Elderly left in the cold as power fails at Wheathampstead home

PUBLISHED: 18:54 09 December 2010

Cllr Chris Oxley outside Thomas Sparrows House, Wheathampstead.

Cllr Chris Oxley outside Thomas Sparrows House, Wheathampstead.

Archant

AN ENERGY supplier has been condemned for leaving elderly people in a home without power for more than 16 hours in sub-zero conditions – including one woman aged 107.

Thomas Sparrow House in Brewhouse Hill, Wheathampstead, lost electricity at around 3am on Friday morning and despite promises throughout the day that emergency generators were on their way, power wasn’t reinstated until 7pm that evening.

The power cut also affected the wider area including elderly people’s flats in the private King Edward complex along with vulnerable residents in other roads including East Lane.

Staff in the council’s housing services department have been praised for their response to the power cut at Thomas Sparrow House which included laying on a fish-and-chip lunch for the 20-plus residents, providing battery lighting and gas heating in the lounge, as well as hot drinks and water bottles to those who were unable to make it into the communal area.

But district councillors have heavily criticised UK Power Network – formerly known as EDF Energy – for a distinct lack of communication and for failing to quickly supply an emergency generator to such vulnerable people on a day when temperatures struggled to get above minus five.

The matter was raised at Tuesday evening’s cabinet meeting for urgent address and chief executive Daniel Goodwin agreed to write to UK Power Network calling for a meeting with senior representatives at the energy company to address the matters raised.

Pressure

Wheathampstead district councillor Chris Oxley, who is portfolio holder for community engagement and support, has been putting pressure on the energy company since the power went out and said the housing staff who rallied together to help were “absolutely magnificent.”

He continued: “Historically, I have had problems with EDF dealing with matters expeditiously as I live in the countryside. But they do seem to have an inability to react promptly.

“What I think needs to be realised is that in this building there is a lady of 107 years of age as well as people in their 80s and 90s. I understand there is a system in place at the electricity board where they have records of people who need to get electricity very quickly and people that are sensitive to the absence of power, so disabled people and elderly people – but obviously that did not happen. Electricity went out at 3am and was put on at approximately 7pm and it was a very, very cold day.”

Cllr Oxley said he had made numerous calls to the energy company throughout the day and claims to have been told a series of inaccurate information about the generator’s time of arrival. He also said he was told by the company that the generator needed to be transported from a depot in Ipswich, which the company has since refuted.

He added: “I feel significantly let down on behalf of the community, we were not given accurate information on a number of occasions and it had serious ramifications. I do think that they should be asked to explain themselves and also give us some comfort that people who are in these homes will get urgent supply and it will actually be dealt with.”

Cllr David Poor, portfolio holder for housing, said: “Having seen all that happened that day, this council should be really proud of its housing staff and the ability of planning staff as they almost moved mountains to do what they did. On top of that, they had help from Wheathampstead parish council and elected members from Wheathampstead and county councillors. It is something we should be proud of.”

Generators have been supplying power to affected homes since Friday evening but work to repair the supply was expected to finish yesterday (Wednesday).

A spokesperson for UK Power Networks said power was initially interrupted to just under 1,500 customers due to a fault on the high voltage network but restored to all but 37 homes within two hours.

She said that two generators were ordered from Stevenage and Shefford at 9am after engineers completed checks in daylight and that they arrived by early afternoon – but they decided to proceed with the repair instead.

She continued: “Unfortunately in this case the repair could not be completed as quickly as we had initially hoped, so the generators were installed and connected by 7pm.

“We do appreciate how difficult it is to be without power, particularly in such cold weather and would like to apologise for the inconvenience caused by Friday’s power interruption.”

The spokesperson also said that they requested volunteers from the British Red Cross to attend and offer help.

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