Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

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Southwark News Column - Southwark Council must compensate and work with Gloucester Grove and North Peckham tenants to fix heating problems

For many people living on the Gloucester Grove and North Peckham Estates the first signs of spring have come not a moment too soon.  They have had a horrible winter thanks to the failing of the estate heating system.  For months over the coldest part of the winter the heating and the hot water has been going off in 1,200 flats.  Tenants have told me about going to bed in their overcoat – and even then still not being able to keep warm.  People have spent money on buying electric heaters and then spent huge amounts on their electricity.  Some tried to keep warm by leaving the gas on.  Expensive – and dangerous too.  And the only way to get hot water was to heat it in the kettle.  People had to go out to escape the cold in their flats.  And that costs too.  All the expense and inconvenience was compounded by finding that the heating was back on – but only at half strength.  Or it was back on and then went off again.

The Council have had contractors constantly down there to try and sort it out.  But now that it’s back on there are two issues that need to be dealt with.  Firstly the compensation.  It’s not enough for the Council to ensure that people are not charged for the heating and hot water they didn’t get.  People must be compensated for the extra costs they have incurred.  And for the misery and inconvenience they have endured.  The Council’s housing budget has been slashed by the Government but even so the Council should not, and I’m sure will not, penny-pinch and haggle about the amount of compensation.  One tenant has been offered £25!  That does not begin to be enough.  So the Council needs to put a lot of effort into sorting out the compensation.  After such inconvenience the last thing that tenants need is to have to chase the Council for compensation.

The next thing that needs to be sorted out is ensuring that this doesn’t happen again next winter.  Huge estate boilers were built when the estate was built with the aim of ensuring a constant supply of heating and hot water to all the flats and a low cost.  The problem is that when it goes wrong it’s a huge problem to sort out and hundreds of tenants are hit.  The Council is now working out what to do for the future.  It’s important that the tenants have a big say in this.  They are not technicians but they are the people directly affected.  Some of the blocks have always had small boilers for each flat.  And now with “combi” boilers they can be small and cheap to run.

So let’s be sure that the tenants can be properly compensated for all the expense and inconvenience and look forward to being cosy indoors next winter.

*The print version of this article is slightly shorter.

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