Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Designing out Crime

Browsing the Bradford Council Public Access Portal, I was interested to read a lengthly response from the West Yorkshire Police as a consultee to a planning application for an office block. (I won't link to it as technically I have a pecunary interest). In the course of six pages (although much is of course boilerplate) they effectively objected to the scheme unless the developer "designed in" crime prevention to the structure.

What does that actually mean? Well there is a helpful website, Interestingly, this is an offshoot of ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers which isn't actually an association at all, it is a business and not subject to public scrutiny.

There are a core set of principles around the scheme which I will distill into a few pertinent areas, the intention of which is to deter criminal behaviour aided and abetted by the built environment. For the site in question, the Police think that the design is over-complicated, i.e. far too crinkly, giving opportunities for crime in recesses and covered areas. Some bits round the back are not covered by natural surveillance, i.e. inadequately overlooked. They are not prepared to support undercroft parking on a large development. They suggest anti-ram bollards all the way round the site (something I'd imagine the Fire Brigade might be less keen on). The CCTV has to be ubiquitous and high quality, even supervising the bins. An approved lighting scheme has to be submitted. An access control strategy needs to be submitted and approved.

The Police don't actually say that they can stop the scheme, just that the submission doesn't comply with numerous regulations about giving these things due consideration, certainly enough to make a Planning Officer keen to cover their bottom.

Planning in the UK has gradually distorted itself from a position of assumed consent unless there are valid reasons to oppose the scheme to the present position of assumed rejection unless numerous hoops are jumped through to keep the Council happy. The most iniquitous of all these is Section 106, a Robin Hood type scheme for only allowing permitted developments provided that there are other (sometimes tenuous) community benefits. Councils call it Planning Gain, I call it legalised bribery.

If you spend any length of time looking at planning submissions, you begin to realise that it is all a big game and the various specialists the developers use are able to cover off all these nebulous topics with flowery words to get stuff through, but at great expense on both sides.

I have a much more pragmatic view of the Town & Country Planning Act- most of it should be swept away. The best sort of town planning happened in the Lassez faire days before Town Planning existed. I'd much rather live in Cheltenham than Milton Keynes.

If I wanted to build something with my own money, I'd make it as crinkly as I like. I'd happily take advice from others but at the end of the day it is my choice, not the State.

A Libertarian Government would make the planning process faster, fairer on the property owner and back to a position of implied consent.

(This post also appears on Shades of Grey and Libertarian Party Blogs)

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