BELLE MONT, our Sutton reporter, on how the council’s policy of eradicating fuel poverty is seeing them deliver hugely inflated heating costs to some unlucky residents of a new development
A south London council which has declared its intention to eradicate fuel poverty, and where its social housing tenants are paying 3p per kilowatt hour for their heating, has signed a multi-million-pound deal which ensures that residents on a new housing estate are doomed to paying 14p per kWh for the next 25 years.
Last month, LibDem-run Sutton Council revealed that SDEN, the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, will charge home-owners and tenants in Barratt’s new housing on the Felnex site in Hackbridge £320 per year in standing charges and 5.8p per kWh.
This could mean that a family who were paying £120 a year in heat costs to Sutton, if they move into the new estate, could now look forward to paying £562 a year, a 475 per cent increase. They will at least have the consolation of knowing their heating was coming from a “low-carbon source”: the potentially polluting Beddington incinerator, burning millions of tons of rubbish.
Barratt’s London is a company which has been under a cloud of another sort for the past year, as Scotland Yard has been investigating allegations of corruption against senior executives in the business.
Despite assurances from Sutton’s chief executive, Niall Bolger, that the council was not negotiating with a company undergoing scrutiny over its commercial deals by the Met’s fraud squad, last month the council confirmed that Barratt’s London was indeed part of the SDEN deal to heat the housing development.
The housing estate is now being called the Twenty Mill Quarter – £20million is the approximate value to Barratt’s of the 80 extra homes Sutton Council granted permission to the developers to build on the site, before the heating deal was announced.
And Barratt’s, together with another subsidiary of the housing giant, has given Sutton council’s SDEN the position of monopoly heating supplier to residents moving in to the New Mill Quarter. There will be no “switching” for these Hackbridge residents seeking better value on their heating bills, nor any escape from fuel poverty.
SDEN is “distributing” heating using hot water generated from the Beddington Lane incinerator, which is due to fire up in 2018. Income from heating has always been used by the incinerator’s advocates to justify the South London Waste Partnership, of which Croydon is a member, spending £1billion on burning rubbish in a built-up area.
When asked how a 475 per cent hike in heating bills would spare people from fuel poverty, Sutton Council said that the profits SDEN makes will be reinvested in helping people with insulation. The snag with that is that Sutton Council’s own business plan for SDEN show that it will not break even, and make as much as a 1p profit, until the year 2032.
“The goalposts do seem to have been moved in that eradicating fuel poverty was one of the reasons given by Sutton for setting up SDEN, yet the charges seem to be actually putting people into ‘fuel poverty’,” said Tim Crowley, the leader of the Tory opposition on Sutton Council.
Another Sutton councillor, independent Nick Mattey, has described the council-backed heating scheme as “cruel exploitation”.
“Residents have no choice and are being forced to buy their heat from Sutton Council. These prices are 400 per cent more than Sutton Housing Partnership tenants pay for heat.
“They are more than double than people pay for gas. This is cruel exploitation by the council of these residents. To say this scheme will fight fuel poverty is false.
“It is part of rip-off Britain.”
Sutton Council’s stated ambition to eradicate fuel poverty was taken in July 2013, at a meeting of the strategy and resources committee. Present at the meeting was Ruth Dombey, the leader of the LibDem-run council.
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