Eco village plagued with heating problems leaves families in fuel poverty

Children in new eco-friendly homes are forced to wear hats and gloves in bed amid claims energy bills have soared to nearly £400 a month.

Families who moved into new “affordable” homes in the spring say a multitude of faults has left them in fuel poverty.

Residents have cited green energy technology at the 12 houses in government-funded eco village Tomintoul in Moray as the main cause of their financial misery.

However, a raft of other issues have also surfaced.

A charity overseeing the project says it has responded to all complaints and commissioned repairs.

Buyers and tenants have complained of a loss of heating and hot water, a leaking roof, lack of insulation and wrongly addressed electricity bills.

Charlotte Rogers, a young mum balancing a career and caring for two children, is among a number of residents who have has resorted to using costly plug-in radiators to boost the temperature.

She said: “We’ve had no heating for three weeks and this is the third time this has happened.

“In little one’s bedroom it got down to 13C. I was having to wrap him up in his clothes, sleeping bags and blanket.

“I wasn’t, I was just having to check on him and his brother. They were wearing hats and gloves to go to sleep.”

Neighbour Morna Martin said: “I’ve not been happy and I’ve had to put on my coat [inside] quite often and use a hot water bottle, so it’s not good.”

Residents blame a complex combination of intermittent air-source heat-pumps and solar panels for letting them down. And they have been shocked by the scale of electricity bills.

Dru McPherson, speaking on behalf of his son Connor who lives on the estate, said: “The bills are heading north of £380 a month, which for people in these houses is unaffordable.

“Instead of alleviating people from fuel poverty we now have 12 families put into fuel poverty through no fault of theirs.”

The charity steering the project, the Communities Housing Trust, insists that every problem raised has been or will be addressed.

Its chief executive Ronnie MacRae said: “Overall, I think the workmanship has been good. There are elements, as with all projects, where there are improvements required and that’s part of the snagging list.

“We’re confident the contractors are working to rectify these just now and they’ve been quite cooperative as part of the contract to do that.”

Moray Council has confirmed that it’s investigating “matters potentially relating to safety issues” at the properties.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has led the UK in housing with 123,985 affordable homes delivered since 2007, including over 87,000 for social rent. We are making available £3.5 billion over this parliamentary term to support delivery of 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, 10% of which will be in rural and island areas.

“The Rural and Islands Housing Fund part-funded the delivery of the 12 homes by Tomintoul and Glenlivet Development Trust (TGDT). Communities Housing Trust, working on behalf of TGDT, are taking tenants and homeowners concerns seriously and are in contact with regulatory and industry bodies regarding the matters raised.”

Charity chief MacRae has responded to each of the residents’ complaints, put to him by STV News.

Some residents fear a fire risk.

Mr MacRae said: “From the investigations we’ve had to date, the installation appears to be as per regulations and installed correctly but we’re having industry bodies out to visit in the very near future. But we expect that to confirm that it is a safe installation.”

Would he be prepared to live in one of the houses?

“Yes, absolutely. From what we’ve seen it all appears to be safe. We’ve had our clerk of works check it out and everything appears to be safe.”

Are you happy with the standard of workmanship?

He said: “Overall, the workmanship has been good. There are elements, as with all projects, where there’s improvements required and that’s part of the snagging list. We’re confident that the contractors are working to rectify these just now.”

Does anything need urgent attention?

“I don’t think there’s anything that’s surfaced that hasn’t been dealt with. The heating… some of the units, or at least one of the units… has had intermittent faults. But I think they’ve got to the bottom of that now and it’s under the manufacturer’s warranty. It’s getting resolved.

“Some elements have taken longer than we’d have liked to have resolved but on the whole I think things are getting dealt with as well as possible.”

What of residents’ concerns about insulation?

Mr MacRae said: “There’s been some issues where maybe it’s not been placed properly and the contractors are going back to look at that urgently.

“From what we’ve found it looks like the insulation is all there. It’s just possibly been moved slightly and needs to be put back in place. The contractors are dealing with that.”

Were residents allowed access to the properties prematurely?

He said: “I don’t think so. With most projects it’s very difficult to bottom out some of the snagging until people are actually living there. Issues that we did have were sorting out the electricity meters with the solar meters and that took a little bit of time.

“It hasn’t affected the operation of them but it will affect the billing – and the billing will be sorted out as soon as the two meter readings are co-related between the suppliers and the solar providers.”

What of recompense for those affected?

Mr MacRae said: “Yes, we expect that there’ll be a reconciliation with the bills because the bills are not necessarily going to the right properties at the moment. But that, we expect, will be reconciled once the suppliers and the solar bodies are working together.

“At the time, when the solar was installed and the electricity was getting installed, there were very few electricity companies to take on new clients.

“So we had to take the one supplier that would provide the electric meters, which was EDF. It was a difficult process, given the timing and the labour and the materials shortage caused by Brexit and Covid.”

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