Residents afraid of ‘risk to life’ from flats’ heating system

For the second time in just four cold, winter days, more than a thousand residents of “luxury” homes in Hackbridge had to go without heating and hot water today – and this time it required an emergency call-out for the fire brigade, as faulty equipment in the Sutton Council-owned SDEN heating system risked starting a blaze, potentially putting lives at risk.

Heating situation: firefighters on the scene at New Mill Quarter this morning

At around 8.50 this morning, a loyal reader of Inside Croydon was an eye-witness to the incident at the Barratts-built New Mill Quarter. “I have just walked past the new estate in Hackbridge. I saw a load of smoke or steam coming out of the vents at the bottom of one of the buildings and an alarm sounding,” they said.

“One of the residents was there. He called the fire brigade.  He told me that this has happened before.”

On Friday, one of the coldest days of the year so far, all 400-plus properties in New Mill Quarter, some home to the elderly and vulnerable, or to families with young children, were without heating for nearly 12 hours while they waited for SDEN engineers to fix the previous fault.

Today, no one was injured and the fire brigade soon had the situation under control. According to residents, the incident occurred when a gasket blew on one of the pumps in the heating system, spraying the electrical system once with hot water and filling the boiler room with steam.

It is the 13th time in 12 months that there has been a heating outage at New Mill Quarter, and the second time in recent weeks that it has been necessary to call out the emergency services to deal with the situation.

Sheldon Vestey, the chair of the NMQ residents’ association, called the situation as one of “risk to life”, describing the inaction of the council and their heating providers, SDEN, as “widespread negligence”.

Inaction: SDEN’s Amanda  Cherrington

A similar incident occurred less than a month ago, requiring attendance by the LFB, but according to Vestey there has been no incident report drawn up on that event by either council or SDEN.

Council-owned SDEN – the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network – has a monopoly position for hot water and heating to the New Mill Quarter, where some residents paid up to £600,000 for their “luxury” homes when they began to move into the development in 2018.

Sutton Council had promised that SDEN would “alleviate fuel poverty” by supplying cheap heating and hot water from the polluting Beddington incinerator. Desperate to secure heating customers to justify building the incinerator, Sutton did a sweetheart deal with Barratts, granting planning permission for an extra 80 flats – market value: approximately £30million – to ensure that all their New Mill Quarter homes were linked to their network.

But the incinerator has never provided any heating for New Mill Quarter, which instead uses some increasingly unreliable gas-fired generators.

Vestey has called on the council and SDEN director Amanda Cherrington to take urgent action.

“I am viewing this as criminal negligence and many residents are now worried about this system and indeed its safety,” he wrote this morning. “There are calls to withdraw from the system and pursue negligence and breach of duty claims.

“The liability here rests solely with SDEN and the approving councillors. You are now endangering lives.

“There is simply no excuse for this patent disregard for the well-being, safety and mental health of hundreds of residents. It is imperative that you act now.”

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