On the night of Friday 26 November, only last Friday, everything seemed normal. That was until everyone in Weardale (from Witton-le-Wear to Killhope and Cowshill) lost their access to electricity due to Storm Arwen. Electricity lines up and down dale had trees falling onto them, with some, as was suggested on BBC Look North and News, even snapping in half due to the strength of the winds which passed down dale.
While we may have been a bit chilly in our house in Wolsingham, at least we had a gas hob and oven. This meant we could have hot water for tea/coffee and hot food, but even today (Wednesday 1 December) there are still many hundreds of residents up and down Dale without access to their electricity supply.
It is little wonder that we all became frustrated with the response from Northern Powergrid. Due to the volume of calls and reports about power cuts they closed their 105 phone lines and website respectively, thanks to them both being overwhelmed in very short order after Friday.
Since then, there has been a distinct lack of communication from both Northern Powergrid and the elected members of Weardale Division.
Yet, by contrast, in areas with Labour councillors, for example Sherburn and Tow Law Divisions, there has been a constant stream of communication (whether online or by hand delivered note), access to hot water and food from community centres and care for the elderly in their own homes.
It will come as no surprise that, because one of Weardale Division’s county councillors has chosen this precise moment to go on holiday, residents are even more frustrated than ever. From Stanhope (Crawleyside Bank, in this case) up to Killhope residents are still without power, with the probability that they may not receive a connection until Friday 3 December, possibly even Saturday 4 December.
Likewise, it looks as though Greg Hands, Secretary of State for Business Energy and Clean Growth, will be visiting Weardale at the invitation of Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham. This, despite Mr Holden not having been in the constituency since last week, and using the opportunity of this visit to bring up that only Conservative areas appear to have had a response. This is not the case, if only Mr Holden had acknowledged the close working strategies of Mary Foy (City of Durham) and Labour councillors in their communities.
So far, all we’ve really learned from the power cuts saga is just how inaccessible and unaccountable our elected members are in Weardale. Indeed, and somewhat ironically, now the Cabinet Member for Rural Communities and Highway, Cllr John Shuttleworth, has chosen to jet off to warmer climes, leaving residents to ask the same questions on facebook groups time and again, with little to no answer except from their own community groups.
For those of us with a deeply held personal sense of public duty, the lack of leadership, accountability and accessibility from/of our county councillors and Member of Parliament in Weardale is telling at best, showing quite how little they think of residents at worst.