Overview: The best security is in good design

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The Independent Online

The picture of a London sprinkled with ghettos for the wealthy was vividly drawn by the Metropolitan Police deputy commissioner in a BBC drama-documentary last week. Sir Ian Blair took a bleak view of the lengths to which people were prepared to go to ensure their safety, arguing that gated communities and guards could threaten social stability. In London he can certainly rest assured that gated developments (communities they are not) have been off the planners' menus for quite a time now. Any new ones that appear on the market will have been approved a few years back. But none of this alters the fact that one of the most appealing features of a new development is its security. People cannot get enough of cameras, smart cards and codes, even if it does isolate them socially. In some places measures are so tight that a visitor who doesn't know better will be left cooling his heels outside. Fear of crime is so strong that even a majority of 18 to 24-year-olds favour gated schemes, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

Linda Beaney of estate agents Beaney Pearce says developers have "raised the white flag" as far as this issue is concerned. They have turned instead to electronic barriers and security guards which are far more costly to the residents. Far from imagining that these will suffice she foresees these systems being extended to the thoroughfares.

And perhaps that is the point Sir Ian was making. The more elaborate the defences, the deeper the social divide, and in trying to achieve complete security the ring keeps widening. One minute you have eight houses up an unmade lane, and the next someone proposes installing a gate "for safety reasons".

There are alternatives. Good design has a bigger part to play in creating a secure environment than a perimeter wall. Housing estates have been changed beyond recognition with the application of the principles of an award scheme, "Secured by Design", done with the collaboration of architects, police and housing associations. The idea of designing out crime has also been adopted by developments such as Imperial Wharf on the Thames in south west London.

All the same, the fear of crime does not exist solely in wealthy areas. Is it fair to criticise Kensington residents who pay for private security while London boroughs are adopting street warden schemes? When the re-development of King's Cross got underway two years ago, Islington set up just such a system. Lambeth is another borough with similar patrols. Their objectives are surely the same: to make life safer and more pleasant for local people.

Multi-tasking

Troubleshooting is not what FPDSavills usually does, but as one of the agents handling the sale of the village of Gittisham in Devon, it found itself last week facing rebellious villagers and an excited media. Apparently taken aback by the hostile reception to the news that will see some in rented homes having to leave within weeks, Savills made a robust defence by pointing out that 17 households had signed assured shorthold tenancies, knowing that notice could be served under the agreement. And as for fears that second-home owners will be snapping up the cottages, the owner, Richard Marker, will apparently be looking very carefully at who buys. But how much comfort villagers can take from this is another matter. The decision to sell was made last year - it's just that nobody thought of telling the villagers.

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