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Flintshire: Decision to increase communal heating bills stands after call-in meeting

FLINTSHIRE Council’s decision to increase heating bills for residents living in its communal complexes will stand despite pleas that “people are choosing between heating and eating”.

Last month the council’s cabinet agreed to follow recommendations to increase those charges in light of a whopping 420 per cent hike in the authority’s commercial gas contract which is in line with market rates.

But last week opposition councillors forced a ‘call-in’ meeting to review that decision, feeling that the cost could be spread to lessen the financial burden on tenants.

Flintshire Council has eight communal heating schemes, with 417 properties on communal heating systems in Flint, Mold, Holywell and Connah’s Quay.

Tenants had been written to and notified they will be facing increased heating bills, based on the prior year’s energy use.

For example, a single bed flat in Connah’s Quay’s Chapel Court complex would see bills increase from £6.20 to £18.85 a week.

The council’s community and housing scrutiny committee met today to review the decision.

Connah\’s Quay Central Cllr Bernie Attridge. Source – Cllr Attridge

Leader of the Independent opposition, Connah’s Quay Central Cllr Bernie Attridge was one of those who pushed for the call-in and asked for charges to be spread across several years.

Speaking at the meeting he said: “Clearly this is a political decision.

“I believe we haven’t done what’s right. We know people are choosing either to heat or eat, we know we’re in the middle of the biggest cost of living crisis any of us has ever seen.

“I’m asking the cabinet to re-look again at that.

“People are choosing whether to heat or eat and I don’t want to put more pain on some of our most vulnerable residents.”

Northop Cllr Linda Thew (Ind) said the charges affected the most vulnerable residents and queried why the increase did not come to light earlier in the year.

Queensferry and Sealand Cllr Dale Selvester (Ind) questioned whether the increases compromised the council’s responsibility to provide affordable housing.

“How can this be classed as affordable housing?”, he said.

“We’re a million miles away from being classed as affordable housing.”

Cllr Sean Bibby. Source – Flintshire Council

Cabinet member for housing, Shotton West Cllr Sean Bibby (Lab) explained that as much as possible had been done to keep bills down.

“We have taken significant measures to try and reduce the bill”, he said.

“I contest as a cabinet and officers that we simply passported the cost over to tenants – we haven’t.”

The council’s strategic finance manager Rachael Corbelli said tenants will only pay their individual bill for their individual flat going forward and will have more control over their heating too.

Housing services manager Sean O’Donnell added that meters will be installed in the properties over the next 12 months.

Connah’s Quay South Cllr Bill Crease (Ind) said he understood the council could not subsidise everything but said vulnerable people had never had to budget these sums of money in the past and added to the calls for the costs to be spread.

He said it was a choice between “prudence and compassion”.

Mostyn Cllr Pam Banks (Ind) felt there had been a “total lack” of discussion and scrutiny by the cabinet.

Ms Corbelli explained that spreading the cost would see them paying higher charges at a time when financial support might not be available as it is now with help such as the Energy Support Grant.

She added that other tenants are already paying these charges and that there was a danger costs might not be recouped if they were spread over several years.

And Cllr Bibby reminded the committee that rate rises had affected everyone from private homeowners and renters to other council tenants.

Members opted not to send the decision back and instead follow Greenfield Cllr Rosetta Dolphin’s (Eagle) proposal that the scrutiny committee accepted, but did not support, the decision of cabinet and explanation from council officers.