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On the eve of Secured by Design’s 30th anniversary, we describe how a high crime housing estate became a safe place to live

A former council estate, which was blighted by social problems and crime for 40 years, has undergone a major community-led regeneration with police crime prevention techniques built into its 588 new homes from the outset.

The 1970s Larner Road Estate in South-east London was widely known for its eight distinctive tower blocks, which presented a forbidding landmark to drivers travelling through Erith towards the capital from the M25.

Local residents knew it as a troubled estate and it presented huge challenges for police. Calls about crime often required a two-car response, a direct reflection of the level of crime and disorder on the estate.

Over the last five years, Larner Road has been transformed into Erith Park as part of a wide-scale regeneration of the area by the UK housing group Orbit and Wates Residential. The tower blocks have come down and been replaced by a low to medium rise development of apartments and houses for affordable rent, shared ownership and market sale, built into traditional street patterns.

On Tuesday, 27 November 2018 as the last three homes were completed by Orbit and Wates Residential, the Metropolitan Police reported that there had been no recorded offences of burglaries, drugs related offences, weapons, robberies or personal thefts within the boundary of Erith Park over the last 12 months.

Reported crime on the estate remains low in volume and impact and police have received relatively few reports of anti-social behaviour. Despite the high density of the housing on Erith Park, it now has 80% less crime compared to the rest of the ward it sits within, according to the Metropolitan Police.

Key to this policing success has been the ongoing work of police officers trained by Secured by Design (SBD), the national police crime prevention initiative. Known as Designing Out Crime Officers, they are attached to local police forces around the UK to work with architects, developers and local authority planners to design out crime at the planning stage – long before construction begins.

SBD measures improve the physical security of buildings, such as robust doors, windows and locks that meet SBD standards, as well as crime prevention techniques designed into the surrounding layout and landscaping. These techniques include increasing natural surveillance so strangers can be seen clearly and limiting cut-throughs and alleyways to avoid potential hiding places and escape routes.

Over the last 30 years, there have been more than one million new homes built across the UK to SBD crime prevention standards with reductions in crime of up to 87% each and every year.

Mark Headley, Designing Out Crime Officer, Metropolitan Police, said the crime prevention measures at Erith Park were only likely to be recognisable to police – such as the high levels of natural surveillance; the defensible space to mark boundaries to homes; the limited permeability; trellis on top of fencing to make climbing more difficult; roller shutters on the undercroft to protect parked vehicles; and ground anchors in sheds to secure possessions like bicycles.

“Residents are unlikely to recognise these as measures to keep them safe and secure – for them Erith Park is just a natural, attractive, open estate that you feel safe in,” he explained.

Metropolitan Police Sgt Matt Coe, said: “Designing out crime on the estate has not only reduced crime but also improved the outlook for people who live here. It’s a place where people are choosing to live. Whereas before, it had a poor reputation and was poorly regarded.

“The big lesson I take away from Erith Park is the importance of having the mixed tenures: social, rental and private living. People who live here feel confident in the police and feel the police are doing a better job, even though we have fewer resources than in the past. So from a police point of view, our attention to detail in the design of the estate has been an extremely worthwhile investment compared to decades of reactive policing.

“Some people regard designing out crime as a long-term investment. I don’t think it is. Buildings are happening and going up very quickly. It’s not long-term, it’s long lasting and that’s the difference. It’s not something that is happening in the future, it’s happening now, but will last for a long time,” he said.

SBD Development Officer, Lyn Poole, who is on secondment from the Metropolitan Police, said: “This was the first SBD development to have access control systems installed with data-logging in multi-occupancy apartment buildings – providing a video and audio record of attempts or requests to enter the building – an important potential source of evidence when investigating criminal activities. In this respect Erith Park was ahead of its time.”

The driving force behind Erith Park has been Orbit, the UK’s largest developer of affordable housing, with over 42,000 homes under management.

In 2005, Orbit started discussions with the local community about the estate’s future. In 2012 Wates Construction Ltd were selected as construction and development partner. The £120 million project has had the support of the London Borough of Bexley and the affordable housing was grant-funded by the Greater London Authority. Built in two phases, construction started on phase 1 in March 2013 with phase 2 completed in November 2018.

Caroline Field, Head of Regeneration, Orbit, said the estate had sold well and has proved to be popular when properties have come up for rental or sale.

“The perception in the wider community is that it’s an amazing transformation. Sometimes, on regeneration schemes, people say: ‘You may have built new homes, but it’s still the same place’. But with Erith Park, people can see the wider and deeper transformation – it’s not just window dressing.”

Caroline added: “Residents on the old estate would never have let their children play outside unsupervised because it was unsafe. Today, children are allowed to do so. That’s the measure of what’s changed here.”

Paul Nicholls, Managing Director of Wates Residential, said: “Erith Park is testament to the far-reaching long term impact that design can have on creating great places where people are proud to live.

“We were keen to ensure this development was truly community-driven, consulting with local residents on their needs and experiences throughout the process. This included implementing a tenure blind approach to design, hosting community events to help new networks flourish and providing training, employment and work experience opportunities for local people to upskill or get back into employment.

“We are proud to see that our ambitious shared vision for the neighbourhood has now become reality and what was once one of the least popular estates in Erith is now one of the most sought after.”

In 2016 Erith Park achieved gold in the annual Considerate Constructors Scheme’s National Site Awards and a few days later won the London Regeneration Project of the Year in the London Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards.

The next challenge for the Orbit/Wates partnership is the neighbouring 1960s Arthur Street estate, which is on the other side of the A206 dual carriageway through Erith. It will involve demolishing three, 13-storey tower blocks and replacing them with around 300 new homes of similar look and feel to Erith Park. Construction is due to start around the middle of 2019 and incorporate SBD crime prevention measures and techniques.

Orbit is one of the largest housing groups in the country with a growing property portfolio of over 42,000 homes spanning the Midlands, east and south. They are the UK's leading developer of new homes for affordable and social rent and over the next 10 years they will build 20,000 homes of which 65% will be affordable. Orbit build homes across all tenures and are a market leader in the delivery of shared ownership. They place customers at the heart of what they do, investing in communities to make great places to live. Their profit for a purpose approach enables them to invest £4 million each year back into communities making a positive difference to people's lives. Their Better Days programme helps customers improve their skills around work and digital, manage their money and enhance their well-being. As a business, they operate in a dynamic and flexible environment with a strong performance culture. Orbit’s values-led approach means their employees are passionate about achieving the organisation’s vision: to lead in building thriving communities.

Wates Residential
Wates Residential, part of the Wates Group, is one of the UK's leading developers. The business operates across London and the South, working with public and private sector clients to build more and better quality homes. This is driven by a shared vision that everyone deserves a great place to live. Wates Residential applies a special type of regeneration to every scheme that it develops. This looks beyond bricks and mortar and is focused on supporting the wider long-term development of sustainable communities. By engaging with key stakeholder groups early, the team ensures that local needs are placed at the heart of every development. Wates Residential also looks to leave a positive lasting legacy in the communities where it operates by targeting local procurement, the creation of local training and employment opportunities and investing in local charitable organisations and community groups.

Secured by Design (SBD)
SBD is the national police crime prevention initiative, which works to prevent crime in the built environment. More than one million homes have been built to SBD crime prevention standards over the last 30 years with reductions in crime of up to 87%. SBD is managed by Police Crime Prevention Initiatives (PCPI), which runs a wide range of crime prevention initiatives and activities on behalf of the Police Service throughout the UK. SBD is due to mark its 30th anniversary in 2019.
Tel: 0203 8623 999