Please read the article below with comments:
Across Camden, tenants and whole estates have been without heating or hot water. Old or inadequate systems are failing totally or intermittently. People were left shivering in bitter cold, unable to bathe or clean.
Curnock, Cressfield, Harben, Oakshott, Maiden Lane and Holly Lodge are among estates to have suffered persistent problems.
On Curnock Street Estate residents in 286 flats had low hot water temperatures from 3rd January for nine weeks. They say this was made worse by a lack of meaningful information from the Council.
‘They informed us in an anonymous letter that the problem will be hopefully resolved by 12th April 2012. That would have meant three and a half months without hot water during the day,’ says Susan Gorrie of Curnock St TRA. This followed two years of work replacing the heating system, only to find hot water became intermittent.
An online petition calling for restoration of the hot water service, better management, planning and resolution, and information, was signed by a quarter of residents in 19 days: see http://petition.curnockestate.com (SEE COMMENTS BELOW)
Apollo, the contractor for the heating system, has been off-site for almost six months. ‘Supposedly they finished all the work they were to do, and these are “snagging” issues,’ says Susan Gorrie. ‘It they can get away with it they will always say it’s the residents’ fault. But Camden should think about sueing whoever drew up the plans for this work,’ Susan says.
On Oakshott Court Estate tenants say the heating system breaks down every ten days, especially in winter months.
Eventually the Tenants Association (TA) had to get electric heaters supplied. Pensioners and a mother with two day old twins would otherwise have been without any heating. But many fear the extra costs.
‘We need a full survey of the whole thing, including boilers and pipe systems. We suspect the pipes are falling apart,’ says TA chair Jim Widdowson.
On Harben Betty Lynch says boilers were out of action from late January for two weeks, during a very cold spell. ‘The hot water and heating stopped on 27th January and we were left for five days without anything. Then on the sixth day we had limited heating and hot water, then for two weeks we still only had one boiler for all the blocks on the estate’.
Eventually new boilers were put in, although initially contractor Apollo could not get them working. Harben’s boilers were at last working as we went to press.
Holly Lodge Estate had three breakdowns in heating and hot water over a month this winter, the first lasting 10 days. Tenants say no-one seems to know what the problem is.
The plant room, the temporary boiler, a patched up old system that needs replacing, a builder leaving machinery on the wrong settings, too much demand for heating and hot water, too many people using hot water at the same time, a main fuse knocking out the plant room: all have been cited as causes.
‘Housing repairs are slow to accept these are block problems rather than individual flats, which slows up response time,’ one tenant says. ‘Councillors who think the system is working might like to sit in my room shivering, unable to have a bath in sub zero temperatures for the third time in a month.’
Camden Tenant asked Stuart Dilley, Assistant Director for Housing Repairs and Improvements, what he’s doing to sort this out.
He accepts there have been problems. He had ‘concerns about how effectively we were dealing with mechanical and electrical (M&E) plant [including boilers, lifts and heating] when I came into post,’ in October 2010.
Things have started to improve, with less heating and hot water ‘down time’ in the last year than in 2010-11. But there is ‘a long way still to go’ to get the service at a level he is aiming for.
There are 200 boiler houses with 438 large and complex boilers providing district heating and hot water. Boilers from 20 manufacturers range from brand new to over 40 years old. The bulk gas distribution system has 60 miles of gas pipework.
John Wheatman. M&-F, team leader, explains that with large complex heating systems, faults can be hard to identify. To diagnose the problem, engineers will replace a suspect part, or make an adjustment, and monitor the effect. This can be puzzling and frustrating to those shivering in the cold, but it is ‘a standard procedure’ for working out what’s wrong and how best to correct it.
There is now an in-house M&E team, with the ‘right technical expertise’ to diagnose problems and work with contractors Apollo and Lakehouse, who are now managed as part of the M&E team by John Wheatman. ‘The performance of contractors has significantly improved in the last 12 months,’ Dilley says, ‘although we, Apollo and Lakehouse recognise there is more to do.’
Another big improvement should come from more systematic inspections. This year for the first time the council housing building survey will include boilers, heating and lifts.
‘An independent surveyor will visit every boiler house by the end of March,’ Dilley says. Based on results, plus repairs history, they will draw up a 30-year plan for effective maintenance, proposing around £20 million of investment in the next year to improve boilers and lifts.
This is a significant move away from reactive repairs and maintenance.
Both Dilley and Wheatman accept that tenants’ complaints at lack of information about heating problems, need to be addressed. They suggest putting up notices explaining what the problems are and how they are working on them, as they do with lift repairs. They agree this information will be sent to tenant reps on affected estates at the same time.
M&E staff now attend all tenant-led District Management Committees, and are happy to receive reports of problems from reps and DMC chairs. Reps can report whole block problems by phone via Contact Camden, alongside individual problems. ‘Contact Camden will flag up multiple calls in a block or estate, and alert us.’
The 30-year plan for improving estate heating systems and lifts, will be drawn up in the next three months, and Dilley says he is ‘always up for input from residents’. Tenant reps, he suggests, should ‘continue what some DMC chairs are doing already: ask me what’s happening, tell me about problems, chase up what should be happening.’
Camden Fed will invite Stuart Dilley to a General Meeting to discuss heating and other repairs.
NOTE 1: THE ONLINE PETITION WAS NOT SUPPORTED BY SUSAN GORRIE OR THE CURNOCK TRA!! THE ARTICLE IMPLIES THAT THEY DID!!!
NOTE 2: THIS WEBSITE DOES NOT HAVE ANY CONNECTION OR ASSOCIATION WITH THE CURNOCK TRA