A state-of-the-art plane will take to the skies over Slough to help the council tackle landlords setting up illegal ‘beds in sheds’.
The plane is kitted with special thermal imaging cameras and can detect the warmth from bodies in outbuildings like the town’s infamous garages and sheds.
Slough Council is the first local authority in the UK to use this method. The plane will fly over the borough to produce a thermal map, which councillors hope will help them identify properties which are illegally rented.
The council’s head of environmental services and resilience Ray Haslam said aerial photography is one of the tactics the council will use to tackle the problem.
Council officers estimate that between 700 and 3,000 ‘beds in sheds’ are let in Slough. Occupants are often single adults or childless couples on low incomes.
The plane’s thermal imaging cameras will highlight outbuildings that may be in use as dwellings and officers can then check whether landlords have the legally required Energy Performance Certificates (EPC).
If these are not in place officers will then speak to landlords to offer advice and enforce the law where necessary.
Landlords can be fined £200 a day for letting a property without an EPC.
Slough’s reconnaissance plane initiative is being funded from a government grant of £220,000 that was awarded to the council in August 2011. The money was pledged to help the council improve conditions in houses in multiple occupancy (HMOs) and reduce the number of ‘beds in sheds’.
The sheds can be knocked down, although this is considered a costly and lengthy process, returned to their legal use or granted planning permission for use as a home. In the latter instance council tax would then be payable and the properties must meet the applicable energy and fire legislation.
The plane will be operated by geographic imaging company Bluesky International. It will take flight to collect data “as soon as the conditions are right”.