Secured by Design – ACPO’s blanket recommendation against permeability

I’ve been meaning to write a few words about ‘Secured by Design’, which is a national police project focused on reducing crime through the design of buildings and the built environment.

Established in 1989, Secured by Design (SBD) is owned by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and is the corporate title for a group of national police projects focusing on the design and security for new & refurbished homes, commercial premises and car parks as well as the acknowledgement of quality security products and crime prevention projects.

… Being inherently linked to the governments planning objective of creating secure, quality places where people wish to live and work, Secured by Design has been cited as a key model in the Office of Deputy Prime Minister’s guide ‘Safer Places – The Planning System & Crime Prevention’ and in the Home Office’s ‘Crime Reduction Strategy 2008-11’.

Their guidance on new housing development [pdf] came to my attention last year, when a developer took out the paths they had proposed in a local housing development from their plans, on police advice – referencing… Secure By Design.  These paths would have connected their development to surrounding cul-de-sacs.

And it’s surfaced again recently, with Avon and Somerset Police recommending against permeability for walking and cycling in a new development in Bristol.

Picture by @JonUsher

Picture by @JonUsher

An explicit association is made here between walking and cycling routes, and crime – indeed, between ‘excessive permeability’ and crime.

Here’s another example, found at random, from an ACPO consultation for Lincolnshire Police, in response to a planning application – again referencing Secured by Design.


‘denial of Permeability’

‘Permeability is perhaps the greatest threat as it has the capacity to facilitate both Anti-Social Behaviour and act as a classic ‘attack and escape route’ for criminals’.

Permeability as ‘threat’.

What does Secure by Design actually have to say on this issue?

There are advantages in some road layout patterns over others especially where the pattern frustrates the searching behaviour of the criminal and his need to escape. Whilst it is accepted that through routes will be included within development layouts, the designer must ensure that the security of the development is not compromise by excessive permeability, for instance by allowing the criminal legitimate access to the rear or side boundaries of dwellings or by providing too many or unnecessary segregated footpaths (Note 3.1)

And Note 3.1 states

The Design Council’s/CABE’s Case Study 6 of 2012 states that: “Permeability can be achieved in a scheme without creating separate movement paths” and notes that “paths and pavements run as part of the street to the front of dwellings. This reinforces movement in the right places to keep streets animated and does not open up rear access to properties”.

The clear implication here is that movement by people walking and cycling in new developments should not involve ‘separate movement paths’ (i.e. stand-alone walking and cycling routes), but should instead be on routes that ‘run as part of the street’. That is, alongside routes for motor vehicles. Limiting walking and cycling to these routes  apparently ‘reinforces movement in the right places’.

The guidance goes on –

Cul-de-sacs that are short in length and not linked by footpaths can be very safe environments in which residents benefit from lower crime. Research shows that features that generate crime within cul-de-sacs invariably incorporate one or more of the following undesirable features:

  • backing onto open land, railway lines, canal towpaths etc, and/or
  • are very deep (long)
  •  linked to one another by footpaths

If any of the above features are present in a development additional security measures may be required. Footpaths linking cul-de-sacs to one another can be particularly problematic

Again, permeability between cul-de-sacs, exclusively for walking and cycling, is disparaged as ‘particularly problematic’.

From the perspective of anyone interested in reducing car dependence and in making walking and cycling attractive and obvious ways of getting about, this is really dreadful advice. Actually recommending cul-de-sacs without permeability is just about the worst kind of design imaginable, if you want to discourage walking and cycling.

To take an example, plucked at random. Here’s a residential area in the east of Horsham, composed of bog-standard 80s-90s detached housing, with one of the paths that is disparaged by Secured by Design.

This one - of course - has zig-zag barriers.

This one – of course – has zig-zag barriers.

From this location, it’s possibly to walk to the main road, using this path – a distance of 360m.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.23.52But without this cut-through path, anyone walking or cycling would have to follow the driving route, which is nearly three times longer.

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 15.23.52 copy

These kinds of distances are fine if you are driving – you’re not exerting any effort – but converting what should be very short walking and cycling trips into long ones is plainly bad policy.

