London mayor Sadiq Khan has been warned his proposals to roll out district heating across the capital could be discredited by shoddily installed and managed systems.

The draft version of his new London Plan says major developments in priority zones covering much of the city should be fitted with communal heating systems.

The policy, which is a key plank of the mayor’s wider goal to decarbonise London, says these systems should also plug into existing heat networks.

However, Fuel Poverty Action (FPA) has written to Khan outlining concerns about the “nightmare” experiences of many consumers who depend on communal heating.

The correspondence was submitted to tie in with the campaigner’s appearance last week at the ongoing public inquiry into the plan.

An example is the Aylesbury council estate in the south London borough of Southwark. There the ageing heat network, which is due to be replaced as part of a wider regeneration of the post-war estate, suffers from “constant breakdowns”.

“The nightmare experienced by some users, even if it is a minority, has the effect of discrediting the whole concept of district heating… which may make it unviable or make it riskier and more expensive – a vicious circle we are sure you would want to avoid,” the letter states.

“There can be prolonged periods – lasting several years – both at the end of a network’s natural life and at the start when it is ‘bedding in’ during which heating and hot water simply cannot be relied on.”

When presenting evidence to the inquiry, FPA said there is no requirement laid down in the draft London Plan for developers to consider the ongoing costs to residents when they choose how to heat new estates.

It pointed to the Competition and Markets Authority’s conclusion in its recently completed market study on heat networks that “insufficient safeguards” exist to protect customers’ interests at the planning stage.

In its letter to Khan, FPA says heat network customers depend on protection from the Greater London Authority to ensure that networks are “appropriately sited, sized, and managed”.

It calls for the London Plan to ensure that customers should not be saddled with higher costs than they would pay if using a gas boiler.

And it says the plan should introduce a licensing system so that those responsible for supplying and installing failing heat networks should resolve these problems before being awarded any more such contracts.

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