"ahead of its time"

How crime was ‘designed out’ of a notorious London estate

Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

Author Bio ▼

Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
December 17, 2018

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An ex-council estate once blighted by crime and antisocial behaviour has seen crime plummet thanks to a five-year regeneration project guided by the latest crime prevention techniques.

Built in the 1970s the eight tower blocks that made up the Larner Road Estate in South-east London was plagued by crime for four decades before a £120m community-led revamp.

Thanks to the input of Secured by Design (SBD), a national police crime prevention initiative, cutting-edge crime prevention techniques were built into 588 new homes from the very outset.

Police officers trained by Secured by Design (SBD) – Known as ‘designing out crime officers’ – have been instrumental in the turnaround. Attached to local police forces around the UK they collaborate with architects, developers and local authority planners to design out crime at the planning stage – well before construction begins.

The estate – now called Erith Park – has been transformed as part of a regeneration of the wider local area by UK housing group Orbit and Wates Residential. The tower blocks have been replaced by a low to medium rise development of apartments and houses offering affordable rent, shared ownership and market sale, built into traditional street patterns.

On 27 November 2018, as the final three homes were completed, the Metropolitan Police reported zero recorded burglaries, drugs-related offences, weapons offences, robberies or personal thefts within the Erith Park boundary over the previous 12 months.

This high-density estate now has 80% less crime compared to the rest of its ward

Reported crime is now much lower both in frequency and seriousness while reports of antisocial behaviour have fallen sharply too. This high-density estate now has 80% less crime compared to the rest of its ward, according to the Metropolitan Police.

More than one million new homes have been built to SBD crime prevention standards across the UK in the last 30 years, which CBD credits for annual falls in crime of up to 87%.

SBD measures both improve the physical security of buildings – for example robust doors, windows and locks that meet SBD standards – and  the surrounding layout and landscaping.

Mark Headley, designing out crime officer for the Metropolitan Police, said crime prevention measures at Erith Park were apparent to those trained in the discipline but not to residents or the general public. Unlike, say, the sight of barbed wire running across the top off fences, the measures do not create a forbidding, unwelcome visual environment.

“Residents are unlikely to recognise these as measures to keep them safe and secure – for them Erith Park is just a natural, attractive, open estate that you feel safe in,” explained Headley.

‘Natural’ surveillance

The design techniques include enhancing ‘natural’ surveillance, whereby strangers are made visible by limiting cut-throughs and alleyways, which eliminates potential hiding places and escape routes. Other measures include incorporating defensible space to mark boundaries to homes, limiting permeability, fitting trellis on top of fencing to deter climbing, fitting roller shutters on the undercroft to protect parked vehicles and installing ground anchors in sheds to secure bicycles.

Said Metropolitan Police seargent Matt Coe: “Designing out crime on the estate has not only reduced crime but also improved the outlook for people who live here. It’s a place where people are choosing to live, whereas before, it had a poor reputation and was poorly regarded.

“The big lesson I take away from Erith Park is the importance of having the mixed tenures: social, rental and private living. People who live here feel confident in the police and feel the police are doing a better job, even though we have fewer resources than in the past.

“So from a police point of view, our attention to detail in the design of the estate has been an extremely worthwhile investment compared to decades of reactive policing.

“Some people regard designing out crime as a long-term investment. I don’t think it is. Buildings are happening and going up very quickly. It’s not long-term, it’s long lasting and that’s the difference. It’s not something that is happening in the future, it’s happening now, but will last for a long time.”

SBD development officer Lyn Poole, who is on secondment from the Metropolitan Police, said: “This was the first SBD development to have access control systems installed with data-logging in multi-occupancy apartment buildings – providing a video and audio record of attempts or requests to enter the building – an important potential source of evidence when investigating criminal activities. In this respect Erith Park was ahead of its time.”

In 2016 Erith Park won two prestigious construction awards: gold in the Considerate Constructors Scheme’s National Site Awards and London Regeneration Project of the Year in the London Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards.

Whether for rent or sale, Caroline Field, Head of Regeneration at Orbit, said properties on the estate had sold well and the regeneration had had a transformative effect.

“Residents on the old estate would never have let their children play outside unsupervised because it was unsafe.” Caroline Field, head of regeneration, Orbit

“The perception in the wider community is that it’s an amazing transformation,” she explained. “Sometimes, on regeneration schemes, people say: ‘You may have built new homes, but it’s still the same place’. But with Erith Park, people can see the wider and deeper transformation – it’s not just window dressing.

“Residents on the old estate would never have let their children play outside unsupervised because it was unsafe. Today, children are allowed to do so. That’s the measure of what’s changed here.”

Paul Nicholls, managing director of Wates Residential, said: “Erith Park is testament to the far-reaching long term impact that design can have on creating great places where people are proud to live.

“We were keen to ensure this development was truly community-driven, consulting with local residents on their needs and experiences throughout the process. This included implementing a tenure blind approach to design, hosting community events to help new networks flourish and providing training, employment and work experience opportunities for local people to upskill or get back into employment.

“We are proud to see that our ambitious shared vision for the neighbourhood has now become reality and what was once one of the least popular estates in Erith is now one of the most sought after.”

Orbit, which is the UK’s largest developer of affordable housing with more than 42,000 homes under management, opened discussions with the local community about the estate’s future in 2005. In 2012 Wates Construction Ltd were selected as construction and development partner. The project was backed by the London Borough of Bexley and affordable housing was grant-funded by the Greater London Authority.

The Orbit/Wates partnership is now intent on replicating Erith’s success in the nearby Arthur Street estate. The ambitious plan, due to start in mid-2019, will involve demolishing three, 13-storey tower blocks built in the 1960s and replacing them with around 300 new homes built in the same style, adhering to similar SBD principles, as the Erith Park homes.

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C Hollands

I read with interest the report that there had been zero recorded burglaries, etc in the 12 months to November 2017.
Yes, the area does feel a lot safer than before but I consider the above statement misleading. I am aware of the cycle store being broken into in my block at least twice. Residents are reluctant to use the store, bikes stored on balconies are now a common site.
There has also been some vandalism to the communal areas within my block.

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