Housing Group Becomes the First to Use Drones in the Housing Sector

Walsall Housing Group has become the first housing association in the country to secure permission from the Civil Aviation Authority to fly drones over their housing stock. Though other authorities have ruled out using the equipment for cost reasons, Walsall have stated that they estimate the cost savings to be around £20,000 a year.

drone closeupThe move has led to a debate over the legal ramifications, with particular regard to the Data Protection Act 1998. Whilst the legal obligations on domestic drone users are fairly light and essentially extend to a requirement to use them in a responsible way which protects the privacy of others, the requirements on commercial use are more stringent.

The Information Commissioners Office’s (ICO) CCTV Code of Practice provides that as drones are privacy intrusive, justifications for their use are imperative. As such, a company or housing association will ideally need to undertake a ‘privacy impact assessment’ or similar to determine whether drones are appropriate, or whether another method would minimise the privacy impact. This would operate in much the same way as a risk assessment.

The same Code also offers several additional recommendations to ensure compliance with Data Protection:

  • Any data captured should be securely stored
  • Recording should be limited only to the defined purpose
  • Retained data should only be kept for its stated use
  • Consider ‘privacy by design’ – eg. Methods or technologies which allow restricted views or a specific focus.
  • Data access should be restricted to only those who need it
  • Consider ways to provide fair processing information to those likely to be affected.

drone flying inspectionThe guidance from the ICO indicates that Housing Associations, and all other companies looking to integrate drones into their processes, should be aware of the data implications. Whilst HAs like Walsall Housing Group evidently see a cost advantage, that net benefit may in some cases be eroded by the additional administration costs of satisfying their information obligations.

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SRJ 19.10.15

High Court Quashes Planning Permission on Bias Grounds

Ref. Kelton v Wiltshire Council [2015] EWHC 2853 (Admin)

In this case, a judicial review was advanced by the claimant – a riparian owner 700 miles downstream – on the following grounds:

  1. Cllr Magnus Macdonald, who carried the deciding vote, should have been disqualified from voting on the Wiltshire Council Planning Committee. He was a director of Selwood Housing Association, an entity which had an interest in the affordable housing section of the 35 dwelling development in question. Cllr Macdonald received, as director, £3,000 per annum.
  1. Contamination was a risk arising from the specialist foundations required to make the development viable.
  1. The council’s Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening opinion for the development was flawed.
  1. Wiltshire’s conclusion that the development would not cause harm to heritage assets was flawed.

The Judge, Mr Justice Cranston, addressed each matter in turn, and his thoughts have been broken down below:

1 – Whilst Mr MacDonald had no direct pecuniary or proprietary interest in the planning application so as to be automatically disqualified from participating, the presence on the committee did raise the question of bias as defined by Lord Hope in Porter v Magill. Mr Justice Cranston summarised:

“Selwood, with Cllr Macdonald as a director, was not simply an affordable housing provider. Here it was the only provider which had been willing to give assistance on the scheme, had expressed a clear interest in delivering it, had been named by the applicants as their potential partner, and had written in support and attended the planning committee meeting when it was considered.

“In other words, its position was superior to that of any other interested providers of affordable housing because of its previous involvement and its prospects of winning the contract when the affordable housing part was tendered. Because of that, Cllr Macdonald’s private interests were engaged, as a director of Selwood, not just his interests in the cause of affordable housing. In all these circumstances it was wrong for Cllr Macdonald to have participated in the meeting.”

2 – The evidence demonstrated to Mr Justice Cranston’s satisfaction that the council’s decision on the matter of contamination was sufficiently well supported by the available information and that no significant effect was likely under the Habitats Regulations.

He stated:

“Insofar as a risk was identified in relation to the construction works, this was addressed with conditions which specifically address it.”

3 – On this point, he concluded that the screening could not be regarded as flawed.

4 – Mr Justice Cranston commented that “in my judgment there was ample evidence on which to base that conclusion and it was reasonable to reach it.” The officer’s report before the planning committee had concluded that developing the site would not harm the setting of the Bishopstrow Conservation Area or nearby heritage assets. This report was considered to be sound.

The result of these conclusions is that planning permission was quashed. Whilst points 2-4 were all disregarded, the presence of bias was sufficient to overturn the planning permission on the grounds of natural justice – nemo judex in causa sua (no one should be a judge in his own cause).

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SRJ

Policy Exchange want new ‘Garden Village’ powers for Councils

garden-villageIn a paper by think-tank ‘Policy Exchange’, a new policy of devolved power to local authorities has been put forward, which would enable them to create ‘garden villages’ of between 1,500 and 5,000 homes…
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Could the invasion of the Super Rat threaten your home?

ratHardly a week goes by without rats featuring in the news – restaurants being closed down, infested homes being evacuated etc. Recent weeks have been no exception and so called ‘Super Rats’ are now plaguing towns across the UK. Could your house be next?
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They might be straw, but you can’t blow them down. Is the future of construction in straw?

It may sound like a return to the dark ages, but using straw as a construction material is a genuine technique which has now expanded beyond the realms of ‘Grand Designs’ and self-builds, and into the commercial market. We look at seven new homes in Bristol, within a project which seeks to change the way we think about building houses…
To read the whole article, click here.

Deeds, not words, prove man’s worth

The bell of the Victoria Hall in Ash, Surrey has chimed merrily for over a 100 years. Each quarter of an hour, the bell rings out and on the hour, every hour, its peels can be heard across the village. Health and Safety knows no bounds in the modern world, however, and one new resident can have a substantial impact…
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Tourists that flock to see the most photographed houses in Britain are left devastated by bright yellow car

Tourists trying to capture a picture of the most photographed ‘ordinary’ homes in Britain have been left devastated by a photobombing Vauxhall Corsa…
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10 questions on… Gargoyles and Grotesques

gargoyle_All you could want to know about gargoyles and grotesques, some of the most mysterious building features you’ll find. We look at their true purpose, the history of their use and the meanings of the many shapes and likenesses…
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Landlord struck with £300,000 of fines and costs after multiple planning breaches

A landlord’s failure to comply with numerous planning enforcement notices issued by Waltham Forest Borough Council has now resulted in a substantial sum of fines and costs of more than £300,000. The case shows that no landlord will escape their LPA if they choose to play fast and loose with the rules…
To read the whole article, click here.