Design fault

Toby HarrisToby Harris on why Coalition changes to building regulations will create misery for residents in new developments

Today the House of Lords will spend another day debating the Anti-Social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Bill – this year’s flagship Home Office Bill and ostensibly designed to help reduce crime. The Home Office approach is to change legislation in the hope that this will distract attention away from the collapse in police morale and the reductions in policing budgets and police numbers around the country.

But while the Home Office does at least claim to want to reduce crime, the story seems to be different over at Eric Pickles’ Department of Communities and Local Government. Quietly last summer they slipped out a consultation document on changes to the building regulations and housing standards. And one of the consequences they are promoting would be to prevent local authorities from following the proven crime-busting guidelines developed by Secured by Design (a project established by the Association of Chief Police Officers).

Over the last 20 years many councils have followed these guidelines in new housing developments. The results have been striking with properties in developments following the guidelines being half as likely to be burgled, as well as a 25% reduction in criminal damage.

If Mr Pickles gets his way, security standards could be mandated in new developments but only of the most limited nature. If a local authority can prove that the as yet unbuilt development will suffer an 'elevated' risk of burglary (an almost impossible test for a new development), then a higher standard can be required. But even this so-called higher standard would be substantially lower than that recommended by Secured by Design. Local discretion to require its standards would be removed.  So much for localism!

Today therefore, I am moving an amendment that would restore that local discretion and allow local authorities – if they wish to do so – to make it a condition of granting planning permission for new developments that the design of the development incorporates Secured by Design standards to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour.

Without this amendment there is a very real risk that the long term decline in crime brought about by Secured by Design would be reversed. The losers will be the future generations of residents of those developments whose lives will be blighted by higher rates of burglary, vandalism and anti-social behavior.

And who will gain? Property developers, whose profits will be increased by not having to include crime-reduction measures in their new buildings. And also burglars.

It seems like a no-brainer to me. So will Coalition Ministers listen? Don’t hold your breath.

Lord Toby Harris of Haringey is Chair of the Labour Peers Group and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing. He tweets @LordTobySays

Published 20th January 2014

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