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'Lives could be endangered' – villagers freeze amid lengthy power cuts during tree felling

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One of the generators installed in Fritham
One of the generators installed in Fritham

DOZENS of villagers in Fritham have been left freezing in their homes without power as temperatures plummet while Forestry England carries out two weeks of tree felling work.

Generators have been installed around the New Forest village by Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) while work, which started on Monday and ends on 22nd February, is carried out.

But a resident, who did not want to be named, told the A&T these generators had already failed, leaving at least 21 homes without power for four hours on Monday and a further six hours on Tuesday.

“We only received notice that the power supply would be impacted in a letter from SSEN on last Wednesday, and were initially assured it would only be for a few hours over two days – 8th and 22nd February,” she said.

“It is an absolutely appalling situation to be left in. I am caring for a very frail and elderly relative who has been left completely disorientated by the loss of our electricity supply and as a consequence our heating.

“We are in the middle of a national lockdown in one of the coldest weeks of the year and I am incredibly fearful for some of my neighbours who are also elderly and vulnerable. How can they cope alone and in the dark if they cannot heat their homes or feed themselves?

“It is not a situation that anybody should find themselves in.”

A spokesperson for Forestry England confirmed it had told the supplier to shut down the overhead lines prior to the felling operation to “reduce the risk of damaging the lines and to make sure the area is safe” for workers.

It said the work in the nearby King’s Garn Gutter Inclosure would “increase the quality of the woodland for biodiversity by removing non-native species including Corsican pine”.

When the resident phoned SSEN following receipt of the works notification, she was assured there could be “slight disruption” over just the two days.

On Monday, the generator failed at midday and could not be restarted until 4pm; and the next day a back-up generator cut out, causing an outage to the whole road of 21 homes between 4pm and 10pm.

On Wednesday, residents of the village were contacted to be told that they may have to rely on generator power for up to two weeks.

“In the midst of sub-zero temperatures, we are now at the mercy of generators for the next two weeks to keep us safe and warm in our homes,” the resident continued.

“If the last 48 hours are anything to go by then we could be without power for substantial periods of the day and night each and every day. This at a time when we are in national lockdown and told to remain at home.

“We had no proper advanced notification of this work, which is not essential, and there was no consultation with Forestry England. It is clear to me that profits for them are more important than people’s welfare.

“It is completely unfair – we are a tiny village with many elderly residents, in the middle of nowhere, I am frightened that the consequences could be phenomenal – lives could be endangered if vulnerable people are left without heating and food for substantial periods of time.”

A spokesperson for Forestry England said it was “sorry” residents were left without power.

“It was certainly not our intention to cause any inconvenience to our neighbours during the tree removal operation; the responsibility of ensuring the supply of electricity is Scottish and Southern Electricity Network’s (SSEN).

“This work is part of a carefully planned programme of work and carried out in discussion with SSEN during the last four months, and the timing of this was led by their availability to ensure the continued supply of electricity.

“Over the course of the next few weeks tree felling work will continue to be carried out in the nearby King’s Garn Gutter Inclosure to increase the quality of the woodland for biodiversity by removing non-native species including Corsican pine. This thinning work will take place through the woodland, but will also be concentrated around opening the ride network to create conditions suitable for wildlife.”

A spokesperson for SSEN said it had visited residents to update them on the extension of the power outage and had “assured them their power supply needs will be met”.

She added: “We are doing all we can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our customers during this time.”

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