The heating problems plaguing an estate in Walworth were branded “appalling” and “disgusting” at a Southwark housing scrutiny commission meeting on Monday (March 9).  

Aylesbury estate residents, who are supplied by a district heating system, have been suffering from outages for years, often during winter months.  

The heating system had to be shut down in January when the boilers – just fitted the year before – broke down after silt sifted in via cracks in the pipes. 

Residents are often forced to boil kettles to access hot water and use electric heaters for warmth.  

Some were told to go to a leisure centre to shower during the January outage.  

A commission member said it was “disgusting” that people have to live in homes “not fit for human habitation”. 

One tenant, Donna Grant, is partially blind and has been carrying boiling water up two flights of stairs.  

She said: “I’ve lived on the Aylesbury for 48 years and the heating system and lack of hot water has been going on year on year.  

“The council starts off saying ‘we’ll fix it, we’ll fix it’, but they never get it fixed.  

“This last year has been the worst ever.” 

She said residents end up paying extra in their electricity bills to keep warm and are often not fully compensated.  

“I’m registered blind and I have to boil kettles of water, carry them up two flight of stairs to the bathroom – if that’s not a health hazard …” she added.  

Keith Bent, a member of Thurlow Lodge TRA and a heating engineer himself, said residents are “treated with contempt” and “like idiots” by repair workers, who sometimes leave without finishing jobs.  

He added that someone came to fix a leak in his flat and when he came back there were large mice running around “big enough to be rats” because the floor was left ripped up and exposed when “the whole block is infested with vermin”. 

The worker told Mr Bent that he didn’t have time to put the floor down because he had to go to another job.  

It emerged that the council has continually rejected the idea of fitting electric showers in the estate because it could “overload” the system.  

But Faraday councillor Paul Fleming said he and others were handing out electric heaters that could be turned on “willy nilly”.  

Councillor Fleming said: “The council has spent the best part of £10 million on mitigating the problems with the system. 

“What we have done for a long time is thrown money at the problem without seeming to have systemic or strategic answers to how we’re mitigating the problems.”  

He said the “latest from the council” was that if homes on the estate were fitted with electric showers the system wouldn’t have the capacity to withstand it.  

“Yet councillors wander around handing out electric heaters to heat people’s homes every sodding year and they are turned on willy nilly with no check on the electric load,” he said, adding people were “at the end of their tether”.  

Faraday Councillor Lorraine Lauder MBE said she was elected 18 years ago and heating was a problem from “day one”.   

She said it’s been “abominable what the residents have been through”, adding that people being told to have showers in a nearby leisure centre was “disgraceful”.  

Cllr Kieron Williams, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation apologised that there were will still ongoing problems. 

He said: “I know it’s been going on for a very long time.  

“What I’ve asked now following a meeting with ward councillors and TRA chairs as well is that we do a full review of all the options to supply heat going forward.  

“That is looking at whether we renew the current system, whether we stick with having boilers as they are in each of the plant rooms, or whether we look at providing electric heat to the blocks.  

“That’s underway at the moment and we finish this month.” 

Head of engineering Tony Hunter said he was “miffed” about workers leaving for another job and would look into management of council’s contractors.  

“It’s my responsibility to provide a service and this isn’t the type of service I want to provide. 

“We care very much about residents’ wellbeing and we want them to have the benefit of heating and hot water at all times,” he said.  

Mr Hunter added the council had contracted the City of London Corporation to do an independent review on the outage in January.  

Chair of the commission, Cllr Gavin Edwards, asked about the “unnecessary” objections to electric showers.  

Cllr Williams said he understood “that something like handing out heaters feels equivalent” but added that a council investigation “uncovered that it would potentially overload the system”.  

“If everyone gets up and has their shower at 8am then we do have to look into making sure it’s safe,” he said.   

Commission member Cllr Bill Williams said the council should be ashamed.  

“The smugness that was on my face when we were denigrating Wandle has just been wiped off because this is appalling – it’s a catalogue of errors that have gone on so long that we should be hanging our heads in shame. It’s disgusting,” he said.  

He added: “I don’t buy the fact that there isn’t enough electricity there when we hand out heaters willy nilly and everyone can put them on whenever they want.  

“It’s nonsense and if it isn’t nonsense I want a jargon free report back to us explaining why.” 

Commission member Cllr Dora Dixon-Fyle branded the situation “appalling” and asked that the Aylesbury be prioritised.  

She said she felt optimistic but that the council needed to “think outside of the box”.