Campaigners against fuel poverty say they can finally see “light at the end of the tunnel” after Falkirk Council agreed to install mains gas in several villages, while others will get new heating systems.
The decision was taken behind closed doors at a full council meeting on Wednesday as “commercially sensitive” information was discussed.
But Falkirk Council has now confirmed it will spend around £8m to install a gas network in Avonbridge; California; Letham; Slamannan and Whitecross – providing a direct supply to more than 700 homes.
The council also agreed to install renewable electric heating systems in more than 60 council homes across Blackness, Limerigg, Standburn, South Alloa and Torwood.
For residents who have been paying sky-high prices for houses that are never properly warm, it’s life-changing news.
One of the campaigners, who led protests against Scottish Power and Falkirk Council and got the issue raised in parliament, said: “It really is a success and a victory for the people.”
Claire Mackie, who co-founded Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages – Ending Fuel Poverty campaign, said: “We have been told there is no retracting on that – this is secure, it’s happening and the council won’t go back on it like they did before.”
“It’s a huge success – the light at the end of the tunnel is coming closer, gas is on its way.
“For those who have been suffering for all this time they can look to a future where they will be able to switch and they will have the option to maintain costs that are affordable for them, rather than being tied to this one tariff.
“The people stood up, they spoke out and they got the right result!”
The guarantee that this really will happen is vital to the residents because Falkirk Council had previously announced to residents that gas would be coming.
However, having budgeted £6m for the work, it was put on hold when quotes were much higher than anticipated.
The extra money has now been confirmed but the installation will probably take around two years to complete.
And with energy prices set to rise and the cold weather on its way, the campaign is now calling for Scottish Power, Falkirk Council and the Scottish Government to make sure that support is provided to all those struggling.
Payments are made during winter months to residents on very low incomes, but Claire believes these should be extended to everyone affected.
“Even people who are working are still struggling,” she said.
“The financial support should be given to everyone – especially when people are paying through the nose for houses that aren’t even warm or they can’t have hot water on at the same time as the heating.
“People’s quality of life has really been impacted on, so everybody deserves a little bit of help and it has to be across the board.”
A Falkirk Council spokesperson said: “We will work with the Utility companies to ensure residents are kept fully up to date with progress throughout.
“It was also agreed that the funding of additional support measures currently in place for those in greatest hardship would continue.”
By local democracy reporter Kirsty Paterson