Strange ways

Toby HarrisToby Harris on the Coalition’s increasingly odd approach to crime prevention

Today the Lords debates the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill – a strange pot pourri of measures, some of which are sensible, some counter-intuitive. 

Even stranger is that while the Home Office brings forward this Bill, the Department of Communities and Local Government is trying to undermine the success over the last 20 years of the ‘Secured by Design’ initiative, which since 1989 has seen a massive drop in burglaries and criminal damage, with benefits to the economy and society alike.

In the depths of August, CLG published a consultation document seeking views on the results of the recent review of building regulations and housing standards. The proposals being put forward suggest a two-tiered standard for security – a basic minimum level that would be generally required and a so-called enhanced standard. 

The basic standard is demonstrably inadequate, with little in the way of security benefit. Specifying stronger locks is not much of a deterrent if a door may be so flimsy it can be put through with one firm kick. But even the enhanced standard would be lower than that recommended by 'Secured by Design' and could only be required by a council where what is described as a ‘compelling’ case exists.

To make such a case, local authorities will have to demonstrate that a development may be subject to an ‘elevated’ risk of burglary and that there will be a higher than normal impact of burglary.  It almost goes without saying that this test is almost impossible to pass in respect of a new development and has to be applied site by site, in a way likely to produce added uncertainties for those submitting a proposal.

It will not be open to a local authority to require 'Secured by Design' standards. And even to apply the so-called enhanced standards, a complicated process will have to be gone through to demonstrate the compelling case required by CLG with all the implicit threats of legal action that entails.

This is the antithesis of localism. Surely local people, through their locally-elected councillors, should be deciding the level of security appropriate for their neighbourhoods? Instead, they are being forced to accept a centrally-driven dumbing down of standards, which put their communities and homes at risk. This is all being put forward as a simplification of the planning process with blame assigned to Secured by Design. What world are Ministers and officials living in? Have they had to live in an area blighted by excessive crime facilitated by poor design and inadequate security standards? And what problem are they going to solve by preventing that local democratic discretion?

Moreover, we can only assume that no consideration has been given by CLG to the consequences down the line. Curtailing police influence on planning for secure facilities is dangerous and short-sighted.

It risks the progress that has been made over the last two decades in designing out crime, reducing burglary and making anti-social behaviour harder will be put into reverse. And it also risks adding to the costs of the criminal justice system. If we throw away the advantage that designing out crime has given us, how will our communities cope with a diminished police force and neighbourhood policing no more than a distant memory while the threat of crime rises again?

Yet again the Coalition neglects the many in favour of the privileged few; and is prepared to give up the fight against crime, solely to placate a handful of privileged developers.

Lord Toby Harris of Haringey is a backbench Labour Peer and a former Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority

Published 29th October 2013

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