Yet Again! Back to MHCLG for Safe Insulation and Cladding
On Thursday, 17 October 2019, Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) delivered anOpen Letter signed by over 80 organisations and MPs to the Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, to demand safe cladding and proper insulation.
Grenfell MP Emma Dent Coad, along with residents affected by dangerous cladding, poor housing and missing insulation, helped deliver the letter, surrounded by a diverse and lively crowd of over 40 people including representatives of the NEU, All African Women’s Group, Biofuelwatch, the Global Women’s Strike, Sustainable Hackney, XR Youth, Lambeth Pensioners Action Group and the National Pensioners Convention. The date marked the anniversary of FPA’s previous Open Letter to Mr Jenrick’s predecessor, which was delivered on 17 October 2018.
The new letter notes that people in the UK, both social housing tenants and leaseholders, are still forced to live in buildings surrounded by the same type of flammable cladding that Grenfell Tower had. The Government has failed to meet the commitments it made a year ago in response to the previous letter.
The event was also timed to coincide with Extinction Rebellion’s October to enable climate activists to lend their support to demands – like insulation – that reduce carbon emissions while also making it possible for people on low incomes to keep warm and bring down bills. In response, there was a strong support and presence from Global Justice Rebellion.
Just 49% of homes in England had insulated walls in 2017, and UK government energy efficiency programmes have been slashed by over 90% over seven years. As a result, homes are responsible for one fifth of UK carbon emissions, and around 9,000 people die from the cold each year.
Signatories of the new letter include six national trade unions, as well as local branches, climate groups, tenants and residents associations, academics, councillors and nine MPs from three political parties: Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens.
Shadow Cabinet member Rebecca Long-Bailey was among those who signed the letter. More than two years since the Grenfell Tower fire of 14 June 2017 claimed 72 lives, many of Long-Bailey’s constituents are still forced to live in eight buildings that were clad under a PFI scheme in the same ACM cladding as Grenfell. Both the government and the housing association have refused to pay for its replacement. Pendleton resident Graeme Langton came down from Salford to deliver the Open Letter. Suspended by the landlord as TARA chair, after repeatedly challenging them, he said the government should get the flammable cladding off now, and argue about the money later.
The fight goes on for SCIN: Safe Cladding and Insulation – Now!
“Sustainable infrastructure” — housing and heating.
District Heating (DH) is like central heating for a whole building, housing estate, or area: heat is produced at a central point and distributed, in the form of hot water, via pipes. It is being heavily promoted, subsidised and incentivised by the UK central government and by the Mayor of London, on the grounds that it will help to reduce carbon emissions due to heating — which represent nearly 1/5 of carbon emissions in total. But will this be at the cost of the people who use it? And will it actually work? Will the promise of lower emissions result in real carbon savings, or will the changes brought in in the name of the climate just profit unaccountable developers and energy corporations? How can we make “green” come true?
The London Plan
The new London Plan now being finalised by the Mayor will lay down plans and policies for London for the next 20 – 25 yrs. It is in the final stages of a process of consultation which has been remarkably democratic, within the restrictions sent by central government policies and funding constraints. A draft was made available and submissions accepted from a very wide range of organisations and individuals, all were made publicly available, the draft was revised and published again, and is finally being subjected to detailed “Examination in Public” — EiP — at City Hall.
Fuel Poverty Action were glad to be invited to take part in the session on Sustainable Infrastructure, on 29 March 2019. The discussion took for granted the seriousness of the climate crisis and a determination to decarbonise. Its particular focus was on heating — one of the hardest areas to make green — and within that, the focus was largely on the Mayor’s favoured option: District Heating.
The EiP assembled formidable expertise, hearing from representatives of the DH industry, architecture, planning, and energy consultancies. Yet there had clearly been no process for engaging grassroots participants, and no expectation that DH users’ experience would be relevant to policy decisions, at the EiP stage, or earlier.
A failure to protect London residents or the environment
Perhaps it is not surprising then, that the proposed measures in relation to DH had two crucial failures:
a) they fail to protect residents on DH estates, locked into decades-long contracts with a monopoly heat supplier, and
b) they fail to guarantee carbon savings and in fact leave the door open to technology with relatively high emissions both of carbon and of nitrous oxide (NOx), threatening London’s already dire air quality.
There does not have to be a conflict between decarbonising infrastructure and making it more affordable and reliable for users. In fact FPA is founded on the premise that policies that create such a contradiction between sustainability and social justice are deadly to our chances of achieving not only a just transition but any transition at all, as people refuse to accept unjust solutions.
After focusing first on greenhouse gas emissions targets, the “carbon offset” scheme for developments, and embodied carbon, much of the morning at the EiP focused on two paragraphs in the London Plan where Mayor lays out how he intends to prioritise DH.
