In common with most upland villages in northern Britain, Oxton is not connected to the mains gas network, even though a pipeline passes nearby.
Latest figures show that, on average, 50 per cent of those unable to use mains gas are in fuel poverty because the cost of LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) or oil is some 40 per cent higher than town gas. Fuel poverty affects all social classes in properties large and small.
When Pathhead was connected to the mains – thanks to the sterling work of Midlothian Council – I made some inquiries to see if Oxton could also be connected. I discovered that Pathhead’s funding had come from the council itself, the EU’s CERT programme and the Scottish Government’s Home Insulation Scheme.
The cost of connection was £774,000. I then contacted ES Pipelines to inquire as to the approximate cost of an Oxton connection and was told that since the high pressure main runs very close to Oxton, the cost would be “somewhere in the region of £500,000”.
In July I met Michael Moore, my local MP, to ask if he could support a bid to connect Oxton. Mr Moore contacted Scottish Borders Council (SBC) leader David Parker who initiated a working group under David Cressey, head of housing and community, to undertake a feasibility study.
Mr Cressey, like Mr Parker, is keen on the scheme, describing it as a “worthy idea”. Alas, my latest information is that SBC will not be able to access funding which Midlothian Council managed to do. Unless alternative funding is found, no connection will be possible.
I wrote to energy company Centrica to ask if it would partly support the scheme through its community programme, but did not receive even the courtesy of an acknowledgment. Given the recent discovery of enough shale gas in Britain to supply all our needs into the middle of the 22nd century, I would have thought Centrica to be self-interested, if not morally so.
As for the Scottish Government’s pledge to “abolish fuel poverty by 2016”, when push comes to shove, it would appear that it will not support schemes to make that happen.
Given the cost of the Borders railway at £10million per mile – or more than £5,000 per yard – Oxton could be connected to the mains gas grid for the same cost as rebuilding 100 yards of a railway closed in 1969 because it was uneconomic.