THE Scottish Government’s decision to press on with plans to require householders to fit costly interlinked fire alarms amid the pandemic threatens to stoke a cost of living crisis that its stance on energy issues has already worsened.

Housing Secretary Shona Robison confirmed last week that regulations requiring every home in Scotland to have interlinked fire alarms will take effect from February 1 leaving householders facing the prospect of bills running into hundreds of pounds and anxiety about the potential implications for insurance policies.

With many people likely to be unaware of what the regulations mean in practice, details provided on the Scottish Government website are unlikely to set minds at ease.

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It states: “If you are a homeowner, it’s your responsibility to make sure your home meets the new fire alarms standard.

By February 2022 every home will need to have:

One smoke alarm in the room you spend most of the day, usually your living room

One smoke alarm in every circulation space on each storey, such as hallways and landings

One heat alarm in the kitchen.”

By way of example, the website adds:

“If you live in a three bedroom, two storey house [you] will need three smoke alarms and one heat alarm. You may also need carbon monoxide alarms.”

Regarding potential compliance expenses it notes: “The cost for an interlinked system with sealed long-life battery alarms in a two storey house is around £220, if you fit the alarms yourself. There will be an extra cost if you get a tradesperson to fit them for you.”

HeraldScotland: Picture: Andrey PopovPicture: Andrey Popov

Ms Robison insisted last week that nobody would be penalised if they needed more time to comply with the regulations and played down concerns that insurance policies might be invalidated if these weren’t followed.

However, the decision to go ahead was criticised by opposition politicians amid fears that the move may cause confusion for many people at a time when the pandemic is still causing massive anxiety and disruption.

The decision to go ahead might have been understandable had it been made in less troubled times and the case for interlinked alarms was seen as being watertight.

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However, the plans for the alarms have been under fire for years amid concerns that costs could far outweigh the expected benefits.

In a letter to The Herald in 2020 a former head of Strathclyde Fire Brigade’s fire investigation service, Neil Sinclair, said the statutory requirement for interlinking was ill-considered and disproportionate.

Highlighting the implications for householders and councils he noted then : “Retro-fitting … is hugely disruptive and prohibitively expensive, and cannot be justified for existing private dwellings.

“Many homes are already fitted with modern, self-contained detector heads incorporating 10-year lithium batteries and high-volume sounders, and give a timely audible warning prior to expiry. With very few exceptions, these are entirely satisfactory.”

The Scottish Government appeared determined to press on regardless. However, opposition to the plans became so intense after the pandemic started that in October 2020 it asked MSPs to delay implementation of the regulations by 12 months, until this February.

Kevin Stewart, local government and housing minister, said at the time that fire safety remained an absolute priority for the Scottish Government but conceded: “Given the impact of Covid-19, and the difficulties this is likely to create for people seeking to install new smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, we have listened to concerns and decided to ask the Scottish Parliament to delay implementation.”

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Is the Scottish Government seriously suggesting that concerns about Covid-19 can now be forgotten?

Given the potential for the regulation to cause anxiety, there are serious grounds for concern that it could trigger a rush for people to fit alarms. This could have worrying cost implications amid continued pressure on the supply chain and talk of a serious shortage of electricians.

All this at a time when millions of consumers are facing the prospect of massive increases in their energy bills from April. The regulator is expected to raise the price cap from then by around £700 per year in order to allow power suppliers to recoup the cost of dramatic increases in the price of gas on international markets.

Last week North Sea heavyweight Serica Energy noted: “Gas prices closed 2021 very strongly, contributing to a market average for the year of over 113p/therm (2020: 25p/therm).”

Market watchers reckon the increase in prices last year was partly driven by geopolitical factors in the form of moves by Russia to limit exports in order to put pressure on EU countries.

As tensions between Russia and NATO countries including the UK mount over Ukraine there is potential for more serious supply disruption.

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Against that backdrop, it would appear to make little sense to limit production of gas in the UK North Sea. However, in her desire to court Scottish Green Party supporters as she seeks to separate Scotland from the rest of the UK, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has jeopardised investment in the North Sea.

After she said the UK Government should oppose the planned Cambo development off Shetland, Shell dropped plans for the project citing the prospect for delays.

The Longboat Energy business run by successful North Sea entrepreneurs has highlighted the uncertainty caused by Ms Sturgeon’s stance on Cambo as it prepares to ramp up exploration off Norway.

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The Scottish Government still reckons renewables can solve the country’s energy problems and will fuel a jobs boom despite any evidence presented to the contrary.

A report it released during the holiday season noted there was a slump in the amount of renewable energy generated in Scotland in the first nine months of last year due to weather factors.

The report found that the low-carbon power generated by nuclear power stations represented 25.7% of the generation fuel mix in Scotland in 2020, compared with 14.7% in England and Wales.

Since it was issued, generation has ended at one of the two nuclear power stations that were operational in Scotland in 2020. Hunterston B in Ayrshire reached the end of its economic life this month.

The Scottish Government is opposed to building more nuclear stations using current technologies.

Meanwhile an area of high atmospheric pressure off England has resulted in days of relatively light winds for large parts of Scotland. This could have worrying implications for windfarm output in the current quarter.