THEY may be the most eco-friendly homes in the town but tenants are yet to see the benefits of their ‘zero carbon’ homes, a year after they moved in.

The 13 homes at Malmesbury Gardens, the former Lyndhurst Crescent depot in Park North , were developed a year ago after Swindon Council submitted a bid to the Homes and Communities Agency.

The development was completed by Swindon Commercial Services Ltd and was part-funded by a £778,000 grant from the HCA.

At the time they were built, according to Government figures only 132 zero carbon homes had been built in the whole country and the aim of them was to reduce tenants’ energy costs.

However, a year on and tenant Jenny Baker has been left out of pocket after a huge electricity bill arrived on her doorstep.

“We’ve had huge problems with our solar panels, a lot of the residents here have,” she said.

“We didn’t realise what was going on until the bill came through and it was just under £2,000. “It turned out that the solar panels had never been turned on and we were using electricity from the grid, so it all worked out much more expensive than where we used to live. We only had the panels turned on about two months ago and we haven’t had a bill through since so we don’t know exactly how much it is saving us yet.”

The properties, which range from two bedrooms to five bedrooms, feature a range of energy saving materials, including photovoltaic panels for generating electricity, solar panels for pre-heating hot water and a hot water system designed to store water at lower temperatures than standard homes. Innovative hemcrete walls also absorb CO2, creating increased insulation.

Helen Cann, 34, moved into one of the homes with her partner Nik Stone and their two-and-a-half year old twin boys a year ago. Previously, they lived in a one-bedroom flat in Liden .

Following problems with their heater last summer, a mix-up meant their solar panels were accidentally turned off for six months, resulting in another high electricity bill.

They have also had problems with cracks in walls and unfinished doors, which has resulted in slugs getting in to their house.

She said: “We are very grateful for the house and we have no reason to move anywhere, it has been an absolute godsend. We want it to be our family home and we want our boys to grow up here, which is why we are trying to put our own personal stamp on it.

“We are happy with the house, the neighbours and the council in general, but there are a few things that I thought would have been sorted out before now.”

The family are now taking part in a two-year study by Oxford University, which will monitor the household and their bills now they have been settled in for a year.

Helen said: “It is exciting to be part of something so new and I am happy to help out other families that may be in the position we were in when we lived in a cramped flat, because there are so many things we have been able to do that we couldn’t do before. For example, we had all our families around at Christmas and I cooked a big dinner and we sat around as a family. We have been together for eight years and we have never been able to do that.

“We are happy with the house, the neighbours, the council in general, but they have been very slow to deal with problems, we would like to know that they do actually care.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We talk regularly to the tenants in Malmesbury Gardens and we are doing our best to resolve the problems that have occurred, although generally they tell us they are very happy with their homes. “Snags often occur with new properties of any kind, and it’s true that the energy-saving technology has led to some problems with bills. We are in contact with the electricity supplier to try and resolve these.

“The cracks are due to the buildings settling, which is normal. We will repair them, but we didn’t do this as soon as they appeared because it’s best to give the buildings time to settle fully.”