'It is not spying on people': Damp sensors could be installed in Leeds council houses

New 'damp sensors' could be installed in Leeds council homes as part of plans to turn Leeds into a 'smart city'.
New 'damp sensors' could be installed in Leeds council homes as part of plans to turn Leeds into a 'smart city'.

New 'damp sensors' could be installed in Leeds council homes as part of plans to turn Leeds into a 'smart city'.

A meeting of Leeds City Council’s infrastructure scrutiny board was told sensors would provide an early indication of damp, allowing the council to fix the issue before it became a disrepair claim.

However, Coun Neil Buckley (Con) raised concerns about privacy of such technologies.

He said: "It's amazing how things change isn't it? When I did most of my career in sales, there were no smartphones, no computers, nothing - and it was wonderful.

"If I had a good week I'd nip up to Headingley on a Friday to watch the cricket and nobody knew. Now its just the opposite.

"Some of these things are fantastic. The ability to react to problems is a wonderful thing however, you mention the situation in council housing and it just conjured up a picture of a rap on the door from officials saying 'You're too damp. We've come to fix you whether you like it or not'.

"I just wondered whether there's a balance here to be struck between freedom and the opposite."

Deputy Leader of the council and Executive Member for Resources Coun Lewis said: "Nobody would object to us having a system of detection where if a smoke detector detects fire then the fire brigade come and put out the fire without checking first. The approach to developing this is a very similar approach.

"I've never had any residents coming to me in my ward saying 'We want to keep the damp in our house.'

"We know the impact on health and well-being living in damp housing has and as landlords we know the impact on the number of disrepair claims we get from damp houses.

"Having a simple detector is not spying on people, its a detector like smoke detector that detects if somethings going on and us responding proactively.

"From experience of speaking to tenants in my wards, they'd prefer people to do that.

"Obviously as a landlord we do annual tenant visits anyway so its not as if that's not happening already.

"It is a detector of damp. it's not spying on people, it's not listening to people or monitoring people's activities. It's as simple as a smoke detector in that it picks up something in the atmosphere and reports if something needs doing.

"I certainly don't think people will be stood outside city hall with placards saying 'keep our damp'. I think it is a positive step forward for the tenants."

Charing the committee, Coun Paul Truswell (Lab) said: "This an item that the board has been looking at for the best part of four or five years now.

"When we first started I think that a lot of people thought that talking about digital and digital city was a bit dry, a bit technocratic, something for the geeks but actually the progress report on the inquiry demonstrates how our colleagues have drilled down in terms of identifying the practical benefits for the community."

Dylan Roberts, council officer said: "With the advent of new technologies, were in a world now where technology is almost in everything - whether its senses on your heating system, sensors in street lights, consumer based technologies that people are using on a day-to-day basis.

"With that brings a greater opportunity for us to think about not just how we apply technology to affect better services but in particular, how we can potentially apply and use technologies that are already out there to to affect better outcomes for the people of Leeds.

“Early identifications of damp – that is something that health are interested in. The council are addressing the issues of disrepair – they are also thinking about the health and well-being angle."

The panel agreed to write to the chief council officer asking for reassurance that the coordination of smart cities was being addressed.