This has been the hottest period of the year but the row over heating Pendleton's high rises is almost at boiling point. In May, the Salford Star print issue reported on the NIBE F370 Exhaust Air Heat Pump which was installed in residents' flats as part of the huge Pendleton Together PFI refurbishment of blocks including Spruce Court, Hornbeam Court and Whitebeam Court.
Pendleton Together told residents that the NIBE system "massively reduces carbon and heating bills" but most of those who had the NIBE installed saw their electricity bills mushroom during the winter months.
In Spruce Court, Sara Thomson pre-NIBE was spending £10 a fortnight on energy bills. Post-NIBE she was spending between £20 and £50 a fortnight... "I've got to ask family and friends for food and to help with money" she said "I don't know who to turn to..."
In Hornbeam Court, Lee Ward showed the Salford Star his itemised electricity statement showing £545 for less than three months use on his meter .. "I've fallen behind with my rent now...I'm getting threatening letters" he said "How am I going to pay? It's ridiculous..."
In Whitebeam Court, Mark Sillis should have been paying £720 a year on energy bills. He actually spent £736 in the first seven months... "I've had to cut back on everything; shopping...baths...I can't have a social life" he explained "I think this is about making money and making Salford look better than it used to be. I don't think they care about people. We're just numbers to them...just guinea pigs...just muck on the floor basically."
One statement that kind of backs up this attitude was made inadvertently by Mike Taylor, Head of Industrial Partnerships at the University of Salford, a partner with Pendleton Together in the £650million scheme to redevelop Pendleton. Taylor was quoted on the Platform website... "Obviously it's on our doorstep. The way we talk about the programme internally is that it's a `living laboratory'"
Residents certainly don't want to be `lab rats' for a PFI, or Private Finance Initiative, project that's being bought and sold on the world's money markets, to the tune of £82.6million worth of bonds.*
Following horrendous stories during the actual refurbishment of the blocks (see previous Salford Star articles – click here and click here and click here) they set up the independent Whitebeam Community Action Group and it later carried out its own NIBE survey of 75 tenants they could contact in Whitebeam and Spruce Court. They asked – Are you happy with the NIBE? Every single resident, apart from four, said `No'. Can you afford to use it? Every single resident, apart from four, said `No'. Would you like it removed? Every single resident, apart from three, said `Yes'.
Over the winter, Pendleton Together, under siege from residents' complaints, barred all discussion about the NIBE at official monthly block meetings and posters giving out information from the Action Group were ripped down. It didn't stop the Group from holding two huge unofficial meetings at St Paul's Church on the Broadwalk, with people from all blocks coming together to share their experiences and anger.
Jamie, who runs the Action Group, put in an official complaint about the NIBE and was horrified to receive an email from Chris Brown, Pendleton Together Contract Manager...
"We are not able to offer you an alternative heating system to the NIBE" it stated "We feel that the electric based systems the NIBE is economic if specified, fitted and used correctly...Should you wish to discuss how alternative accommodation can be accessed through the Council's Choice Based Lettings System we can provide you with more information..."
In other words, `If you don't like the NIBE system, get out!' This made Jamie even more determined to get the thing ripped out and residents compensated.
"I've been researching the NIBE for about seven months, from the first day they brought it in and started punching big six inch round holes in the outside walls" he said "Basically the whole flat was re-done for the NIBE. We are now only caretakers for the great NIBE. We must feed it every day...you don't control it, you can't control it...it has to stay on 24 hours a day...and it controls you. You get up in the middle of the night, and it's freezing cold because the outside wind temperature is -15, but the ambient temperature is +5. So you're sitting on £6,000 worth of boiler and you've got to go and buy electric fires because your boiler doesn't feel like working. During the summer you bake, during the winter you freeze.
"I've relayed all the horror stories to Pendleton Together and all they have done is say `If you don't like your NIBE find somewhere else to live'" he added "And Salford Council is standing as far away as possible – you've heard of arms length! They would sell us tomorrow for a bag of poo."
Now that it's summer, the NIBE protests have gone quiet as the system appears to work ok until the temperature drops below twelve degrees. But the residents, determined not to suffer another winter of what they call the NIBE `money furnace', are trying to get some answers.
Sara, the Spruce Court tenant, put in an official complaint demanding compensation... "Due to the heat or eat situation and fuel poverty caused by the NIBE heating system, authorized to be installed by SCC [Salford City Council], I and many others, have been placed in, contrary to SCC obligation under the Energy Conservation Act 2000, fuel poverty. I therefore have been unable eat some times because of the unreasonable £100+ increase in my electricity costs.
"In an effort to reduce my electricity costs I asked PT [Pendleton Together] for my EPC [Energy Performance Certificate] certificate (which by law I should have) but to date I still await any response" she added "PT claim we would have bills of £657 per year. We are receiving £680 bills for three months. We have tried to resolve this unreasoning situation when in September 2014 my representative contacted the PT Housing Manager regarding this issue, but no response was received again.
"During the 11 months of a 35 day contract of demolition that took place in my flat, it was unfit and unsafe for habitation, a fact already established" she explained "With no response or cooperation from PT/SCC we consider that far from requesting me to pay rent, SCC, my Landlord, should now offer compensation to all the many affected tenants. I am not alone with this NIBE problem, there are names and signatures of over 144 other tenants who are also in Fuel Poverty because of decisions made by SCC regarding the NIBE installation."
No response has been received. Indeed, the Salford Star has seen numerous complaints emails to Pendleton Together, Salford City Council, Salford councillors and new MP Rebecca Long Bailey, none of which has received a response. Even though Salford City Council is pouring £43.6million into the project.*
Before the Salford Star ran the article in the print issue, Pendleton Together, local councillors John Warmisham and Paul Dennett, and Assistant Mayor for Housing, Gena Merrett, were all contacted for responses. Paul Dennett never replied. John Warmisham blamed the `purdah' period before the election for not issuing a statement (and hasn't replied since). Pendleton Together refused to comment. And Gena Merret wrote that she would ensure a Salford Council officer would respond. To date, the Salford Star, just like the residents, has not received a word from anyone.
It's a very different attitude from Coventry where, two years ago, Labour councillor Ed Ruane and Coventry North West Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson were instrumental in getting NIBEs taken out of homes and tenants compensated.
"Residents were giving me monthly bills for as much as £500, it was ridiculous" he recalled "In the lead up the housing association was just saying `You're not using the boiler properly, you keep switching it off and on etc', but that wasn't the case. The NIBE system is a Scandinavian design and was based on the fact that there's always a central source of heat like an open fireplace; well that's not the case with UK households and it clearly wasn't piloted properly
"If you were to ask other housing associations would they purchase the NIBE system now I think you'd get a lot of answers saying `No', which gives you an indication that it was wrong for these people when they had it installed" he adds "It hasn't worked so you've got to take action on this straight away. Why should the tenant have to forfeit the mistake, it's just totally wrong. Inadvertently the housing association is forcing the most vulnerable people that it's designed to protect into fuel poverty."
Councillor Ruane was shocked when he heard that Labour councillors were not standing up for their residents..."I don't understand why the councillors don't just get behind this" he said.
Indeed, the silence from all concerned is deafening. Meanwhile, residents are bracing themselves for when the temperature drops to below twelve degrees and their meters start screaming to be fed...
*For the full article, including all the detailed financial information see the Salford Star print issue pages 20-23 – click here
Photos by Steven Speed