

Project Viability Grant - £ 14,550 (2020)

Project Development Grant - £39,960 (2022)

Photo credits
Donald Insall Associates

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