RESIDENTS living in the Woodbrook Eco Village in Lisburn have been called to an urgent meeting about the future of the shared energy system which heats their homes.

This week residents received a letter from the company that acts on behalf of the Woodbrook Management Company - which includes the people living in the village - that told them the firm which supplies heat and hot water to their homes from a central source wants to raise their monthly charge from £12 to £30.50 and put up the current unit price of 7 pence per unit 8.5 pence.

The problem has arisen because the system was designed to supply more houses than have been built. That shortfall in income was being covered by the developers, Carvill Group, until the second phase of approximately 180 houses was constructed.

But the Carvill Group is now in administration and the management company says they have been told the company which operates the heating system - Vital Energi - would no longer find it viable to keep operating the system unless the increases are made.

In this week’s letter the residents were told that following discussions Vital Energi have suggested that unless matters, including the outstanding debt which has built up since Carvill went into administration, are resolved to their satisfaction they may have no alternative but to close down the Energy Centre.

However Vital told the Star it remains committed to the scheme and would welcome the opportunity to attend the meeting next week to explain its position but has not been invited.

Residents also say they have been told Vital Energi wants to take ownership of the lands on which the Energy Centre is situated and that if they are granted a long lease (999 years) then they will not seek to recover the outstanding debt from the management company. However, if they are granted a shorter lease or not granted a lease at all, they will seek to collect that outstanding debt.

Woodbrook, situated off the Ballinderry Road, boasts what is billed as an environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional heating methods with the latest high-tech energy-conserving features and a biomass heating system fuelled by special wood chips.

An Extraordinary General Meeting of the residents who are part of Woodbrook Management Company has been scheduled for next Tuesday to discuss the issues.

Once concerned resident said: “Fuel poverty is at an all time high - how are people supposed to pay the huge increase in price demanded? It is also a complete disgrace that they have thrust this upon us so suddenly and so close to Christmas and the coldest time of the year.”

Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan has been contacted by some of the residents and said any possibility of closing the Energy Centre if a resolution is not found would be ‘catastrophic’.

“Residents are completely dependent on the energy centre for heating their homes and providing hot water and to suggest this could be shut down, particularly given those families with young children and vulnerable elderly people, is appalling” he said.

“I have contacted the consumer council about how this issue has been handled as clearly there is considerable concern from residents that they have been put into an unacceptable position.”

A spokesperson for Vital Energi said: “Vital Energi has always been and remains committed to the Woodbrook scheme and is extremely saddened and concerned to see the scale of factual inaccuracy being portrayed to residents.

“The company has for the past several months since the regrettable demise of Carvill, requested, via the Management Company, an opportunity to explain the current status together with our proposals for the continuance of the scheme in the most economical way. We have, however, been denied that opportunity.”