‘Absolute disgrace’: Heating and hot water issues plague two estates
- Credit: Archant
Councillors on Islington’s housing scrutiny have hit out at officers and contractors over repeated heating failures on two council-run estates in the borough.
At an Islington Council housing scrutiny committee on March 2, chair Cllr Michael O’Sullivan said residents at the Redbrick Estate and Braithwaite House had suffered “significant and continued failures” over the weekend.
It is also understood that there have been continued problems as far back as 2017.
Cllr Phil Graham said while he had been proud of the Town Hall’s Bunhill energy centres, which capture warmth from the London Underground to heat homes, he “won’t even mention them now”.
He said from February 25 and over the weekend, housing blocks Vickery Court and Bartholomew Court had continuous failures of heating and hot water.
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“This shouldn’t be happening," he said. "I’m proud to be a councillor in one of the best councils in the country, but that view is changing. And if we carry on treating our residents the way we are, it’s only going to get worse.
“We’ve got the old blocks falling apart, we’re building lovely new places and the more council properties we build the better, but we cannot treat residents as second class citizens."
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Cllr Graham branded contractor response times, which were delayed because of another heating failure at Rahere House, an “absolute disgrace all weekend”.
He added: “If they can’t cope with two jobs at the same time, are they really the contractors to be dealing with Islington? If they can’t return to a job they’ve been working on for days because they are at another job, then I really fail to see how they are any use to us as a repairs contractor for Islington."
The councillor suggested “clawing back” money from contractors like Gem in such circumstances, adding: “These residents deserve a decent amount of compensation, as it goes back years.
"I realise that is going to cost money, but we should be looking at clawing back funds from these contractors who are not doing the job."
He added: "If there’s not something in the contract to pull them up and penalise them for not doing the job, we’re writing the wrong contract.”
Gem has been approached for comment.
Council officers were also criticised, with communications with residents slated by Cllr Graham as “bloody condescending”.
It is understood a communication breakdown happened on the same day a bill for £15,000 was sent to leaseholders for insulation in the heating system.
Addressing a meeting with housing lead Cllr Diarmaid Ward and corporate director for housing Maxine Holdsworth, the Bunhill ward councillor warned that the problems at Redbrick and Braithwaite were representative of a wider issue with older housing stock in the borough, having reported issues in his own block with low water pressure, cockroach infestations and a hot water system “not fit for purpose”.
He called for an audit of all the older properties.
Responding to Cllr Graham’s challenge, Ms Holdsworth said a new communal heating had been installed at Redbrick in 2017, predating her time in the role, but admitted it “did not go smoothly”.
Despite an initial period without problems, a series of “intermittent faults” followed due to “two possible causes”, Ms Holdsworth said.
She said contractor Gem has been judged to be “pretty responsive” in dealing with the borough’s 4,500 communally-heated properties.
Responding to Cllr Graham, Cllr Ward said: “Cllr Graham, don’t ever apologise for ranting. It’s your job as a representative to do that, and as the executive member, I need to hear that. As executive member, the buck stops here.
"I am truly sorry for what happened over the weekend. It should not have happened.
“We met Monday afternoon to go through an action and communications plan, and are meeting with the residents next week. One of the things that we have to talk about at that meeting is compensation. That is where we’ve got to now. Our residents should not be put through this, and they need to be adequately compensated for what happened.
“I think we are one of the best councils around, but we need to step up on this. This can’t continue. We need to build new homes, but we also need to manage and maintain the homes we have.
"Over this weekend, we did not get to where we were supposed to get to and I am truly sorry."