An entire estate was left without heating or hot water for eight hours after the 30th outage on the local energy network since 2021 on Wednesday, December 6.

The Sutton Decentralised Energy Network (SDEN) is a heat supply network that is the sole provider of the 700-home estate’s heating and hot water.

Since the Sutton Council-owned network was introduced on the estate in 2016, it has been dogged by numerous outages.

Residents of New Mills Quarter in Hackbridge "thought they’d turned a corner", believing that the network had started to improve, before the most recent heating failure.

Your Local Guardian: New Mills Quarter, HackbridgeNew Mills Quarter, Hackbridge

New Mills resident Dave Old told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “I’ve lived here five and a half years now, in the early days it was horrendous. We were getting outages every couple of weeks, especially in winter.

"The most recent one we had in a while, so we had thought we turned a corner, but the most frustrating thing is that they say it’s regularly monitored when it clearly. It’s so frustrating.”

He added: “It’s got to the stage where you wake up in the morning, and you don’t know whether you’d have a hot shower. I have two kids, 15 and 11. It was a nightmare when we moved in.

"If my youngest had wet the bed, you wouldn’t have hot water to sort him out. You would have to sort them out with flannels and cold water, which was horrible.”

Ben McAleer, another resident and young father, echoed this frustration, saying: “My wife and I have two young children and this week’s outage meant we couldn’t bathe them on Wednesday evening nor could we heat their bedroom ahead of their bedtime.

"Given the temperatures were a little over freezing on Wednesday evening, this was unacceptable. It’s not the first time we have suffered an outage in winter since we moved here in 2020.”

In their response to the most recent outage, SDEN sent all residents who identified as vulnerable a portable heater to temporarily heat their homes. However, according to residents, this heater failed to deal with the problem. 

Local labour councillor and New Mills resident, Sheldon Vestey told the LDRS: “SDEN supplied small heaters, the size of my foot, to vulnerable residents to heat a whole house.

"They turned up around five hours later with some very tiny heaters. I don’t really understand how they expect one small heater to heat the whole flat, but that’s their solution.” 

Mr Old agreed, calling the heaters "pathetic."

He added: “It was interesting that the latest email from SDEN said those who received the heater from SDEN didn’t have to return it. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing that those people will have a heater for the future, or that they’re just expecting more of this to happen.”

The SDEN network is the sole provider of heating in the whole new-build estate.

As part of moving into the estate, residents sign a contract that ties them into service by SDEN for the next 25 years and prohibits them from seeking alternate providers. 

Mr Old told the LDRS of his frustration with the network and its apparent monopoly on the estate.

He said: “We are trapped, we’ve got nowhere to go, there’s no option for us to change providers, we are completely tied in here. We were sold such false promises. We told it was a 100 per cent resilient service, that it was green energy and that it would create 20 jobs in the community. It’s all crazy.”

Despite Old’s claim that SDEN would boost job creation in the area, recent reports show they only have two permanent staff. The CEO and a telephone assistant currently cover over 700 SDEN-supplied houses on the estate.

According to residents, this lack of capacity means the network is not able to monitor when an outage has happened and relies solely on resident-submitted complaints. It has also led to them failing to respond to the numerous complaints made by residents, as Mr Old told the LDRS.

He said: “SDEN used to register the residents association as one complaint, although there were hundreds of people behind it. Now they have stopped dealing with the residents association completely, so we all have to go to them individually.”

Councillor Vestey told the LDRS that the SDEN was initially planned to be connected to the nearby Beddington incinerator.

It was hoped the residual heat from the incinerator would heat the nearby Hackbridge neighbour but this has so far yet to materialise.

He said: “It was pitched to the council by Viridor to prop up the application for the nearby Beddington incinerator. So at judicial review, the strong business case of SDEN was used to support the business case of the incinerator. They said we will connect SDEN to the incinerator and provide low-cost heating.

"The reality is that six years on there is no connection to the incinerator, the Beddington farmlands have never been done and people have had high heating and intermittent supply.”

 “It has been in situ for six years now, and we have had 30 site-wide outages, there have been hundreds of complaints, but the business doesn’t accept many of the complaints, it just dismisses them. They even ignored residents’ association complaints.

"You have got a business that doesn’t really work, was never profitable and is currently propped up by a £350,000 donation from the estate developer, Barratt Homes, they have given them that to get the commercial premises out of the agreement with SDEN.”

A spokesperson for the Sutton Decentralised Energy Network (SDEN) said: “We are sorry for the loss of heating and hot water supply that residents of New Mill Quarter experienced on Wednesday.

“Multiple teams worked hard throughout the day and into the night to ensure that the supply was restored later that evening. Portable heaters were immediately offered to residents on our Vulnerable Persons Register and where requested portable heaters were delivered to our other properties. 

“The disruption was caused by a power failure on the site. Now that the supply has been restored, we are carrying out a thorough investigation into what caused the outage and why this affected the supply to customers’ properties.”