Skip to main content

Eye-in-the-sky crackdown on illegal outbuildings

By [email protected] - 30th July 2013 - 18:57

Slough Borough Council’s plans to deal with illegal outbuildings will swing into action in the coming weeks, with multispectral aerial imagery providing the raw evidence.

The move follows the completion of work to analyse data gathered by aerial imaging company Bluesky International, who were commissioned earlier this year to collect aerial images of Slough in Berkshire, England, to help create an accurate map of all outbuildings.

Slough is the first authority in the UK to use such technology as a tool to target landlords who rent out sometimes poor quality outbuildings for accommodation without planning permission.

It forms part of wider plans to target rogue landlords and raise living standards in private accommodation and Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs).

Bluesky gathered thermal, 3D and aerial images of the whole borough during a single flyover by a specially-equipped aeroplane on the night of 26-27 March.

Early analysis of a small selection of the information, revealed last month, identified 211 outbuildings that required further investigation in one part of Slough.

Officers have now had time to look at all the information gathered and have identified a further 6,139 outbuildings across the whole borough that will need a closer look.

Although the outbuildings identified have the potential to be used as accommodation and don’t have planning permission to be used as such, further checks will be needed to establish whether people are living in them.

Ray Haslam, head of environmental services and resilience for Slough Borough Council, said: “The raw data we’ve received from Bluesky is very useful because for the first time it gives us an accurate figure of the number of outbuildings we have in the borough that we need to investigate.

“People may well be using their outbuildings for legitimate purposes, so we don’t want to rush into assumptions that they’re all being used for housing, but this certainly gives us a good starting point and we’ve already started investigative work.”

Slough Borough Council is one of a handful of local authorities who have been granted extra money from the government to help improve conditions in HMOs and reduce the number of outbuildings being used as accommodation without permission.

Although many outbuildings are habitable, some are unsafe, with little or no heating, or do not comply with building or fire safety regulations, leading to concerns about the health and safety of the people living in them.

People living ‘under the radar’ in outbuildings generate waste, they use council services and they have a cost to the council that is not being paid for by taxation.

It also causes pressure on parking and driveways, and raises concerns about densely built gardens.

Cllr James Swindlehurst, deputy leader and commissioner for neighbourhoods and renewal, said: “This issue has been of concern to us locally for some time and I’m pleased strong foundations are now in place to enable us to tackle it effectively.

“Our primary concern is the health and wellbeing of people living in outbuildings and we will be doing whatever the law allows us to do to protect them and hold rogue landlords to account, as well as enforcing planning regulations.”

A project team of council officers and representatives from some external agencies has been set up to deal with the issue. It includes members of the council’s housing service, who will be helping anyone found living in outbuildings find alternative accommodation or get access to healthcare/welfare advice if they need it, members of the planning enforcement team and trading standards.

The team will be liaising with other agencies if and when required, such as Thames Valley Police, Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Home Office Immigration Enforcement and HMRC, as part of wider plans to clamp down on the illegal activities of some rogue landlords.

By law landlords must hold a valid Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) for any property being rented out as accommodation. The council has already started checking to see whether the outbuildings identified have EPCs. Trading standards officers will now be speaking to the landlords of those without EPCs and fining them £200 if they fail to present one within seven days.

Forced demolition of outbuildings is an option for the council’s planning enforcement team in extreme cases, particularly if a property is unsafe, but is often a lengthy, costly process.

Other options include returning outbuildings 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.

Cllr Swindlehurst added: “We will be taking a holistic approach and dealing with each outbuilding on an individual basis. Some of the unsafe ones will have to be removed while others could be regularised.”

Source: Slough Borough Council (www.slough.gov.uk). Imagery: Bluesky International (www.bluesky-world.com)

Read More: Aerial Imaging Municipal Government

Subscribe to our newsletter

Stay updated on the latest technology, innovation product arrivals and exciting offers to your inbox.

Newsletter