John facing bleak winter

John McCarter at  his home near Downhill.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.
John McCarter at his home near Downhill.PICTURE MARK JAMIESON.

A Downhill pensioner faces another bleak winter without electricity after Coleraine councillors voted against helping him at a private meeting in Cloonavin last Tuesday night.

John McCarter’s tiny Seacoast Road home has been deemed “unfit for human habitation” by environmental health officials because it has no electricity or heating.

Incredibly the 77-year-old has lived with no electricity for 29 years - a story first broke by The Coleraine Times and which made headlines across the UK and world two years ago.

Back then Mr McCarter won his case with NIE to have his street hooked up to the national grid.

But while his neighbours can now enjoy the benefits and comforts of electricity Mr McCarter remains in the dark.

His landlord, a Coleraine solicitor, has been summonsed to court for failing to upgrade the house.

Concerns for Mr McCarter’s plight prompted councillor and Independent MLA David McClarty to ask Coleraine Council to step in and immediately carry out the necessary work in the house. The cost would then be reclaimed from the landlord. Council has the discretionary power to upgrade a private property if there is a health and safety risk and then bill the owner for the cost.

However, at a meeting held privately, “in committee” last Tuesday night, the request was rejected by a majority of councillors following a recorded vote.

Instead they agreed to ask the Department of Health and Social Services to investigate.

Councillor McClarty said: “This gentleman has spent the last two winters in a property that has no electricity. At four in the afternoon his only source of light is a candle. He has no electricity and no heating therefore I am fearful for his welfare.

“I am exasperated that the majority of council members rejected the opportunity to help this man and are leaving him to endure these conditions.”

Speaking to the Times, Mr McCarter was both angry and confused by the Council decision.

“This is just another delay which means I won’t get electricity. I don’t understand why Council won’t act,” he said.

“I’m being used as a political football to be kicked around. It is within Council’s discretionary power to rectify this but they have turned their back on me.

“I’m facing another freezing winter without electricity. After two years battling with all of this I just want the whole thing settled and to get on with my life.”

Mr McCarter’s landlord, Fergus McIntosh, was summonsed to North Antrim Magistrates’ Court for failing to carry out repairs at the property and the case is due to be contested at the end of this month.

A spokesperson for Council said: “Coleraine Borough Council cannot comment on any discussion or decision taken by councillors ‘in committee’, in accordance with Council’s Standing Order 14.1(e).

“All decisions made at the Leisure and Environment Committee meeting are brought to the next full Council meeting for ratification.

“Council is currently taking legal proceedings under The Private Tenancies (NI) Order in relation to a dwelling within the Borough. This dwelling in question is considered to be unfit for human habitation.

“The landlord has failed to comply with a notice issued by Council earlier this year requiring remedial works to be undertaken.

“The legal process is ongoing and is currently before the court, with a further hearing scheduled for the end of November.

“Council continues to work with partners such as the Housing Executive and the Northern Health Trust to find an alternative means of ensuring that this tenant is not subjected to a further winter in unfit accommodation.

“Council will continue to be proactive in such matters and appeals to all landlords to meet their responsibilities to their tenants.”