Debate burns on Oak Tree Lane estate heat plan

A MULTI-MILLION pound plan to replace a dated district heating system serving more than 1,000 homes got a lukewarm reception at its first full public airing.

Mansfield District Council wants to scrap the 30-year-old communal coal-reliant boiler systems which heat 1,039 properties on the Oak Tree Lane estate.

Instead it is suggesting a power company uses grants to install energy efficient gas boilers, pipes and radiators to all the homes.

Officials say this will be more environmentally friendly and will cost residents less. But some have aired concerns over disruption and maintenance of the new systems.

Others are worried about the possibility of huge new bills for people used to using as much hot water as they like for a fixed cost under some current agreements.

At a public consultation on the plans at Willingham Court last Wednesday, council climate change officer Helen Bartle said: “There was a decision to look at the district heating systems around town because they are 30 to 35 years old. The proposed system would give increased reliability.

“You can’t say exactly how much using the new systems will cost everyone because everyone’s usage is different, but we can give an average.”

Estimates say a three-bedroomed semi-detached property could save up to £200 a year from switching from district heating to gas.

Willingham Court resident Glenn Earnest (85) said he normally has one radiator on in his lounge when it is cold. “From what I’ve seen so far I’m quite happy with the idea. I’m not worried about extra cost,” he said.

He added he had some concerns about disruption caused by the work.

But Saxby Drive resident Brent Wilson (50) feared some pensioners could end up with cold homes as they tried to avoid big bills after years of paying set fees for heating.

“How are some people going to survive when we switch on to gas?” he said. “It’s not clear how much the boilers will cost to run for a week.

“We could have hundreds of old people forced into fuel poverty.”

Some residents using district heating are currently on meters, but some pay a set weekly fee regardless of how much hot water they use.

If the scheme wins full approval work could start as early as May on fitting boilers to homes on the estate and could take around eight months to fully complete.

Another resident living off Oak Tree Lane, who owns their home but still receives district heating, said: “We pay about £1,200 a year at the moment and we know we are not going to pay that much for gas central heating.”

Added the resident, who did not want to give a name: “The only thing is the council cover the district heating system - who’s going provide the warranty and make sure the new systems work?”

On residents used to paying set fees Ms Bartle added: “We’re not going to leave these people by themselves to struggle. If they need extra help and advice because they are vulnerable we will provide it.”

Under the plan, National Grid will fit gas pipes up to the properties and British Gas would carry out the work to fit boilers and systems in the homes. Residents would be tied to British Gas for a short period but would then be able to switch to other providers. Grants would cover the cost of British Gas fitting about 600 qualifying Oak Tree homes with the systems at about £1.5m.

The cost of the rest would be met by other grants and possibly in part by Mansfield District Council.

The authority first began looking at replacing its district heating systems two years ago. Rising coal prices and maintenance means district heating systems, which are self-funding through residents’ payments, will continue to become more costly for households, the council says.

Some are notorious for breaking down in cold weather. In one incidentin February 2010, a burst pipe led of residents off Sandy Lane being without hot water for weeks.