Design Council

Research on relationship between crime and design of urban developments helps police forces to influence future of housing

Press Release   •   Feb 08, 2012 11:54 GMT

The multi-year study – funded by the Home Office - looked at the design features of high density urban housing developments and identified the key areas where poor design can lead to an increase in crime, anti-social behaviour and neighbour disputes –which put an added strain on local police resources.

The report highlighted the following key design features to watch out for :

-         large rear parking courts

-         paths and spaces that are not overlooked

-         poorly-designed corner properties

-         relying on gating a development as the only means to deliver security

-         ‘leaky’ cul-de-sacs which have pedestrian access between them

Launched only six weeks ago, the research has been accessed by over 4,000 users on the Design Council website to help communities, local authority planners and developers and police work together to ensure that good design and crime reduction are key considerations in future schemes.

The research has received very positive feedback from crime prevention design advisors in many of the country’s police forces, who have been using it extensively to help ensure that crime-reducing measures are factored into proposed new housing developments.

Michael Clare, a Crime Prevention Design Advisor for Thames Valley police said:

“This is up to date research that is very positive and greatly helps in designing against crime and underpins the principles of Secured by Design. If adopted by developers and architects it means that for the lifetime of development there will be less crime and anti social behaviour, which will be beneficial for future residents and users."

The study was run in collaboration with academics from the University of Huddersfield, working with crime prevention design advisors in local police forces and planning authorities. It looked at a variety of developments in three areas of the country - Greater Manchester, Kent and West Midlands. Researchers conducted detailed site visits to developments to analyse and map specific design features and layouts, examined the recorded crime in the scheme, and interviewed neighbourhood policing teams and crime prevention design advisors.

The crimes the teams looked at included burglary, theft of and from vehicles, robbery, theft from the person, assault and criminal damage. Although the project did not set out to include anti-social behaviour or neighbour disputes, much of the feedback from local police and planners, particularly during site visits, showed that such incidents were more common than actual recorded crime and resulted in police or
local authority resources being used to attend and resolve matters.

David Kester, Chief Executive of Design Council Cabe said:

“Communities are becoming more involved in the design of future developments around them. This ground-breaking study helps equip them to work with developers and planners to put good design at the heart of creating places which are attractive, safe and successful, which has far-reaching social and economic benefits.”

Until now, there has been a lack of evidence about the relationship between the design of what are generally considered to be ‘good’ contemporary urban developments (i.e not poorly-designed 1960s or 1970s estates) and the levels of crime and anti-social behaviour experienced in and around them.

The findings of the study have already been acted upon by leading housing developer Gleeson Homes & Regeneration, which helped advise on the research project. Faye Whiteoak, Design & Development Director of the company said:

“We welcome the research; it provides much needed clarification on the impact of housing design upon crime and has led us to re-assess our design values and produce our own internal security design guide.”


For more information or interview requests please contact Nigel Campbell, Head of Communications, Design Council on 020 7420 5282 / 07825 442339 /

Editor’s Notes

The key findings of the study are:

Parking can be a major source of neighbour disputes, anti-social behaviour, and in some cases criminal damage
and assault:

  •      Rear parking courts – are particularly prone to crime especially if they are large and have multiple
         access points, or give access to the rear of lots of dwellings
  •      Garages in unusual locations – such as the rear of properties accessed via side lanes or rear access are prone to burglary.

Spatial design of the whole scheme, and keeping this consistent, is very important. Particular crime-encouraging elements to avoid include:

  •      un-overlooked spaces next to boundary fences
  •      corner properties, if these don’t provide adequate overlooks to both streets
  •      exposed backs or rear access to properties
  •      public paths and other access at the rear of properties, or at the side if not overlooked properly
  •      ‘dead spaces’ attract dumping of unwanted goods, which can lead to antisocial behaviour such as setting fires

Perimeter security and ‘gating’ is not a substitute for good crime-lowering design within a development:

  •  using gating is not necessarily a means to secure a site. For example within a gated community, large parking courts with access to the rear of many dwellings were found to lead to higher levels      of domestic burglary and car crime.

Designers need to plan for consistent and appropriately resourced management and maintenance alongside careful physical design of a scheme:

It is the combination of consistent physical design quality and well planned and delivered management and maintenance that appears to create the best outcome for residents in terms of their quality of life. In extremis where both elements are absent, the evidence from this research shows problems could quickly arise, particularly in relation to car parking with inter-neighbour disputes escalating into criminal acts of assault and criminal damage.

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