Efforts are being launched to help Aberdeenshire council housing tenants forced to brave freezing temperatures when power cuts leave them without heating.
The local authority has been installing electric heating systems in its 13,000 properties since 1995, making them more eco-friendly as they go.
But recently, a trio of devastating storms have exposed just how vulnerable Scotland’s power network can be to the weather.
Thousands of people have been left without power for days, and the chaotic conditions are expected to become more common.
The situation is presenting Aberdeenshire Council with a pressing problem.
How can the body make sure their many tenants stay warm when they have no electricity?
Heating problems ‘not just a Braemar issue’
The matter arose when then Marr Area committee met to discuss a petition from Braemar Community Council.
The Royal Deeside campaigners are fighting to stall controversial plans to rip out coal fires from a handful of local authority homes.
Affected residents say they offer vital backup in the event of storms which have recently left them without power for lengthy spells.
Councillors agreed to push for the housing service to put the scheme on hold, and a final decision will be made in the next few weeks.
But they also decided that this was “not just a Braemar issue”, with the ever-increasing threat of severe weather leaving thousands across the region at risk of lengthy blackouts.
Council tenants ‘missing out on basic human rights’
Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside councillor Paul Gibb said tenants suffer “an inequality” by not being able to have a backup heating source in place, when other Aberdeenshire residents can.
Ann Ross said the storms have “turned everything on its head”.
She suggested leaving council tenants without heat, light and water could be a breach of their human rights.
Mrs Ross said: “We are talking about five or six days that people have had to cope without heat and light.
“We have to make sure people have the basic essentials to survive.”
She called for the authority’s housing stock “to be reviewed” so there are contingencies in place for power cuts.
Councillors stumped over solution
Huntly councillor Gwyneth Petrie agreed that more needs to be done, but said the council is in a tricky position and “can’t put fireplaces back in”.
She added: “And we can’t provide a generator to every council house.”
Aberdeenshire Council’s deputy leader Peter Argyle said: “Power networks are not resilient and we can anticipate storms will become more frequent.
“And yes Braemar gets exceptionally cold but the same can be said of many places in the shire.
“This is a bigger issue than Braemar…”
He added: “There are 13,000 council houses and all but 70 have no contingency in place, so we need to look at this from an Aberdeenshire perspective.
“How can our council tenants keep their houses warm when there’s no electricity?
And that’s all 13,000 properties – I haven’t the faintest idea.
“Private sector housing is a different beast, people can make their own changes without being bound by legislation.
“It’s a wider issue, how can we ensure that all of our tenants keep warm when the power goes off?”
Aberdeenshire council houses heating puzzle
Councillors also heard that tenants are generally unwilling to leave their homes, no matter how cold, to seek refuge at community centres during storms.
That can be due to weather conditions, and the lack of street lights when entire communities lose power.
Geva Blackett, who has been campaigning on behalf of Braemar residents, is supportive of efforts to find a solution.
She said: “We have to ensure resilience for all tenants.”
You can see the debate here:
Ultimately, councillors voted unanimously to back the petition, which asks for fireplaces to remain “until the council has a contingency in place in the event of future power cuts”.
And efforts to tackle the wider problem will be discussed again at an upcoming meeting.
Mr Argyle added: “Braemar has highlighted a challenge, but it’s a challenge for the whole council and for the whole country.”
Local MP Andrew Bowie welcomed the move to potentially save the Braemar fireplaces.
He said: “The potential human cost of removing contingency heating from rural homes far outweighs the environmental benefits here.
“And the strength of local feeling about this has been clear from my constituents and the local petition.”
Aberdeenshire Council housing tenants can get in touch with the authority here.
It comes as SSE vows to improve its network to handle future storms: