WHITE Horse Housing Association is demanding compensation from power company SSE over a delay in moving an electricity pole that has held up completion of a new housing development and cost it more than £50,000 in extra charges and lost revenue.
SSE, which admits poor communication over the issue but denies causing the delay, has offered just £100.
The housing association’s Chief Executive Steve Warran said it first applied to SSE in July 2022 over moving a pole and power cables to make room for work on the final plot of a £2.8 million development of ten low energy homes at Hook Hollow in Seend Cleeve, Wiltshire, but it is still waiting for it to be done.
White Horse, which lets more than 400 affordable homes in Wiltshire, Swindon and Somerset, is the development’s main funder but the government’s Homes England Affordable Homes Programme and Wiltshire Council have also contributed. The project has been run in partnership with Seend Community Land and Asset Trust.
Mr Warran said: “The work required is simply to move one wooden pole 10ft in a field, digging a trench and laying some cables into our development yet it has taken more than 18 months to get a date in February for the work to be done.”
SSE quoted £65,000 for the work to be carried out, which was paid in October 2022. The housing association then had to wait for SSE’s solicitors to draw up an easement – a legal agreement for the work to be carried out.
“It took seven months, and a lot of chasing, for SSE’s solicitors to finally issue the draft documents to us and the adjoining landowners’ solicitors,” said Mr Warran. “They were slow, unresponsive and totally ambivalent to the need to get this easement signed.”
The approved easement document was finally issued in December 2023 but the energy company said that because 12 months had elapsed since the work was originally ordered, White Horse had to pay an extra £11,000 to cover its increased costs or the order would be cancelled.
“We didn’t have any choice because the work had already held up completion of the development by months, despite the fact that SSE was wholly responsible,” said Mr Warran.
“We have received desperately poor customer service, SSE and their legal team have dragged their feet at every turn and been totally oblivious to our needs.”
In a letter to Mr Warran, which was sent only after an inquiry went into its media team, SSE told Mr Warran that delays in getting an agreement with the third party landowner’s solicitor was responsible for the length of time it has taken to complete the documentation.
But Mr Warren said: “This is simply not true. SSE didn’t even apply to Wiltshire Council for the planning permission to do the work until January 2023, even though we had paid for it the previous October. Why did it take them so long? And once the council had granted permission to move the pole, it still took SSE’s solicitors many months before any documents were sent out. That’s the real reason for the delay.”
He said he wrote to SSE’s Chief Executive Alistair Phillips-Davies to ask for his help last September. “I didn’t even get a reply,” he said. “There are families desperate for these homes yet this much-needed development, which has been partly funded with public money, cannot be completed. Every week this drags on means these houses are lying unnecessarily empty.”
SSE Networks Executive Complaints Officer Donna Murray told Mr Warran in the letter the company had followed its procedures correctly but added: “I do recognise that our communication could have been better throughout and you could have been provided clearer timescales whilst we were waiting for the legals to clear. Therefore, I would like to offer you a goodwill gesture of £100.”
Mr Warran said: “We have lost £40,000 in rental income so far and have had to pay an extra £11,000, so £100 is an insult. I won’t be giving this up.”