Designing out crime is threatened by deregulation of the planning system
The concept of designing out crime is one which has permeated both crime reduction policy and practice over the past two decades. There has been an increasing recognition that crime can be managed through appropriate design and that the prevention of crime is not the sole responsibility of the police.
Councils are duty bound by Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) to demonstrate that their decisions have been made with crime reduction in mind, and this responsibility has been supported by independent research evaluating what works in reducing crime and disorder.
In England and Wales, efforts to help crime reduction through better planning are managed by Police Architectural Liaison Officers and Crime Prevention Design Advisors, who liaise with local authority planners, developers and architects to promote the principles of crime prevention through environmental design, help assess planning applications and offer crime prevention advice.
Cuts in police budgets have seen architectural liaison officer and crime prevention design adviser numbers fall from 350 in 2009 to 197 in August 2012
The Secured by Design (SBD) scheme is one tool they use to measure the extent to which housing is designed with security in mind.
The SBD mark is awarded to homes that are designed to minimise crime risk by incorporating the principles of surveillance, physical security, access control, territoriality and management and maintenance.
While physical security is one element of the scheme, its principles are much broader and many of the methods of reducing crime focus upon subtle changes to design and layout, without the need for physical barriers. Measures such as a narrowing of the entrance to a development, or a change in road colour and texture portray the message to potential offenders that they are entering a private area. Independent research has shown that houses designed to the SBD standard experience less crime than their nearest counterparts, and residents living within those properties report feeling safer in their neighbourhood. A paper from independent researchers in 2011 concluded that it would take just one year for the additional costs of building to the SBD standard to be recouped through crimes prevented. Research has also shown that homebuyers consider security to be one of the most important factors when purchasing a property, and that they do not expect enhanced security to be provided at no extra cost - they want a secure environment and are prepared to pay for that assurance.
However, while progress has been made in recognising that design can and does influence crime, recent changes within the planning system, compounded by public sector cuts, risk jeopardising this progress. The Localism Act (2011), among many other changes, has introduced neighbourhood development plans, which allow communities to come together, through a local parish council or neighbourhood forum, to develop a plan which will outline what development will take place and where. While plans must be in line with local and national planning policy, there is no doubt that the government is placing more decision-making powers with the communities who reside within these neighbourhoods. In addition to the changes, the National Planning Policy Framework has replaced 44 planning policy statements, including planning policy statements 1 and 3, which specifically referenced the importance of crime prevention within housing design, with just one 59-page document.
While progress has been made in recognising that design can and does influence crime, recent changes within the planning system, compounded by public sector cuts, risk jeopardising this
Supplementary planning guidance, which many local authorities and police forces had used to develop crime prevention-themed documents, has been discouraged, and the Taylor Review of planning guidance has recently recommended the cancellation of Safer Places: The Planning System and Crime Prevention. This move towards deregulation has been compounded by recent cuts in police budgets, which have seen architectural liaison officer and crime prevention design adviser numbers fall from 350 in 2009 to 197 in August 2012 and there is a real concern regarding the resources that remain, in terms of policy, guidance and staff, to offer advice to those afforded the powers to influence planning and development.
Properties, not unlike people, exist for many decades, and once built there is little that can be done, without great effort and expense, to alter their design.
However, unlike people, houses can be planned and designed utilising evidence and expertise to maximise the likelihood of success - success being a community in which people want to live and work for decades and where potential offenders feel conspicuous, uneasy and unable to commit an offence without risk of detection. While deregulation may be designed to stimulate development, there is a need to ensure that this is not at the expense of design quality.
Dr Rachel Armitage is deputy director of the Applied Criminology Centre at the University of Huddersfield