FAMILIES living in pioneering eco-friendly homes in South Tyneside are up in arms after a problem heating system has left them feeling the chill.
Residents in 21 houses in Sinclair Meadows, South Shields, say the ‘green’ communal heating system has been beset with problems since they moved into their homes 17 months ago.
Despite giving developer and landlords – the Durham-based Four Housing Group – the “benefit of the doubt”, tenants say the heating issue has come to the boil with the latest breakdown.
They say the communal boiler system has broken down at least once a month since they moved in – leaving all their homes without heating.
Not only has the latest breakdown – on January 17 – coincided with a cold spell, they also claim to have been told it could take up to five weeks for the system to be fixed.
Rachel Marshall, 31, who has a year-old son called Logan, said: “When we first moved in there were teething problems and we had no hot water or heating, but we knew it was a new build and thought we would give the developers the benefit of the doubt.
“But here we are, 17 months later, and there are still problems with the heating.”
She said: “It is happening at least once a month for two to three days at a time. We will have no heating and this time we’ve found out it’s going to be anywhere between four and five weeks until it’s fixed.”
Mother-of-two Rio Adams, 22, said: “I’ve tried contacting Four Housing a number of times and they don’t always get back to me.
“They just don’t communicate with us. Everything we have been told we have had to find out ourselves.
“We have been given electric fan heaters, but we had to ask for them and they are no good. They get to a certain temperature and they then start blowing cold air.
“We have been given two to heat up the whole house. The weather is freezing outside and I’ve got a baby to think about.”
Louise Bracey, 32, and a mother-of-two, added: “Over the last two months the heating has been the worst it has ever been.
“The company say they are being put forward for and winning awards for these houses and claim the energy bills wouldn’t be as high, but mine have never been higher than since I moved in here.”
Chris Reed, assistant director of operations at Four Housing, said: “We are aware of the concerns of our customers at Sinclair Meadows and have made repairs to the boiler our highest priority. The well-being of our tenants is extremely important to us and temporary back-up heating arrangements are in operation.
“We are also meeting with tenants to discuss and resolve their concerns.
“Sinclair Meadows uses a combination of advanced renewable technologies and design approaches to deliver energy savings.
“It has been our experience that, overall, bills have gone down.
“Where tenants are indicating that this has not been their experience, we are happy to work with them to make sure they are getting all the benefits of living at Sinclair Meadows.”
‘Low bills’ claims for carbon negative housing
Sinclair Meadows was the country’s first carbon negative social housing initiative when it was built in 2012.
The design was a pioneering move by Four Housing, with claims that residents would enjoy some of the lowest energy bills in the country.
There are 21 distinctive homes in Sinclair Meadows, off Western Approach, South Shields, both two and three-bedroomed.
The properties are heated by a communal biomass boiler, fed with recycled wood chippings.
The homes have also been kitted out with solar panels and also use collected rainwater to flush the toilets.
The 52 residents in the homes even underwent auditions to embrace an eco-friendly lifestyle before moving in.
Since the first tenants moved in 17 months ago the homes have won a string of accolades including the Innovation category in the 2013 Constructing Excellence in the North East Awards and the best new affordable housing scheme section at the Housing Excellence Awards.
The homes are designed to wipe out the carbon footprint created by the construction process in less than three years. They were funded by the Homes and Communities Agency and developed by Four Housing Group in partnership with South Tyneside Council, environmental charity Groundwork South Tyneside and Newcastle and Galliford Try Partnerships North.