BY TOBY PORTER
Councillors and town hall officers faced a barrage of criticism from hundreds of residents protesting at the breakdown of their heating and hot water just after Christmas.
Housing cabinet member Stephanie Cryan and other Southwark council officials has apologised for the breakdown of Wyndham boilerhouse on some of the coldest weeks of the winter.
Families living around John Ruskin Street on the Brandon Estate, Kennington told them they have had to suffer years of breakdowns, at a meeting in Andrews Walk community hall on February 13.
The central heating freeze is now in its sixth week, interrupted only by the surprise restoration of heating on Saturday, February 2, which failed to last a day.
Residents have been offered £100 in compensation, but their charges recently rose from £1,000 a year to £1,400, so the payment will be swallowed up by their forthcoming bills.
Tenants and leaseholders are still shivering in Aberfeldy House and Glenfinlas Way where they have been deprived of central heating and hot water since early in the new year.
One father of five complained that he had to heat ice-cold water in kettles and pans before his children could go to school.
Many tenants had to buy electric heaters to keep warm.
Elderly residents said they were struggling to manage.
A 79-year-old produced a record he had meticulously kept of more than 50 breakdowns – what the Head of Engineering termed “outages”.
The breakdowns began when a pipeline burst last summer, which caused a geyser of scalding water to erupt beneath gardens of pensioner bungalows in Laxley Close.
Excavators had to unearth the ruptured pipe, leading to more than a two-week stoppage of hot water supplies in the surrounding area.
Leaseholders pay up to £2,600 in service charges – which includes £1,000 costs for heating and hot water – but have had to buy heaters to stay warm.
A young electrical engineer dismissed the worn-out heating system as unfit for purpose. Another said it was decrepit, not only well past its sell-by date but obsolete, patched with sticking plaster and puncture outfits.
Some residents have said they will refuse to pay their “rates, council tax or whatever”.
Engineer Mr Hunter told one resident his heating would be restored the following day. But more than a week later, the resident has not been contacted.
Cllr Cryan said: “We know there have been a large number of boiler breakdowns across our estates over the last couple of winters and this has caused significant problems for our residents, which is not the kind of service we want to deliver as a council.
“Things have been particularly bad on blocks that are served by the Wyndham boiler house, where at one point three of the four boilers had broken down and temporary boilers had to be brought in.
“In many cases heating and hot water has been restored and engineers are working hard to deal with the individuals complaints of leaks, airlocks etc that are continuing to prevent a full service being restored.
“At the meeting with residents on the Brandon Estate last week we agreed to look again at the compensation package and a further meeting is being arranged to come back to residents on many of the questions raised.
“We don’t want anyone to be out of pocket as a result of higher electricity charges for portable heaters and boiling kettles for hot water. So we have committed to make sure that everyone is reimbursed for any costs incurred.
We have also arranged for the council’s leisure centres to offer free access for showers for any residents affected by the loss of heating and hot water.
“Maintaining our aging district heating systems is one of the biggest challenges we have in housing at the moment, for example with replacement pipe work at Wyndham being estimated at around three times our annual budget for repairs.
In the meantime we are looking at making targeted repairs to make the system more robust.
“We completely understand the frustrations and anger of the individuals and families affected by the breakdowns and I sincerely apologise.
We will continue to do everything we can to try and find a long term solution to the problems.”