Resident gets heated over issues with Dunbeg homes

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Homes in Dunbeg’s Marine Court are losing hot water and heating regularly due to a failing biomass system, Dunbeg Community Council heard this month.

A Marine Court resident told community councillors that households had repeatedly lost hot water and heating this year, often for several hours ‘at the most inconvenient times’ due in part to a biomass generator running out of fuel.

Marine Court, managed by West Highland Housing Association (WHHA), is powered by a biomass system designed to provide affordable warmth, where electric or oil-based heating systems would lead to a higher cost.

WHHA says hot water should flow constantly and unlimited 30 seconds after the tap is turned.But, the resident told the Dunbeg meeting: ‘The heating cuts out once a fortnight,’ and ‘there is no backup system’ – such as a hot water tank or an immersion switch, or an electric shower, which residents are not allowed to install.

The resident continued: ‘We have to pay for it and it is quite expensive,’ costing some families approximately £30 or £40 a week.

According to a community Facebook page, hot water failed in the depths of winter in January and February, and most recently just before 9am on June 7.

WHHA chief executive Lesley McInnes told The Oban Times: ‘We had two reported incidents of the biomass system being down on February 14 and February 21 that were out of hours emergencies, but our contractor attended. We found that there was a pressure drop in the system. As this happened twice within a short period of time we investigated, and as a solution we fitted a pressure regulating valve and our system is not showing any other reports.

‘There is a back-up system which immediately kicks in when the main system fails. The back-up system is operated with LPG, so if there are any issues with fuel delivery we have an alternative fuel source. We fully understand that this can cause people inconvenience and we want to ensure that we do diagnose faults as quickly as possible.’

The resident also voiced complaints of problems with the build quality in Marine Court, such as badly fitting, leaking doors and windows, and damp in bathrooms and bedrooms, with black mould growing ‘no matter how well ventilated it is’.

Ms McInnes responded: ‘All of the properties meet all the required national standards. A number of people complained about the doors, and new doors were fitted last year.

‘On the issue of black mould this can be due to issues of ventilation – although it very much depends on circumstances.

‘We would want to check that it is a ventilation issue, so it is important that people let us know.’

The resident added WHHA have ‘washed their hands’ of repairs: ‘We are fed up of going to WHHA: we just do it ourselves.’

Ms McInnes responded: ‘WHHA are now responsible for carrying out the repairs and this year we have received 47 repairs calls that we have responded to – the majority within our timescales.

‘We were disturbed to hear that people feel that we are not responding to any concerns they have and I have asked our staff team to visit each tenant in order that we can discuss issues with them and agree any follow up action.’

Marine Court’s homes are rent-to-buy, and eventually will come up for sale in two years’ time, but the resident told us these may prove hard to sell, saying: ‘We reckon about half the houses in Marine Court have changed hands already because people have not wanted them, and the other half do not want to buy them. So I do not know what will happen in two years’ time.’

Ms McInnes said: ‘The properties in Marine Court were let in May 2014 and since this date 16 have become vacant.

‘Of these 16 some have moved within the development, some have left the area and some have moved within the Oban area.

‘No homes are lying empty and for every property that has been vacant we have had a number of applicants for that property.’