The advantages of walking and cycling are that they are much less space-hungry modes of transport than driving; consequently trips by these modes should be made as direct as possible. Lumping them in with driving – using the design of cul-de-sacs to effectively keep walking out – is deeply unsympathetic. But that’s what this policy amounts to – keeping burglars on foot out by keeping everyone else out.

Lurking behind this ACPO advice appears to be the assumption that driving routes are used by everyone, while walking and cycling routes are used by barely no-one, meaning that they are attractive to criminals.

But a route is just as a route, whether it is carrying motor traffic, walking and cycling, or whether it caters only for walking and cycling. Limiting access to just one route in and out of developments works (or ‘works’) because it concentrates activity (and hence natural surveillance) on that route. But there’s no reason why walking and cycling routes can’t work in precisely the same way, even if motor traffic is excluded from those routes.

What matters in preventing crime is that natural surveillance and activity; that can surely be achieved, with good design, on walking and cycling routes. The answer cannot be just to block these routes off.

The Dutch new town of Houten near Utrecht has plenty of permeability for walking and cycling; walking and cycling routes go pretty much everywhere. Indeed, the spine of many of these routes runs along what might be seen by ACPO as ‘the rear’ of properties, while car access is at the front.

However, I can’t really see these routes being hotspots for crime, because they are almost certainly busier than the car access at the front. They are routes people want to use.

A route running by 'the rear' of properties in Houten.

A route running by ‘the rear’ of properties in Houten.

It may be the case that there is a connection between design that involves acres of disconnected cul-de-sacs and lower rates of crime; and indeed a connection between higher rates of crime, and the presence paths connecting these cul-de-sacs, in Britain. But that’s almost certainly because we design permeability very badly in this country; we make these routes indirect, unattractive and/or intimidating, as I’ve written about here. Consequently they are not used in great numbers, and are seen as ‘crime hotspots’.

Screen Shot 2015-01-20 at 12.44.35

Not an attractive route.

But we don’t have to design like this; we can design routes that people want to use, that are naturally busy, and naturally safe, with good visibility.

Another walking- and cycling-only route, in Zoetermeer

More permeability in the form of a walking- and cycling-only route, in Zoetermeer

This is, seemingly, a distinction that the ACPO guidance is not picking up on, with its deeply unhelpful blanket recommendation against permeability, that doesn’t distinguish between crap routes that nobody wants to use, and busy walking and cycling routes that could actually serve to lower crime, by increasing eyes on the street. Instead, permeability is framed almost entirely as a network for criminals, with footpaths ‘generating crime’.

Is it time for a rewrite? I think so.

This entry was posted in ACPO, Permeability, Police, Secured by Design, Social safety, The Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Secured by Design – ACPO’s blanket recommendation against permeability

  1. Notak says:

    Paths that are narrow, with blind corners, high fences right against them, and badly (unevenly) lit at night. Yes, I can see how those might act to facilitate burglary and mugging. Encouraged, in fact, by the same features which make them unattractive for cycling (and not always particularly nice to walk along).

    But I’m afraid I also see another agenda here. One relating to housing and office development design which so far has been infrequent in the UK but is already well established in various parts of mainland Europe, Asia and the USA.

  2. The councils in Cambridge seems to be going the opposite way: estates that were designed and built as closed are now considered failures, and new estates would not be built in this way.

    Valuing walking and cycling routes is part of this. But also having people walking and cycling through an area gives greater oversight. It makes a route busy beyond just those who live there.

    Indeed I feel much socially safer on a route where people walk and cycle than on one used primarily by cars. People in cars don’t hear what’s going on outside a car, they move through too quickly to really provide oversight, and you would expect them to be concentrating on the road anyway.

    I agree that good design and good visibility is key, through.

  3. Simon H says:

    They need to read some Jane Jacobs: Making a cul-de-sac non-permeable to pedestrians and cyclists means fewer eyeballs on the street.

    • Rob Telford says:

      They did read Jacobs, that’s the problem.

      ‘Secure By Design’ is the result of work done in the late 1980s by geographer Alice Coleman for the Home Office. Coleman’s research was inspired by Oscar Newman’s ‘Defensible Space’ thesis, which built in turn on Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book ‘The Death and Life of the Great American Cities’.

