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Agenda item

Communal Heating - Presentation/Report and Evidence from TMO and TRA


 Garrett Mcentee, Housing Directorate was present, and introduced the report, and made a presentation to the Committee. Paul Harris Harry Weston TMO co-operative was also present, and made a submission to the Committee


During consideration of the report the following main points were made –


·         The Council has responsibility for maintaining its communal heating systems serving around 4700 homes, and employing contractors to deliver this service

·         The previous contractors were taken over by the Mears Group in October 2018 and work has taken place to have a good productive working relationship to resolve contractual problems with the previous contractor, however these issues were not getting resolved and notice was served to terminate the contract. The Council procured a new provider GEM Environmental Services, formally taking over responsibility for the contract from May 2020, however they did assist with the maintenance of boilers from October 2109 which was extremely valuable to the Council

·         GEM have done extensive work and dealt with substantial challenges linked to connecting the communal heating plant rooms to Bunhill 2 Energy Centre. This work is out of the scope of the GEM contract for which they were appointed, and this has resulted in a lot of extra work, and meant that work planned on boiler plant has not taken priority. Connection to Bunhill 2 remains a priority and to address this further steps have been taken to appoint additional specialists and contractors to assist on the Bunhill 2 project. Despite the focus on Bunhill 2 GEM have managed to service all of the boiler plant rooms as directed by the contract, and achieve 100% compliance in terms of gas and safety notices

·         Repairs data – In April 2018 a decision was made to manage the new communal heating contract on a new IT system called One Serve. This is an industry leading software package, which allows details of works undertaken to be collected and shared, updated and monitored allowing for improved business processes and a good customer experience

·         Currently Islington has 57 plant rooms, providing a communal heating service and most of the plant rooms provide heating and hot water. In most cases individual hot water is delivered to storage tanks within dwellings. Heat Interface units have recently become more popular, as they can provide hot water on demand at mains pressure and greater efficiency over traditional systems. However unless there is suitable space in the plant rooms for communal hot water storage, HIU’s will not include stored hot water so, although very efficient, they can result in almost instant loss of hot water in the event of boiler breakdown

·         Noted information provided in the report on boilers and infrastructure. Details of the significant breakdowns that have caused an outage for five days or more since April 2018 were noted, and this is the trigger point for payment of compensation by the Council. It was noted that there have been relatively few occasions when this situation has arisen

·         There are many thousands of callouts and there would be significant time and resource required to interrogate the narrative on each call out to capture more specific information on the data fields. From past experience when a communal plant fails communications are received from many residents, and each call will be recorded in the data provided as a further possible call out. In addition to system failures, a portion of call outs will be received from individual flats where the problem is local to just one flat, and in some cases just one radiator, so caution must be interpreted when analysing data. Increased calls usually occur at the end of the communal heating system, when the heating is switched off for the summer months, and residents can interpret this as a fault with the communal heating system

·         Comparison with LBHackney – this stated that Hackney had 32 out of their total of 68 boiler plants supplying just 361 properties. This is an average of just 11 properties per boiler plant. This is considered not economically viable for a communal heating plant, as the capital costs associated with the plant will be disproportionately high when broken down per property. In Islington there are only 13 boiler plants that serve 20 units or less, 10 boiler plants that serve between 50 and 100 units, and 14 boiler plants which serve 100 or more units

·         There is an opportunity to use Bunhill  Energy Centre Combined heat and power plant to generate heat from CHP centre to local housing estates connected to Communal heating systems. This will help address targets set in the Energy Conservation Act 2000 to eradicate fuel poverty. Help reduce levels of greenhouse gas emissions(34% of 1990 levels by year 2020 and 80% by 2050)

·         Communal heating benefits – helps support Council fairness commission objectives included in the current corporate plan. Decent and affordable homes and making homes easier to keep warm and more affordable to heat through the installation of communal heating systems. Will help break the cycle of fuel poverty where a household has to spend over 10% or more of its income on energy costs. Estimates indicate between 7%-10% in Islington living in fuel poverty. GLA analysis complete in 2012 indicated six Islington wards were the worst quintile for fuel poverty in London

