Once again district heating failures are plaguing residents in estates across Southwark. But now, not only are families freezing cold and unable to have a hot shower, they are also stuck at home and suffering during the worst pandemic in living memory.
It is a truly awful time to be unable to wash, or leave the house, and comes after a year of loneliness, financial hardship, and unbearable worry for many.
Fan heaters and temporary boilers are not even a medium term solution. They also came push costs onto already struggling residents.
One of those affected by regular outages described the situation as ‘groundhog day’. In our Review of 2020, published last week, we had focused on heating and hot water troubles and residents left freezing and out of pocket in January and February last year. Some have been reporting faults on and off throughout the year for half a decade.
Aylesbury and Brandon Estates have been particularly hard-hit in recent years, but the systems are obsolete, or at the end of their working lives across huge areas of the borough. Few estates are unscathed.
COVID-19 and its impact on how we all work, and the council’s own resources, has undoubtedly had an impact. But this was an entirely foreseeable situation. Outages are such regular occurrences that the council has been ploughing funding into costly ‘patch ups’ in the hope they can prevent future breakdowns. This work, too, has limits.
The only real solution is to scrap the old systems and replace with new ones. The cost, as we have detailed before, is huge. And there are other considerations – including how to ensure whatever comes next is ‘future proof’ and eco-friendly.
Although this is undoubtedly a huge undertaking it is remarkable how little progress has been made over the last five years.
If only this work had been pushed through more quickly, we wouldn’t have elderly, vulnerable people sat shivering in freezing cold flats during a global health crisis.