      All three criticised modernist design principles, suggesting that crime could be designed out of the urban environment. There is a direct line of descent from Jacobs to what Mark is describing.

      • I wouldn’t say that Oscar Newman built upon Jacobs ideas, although they kind of operate in the same space. Newman says that safety occurs where a space is supervised by people with some form of ownership, and hence public space is never supervised and thus never safe. Jacobs argues that the more people present in a space (eyes on the street), the safer it gets.

        Despite their continuing popularity in security circles, both Newman and Coleman (amusingly called the Gillian McKeith of urbanism by Owen Hatherley) have been shown to have used flawed empirical evidence as the basis of their claims.

  4. T says:

    Police opposed to public freedom shocker!

  5. andrewrh says:

    Maybe some of current mindset by police is that such walking/cycling routes require them to not be driving about in cars?
    If more officers walked and cycled regularly then would there be a demand from them for better provision?
    Would make the officers more visible as people too ie good for community relations.

    • Tim says:

      In Manchester the park security officers and PCSOs drive around the parks on the footpaths (sometimes telling off other drivvers). Great example to set. Really sets the vibe of “us” and “them”.

      They argue that they manage different locations and need cars to get between parks, but I still don’t understand why they need to cruise *through* the park in cars. It’s nuts.

      • Henz says:

        There is a similar attitude by some parks police in London. I have had police drive up to me on Hampstead Heath and tell me to dismount, all while taking up the full width of the path in their patrol car.

  6. Brian Quinn says:

    Mark, There is quite considerable evidence here in the UK that residential layouts that consist of “leaky cul-de-sacs” ie cul de sacs with extensive networks of pedestrian routes that give rear and side access to dwellings did perform poorly for crime and anti-social behaviour compared to closed cul-de-sac layouts and networks of streets. These leaky cul de sacs were the typical layouts that were built here in 1960s -1980s in almost every town. It is the performance of these layouts that has informed SBD.

    Also subsequent research (such as the Home Office funded research that Design Council Cabe managed (I was the project manager of it) in 2009-2011 reinforced the evidence on avoiding rear access to dwellings looking at schemes with more contemporary schemes. The case studies are on Design Council website.

    Current residential design guidance (such as Building for Life 12
    which I co-manage at Design Council Cabe) encourages good connections with the surrounding area – ensuring they are attractive, well lit, direct and safe and run to the front of dwellings. This is exemplified in recent good practice examples such as the Housing Design Award winning Hannam Hall development in Bristol that provides quick and easy cycle link to a well used cycle route running along the site boundary.

    I have visited quite a few schemes in the Netherlands and while there is much to commend a lot of Dutch housing (and I talk a lot about it in presentations) I do see public/private space treatments that surprise me. I do think there is a different attitude to this there compared to here. There seems to be a different attitude to privacy and “sharing” of semi public space there compared to here. I’ve seen new housing eg in Almere being built with extensive areas of rear access to gardens and shared effectively public space to rear of dwellings that just doesn’t work in the UK. That is the sort of design feature that is being designed out of 60s and 70s Radburn layouts here where there was typically a lot of undifferentiated grassed over space behind and in front of dwellings outside of private garden space. This is often at the demand of residents who feel that having public access around the rear of their dwelling inherently problematic and they have where possible sought with fencing and other features tried to secure their boundary rather than have the sort of open relationship between their dwelling, its outside space and public space or routes running nearby.

  7. Tim says:

    Just seems like a continuation of cycle-friendly infra in general in the UK. We gave it a half-hearted try, but we didn’t do it very well and in some cases it seemed to make things worse. So better to give up altogether than try and get it right. 😦

  8. The underlying assumption here is that driving is the ‘basic’ mode of movement of people, or if it is not now, will become so soon, so all car-free corridors for movement (except perhaps open paths through parks) are, or will soon become, unviable as safe spaces. So it is a variant on ‘predict and provide’ policymaking, which hastens the consequence that it predicts: utterly dated thinking which clearly needs scrapping.