Planning in problems
FPA is in no way opposed to DH on principle. We have, in fact, supported residents fighting hard to maintain an existing council DH system (sadly, they lost, and had individual gas boilers imposed). We work with residents living with horrendously unreliable DH systems, constant outages, cold hot water, overheating, sky high prices and demands for major capital costs from leaseholders, but we do not believe these problems are intrinsic to DH, which often works very well in other parts of the world, and sometimes in the UK (eg in Aberdeen).
The problems arise from bad planning leading to inappropriate choices of where to use DH, and how it should be fuelled and designed; lack of regulation, monitoring and enforcement of standards; lack of training and skills for the workforce that must design, install and maintain the heat networks; lack of any clear line of accountability through the multiple layers of contractors involved in construction; and a system of procurement and finance for heat networks that seems designed to encourage the highest possible costs and the lowest standards.
On 29 March we were dealing with one aspect of this quagmire: planning. Many very cogent and important contributions which can be heard here. However, no transcript is available, and we are able here only to offer the points we made ourselves, and the responses to them.
In the light of how DH often works out in practice, we asked: should it be presumed that for the next two decades it will necessarily be the best solution to the heating dilemma? And what should be done to ensure that where it is installed, it does what it says on the tin?
In the draft Plan, a “Heat Networks Priority Area” covers most of London, and “Major development proposals within Heat Network Priority Areas should have a communal low-temperature heating system.” This does not mean that DH will ultimately be chosen – it is rarely developers’ first choice. But the GLA’s clear preference is powerful, and in any case all such new developments must be DH ready.
What are the alternatives?
The draft Plan lays down a list of factors which must be considered in deciding what form of heating to install in a development. In response to consultation, an addition was made to the list: “11A) opportunities to maximise renewable electricity generation and incorporate demand-side response measures.” But the rest of the list concerns specific questions related to District Heating with no detailed consideration of other options. There is no indication of whether “maximising electricity generation” might mean community owned and run renewable energy, solar panels on individual homes, or commercial power plants. Heat pumps, absent from this list, are barely mentioned in the draft Plan, along with solar thermal, solar PV, wind and hydro power.
Crucially, in a chapter on energy and heat, there is nothing on energy efficiency, despite the fact that very well insulated homes can make any form of heating unnecessary except on a few days each year. Unlike DH, energy efficiency measures are repeatedly presented as being contingent on central government funding. And there are no specifics, no indication of the need to avoid insulation being left out of new builds by self-certifying construction contractors, or retrofitted in old buildings so badly that they’re damp and less healthy than before. Nothing on the risks of toxic and flammable materials, that have both been so tragically highlighted by Grenfell.
The cost to residents
In the hearing, we focused most on the fact that the Plan writes in no protection at all for DH users – no protection from networks that prove unreliable, or that do not in practice yield the carbon benefits in the name of which they are prioritised, due to oversizing, poor design or maintenance, or promised “green” components that never materialise.
District Heating is delivered by “Heat Networks”, and in the Plan most of London falls in “Heat Network Priority Areas. Outside these areas, development proposals must “avoid high energy bills for occupants”, but inside these areas there is no equivalent requirement. We pointed out that the Competition and Markets Authority has recently found that the protection of future consumers is inadequate in London, with little transparency or genuine customer engagement and that as a result they may end up paying a high price for new green infrastructure which does not benefit them personally (or, we would add, benefits them no more than any other person living on the planet). FPA pointed out that this is just what happened in Lambeth’s Myatts Field North where a DH system was effectively imposed by the then Greater London Council, and that there is nothing in the draft London Plan to prevent that happening again. It is also just the kind of unjust and high-handed decision that the Yellow Vests in France have been protesting. We pointed out that the CMA made clear that more protection should be built in at the planning stage and that it was shocking, after Grenfell and the Hackitt review, to find no recognition of any need for consultation with residents.
Combined Heat and Power
Worryingly, FPA also said the draft Plan is ambiguous on the continued use of Combined Heat and Power — the system where combustion is used to create both heat and electricity. With its dual purpose, and the income created by sale of electric power, gas CHP has obvious advantages. The draft Plan implies that it is generally ruled out because of NOx emissions. In addition, as electricity decarbonises, burning gas appears less and less like a low carbon alternative. There are alternative renewable or waste heat energy sources for DH, eg secondary sources like the underground, industry or the Thames, augmented by heat pumps, but a really satisfactory replacement for gas CHP has not yet been found. The draft Plan, accordingly, includes a get-out clause, saying gas CHP could still be used, although “only where there is a case for CHP to enable the delivery of an area-wide heat network”.
In response to FPA’s question on this, the chair probed and determined that CHP had been moved down the hierarchy of preferences, since the last London Plan, but had not been ruled out. Dismayed, FPA said the vague language about “making a case”, with no criteria stated, gave the industry carte blanche to continue with a polluting technology. The Mayor’s team responded that the rules on NOx emissions for CHP plants were very stringent,. The worry remains that without fixed guidelines, the new London Plan could end up perpetuating fossil fuel technology. There is not even a requirement that systems should be readily convertable to renewable energy sources, eg with suitably sized pipes and radiators.
