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21 Oct 2002 : Column 93—continued


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9) (European Standing Committees),

EU Action Plan on Drugs

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

21 Oct 2002 : Column 94

Urban Design (Crime)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

8.2 pm

David Wright (Telford): I am pleased to be able to speak about a subject that is not just close to my heart—given my background in urban regeneration—but crucially to communities throughout our towns and cities.

The quality of urban design is important for many reasons, but perhaps the main reason is the fact that well-designed urban environments promote a sense of self-worth. I want to focus on the potential of good urban design to reduce crime and promote the creation of sustainable communities where people want to live, work, shop and enjoy their leisure time.

I believe that if people have a well-designed neighbourhood that is well maintained they will treat it with respect, and will endeavour to police it themselves. They will create an atmosphere that tells criminals XYou are not welcome here." If an area is poorly designed and poorly maintained, however, people will respond to their environment in a negative way and will accept decline as being the natural trend. As I said earlier, people derive a sense of their own self-worth from the condition of the environment around them: their aspirations for themselves and their families are shaped by their locality.

In terms of general principles, our objective as a Government must be to encourage the creation of physical environments that are conducive to the overall security of communities. To do that, we need to examine some of the dynamics of modern urban living and adapt our approach accordingly. Increasingly nowadays, geographical communities are breaking down and being replaced by communities of interest. People now have a series of social contacts that are not necessarily linked to the location of their homes. Friends from work, for example, often live many miles away, but they see more of them than they do of their neighbours.

People do not have as much contact with their neighbours as they used to, which creates a sense of isolation in communities. More people are living alone as well, and many do not speak to their neighbours at all. A friend of mine once told me that he was more likely to hear the voice of Nelson Mandela on television that evening than to hear the voice of his neighbour.

Those changes in social infrastructure are compounded by the poor design of many neighbourhoods, which at worst encourage crime and at best fail to provide any deterrents. I also believe that some people nowadays have expectations that are unachievable in relation to quiet enjoyment of their homes. That is difficult for many to acknowledge, but we must understand that our society is changing. People often do not want their children to play a long way from their homes; they want them to play in the street outside. Although they may not like it, people must accept that that is a growing trend.

Why is the issue important? Antisocial behaviour and crime on estates are the number one issue in my advice surgery and in my postbag. There is a feeling that many estates are, in the words of Telford residents, Xout of

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control", and gangs of predominantly young people are behaving in an increasingly lawless manner. The fear of crime is of course more significant than its incidence in most cases, but the quality and structure of the local environment is a major contributory factor in the level of fear.

The amount of police cover available in many areas will never meet the needs of local communities, and recent research by the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders has shown that closed-circuit television is not necessarily the panacea that many think it to be. Effective design that reduces the incidence of crime and the fear of it is not a luxury today, but a necessity.

It is easy to highlight practical design problems in parts of my constituency that lead to crime and the fear of it. Telford contains a number of housing estates built in the 1960s and early 1970s with the Radburn layout. On those estates, the housing and street pattern is the reverse of the traditional layout, with vehicular access to the rear of the property and pedestrian access to the front. Residents cannot see their vehicles once they have parked them, and unless they fence off their front gardens they merge into the wider public realm.

The access-ways on those estates are a maze, and public space is ill defined. The planting is often overgrown, and makes pedestrian routes through the estates dark and unwelcoming. Local facilities—shops and community centres—are provided in small arcades that are themselves visually unattractive and at night are literally steel-shuttered bunkers.

Some of the potential solutions to those problems are just common sense. I am thinking of the creation of defensible space, which I will return to shortly; the promotion of mixed-use development, often with higher densities of housing, so that areas in towns do not close at 5.30 pm and become no-go zones; the creation of distinct neighbourhoods in housing areas with their own character, or legibility as the professionals like to call it, so that people begin to recognise and associate with their neighbours again; and the removal of unwanted areas of public open space through, for example, the incorporation of rear access ways into gardens, better lighting, and better allocation of pedestrian space.

Those things sound so simple, but on many estates throughout Britain they have not been achieved. We are not seeing significant improvements in the physical environment.

The design of new housing is obviously important. Design features that reduce crime need to be incorporated—for example, doors and windows overlooking the street and public spaces to provide natural surveillance opportunities. Developers need to consider that when submitting proposals to planning authorities. However, the issue does not relate exclusively to the design of new homes; in fact, most problems occur in existing residential environments. The refurbishment of homes needs to be done with crime-reduction principles in mind, and as much attention needs to be paid to the external street scene as to the fabric of the properties.

So how can we move forward? I want to recommend four key areas of action. First, we need to ensure more cross-departmental working at national level,

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particularly between the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Home Office. Designing out crime should be a core activity in regeneration initiatives, and should be measured in terms of project outputs. Government should at an early stage consider consolidating the complex array of legislation relating to the design, management and use of the street. That can be coupled with the development of public realm strategies, which should bring together all the players involved in designing the urban environment. Tackling crime and antisocial behaviour can form a cornerstone of that work. The excellent homezone initiative that is being rolled out across the whole country, including in Woodside in my constituency, could be used as a starting point and pilot for much of this work.

Secondly, communities should be encouraged to work together to resolve problems of crime and antisocial behaviour. I would particularly like to compliment the Urban Design Alliance, which is supported by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and English Partnerships, for its work on the placecheck initiative. That initiative encourages local people to identify problems in their own neighbourhoods and develop practical solutions. Much of the work being done in this area by the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Design Council is also excellent. Local parish councils can play a particularly important role in drawing out community perspectives and providing seedbed funding for local initiatives. A number of parish councils in my area have been particularly good at drawing up parish plans. St. George's and Priorslee parish councils are leaders in this area.

Thirdly, local authorities should vigorously apply crime prevention criteria when evaluating planning applications. That is a material consideration. The planning system must be used to generate attractive and easily managed environments. There is no excuse for local authorities, as the planning guidance is already in place. Circular 5/94, PPG 1, PPG 6 and PPG 12 all contain guidance on addressing crime through the planning system. Local community safety partnerships are beginning to move these issues up the agenda in many areas, and the police flagship scheme XSecured by Design" is extremely important.

However, I feel that the services being offered by police architectural liaison officers are often seen in the police service and locally as a luxury add-on and not a fundamental tool through which to reduce crime. Government, local authorities, various agencies and players and the police service need to put that right.

That links to my fourth point, which is that developers need to ensure that designing out crime is at the centre of their work. It is not a fringe activity, whose principles can be discarded once projects are on site.

Those are the four key areas of work that I hope the Minister will consider this evening and in coming weeks and months.

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