  9. paulc says:

    they don’t like leaky cul-de-sacs/estates because drug dealers can use scooters to dash down these paths to avoid pursuing cars…

    I lived in a run down dodgy inner city estate for a couple of years and regularly observed drug deals being done where the dealer sent the drugs out by a “mule” riding a scooter who only carried a couple of wraps at most at any time… Police would arrive in their squad cars and would be stopped by the bollards and alleyways that they couldn’t drive down.

    • Have they considered getting police motorbikes?

      I mean, that seems like a more obvious solution than impairing the ability of the entire population to freely choose their mode of transport.

      • paulc says:

        nah, they’d far rather punish the many for their failure in coping with the few… to whit, the multitudes of barriers and chicanes put up to stop motorbikes and scooters from using cycle paths… which also prevent recumbents, tandems, tricycles, bakfiets, those with trailers and those with hand-cranked tricycles from using said infra…

  10. Brian Quinn says:

    That was indeed one of the issues on one of the estates we analysed for the crime research – bollards impeding chasing criminals on mopeds – although this was a walking route to the front of dwellings (and a short connecting route between streets on
    either side) so actually quite a good quality route. One of the perrenial problems with pedestrian and cycle routes anywhere is the issue of youngsters on mopeds using them (either for nefarious reasons or just as cut throughs. It then leads to anti-moped barriers which then hinder cycle and inclusive access for everyone.

    • I’ve heard this before. And yet despite a large number of closed-to-motor-traffic routes in Cambridge, and a lot of cycle infrastructure, I can count the number of times I have actually seen this on one hand. Usually at night, and often just cutting across a couple of metres of walking/cycling infrastructure. Delivery scooters as much as kids.

      Does actually using these routes for walking and cycling discourage use of mopeds? The appeal of a traffic-free route to have fun is rather diminished if it’s covered in people walking and cycling.

  11. Brian Quinn says:

    Yes I would agree that often they are used by mopeds because they are not well used by walkers/cyclists. I wonder if the Dutch cycle tracks are not used by such moped driving youngsters ?

  12. Mike says:

    This is tricky. I am as fervent a cyclist as you will find and I generally applaud the building of cyclist/pedestrian friendly routes. But I have also lived in a cul-de-sac linked to another by a narrow path. The route was a haven for bored and boring kids who would nightly cause every sort of low-level, anti-social mischief. At the time I would willingly have traded a 500 yard detour for peaceful evenings.

  13. Phil Jones says:

    A thought experiment. Move Houten to the UK. Keep the layout identical. Would the paths between the cul-de-sacs still be busier than the roads?

    In fact you don’t need to do the experiment. Just visit any 1960s new town.

    Hackney has high cycling levels and doesn’t have Radburn-style layouts with cut throughs. Filtered permeability is much better achieved by point closures of a traditional grid than hard wired by the plot and highway layouts.

    • Well, I’d actually suggest there’s very little objective difference between Houten and retrofitted point closures on an existing road network, executed properly. Both have a fine-grained network for cycling, with a motoring grid at a larger scale. Or, to put in another way, high levels of permeability for walking and cycling, and much lower levels for driving. Take a look at Mark Wagenbuur’s post on retrofitting point closures into a 1960s housing development, for instance. This is the creation of a Houten-style system, from a traditional grid.

      The end result is the same. Bicycle (and walking) routes that go everywhere, while simultaneously through motor traffic is kept out of residential streets, and confined to the distributor roads. To that extent it doesn’t matter whether this achieved by new build, like Houten, or retrofitted into existing development (whether its medieval or from the twentieth century). So I’m not really sure what you’re grasping at here!

      (And come on Phil. It’s ridiculous to suggest Houten is analogous with British new towns. The cut-throughs between cul-de-sacs in places like Stevenage, Bracknell and Crawley are genuinely dire, and they don’t form part of a coherent network. Or even a network at all.)

  14. urbangrit says:

    No doubt you also noticed, at paragraph 4.4 that ‘Physical barriers may also have to be put in place where ‘desire’ lines (unsanctioned direct routes) place pedestrians in danger, such as at busy road junctions.’ ? Shouldn’t the guidance state instead that pedestrian and cycle routes should be deliberately accommodated on desire lines, with vehicular routes designed to ensure that cyclists and pedestrians are given right-of-way?