·         Communal heating benefits – generally recognised that communal heating in conjunction with decentralised energy schemes will provide a more economical  source of heating and hot water than individual boilers. Paying a flat rate can help tenants budget more easily, helping low income and vulnerable residents. Costs of heating and hot water are included in monthly service charges and communal heating systems use less energy than an individual heating system by a range of 7.5%-11%. Reduced risk of illnesses associated to condensation or dampness. Consistent heating supply to properties on communal heating and opportunity to pass on savings obtained from bulk gas purchase to residents

·         Disadvantages – significant up front capital investment costs, potential to generate substantial bills for leaseholders living in the blocks where works are carried out. Difficult to provide to provide a fair and equitable service where blocks vary considerably in terms of energy requirements. Balance to be achieved between service provided and energy costs and CO 2 emissions. Complex engineering projects leading to long lead it times. Not the same level of individual control as there is with individual heating system. Can be subject to catastrophic failure creating hardships for residents, connected to the communal system. Reaction times to breakdowns or failures can be slow due to the complexity of the infrastructure equipment

·         New Build – LBI Planning strategy – all new build developments are required to contribute to the development of decentralised energy schemes, including by connecting to current district heating networks where these exist within the proximity of the development. Lifetime cost benefit analysis study shows that despite communal heating systems requiring significantly higher up front capital investment their lifetime costs are lower than the option of installing individual heating systems

·         Risk assessment – maintenance and capital investment programme, reactive and planned maintenance contract, boilers serviced and CP15 issued annually, monthly planned preventative maintenance, plant rooms connected to Building Management System, out of hours/emergency team in place

·         Forward Plan – 7 year future programme of works, asset management plan, process of prioritisation to identify future plans, joined up thinking with other programmes of work, feasibility, condition assessment and lifespan criteria to identify need. Stakeholder involvement future programmes communal heating

·         Asset management and Communal heating – Benefits of asset management system, better inclusion from all stakeholders concerned, opportunity to avoid major breakdown failure, process to move work into capital programme, opportunity to review potential areas of risk with planned maintenance team

·         Conclusion -  many advantages to communal heating systems, lower running costs, help address fuel poverty, help budget concerns for vulnerable and low income groups, need to listen to resident groups and tailor service to meet resident requirements. LBI communal heating policy to reflect residents requirements

·         Reference was made to the issue of when boilers were coming to the end of life/not repairable whether there was any planning to assess this. It was stated that this was part of the Asset Management Plan to look at the risks, however evidence was needed to show that the boiler could not be repaired, before replacement was undertaken

·         Noted that the Council had to balance the requirements and cost to leaseholders when assessing boiler replacement

·         A Member referred to the need for a back-up system if a communal boiler failed and often resulted in a power failure which exacerbated the situation and an engineer had to be called to restore power, and this often took a long time. It was stated that whilst a standby system was a possibility this would be a substantial cost, for tenants and leaseholders, and may only be used on very limited occasions. On the issue of power this was being looked at to ascertain whether an acceptable solution could be found

·         The view was expressed that it was imperative to improve insulation in properties in order to ensure properties did not get as cold as quickly if the heating went down. Noted that zero carbon solutions were being looked at  where Government grant funding could be made available

·         Harry Weston Tenant co-operative stated that the work of the Committee should be linked to that of the Environment Scrutiny Committee and that solutions such as underfloor heating and where Government grants were available, especially with climate change. It was stated that the Executive Member Housing and Executive Member E&R did liaise on new build properties and ensuring they are net carbon zero where possible

·         Noted that the Council were pursuing net Zero carbon by 2030 and a lot of work is taking  place in this regard

·         Reference was made to the fact that GEM and Spa Fields had been invited to attend the meeting to give evidence, however had not attended. Members stated that GEM should have attended as the communal heating contractor, and it was stated that this was not acceptable


                The Chair thanked Garrett Mcentee and Paul Harris for attending

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