Thousands of migrants living illegally in sheds and garages are to be flushed out by thermal images taken from the air.The photographs will reveal if heat is coming from the outbuildings, indicating that they are inhabited.
Slough Borough Council believes that up to 3,000 people are being housed in the unsafe and primitive ‘sheds with beds’, which often lack heating or running water.A plane fitted with state-of-the-art kit will fly over the town as Slough becomes the first local authority in the UK to use thermal imaging to clamp down on people living illegally in outbuildings.It is not known exactly how many so-called ‘sheds with beds’ there are in Slough, but estimates range from 700 to 3,000.The council has warned that if the cameras detect where workers are living, their sheds may be bulldozed.
The council has commissioned geographic imaging company Bluesky International to produce a thermal map of the town, which officers will use to pin-point warm areas in outbuildings, indicating where humans may be living.The plane will fly over the whole borough to collect the data as soon as the conditions are right.Ray Haslam, the council’s head of environmental services and resilience, said: ‘Our primary concern is making sure people are not living in unsafe conditions, with little or no heating, or in places that do not comply with building or fire safety regulations.’Aerial photography is one of a range of tactics we’re using to crack down on this problem and we hope evidence of heat in outbuildings will help us build a true picture of how many sheds are being lived in and where they are.
‘We will be able to cross-check and see whether they have valid Energy Performance Certificates which are required by law for places where people live.’If they don’t, we will be speaking to landlords and offering some advice and guidance, and enforcing the law if we need to.’One option is to repeatedly fine a landlord for not having an EPC. The fine is £200 a day, making it very expensive for people to continue using the outbuilding.’Forced demolition of sheds with beds, although an option for the council, particularly if a property is unsafe, is often a lengthy, costly process.
Other options for enforcement action include returning sheds to their legal use, such as a garage or store room, and in some cases granting permission for them to be used as a home, meaning that landlords will then be required to pay council tax and ensure they are energy and fire compliant. Councillor James Swindlehurst, deputy leader and commissioner for neighbourhoods and renewal, said: ‘The people living in them generate waste, they use council services and they have a cost to the council that isn’t being paid for by taxation.’It causes pressure on parking and driveways and we get neighbourhood complaints about densely built gardens.
‘Some of these buildings are perfectly habitable but others are not compliant and we will take action to amend their use or have them removed.’The buildings often have planning permission as something else, a store or a garage, and then kitchens and things have arrived later.’The first thing we try and do is obviously to return them to their permitted use.’In some cases we can regularise them as a dwelling and levy council tax on them and make sure they are energy and fire compliant.
‘We let them exist but we make sure they are paying their share towards the cost of existing.’In the worst cases we have to take the whole building down, demolish it and remove the people living in it.’The council is one of a handful of local authorities which has been granted extra money from the Government to help improve conditions in houses of multi-occupancy and reduce the number of sheds being used as accommodation without permission.The occupants of sheds in Slough are believed to be mostly single adults or childless couples with low incomes.Long-term, it is hoped the thermal imaging data will also be used to improve energy efficiency in homes across the borough.
Councillor Patricia O’Connor said: ‘I think it is an outrage. I get so offended by it and I want to see the back of them.’There are so many unscrupulous landlords flouting the law in such a fashion and quite an epic scale, I think we have to be incredibly robust in the way we deal with them.’Somebody told me in Brent they have actually knocked some of these sheds down and that’s the kind of approach I want to see in Slough.Councillor O’Connor said Slough, which has a large mixed-race population, risks becoming ‘colonised with sheds with beds unless something is done about it’.
Last August it was announced that Slough council had been given more than £200,000 to tackle rogue landlords who house people in converted sub-standard outbuildings.Last year it was announced that Slough Borough Council had been selected by government housing minister Grant Shapps in May for funding to ‘flush out dodgy landlords’ who are ‘trapping vulnerable people’ in converted sheds.The council is targeting key problem wards including Baylis and Stoke, Central and Chalvey and has employed an additional planning enforcement officer, a barrister to pursue legal action and has taken on a part-time administrator to co-ordinate and liaise with officers across five council departments.Mr Shapps said last year: ‘I’m determined to flush out criminal landlords who think they can make an easy buck from cramped, cockroach-ridden outhouses. The scandal of ‘beds in sheds’ must come to an end.’ – DailyMaily