Council blunder: Flats’ free heating for 18 months

The thermometer hits 20 degrees at Wauchope House. Picture: Greg Macvean
The thermometer hits 20 degrees at Wauchope House. Picture: Greg Macvean
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A BOTCHED heating system which has been pumping out free warmth to two city tower blocks for the past 18 months has racked up a bill of around £72,000.

And the cost could mount still further if the city council fails to resolve the problem before it gives the next update on the blunder affecting Wauchope and Greendykes House in Craigmillar.

The new communal heating system – designed to save energy and cut costs – was installed in December 2012, but the council was unable to start billing residents because three of the 170 properties could not be connected.

A report which was expected to be presented to the housing committee this week has now been postponed until September. And council chiefs have refused to give any information on when the full system is expected to be up and running, when billing will start, how big the heating bill now is or the overall cost of the project.

Jason Rust, Conservative housing spokesman, said he was shocked at the lack of clarity. “It is extremely concerning that after all this time we seem to be no nearer reaching a solution,” he said.

“Given the tiny number of properties that seem to be at the centre of this, it’s incredible there has not been a resolution before now.

“It’s the council taxpayers and the city’s housing account that will be financing this.”

The Evening News revealed in December that the “super boiler” scheme at the two 15-storey tower blocks had been providing free heat to residents for more than a year.

Council officials said at the time that bills would start being issued “sometime in the New Year” but still there has been no sign of the bizarre debacle being sorted out.

The council’s official price for installing the system was £2.1m, but in online testimonials bosses at Easyheat Systems, who supplied and fitted it, quoted up to £4m. The council refused to answer questions on the real cost ahead of the report to the committee in September but previously denied the £4m figure.

The bill for the free heating was originally put at £30,000 but within weeks the estimate had doubled to £60,000 for the 15 months from December 2012.

The authority said that cost could be contained within the 2013-14 housing budget and any energy which was not billed from April 1 would come out of the 2014-15 budget.

It refused to give any updated costs, but on a pro rata basis the bill would reach £72,000 by the end of this month. And if the problem is not solved by September, it will have risen further to around £84,000.

Green councillors, who were pleased to see an energy-saving scheme being adopted in the city’s housing stock, nevertheless criticised the project for going over budget and said hard questions had to be asked about what had gone wrong.

In answer to questions from the Evening News, officials would only say: “Uptake of the heating system by tenants is currently being reviewed. Full costs of the project will be reported to committee in September.”

Housing convener Cammy Day said: “The tenant consultation on the best way to pay for energy will be finalised in June 2014. A report updating progress will be presented to the Health, Social Care and Housing Committee in September 2014.”