Meanwhile, two representatives of firms dealing in energy from waste, pressed this as an alternative source of CHP. Labour AM Leonie Cooper replied that a decision had already been taken that producing both heat and power from waste has not proved to be efficient, and that there were other ways of dealing with waste – particularly by reducing it. Leonie Cooper had also led round tables, and had heard first hand the reality of life for residents living with problematic DH networks. She said the “comments made by FPA and alluded to by others” were “extremely important”, and that many heat networks were in bad repair, and it would be a “travesty” to install more that would turn out to be problematic.
Accountability to residents
The other critical issue dealt with was relief for residents locked into existing DH systems that are not working well. When we pressed on this — and gave examples from residents’ campaigns in Southwark, Hillingdon, and Tower Hamlets — the Mayor’s office acknowledged that it was important to look at these schemes and see what support can be offered. Major improvements can be retrofitted that can halve the costs of heating and massively improve reliability. FPA’s view is that this should be done everywhere where there is a major problem — which, from all the surveys done, appears to be a minority of networks — and that heat providers should be subject to licensing, to ensure that existing schemes are rescued before new ones are built.
In repeated submissions to the GLA on energy and housing issues, and to BEIS and the CMA (all available here), FPA have laid out residents’ experience and made proposals for how District Heating could be made accountable to them. This is not a side issue — in the present global emergency ways must be found to cut carbon emissions that lead to real, enforceable results — and that also serve, engage, and benefit people who are struggling to keep warm.
FPA’s Ruth London reports back from two EU meetings in Brussels, 11 February 2019
In January FPA received an invitation from the person coordinating energy work at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an official body representing Europe’s “organised civil society” inside the EU structures.
The Committee was holding a session on “energy close to the citizens”, and the European Anti-Poverty Network had pointed out that the planned discussion included big NGOs, but no one with their feet on the ground, “close to the citizens”. As a member of Europe’s Right to Energy Coalition, Fuel Poverty Action was put forward to bring the discussion down to earth.
We asked to speak about situations where we’d seen ”green” initiatives conflict with immediate needs. Kristian Krieger welcomed that focus on “tensions between theory and practice”, “where a green initiative has frictions with objectives linked to social/economic and political equality/empowerment of citizens.” That is, where people are fighting to ensure they can keep warm and pay their bills.
So we were glad to take part, and keen to hear what is being done in the dozens of other countries represented in that hall, where many have a record of trying to raise awareness of fuel poverty.
FPA is a grassroots organisation, currently unfunded, and we’re not used to speaking in the chambers of power, with translation into up to 15 languages. But we brought a strong message from the UK.
Our points were received with respect and interest at the first session, where we gave examples of policies brought in for the sake of saving carbon, that ended up impacting users badly — and being so unaccountable that in the end, they are not even green. And where I spoke about pricing needing to be both affordable and fair, and how raising prices — hitting hardest those who can least afford it — is not an acceptable, or a viable way to bring about change. (That speech, with examples, is below.)
But it was in the second session that I felt FPA’s experience really made an impact. (also below) I told the story of District Heating in Myatts Field North, and how people had struggled for years to get it working. I referred to the long fight of Grenfell Tower residents to ensure that their building was not a tinderbox. And I said that in the midst of all the talk about “listening to citizens”, all the focus groups and “consultations”, people who are actively speaking out, shouting, screaming to be heard, and organizing are being systematically ignored, disempowered, disbanded, shut out of their community rooms, or threatened with eviction or the police.
Asked for “solutions” for the EU, I suggested what we have long been pressing in the UK: using funding as a lever, requiring a clean track record from any applicants for new projects, forcing them to clean up disasters they have created before coming back for more.
In response to the issue of energy prices, I also floated for the first time the idea of a “warm floor” — a certain minimum level of energy that should be available free, or at low cost, to every household, guaranteeing security during a time of transition.
Our “warm floor” proposal was welcomed (as it was, two days later, at Labour Energy Forum’s public meeting about a Green New Deal) and will be discussed further. But it was the issue of unaccountability that really struck home, in an assembly that is consulted in the process of developing policies, including those related to funding worth many millions of Euros. One representative spoke of his relief at the frank discussion; he said some projects he knew of ended up just making profits for criminals. Others identified a need to pay much more attention to “inspection and enforcement”, and how they should look to support not only projects but people’s “campaigns”.
And one Committee member later proposed that endorsement of FPA’s “Energy Bill of Rights”, as displayed on each member’s monitor throughout this debate, should be a condition for acceptance of new initiatives. I think the Energy Bill of Rights would need some adaptation but we’ve now been invited to actively pursue this proposal with the EESC.
