EXTRA compensation for thousands of people left without power and gas over Christmas in East Barnet looks unlikely after a utility boss said he was satisfied with what had been paid out.

More than three thousand homes were left without gas at some point between December 20 and December 28 last year, when water got into gas mains and shut down the system.

Last night saw the start of a council inquiry into what happened and how the response to such events can be better handled in the future.

Local residents David Howard and Bernard Walsh addressed the panel and listed a series of grievances, including a lack of communication with residents.

Mr Walsh described an emergency centre set up in St Mary's School as “chaos”, adding: “The first day I went down there I walked in and was confronted by a sea of high visibility jackets.

“A lot of people were standing around doing not very much. There was no-one registering people coming in.”

Both men were critical of Barnet Council's response in the crisis, with Mr Howard adding: “What this has highlighted is a lack of information.”

One of the key themes spelled out by residents, MP Theresa Villiers and local councillors was a dissatisfaction at the £30-a-day compensation for householders and £50-a-day offered to businesses.

Mr Howard suggested the levels could be redressed taking into account personal circumstances, as well as looking at audited accounts for businesses affected to establish a better system to compensate them.

However, when asked by the scrutiny panel chairman Councillor Brian Coleman whether he was “satisfied” with those compensation levels David Lutford, National Grid's operations manager said “Yes”.

He said the company had fulfilled its “moral obligation” and when asked by Councillor Davey whether he would have been happy with the compensation if he were affected he replied: “Actually I would look at how did they respond?

“Have they done their best for me? Have they done what they needed to do?”

He added “We have paid for full periods of 24-hours. That's what we said we will do and that's what we have done.”

Under questioning from the scrutiny panel Mr Lutford admitted “We were stretched” by the crisis, and said they “did not understand the size of this issue”.

He added it was difficult to get to grips with because water was continually moving around the system affecting different properties at different times and changing the numbers involved.

He said their efforts to fix it were hampered by a similar problem which struck Luton at the same time.

He added: “I think an incident like this never runs efficiently, we are always responding to a peculiar circumstances. The fact we were struggling to get our arms around this one caused problems.”

During the meeting it was revealed it had been agreed to allow National Grid to run all communications, as they were taking the lead on fixing the problems.

Mr Lutford denied accusations a letter informing residents was held up by lawyers for the company, but said it had gone out later than he would have liked on Christmas Eve. The problems of some streets losing electricity during the crisis was addressed by Tony cohen, from EDF Energy.

He said the number of extra electric heaters and hobs being used created an additional load "similar to taking the Ford plant from Dagenham and putting it in the middle of Oakhill Park".

Senior Barnet Council officers Dorne Kanarak, the director of environment and operations and Jeff Lustig, the head of corporate governance, were questioned about their response.

They defended the council's position, saying they had done the best they could to put together a list of the vulnerable people in the area and knocking on more than 1,500 doors.

Residents criticised them for a lack of communication, but Mr Lustig admitted next time they would “probably take control of the communications”.

They added the council asked the Red Cross to step in, but said a prolonged situation such as this was not well catered for in the council's emergency plans.

Councillors will now go away and agree a draft report with recommendations for what should be looked at again before another meeting on Thursday, March 18.