Energy-efficient homes get 172% heating bill rise

Neighbours Carol Whittingham and Bryan Pitbladdo received letters telling them about the rise in their heating bills. Picure: Jane Barlow
Neighbours Carol Whittingham and Bryan Pitbladdo received letters telling them about the rise in their heating bills. Picure: Jane Barlow
Share this article
Have your say

RESIDENTS of a supported housing project which has received award nominations for sustainability have spoken of their shock after being informed their monthly heating bills are set to rise by 172 per cent.

Work began on The Quarries, part of the larger £70 million Moredun Park and Hyvots Regeneration Project, in 2008, with 58 flats for older people completed in April 2011.

One of the main selling points of the project, run in conjunction between Dunedin Canmore Housing and the City of Edinburgh Council, was that the new homes provided would use the latest energy efficient technologies to help those on a fixed income avoid fuel poverty.

However, less than two years after the completion of the building, 
residents have been left shocked after receiving letters informing them that from April 1 their monthly heating bills would be rising from £12.93 a month to £35.20 – a rise of 172 per cent.

The residents, many of whom are on a fixed income, now face paying nearly £270 more on energy every year.

The letter, which was sent out on February 14, reads: “When The Quarries was first opened, the charge was set based on estimates provided by our consultant on the likely heating and hot water use within the scheme.

“With the scheme now having been open for nearly two years we have been able to set the 2013-14 charge on actual heating and hot water used within the building. The actual use, particularly of hot water, has been much higher than estimated which combined with increased gas prices has resulted in the heating charge.

“All service charges, including heating charges, are set to cover the costs to the Association of providing this particular service to customers. Unfortunately we have no other option than passing on the costs to the residents at The Quarries.”

Bryan Pitbladdo, secretary of the Quarriers Residents Association, said: “So far I’ve been very happy here. The homes are reasonably spacious, comfortable and well-serviced. We have a concierge service eight hours every day and an alarm service in all the flats. The only complaint I have is that they made such a song and dance about the place being energy efficient and the way ahead when it came to sustainability – I’m sure that was one of the main reasons a lot of people chose to move in here.

“The company say they pride themselves on being open and honest and I have to say I’ve never had any complaints. Until now, when all of a sudden we all get this letter telling us our energy bills are almost tripling.”

The 64-year-old added: “The majority of people who live here are on a fixed income. My pension credit recently went up by £30 but that’s now been more than wiped out by the rise in my energy bills. I understand the price of gas has gone up, but not by 172 per cent.”

It is all a far cry from information released by Dunedin Canmore in July 2011, when the £7m building was nominated for Sustainable Larger Housing Project of the Year in the UK Sustainable Housing Awards, which read: “The new development boasts under-floor heating, photovoltaic roof panels which generate electricity, super insulated walls, a communal gas-fired heating system and a passive solar corridor where the air is warmed by the sun then circulated to help heat the flats. The building is also 40 per cent more airtight than required by current 
building regulations.”

Ewan Fraser, Dunedin Canmore chief executive, was also quoted in the release, saying: “The main philosophy behind the design and construction of The Quarries was promoting healthy living and creating a sustainable community to ensure quality of life for tenants would dramatically increase.

“The development has transformed the area and created comfortable, modern housing. With fuel prices rocketing, its ‘green’ technology will also help cut residents’ energy bills.”

Another resident of the block, Carol Whittingham, 67, said: “I have my state pension and my private pension. Unless the state pension goes up, I’m now going to be down over £30 a month. There’s been no warning and no negotiation.”

The larger £70m Moredun Park and Hyvots Regeneration Project, which has been delivered on time and on budget, has provided 441 affordable new homes, while also fully refurbishing 208 existing homes and externally refurbishing 163 private homes.

Residents of the larger project seemed pleased with the results overall. One woman, who lives on Hyvot Terrace, which is one of the most recent parts of the development to be completed, said: “I moved in in May last year and it’s fantastic. The houses are very spacious, I have a front drive and a back garden, and it does seem to be more energy efficient than my previous property. Dunedin Canmore ask us for feedback about the properties too, they do seem to want to know whether we are happy here.”

Another woman living on the same street said: “It’s a great area, especially for families with these big gardens. The extra insulation in the walls means less heat escapes too.”

Local councillor Norma Austin Hart said she had not been informed about the rise in energy bills. She said: “We’re very disappointed not to have been told about this increase, which seems difficult to justify on the face of it, given the fact gas prices have only risen by about nine per cent. It would be extremely helpful if Dunedin could get in touch with us about this so we can look at all the information. I’ve also discussed this with Councillor Cammy Day and I know he’ll be taking this up with Dunedin Canmore.”

Dunedin Canmore did not respond to a request for comment about the rise in energy bills.

Riddled with faults from the start

HOMES at Moredun Park and Hyvots in south Edinburgh were designed in the 1960s and, like many of the era’s buildings, were riddled with faults.

Poorly insulated and only partially heated, they soon became sites of widespread damp and fuel poverty as residents struggled to keep their homes warm.

In addition, challenging ground conditions caused by old lime quarries and coal works meant extensive grouting was required before any new construction could take place.

Council chiefs realised that addressing these problems would require an extensive regeneration of the entire area.

A strategy was quickly developed, with new housing partnership funds secured to support demolition works, master planning and provision of new-build homes.

A steering group was formed in 1999 to help plan the refurbishment, but the programme was initially dogged by delays.

Things eventually moved forward when Dunedin Canmore Housing Association secured £33.5 million of public money in the form of a Housing Association Grant, as well as private funding worth an additional £16.5m.

In 2006, following a resounding “yes” vote by the area’s residents, the city council transferred hundreds of properties to Dunedin Canmore, which agreed to invest £50 million in new homes.

The ambitious regeneration project finally got under way in November 2006.

To date, 441 new homes have been built and 371 existing properties refurbished, with the total project cost reaching £70m.

Building for a brighter future

THE £70 million project has seen 208 homes that were difficult to let refurbished internally and externally, with 163 private properties also improved.

Included among the properties built are wheelchair-adapted buildings and a housing complex for the elderly featuring a community garden.

The new homes have also been fitted with sustainable technologies such as solar hot water, solar panels and communal heating to reduce both fuel costs and carbon footprint.

A total of 24 young apprentices were taken on by developers, with caretakers and housing officers also employed.