Both sessions were a crucial learning experience for me, not least for the vision put forward at the start of the session, of a world of energy “prosumers” producing energy from small renewable sources, sharing it with neighbours and consuming it themselves. And also for the welcome acknowledgment that “you cannot fundamentally transform energy systems without the consumers and their taking ownership of the process.”
We were very warmly thanked by the EESC energy coordinator, who writes (his emphasis):
“Your intervention(s) were very much appreciated by TEN President Pierre Jean Coulon and the members of the TEN Section of the EESC. In fact, this has triggered among members a very strong interest in hearing more from the “sharp end of energy poverty” and campaigning organisations.” He promises to keep in touch “even though the 29 March may make things a lot more difficult at least for UK-based organisations such as yours.”
“Points of friction”
Speech for European Economic and Social Committee
Brussels 11 February 2019, morning
FPA is a small unfunded group working with people on the sharp end of fuel poverty, working to amplify their voices and their power.
In Europe, we’re part of the Right to Energy coalition. I want to thank you for inviting us, it’s great to be here with you all. We’ve been asked to talk about green initiatives clashing with social and economic goals. I only have time for a couple of examples.
District Heating – Heat Networks
In the UK DH is now being heavily promoted and subsidised by the government, because it’s supposed to be greener. I understand heat networks often work very well in Europe, and sometimes they do in the UK.
But on many housing estates, residents have had DH forced on them, in this case by environmental policy of the GLA.
On many estates the heating breaks down all the time, leaving people days or weeks without heat or hot water. And the prices can be horrendous. Exceptionally, residents on this one estate, run by Trafford Housing Trust, managed to get their prices cut in half.
But many other estates have to put up with being ripped off and sometimes paying capital costs as well.
A lot of residents feel they’re being asked to bear the cost of bringing in a new greener heating infrastructure for London. They don’t see why they should pay! I spoke recently to a Residents Association chairman on a DH estate. He said “you know, the local authority are worried about the CLIMATE!!” I said, “I’m worried about the climate too”. He said, “well so am I” and we both said — “but the heating has to work.” The problem here is that a green policy is being imposed, with no accountability, and no one listens to the people who have to use it.
And as a result, the network is so inefficient that it is not even green.
There are very similar issues with heat pumps and smart meters. I have no time to go into them.
2. My second example is insulation
For most of us insulation has always been the big Win Win – lower carbon, lower cost for residents. What’s not to like? After the Grenfell Tower fire insulation was removed from tower blocks because of the fire risk, and we started a campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now, because we were worried about people freezing. In the UK an average of 9-10,000 people die each winter [17,000 last year] because their homes are cold. Insulation matters. But. Every month the Grenfell community have a silent march to remember the dead, and then speeches by survivors and their neighbours.
And one time, I heard a speaker get up and warn everybody — “Watch out! They are trying to insulate homes in this area. Whatever you do, don’t let them insulate your home!” That was because the insulation was not only flammable but toxic. The whole area is toxic now, the schools, the playgrounds,wherever smoke went.
And many insulation materials and modern window materials are toxic even when they are not burnt, especially toxic to unborn babies. Also fitting insulation can block ventilation and leave homes damp, worse than before. There are victims’ groups, of people with insulation fitted badly. Again, the problem is incompetence, corruption, unaccountability, lack of regulation and inspection, and lack of CHOICE. Of course there are many people fighting FOR insulation – but they are being refused!
What counts is not just intention but the reality, not just policy but practice, and whether people have control.
This affects not only warmth but what people think of climate policies.
3. My third example is Carbon Taxes
I want to speak here not about the carbon price floor but about the so-called “green levies” on people’s energy bills levies that pay for ecological and social measures. The whole levy is only around 10% of energy bills and a lot of it has nothing to do with the environment. But the energy companies and the right wing media act like climate policies are the reason why people can’t afford heating. That is one of the fossil fuel industry’s LIES. It has made headway. Pensioners have told us that climate change is not real, it’s just a con to put up prices. The movement has been held back decades by that kind of lie. HOWEVER. for many people that 10% IS still a lot of money. People are going cold, and many are also hungry. There’s always an assurance that the government will “protect the vulnerable”. But that means means-testing, and many people, even the poorest, even disabled people who desperately need to keep warm, get excluded from the protection. And even middle class families can find it very hard to pay. Nobody is talking about protecting them.
I know carbon taxes have been the foundation of many countries’ green programmes, not only to raise money but to drive the transition to renewables and energy efficiency. And I know there have been some ideas on how to return the money to the people, different kinds of Energy Dividend, or how to make sure that everyone has access to a basic level of energy, and it’s the high users who pay more, not the low users paying more per unit, like at present. That is something I would really like to explore with you. But the Gilets Jaunes – the Yellow Vests – have forced everyone to look again at the whole strategy.
