The hot water supplied to Hackbridge’s New Mill Quarter might be lukewarm, but the political row over the council’s faulty heating network is close to boiling point, as our Sutton correspondent, CARL SHILTON, reports
The MP who represents thousands of residents on a new housing development that has been plagued by a faulty and expensive heating system has accused Sutton Council of trying to keep him out of a crucial community meeting tonight.
Elliot Colburn is a Conservative councillor in the borough as well as the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, which includes the New Mill Quarter in Hackbridge. THat development of 400-plus Barratts-built homes have over the last year have endured 13 outages of their heating and hot water system, two of which also required calls out for the London Fire Brigade and has left residents in fear for their families’ safety.
The heating system is provided by SDEN, the council-owned Sutton Decentralised Energy Network, which has a monopoly for supplying 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.
Following the latest outage and fire incident, the LibDem-controlled council arranged a meeting with residents and Barratts tonight. They want it to be chaired by Liberal Democrat councillor Jayne McCoy – the cabinet member who is supposed to be responsible for the shambles surrounding SDEN.
Tory MP Colburn was somehow missed off the original list of those invited by Helen Bailey, the council’s chief exec.
Colburn is furious.
In the MP’s emails sent to Bailey, and seen by Inside Croydon, he said, “I cannot begin to tell you how angry I am that the council, once again, appears to be treating me, as the MP, as an unimportant afterthought.”
Colburn had originally approached the council with an offer to organise a meeting between the New Mill Quarter residents’ association and SDEN, together with representatives from the fire brigade and Barratts. He claims his offer was snubbed by the council.
The chair of the NMQ residents’ association has entered the row, too, making a personal plea that controversial LibDem councillor, Ben Andrew, be excluded from the meeting while he is subject to a complaint to the police regarding his conduct. Andrew is also under investigation by the Liberal Democrat hierarchy for “bringing the party into disrepute”.
Colburn has demanded that the council should allow him to chair tonight’s meeting, amid claims by him, the residents’ association and other Conservative councillors that McCoy is unsuitable for the role because of a clear conflict of interest.
McCoy and Sutton Council had promised that SDEN would “alleviate fuel poverty” by supplying cheap heating and hot water from the polluting Beddington incinerator. But the incinerator has never provided any heating for New Mill Quarter, which instead uses some increasingly unreliable gas-fired generators. Residents complain that the SDEN system is unreliable, and they face heating bills sometime four times more than market prices.
“The failures in New Mill Quarter have left residents shivering and out of pocket, as well as concerned for their own safety following the two fire brigade callouts,” Colburn said.
“Enough is enough. SDEN and Sutton Council need to answer for their failings and should not hide from scrutiny.”
In his email to Bailey, Coburn wrote, “This is not the first time I have not received replies from the council or had to call out a failure to involve or ask for my views as the local MP, and it appears the council has now tried to eliminate my involvement by going over my head and trying to cut me out. This is completely unacceptable behaviour and completely out of steps with the principles of public life…
“It is highly inappropriate for Councillor McCoy to chair this meeting when she, as the lead member, should actually be there to answer questions, rather than field them on to Barratts or council officers. I therefore insist that I chair this meeting.”
“It’s absolutely unacceptable for Sutton Council and SDEN to deny residents the opportunity for their elected Member of Parliament to support them in a public meeting.
“It’s a real slap in the face to local residents who I had already contacted to organise a public meeting on their behalf.”
Although council officials are expected to be neutral in political matters, Bailey was handed her £150,000 per year job by LibDem council leader Ruth Dombey in 2019 when it was well-known that Bailey had worked as an aide to Charles Kennedy at the time he was the leader of the Liberal Democrats. And Bailey was at the centre of a political cronyism row when she was given the top job in Islington when that borough was under LibDem control.
Yesterday, Colburn followed up his correspondence to Bailey, saying that his “continued” exclusion from relevant communications “is happening far to often to be a coincidence”.
Sheldon Vestey, the chair of the residents’ association, has also weighed in.
At the NMQ residents’ annual meeting, held last week, the problems with the heating system were the hot topic. Among a range of motions passed at the AGM, the residents have called on the council come up with a plan, before the end of this month, to resolve the on-going heating problems with SDEN, and are seeking compensation for the disruption that they have had to endure.
For its part, Sutton Council issued a statement claiming that it “recognises the seriousness of the situation at New Mill Quarter and the inconvenience and distress residents have suffered recently”.
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