Monday, March 4, 2013

Thermal crackdown in Slough

To exploit those individuals in the UK on low incomes who may not be able to afford to live in conventional lodgings, some unscrupulous home owners have converted their outbuildings into accommodation which they then rent out at low cost.

The problem with such dwellings -- known in the UK as “sheds with beds” -- is that they may not comply with UK building or fire safety regulations, and hence could represent a hazard to the hapless tenants who are forced to rent them due to their unfortunate circumstances.

Now, Slough Borough Council is set to become the first local authority in the UK to do something about the problem, with the help of thermal imaging technology. To assist it in its endeavors, the council has commissioned geographic imaging company Bluesky International (Coalville, UK)  to fly an airplane fitted with aerial imaging cameras over the whole borough at night, after which it will produce a thermal map of the town. Officers will then use the map to pin-point warm areas in outbuildings.

It is not known exactly how many sheds with beds there are in Slough, but estimates range from 700 to 3,000. The occupants are believed to be mostly single adults or childless couples with low incomes.

According to Ray Haslam, head of environmental services and resilience for Slough Borough Council, aerial photography is one of a range of tactics the council is using to crack down on the problem, and it hopes that evidence of heat in outbuildings will help it 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 (EPCs) 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,” he said.

Slough Borough Council is one of a handful of local authorities who have been granted extra money from the UK Government to help improve conditions in houses of multi occupancy (HMOs) and reduce the number of sheds being used as accommodation without permission.

Cracking down on the exploitation of individuals living in unsafe housing clearly has its merits. The problem is, of course, that the technology itself does nothing to address the real issue of the lack of affordable housing. If more of that had been created in the first instance, then the need for the flying thermal cameras would be unnecessary.

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