I saw M Hulot, ex environment minister in a debate with the Gilets Jaunes on French TV practically begging them, the climate crisis is so serious, we HAVE to have a price signal. But the Gilets Jaunes spokesman had two points. get real, we can’t afford it, he did not believe that carbon taxes would WORK.
The fact is, price increases, through tax or whatever, are inherently unjust. Some people can’t afford to drive to work, but other people fly a private jet. Some people can’t afford to heat one room, but others leave all the lights and heat on in a 10 room mansion, or an office block. It feels like AUSTERITY all over again — working class people being asked to pay for the bank crisis.
And people internationally are saying NO. Even when “protections” or dividends are there. People don’t see what good it will do for them to suffer when the really big polluters go free 71% of the world’s carbon emissions are caused by 100 corporations, 50% of emissions from consumption are caused by just 10% of people. The biggest culprits – energy, steel, agriculture, and aviation are often exempt from carbon taxes. The wealthiest people, and massive corporations have lots of ways to avoid paying tax.
In the UK the distrust of the government – ANY government – goes very, very deep. The transition we need will not happen without the wholehearted involvement of the population. That is very unlikely when there is such a credibility gap.
I know there have been many very good policies put forward in Europe, including efforts to involve and reward the public. But without accountability, and without much more action against the really big polluters, the most powerful interests, you will not get public engagement on the scale we need, if we are going to survive this century. In the meantime I have a lot more examples but out of time. (Later, for instance, I would love to discuss your experience of old rural buildings that cannot be made energy efficient and are off-grid, using oil – another point of contradiction between social goals and climate goals)
But now I will only say this — the words “just transition,” in English at least, usually refer to safeguarding jobs. But a genuinely just transition has to begin at home.
How can green policies be accountable?
Speech by Ruth London, Fuel Poverty Action
EU energy think tank meeting, Brussels 11 Feb 2019 afternoon
*Please note this speech was slightly edited for clarity and context during and since the event*
Recap – Clashes and Carbon Tax
This morning I gave 3 examples of where there is a clash, or an apparent clash between green policies and economic and social justice. I spoke about where green policies are carried out very badly in practice, about heat networks — installed in the UK with no accountability, so the result is not even energy efficient. And about insulation being installed just as badly — flammable, toxic, or leads to damp. And then I spoke about a form of carbon tax, the “green levies” on our bills in Britain, and I said the levies are actually very small, but still hard for people to afford. And in general, I spoke about how people are rejecting paying any extra to fight climate change when the big polluters are being allowed to carry on doing much more damage.
UK Report – Poverty
I think almost everywhere in the world there is real poverty so even a very small extra cost on your bill really matters. Recently, the UK has changed. I know we’re not poorest in Europe let alone the rest of the world! But a lot of our housing is slums.A lot of people are begging. Asylum seekers are destitute. The new welfare system called UC has systematically targeted disabled people and single mothers. A lot of children are hungry, and millions are cold. And this is before Brexit!
UK Report – Climate
At the same time in the UK there is a big awakening about climate. Roads being blocked, schools strikes, like everywhere. There is Direct Action being taken against fracking and gas. 85% of public back renewables. 76% support onshore wind, which would be much cheaper than the really high cost nuclear energy they’re forcing us to pay for. But onshore wind has been banned by the government, and they’ve also cut support for household solar panels, community energy and insulation programmes. Instead they are forcing through so-called green initiatives that end up being profitable businesses but really bad for residents.
More examples of clash
Besides District Heating, a lot of people are having trouble with, Air pumps. Local Authorities put in lot of these Nibe heaters into social housing. They have good intentions. I think you have Nibe, Swedish company, bet it works in Sweden, but in UK disaster. In some places they are all having to be removed. Another eg: Smart meters – that show you your consumption in real time. These are being heavily pushed on people. People are worried about radiation, and worried about being disconnected remotely by radio signal if get into arrears. It’s absurd, many of the smart meters they’re putting in now won’t work if you switch supplier; there’s a new kind that will, but they won’t wait for that, there’s a great rush to put them in now to meet targets so they can be said to be doing something green. Meanwhile no one understands why smart meters are greener in the first place!
We’re all very suspicious. There is absolutely no trust.
Listening to people when they organise
I want to go back to what I ended with this morning – listening to people when they speak and when they organise.
Myatts field north
I want to tell a story, that I think has implications for EU funding (maybe not in the UK!) Remember the first slide I showed this morning of resistance on a south London housing estate. There are actually two estates, or one broken into two, called Myatts Field North and Myatts Field South. This all used to be served by an old District Heating system, run by the Local Authority, and paid for through rent, at a flat rate. Then Myatts Field North was regenerated, with new modern buildings, that are well insulated. And they created a big community centre with EU funding. It has exercise classes, a cafe, meeting rooms, and computers, etc. The front desk there is a contact point for problems on the estate and resident engagement. Ok, so, under pressure from an environment-conscious London Mayor, the borough imposed on Myatts Field North a new District Heating system run by E.ON. And the heating didn’t work, and the bills and customer service are horrendous. In fact one elderly gentleman, after going to that community centre front desk again and again about his energy bills, actually died in his cold home.
