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District Heating Schemes

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 9 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he has yet received proposals from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive concerning district heating schemes on the Cromac estate, and the Sandy Row and Lower Newtownards areas; and if he will make a statement.

I have now received from the Housing Executive a formal proposal to remove the district heating scheme from the Cromac estate. The proposal is being examined and I shall write to the hon. Gentleman when I have reached a decision.

I do not expect the Housing Executive to make proposals for the district heating systems at Sandy Row and Lower Newtownards road until it has completed consultation with tenants served by these schemes.

Is the Minister aware that consultation took place with the tenants of the houses in those ares and there was an overwhelming majority in favour of retaining the district heating schemes in their dwellings? Is the Minister also aware that there are now on the market efficient meters by which pre-paid heat could be obtained and, therefore, there would be no income collected for heat with the rents? If there is any value to be attached to the consultations that took place, is it not in the best interests of the tenants to retain district heating and thus obtain some value for the money spent on providing this heating scheme for those areas? Will the Minister rule that the district heating is to be retained, and agree to the tenants' request?

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Of course, I shall take into careful consideration the points he has made. I must say that at Cromac a majority of 65 per cent. of the tenants, responding to consultation, favoured the retention of the scheme, but that was a minority of the total number of tenants. Clearly, the Housing Executive must take that into account, but it must also take into account value for money considerations, the viability of the scheme and debt control. Having said that, clearly one would like to do what one can to meet the tenants' wishes. However, it is not just the considerations of the tenants that the Housing Executive rightly has to consider when looking at these schemes.

Will the Minister impress upon the Housing Executive how wrong it is to create in Northern Ireland Housing Executive houses heating systems that the tenants simply cannot afford, and that the priority should be that which is best and cheapest for the tenants rather than that which is cheapest for the Northern Ireland Housing Executive?

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a great interest in these things and does a great deal on behalf of his constituents when these matters are raised. Previously, the heating scheme that we are discussing was much more expensive, but there was a reduction of 15 per cent. last year and 15 per cent. this year. There will be no increase in the prices of district heating during the course of this year. Therefore, the various systems of heating do not vary in cost as much as they did. In those circumstances, one will clearly do what one can to take into account the views of the tenants.