    It is unclear if there was any public consultation on this document, as there usually would be on any other supplementary planning guidance or government guidance. I suggest sending responses to as suggested on page 2 of the document.

  15. Amy Burbidge says:

    Working with the Crime Prevention Design Officers in Northants, we tend to find that the schemes with leaky cul-de-sacs are also those with rear car parking courts, poor surveillance and vehicle dominated poorly connected streets. They are often symptomatic of wider poor design and streets designed with vehicles, not people in mind. We work with Secured by Design to get well overlooked active routes, frequently as part of the normal street network, but also as filtered routes and through public space. I think the trick is to make sure that you have a design team together who can look at schemes together and work out the best approach depending on local crime issues, surrounding connectivity etc. There is useful stuff about segregated paths being wide, straight, direct and overlooked which has helped us in negotiating improvements, so if used carefully, it can help too.

  16. pm says:

    What bothers me most about all this is the suspicion that it is closely related to much wider social developments that are probably well beyond the scope of transport campaigning. The growth of ‘gated communities’ and the explosion of house prices in certain areas being other aspects of the same thing.

    The other thing that occurs to me is how many semi-private bodies there are that exercise power without very much accountability or scrutiny. I’m sure I’m not alone in that I’d never heard of ACPO till the recent undercover cop scandals came out.

  17. rdrf says:

    I agree with Mike that this is a tricky one. But in agreement with the post I would point out the following:
    1. Some Police officers I have met do like the idea of having more cyclists and pedestrian around, as with greater numbers there may be more potential witnesses to, and deterrent to, anti-social and criminal behaviour.
    2. Some officers are also OK with being on bikes like the Cycle Task Force run MPS/TfL in London. Bicycles allow them operational efficiency – being able to access estates and places where cars (or even motor bikes) cannot go.
    3. Some Police also understand that although having motor traffic around gives an impression of “being busy”, when it comes down to it drivers and car occupants often feel so sealed off in their “private” worlds that they won’t get involved in what looks like a problem beside the carriageway.

    • I’m interested in your third point which I think nobody else has mentioned: whether roads with motor traffic are actually socially safe, as seems to be the basic assumption.

      So I wonder if there is more research. It seems to me that it’s not only that drivers “won’t get involved”, but that they actually simply do not notice what is going on off the roadway, not even on the pavement let alone in somebody’s garden, because the attention is on the road (or on the mobile phone). Even when you glimpse two people on the pavement, without sound it’s difficult/impossible to decide in a split second if they are engaged in intense friendly conversation or a heated argument, if they are kissing or fighting.

      I think everybody who cycles and drives has made the observation that you look around more, notice more details, make more eye contact with other people when you’re cycling or walking. Also it’s just technically easier to stop. I can certainly see when I’m sitting in my garden that many of the pedestrians and some of the cyclists look at me, but hardly any of the drivers.

      Having said this, I do understand to a certain degree the reasoning. I live in an estate that has, at certain times, seen trouble (I had 3 or 4 broken windows over a period of 2 or 3 years), and there does seem to be a clear pattern that the cul-de-sacs are less targeted than roads like mine which lead through the area and connect to everywhere. I spoke to police a few times and it’s not that troublemakers deliberately select where to make trouble, it’s just that when they go visit their friends or meet up, they use – like everybody else – the roads that lead somewhere.

      • Notak says:

        You also notice much more from a motorbike than a car. Not as much as when cycling or walking, but not being surrounded by an intervening layer of glass and steel makes a huge difference. I think it was Robert Pirsig who said looking out of a car window is like watching television. You see but you don’t experience; whereas seeing the same thing while not inside a vehicle, you are actually part of it. If we’re honest, this is part of the appeal of cars and always has been, just as it was for horse-drawn cars before.

  18. Francis says:

    Good post Mark. As always, there’s some truth in the Secured by Design document – there are some nasty footpaths in Horsham with no light and high fences either side, quite scary to walk down at night. But to use that as a reason to stop permeability in new developments throws the baby out with the bathwater.

    We need to champion well designed permeable routes which people will want to use, which in itself makes them safer. There are endless cul de sacs round here which just encourages people to stay in their cars.

    Maybe we need to approach the Secured by Design people direct on this?

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