It hadn’t only been him trying to get heard. There is a veryactive Residents Association, you saw one of residents demos.
This is near Brixton, where there have been riots. It is a largely Black area, and the Residents Association was led by very active Black women, and they were very effective. So the Residents Association won status as a Monitoring Board for the whole project. And they fought like tigers, they got help from an academic, FPA got involved on the heating front. We had loads of meetings. We;
organised deputations of residents to BEIS – the central government department that is promoting DH, and they listened very hard to the residents, for two hours,
brought in Heat Trust – body supposed to represent the interests of DH customers,
went to the GLA, the Greater London Authority, which had ordered the Heat Network in first place,
documented everything in 100 page long report, Not Fit For Purpose, with the academic.
and finally a whole load of residents, and FPA and the academic, went to a big meeting with the head of heat networks at E.ON.
In the end we did get some improvements – but only improvements. It is still a terrible system. And in the meantime, the Residents Association and its chair are worn out, exhausted. That matters. The formal procedures for accountability were there — Monitoring Board had regular meetings in the community hall with the LA and the estate management, to call them to account in front of the residents, who could speak, and did speak. But they ran into brick walls everywhere.
Myatts field south
Here’s the irony. At same time, Myatts Field South lost their beloved flat rate District Heating altogether. They fought for it.People refused to let builders into their flats to put in individual gas boilers. Those people were taken to court. So Myatts Field South fought for DH and lost it, Myatts Field North had it forced on them.
Listening – Organising
We hear a lot of talk about governments listening, reaching out, setting up focus groups. But when people are actually organising, the door is slammed in their face.
Same with Insulation
It’s the same with insulation and fire safety. You may know, Grenfell Action Group had been warning about this fire for years. One of the key recommendations of the Hackitt report into the Grenfell fire is that residents should have access to an independent body with enforcement powers so they can say what’s really going on.
Of course not everyone organises. But if there were some protection, some resources and empowerment for groups when they do come together, if there were more VICTORIES, more success, then a lot more engagement would spring up like magic.
Instead, routinely now Residents Asociations are being dissolved or decapitated or shut out of community rooms. There are threats of eviction. One suspended RA chairman had a letter from his Housing Association threatening to call the police on him because he’d been going door to door delivering a petition.
Same with Fracking
You can see the same thing in a completely different area, fracking protests.
Massive community organisation, with support of climate activists, has camped for years at the gates of fracking sites. Mobilised thousands of signatures to local authorities, and won – the local authorities came out against fracking. What happens? The government passed a law taking the decision out of their hands and saying central govt will decide on local planning decisions. Meantime people have been arrested, and assaulted, and jailed, for protesting against fracking.
I know there’s been a lot of recognition in Europe of the importance of citizen engagement in environmental policies. People are working hard on this. But I wonder if even here, you listen to people when on their own initiative they raise complaints and make demands?
Maybe you can think of mechanisms for accountability via EU funding. Our principle for local and national funding has always been, no company or agency should get funding or planning permission if they haven’t dealt with serious complaints about the schemes they’ve set up already. (a bit like disbarring sex offenders from working with children). I imagine this principle could apply to lots of fields – renewables,, even community energy. Could make a lot of difference to people having confidence in green policies.
I would really appreciate your comments on that, and in addition, I want to ask you another question — about pricing. In 2014 we issued our Energy Bill of Rights
Number 1: We all have the right to affordable energy to meet our basic needs.
Number 2: We all have the right to energy that does not harm us, the environment or the climate.
And then it says, We all have the right to a fair energy pricing system that does not penalise those who use less. Because with standing charges energy pricing is not only unaffordable but unfair.We pay more per unit if we use less. You might use less because you are trying to save the planet or it might be because you can’t afford it. Either way, you are penalised.
Is that normal in EU?
Isanyone making proposals to reverse this, so you pay a higher rate if you use more?
Is anyone putting forward a perspective of basic energy – a certain ration that everyone’s entitled to free of charge or for very little? This would provide security in a time of change, until the investment in renewable energy brings the ongoing cost of all energy down to very little.
We are actively considering this. You all are way ahead of us in working on these questions, and I am keen to know what you think.
