More than 50 suspected illegal dwellings are being investigated by Oxford City Council according to the Oxford Mail.
Council leaders are now investing around £300,000 in tackling the growing problem of sheds and outbuildings being built in gardens without planning permission.
The city council is one of 23 local authorities to have been awarded cash to tackle what is sometimes referred to as ‘beds in sheds’ and has set up an ‘unlawful developments’ team to investigate cases.
Council spokesman Louisa Dean is reported as saying: “There are over 50 properties at various stages of inspection or enforcement.”
One, costing £25,000, belongs to the Turna family in Dene Road, Headington.
Last week, councillors at the East area committee agreed they would take direct action after the family failed to get planning permission for the building in the back garden of the property, which they say is used as a gym and study room.
The council said it believed the building was being lived in, but the family denied this.
Committee chairman Roy Darke said he thought the council should ensure the building was demolished within four to eight weeks, either by the family themselves or by council contractors.
He added: “It’s very unusual for a local authority to take direct action of this kind but I think the building should come down in six to eight weeks – that would be reasonable. It would only take a couple of days to take it down.”
Deputy leader of the council Ed Turner said the Unlawful Developments team was created because people in Oxford were becoming more concerned about illegal dwellings. The council had also commissioned a light aircraft to fly over the city using thermal image photography to seek out structures being used for illegal habitation. The results of this aerial survey are now being studied.
He added: “At times people have been living in downright dangerous conditions because of unscrupulous people trying to make a fast buck.
“A garage or a shed is not suitable for accommodation and we need to stop this before it becomes an epidemic.”
Mr Turner said people should contact the council if they were concerned about an illegal dwelling.
Colin Cook, executive member for city development, said: “Places like Slough have stacks of beds in sheds and we want to make sure we don’t get into that position in Oxford.”
Ms Dean said £150,000 has been provided by the Department for Communities and Local Government, an amount the council has match-funded.
The council is pledging to take enforcement action whenever it finds planning rules being broken or the Housing Act being ignored.