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