At our demonstration today outside the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government we’ll be handing in our letter to the Secretary of State, the wording of which has been signed by nearly 150 different organisations, MPs and councillors, including:
28 MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and SNP
44 housing groups, residents associations and Grenfell related froups
16 poverty, discrimination and health organisations
5 national trade unions, 20 other union bodies and branches, and NUS
We were delighted this week to receive the support of the Fire Brigades Union for our Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign! Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the union, has signed our open letter to the Secretary of State outlining that people are still not safe in their homes one year after Grenfell. You can read the latest statement by the FBU on government action (or inaction) post Grenfell here. They will be taking part in the Day of Action on 17 October.
The FBU join a growing list of other unions and union branches in support of our campaign including:
Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union BFAWU
National Education Union NEU
Public and Commercial Services Union PCS
UNISON Greater Manchester Mental Health Branch (affiliated)
UNISON Salford City (signed Open Letter, and supporting Salford residents contingent to come to London for the Day of Action)
Adam Lambert, Regional Officer, Unite the Union (signed Open Letter)
Rob Miguel, National Health and Safety Advisor, Unite the Union (signed Open Letter)
Unite Bermondsey Construction Branch (signed Open Letter),
Unite Housing Workers Branch (signed Open Letter and affiliated)
Unite Branch 0742M (Runcorn) (signed Open Letter)
Unite Retired Members Swansea Area Branch (signed Open Letter)
Unite North East, Yorkshire and Humberside
Unite Unite NE/408/26
The support of these unions is invaluable in the continuation of our campaign. You can sign our open letter here and affiliate to the Safe Cladding and Insulation Now campaign here as a trade union or here as an individual.
After searing pressure from campaigners all over the UK, the government finally conceded £400 million to replace Grenfell-style cladding on tower blocks. Whilst this is a step toward justice, it is not enough to make buildings fire-safe and does nothing for private tower blocks, student residences, buildings under 18M high, schools, hospitals or workplaces.
There is every sign that only a few buildings will be fully re-clad before next winter – with works finished on one in ten public sector buildings since June 2017. Last winter residents left without cladding or insulation were freezing in their homes. More will face cold and damp this winter and the next, if nothing is done. Cold. like fire, kills.
Join the campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now. Demonstration at 1pm, Wednesday 17th October outside Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government, 2 Marsham Street, SW1P 4DF. Followed by a house of commons event hosted by Emma Dent Coad MP.
Please read our Open Letter to the Secretary of State which highlights our demands.
If it would be useful to print off this flyer there are some options here.
Earlier this summer, residents of the Salford tower block, Spruce Court, asked to meet Grenfell survivors, and we organised for them to meet with Grenfell United, along with other residents of dangerous high rise blocks. The Grenfell community has long insisted on one legacy: no one else should suffer what they went through. They were instrumental in winning the promised £400 million to re-clad social housing, but are now forced to watch this work proceeding at a snail’s pace.
Residents of hundreds of buildings like Spruce Court continue to live with the same dangerous structures, materials and policies that destroyed so many lives, and, like Grenfell residents over the years leading up to the fire, continue to be ignored.
You can read the full guardian report of the link between these two flammable towers here. Below is our own comparison, the “Mirror Document” which helped to spark the Guardian report. There are many more buildings that still “mirror” Grenfell Tower as it was.
RSVP – please try to let us know if you’re coming. There will be some food to share.
Whether you are an old hand, occasional helper, an ally, or just want to find out a bit more, you are very welcome!
Following AGM business (6.45) and a report of the year’s activities, this AGM will focus on one issue: safe housing.
Speakers confirmed so far:
Spruce Court Action Group, Salford, from a 22 storey block with Grenfell-style cladding and Nibe boilers
Leaseholder from Citiscape, Croydon, where cladding is now due to be replaced
Ex-fire fighter / safety officer, tower block resident and housing campaigner from Manchester who fought for lower prices on a district heating system – and won!
The Grenfell disaster exposed the chronic hazards in UK housing – often hidden behind a shiny facade – from the hazard of cold that kills nearly 10,000 a year, to the horror of fire, and the other hidden dangers from unsafe design and construction, poor standards and lack of effective regulation.
Fuel Poverty Action has been heavily engaged in the fight for warm, safe housing, and we invite you to discuss it with some experts on this issue and help explore next steps in our campaign for Safe Cladding and Insulation Now.
Fuel Poverty Action is welcoming new members, and people who want to work with us in other ways. Come along and raise your own issues, find out what’s happening, and consider how you might be part of it.
Tenants and residents can take heart from what has been won so far at Stretford House in Trafford. In 2010, as part of a refurbishment, a new communal heating system was installed (aka “district heating”) that in this case cost much more, and was not capable of keeping the flats warm. The works to install the new system also compromised the building’s fire safety. Action by the former Chair of the TRA has now brought major improvements on both those fronts, although there is a long way to go. Heating tariffs have been halved.
The following account is by Stretford House resident and former Tenants and Residents Association chair Phil Murphy, who is a former Fire Safety Officer with Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS).
* * * *
It was more than eight years ago when Trafford Housing Trust carried out a major refurb at Stretford House, a 23 storey single staircase property. The works planned initially included:
New windows – the existing being past their life span were, in some cases, leaking
Insulating the building with an external rainscreen cladding system
New flat entrance doors and fire doors through the common areas
New communal heating & hot water system
The new district heating system cost doubled twice and it left us cold
Up until that time every flat had a warm air system fed through their own gas meter. It wasn’t expensive and we could all switch suppliers as we paid our own gas bills. The new system, brought into our block and other THT tower blocks, has centralised boilers which feed hot water to heat exchangers in each flat. Tenants had no choice, we had to accept this, although leaseholders could opt out and some did hang onto their old warm air systems.
When the new system was to be brought in, they told us it would halve what we had to pay for heating and hot water. That is not how it worked out. .
When the heat output of the new heating system was specified it was expected that it would be working in flats with new insulation and new windows. Following completion of all of the works except the windows and cladding, the programme was discontinued. Not only did this leave residents with a system operating without the expected insulation improvements, but the system was also not functioning correctly for many flats. It took three years to get the heating system working correctly. It required the installation of new major pumps (indicating an incorrect specification in the first instance), new filters, and the whole system needed to be flushed out to remove debris from inside the system.
Many of the complaints over the three year period were not formally logged as complaints. At one point there were so many issues arising that the trust’s heating manager was in the foyer noting issues by hand, these issues were never logged as repairs. This means the trust’s published repairs and complaints for this period remain wildly inaccurate and don’t not reflect the nightmare tenants in Stretford House were enduring. For us, the fight was draining.
During that period the system wasn’t operating as it should. It struggled to heat flats that were supposed to have improved windows and insulation. This resulted in some tenants having their heating on permanently and yet reporting that their flats never reached an acceptable temperature. Having the heating on for extended periods saw tenants receiving vastly increased energy bills.
Meanwhile the energy charges set by the trust ignored the issues, and having initially priced the unit cost at 2p/kwh, providing the energy savings that was promised to tenants before they were forced to accept the new system, the trust now had a monopoly on this energy (residents are unable to switch suppliers) and swiftly doubled the cost to 4p/kwh without even bothering to inform residents. Falling gas prices meant that residents were now paying significantly above the average consumer rate being charged by the big six domestic energy suppliers. The following year they doubled it again to 8p/kwh.
Residents now had a heating and hot water system that didn’t work, they were without the planned efficiency savings of new windows and insulation, and were paying in excess of double that of their neighbours in houses in the surrounding streets. I exhausted THT’s formal complaints procedure to no avail, twice. The saga began before I spent a year as Chair of the residents association and dragged on after that period Fire safety
In addition, in installing the system, the contractors had totally trashed the compartmentation that was supposed to protect us from the spread of fire. There were holes in every flat, and between flats, that fire and smoke could come through. In addition, some residents became so concerned about bills that they were relying entirely on the small fan heaters that the caretaker was distributing free of charge in acknowledgement of the issues. Even though this presents a fire risk residents were not advised of the increased risks. What we did
As it happens, I am a former fire fighter and fire safety officer, and I was painfully aware of the danger. Inspired by the work of Stuart Hodkinson and Fuel Poverty Action, I wrote to my MP Kate Green detailing my concerns surrounding the adequacy of fire risk assessments, especially compartmentation that had been penetrated throughout the block with the installation of the new heating systems’ pipework, and the energy prices being forced on residents by the energy-monopoly landlords.
Having experienced the complaints procedure I took a different route and used my fire engineering knowledge to compose a fourteen page forensic analysis of the fire safety problems I suspected might exist. I gave it to a GMFRS Fire Safety Officer who demanded immediate improvements. It turned out that everything in the report was correct. This was after Grenfell. Results! Fire safety improved: The day after I submitted my 14 page report there were 20 vans (I have pictures) on the car park and a huge team of experts started working their way through the block. Every flat, every riser, every common area had serious compartmentation problems. It took them ten months of working every day (I estimate a cost around £1 million) to put it right. An example of what they had to do: https://youtu.be/dYD1taS9ocM Heating price halved: At the start of this year the independent expert concluded that the price could not be justified. The price was dropped from 8p/kwh to 3.9p/kwh and all residents received a refund amounting to the unnecessary charge they paid for the last 12 months (in most cases this ranged between £200 and £350). However residents had been paying the super-charged energy rate for five years. While they await to see whether they’ll receive the full refund to which they are entitled, Trafford Housing Trust have brought in another independent consultant, presumably in an attempt to justify charging residents far in excess of what the trust are paying for the energy. Residents are wondering whether they’ll get the money they are owed, whether other tenants across the trust have also received a refund to which they are entitled, and whether they’ll have to switch to fan heaters again that carry an increased fire risk and are expensive to run but are at least easily controlled to limit their energy bills.