The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands)
Village residents fear loss of their fireplaces
Braemar has twice broken the record for the UK’s lowest temperature. If freezing weather is predicted, residents fear the worst, and for some, their fireplace becomes the focus of their home.
That was true just weeks ago, when Storm Arwen cut power to many for days.
Now six council housing residents are battling local authority plans to remove their open fires on Monday.
The authority is poised to carry out the work on Balnellan Road and Balnellan Place properties.
It also comes at a time when electricity costs are expected to soar, with the risk some residents could be plunged into fuel poverty.
The scheme is part of Aberdeenshire Council’s “housing improvement plan”, to help meet climate change targets.
Under the programme, open fires will be removed and some electric storage heaters will be upgraded.
Citing net zero targets, the council’s housing chief today remained adamant the work will go ahead.
Louise Kelly, one of the tenants who is refusing to let the changes happen at her home, said: “During Storm Arwen, when we had no electricity for more than three days, temperatures fell to below minus 10C.
“My neighbour and I used our open fires to boil water for hot drinks and hot water bottles to keep, not just ourselves, but also our elderly neighbour warm.
“With scientists predicting more extreme weather events, there could well be further power cuts, to say nothing of the extra costs coming down the line for electricity supply.
“I don’t see why the council can’t carry out the necessary upgrades but leave the fires in place.”
Braemar Community Council chairman Brian Wood said removing the “security of an alternative source of heating from particularly vulnerable residents” is “uncaring and irresponsible”.
He added: “Braemar residents are very resilient and are used to dealing with winter power cuts.
“However, what we experienced in the aftermath of Storm Arwen demonstrated clearly how vulnerable we are if we depend solely on electricity to fuel our heating.
“I very much hope that Aberdeenshire Council puts a last-minute stop to the removal of the fires.”
Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside councillor Geva Blackett said: “Aberdeenshire is a very large area with diverse communities.
“What works in Westhill or Inverurie does not work in the remote communities making up my very large rural ward in the west of Aberdeenshire, where temperatures plunge in winter and power cuts are not uncommon.”
Aberdeenshire Council’s head of housing and building standards Rob Simpson stressed the need for the fires to be removed.
He said: “We have been moving away from solid fuel heating in our properties for a number of years and open fireplaces remain in less than 2% of the homes we manage.
“Unfortunately, open fireplaces would not allow us to meet statutory and regulatory energy efficiency standards for social housing, nor our ‘net zero’ targets.
“And it is important we move to modern heating solutions for all of our properties.
“The upgrades being undertaken go beyond changes to heating, however.
“We are also improving insulation, replacing windows and doors where required, installing solar panels and undertaking other works to improve energy efficiency and thus help reduce the costs of keeping a property warm.”
He added: “We appreciate it has been a challenging time for many, and the concerns around energy prices and the overall cost of living have been a key consideration in the development of our rent strategy, due to be considered next month.”
Braemar holds the record for the lowest ever UK temperature – having reached minus 27.2C twice, in 1895 and 1982.