Should the gates be open or shut?

Gated developments have proved popular with buyers in big cities, who are worried about personal security. But as Cheryl Markosky reports, planners are becoming less keen
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The Independent Online

Banker Amanda Hickman bought an apartment at Northacre's gated development The Bromptons in South Kensington two years ago, where prices start from £1 million. One of the key reasons she chose her apartment was its secure environment with an entrance manned round the clock and a key-card access system.

"We all know someone who has been the victim of crime," she says, "and you feel particularly vulnerable in basement or ground-floor flats. A high level of security was one of my top considerations when buying."

Although Hickman admits living in the likes of Fortress Belgravia is "undesirable", like many these days, she has real concerns about personal safety. This concern, however, is not reflected in planning laws that are in the process of change. Recommendations in the 2000 urban task force report that are now seeping into planning strategy encourage "mixed and inclusive" housing that is "physically as well as visually integrated into the surroundings".

If you approve of social engineering, this might sound laudable, but those who are frightened by the prospect of walking even the short distance from the car to the front doorstep late at night might think this is a bad time to talk about government controlled integration.

John Hunter of Northacre, a developer of high-end schemes like Kings Chelsea in the Kings Road, points out: "Against this backdrop, Kings could well be the last of a rare breed of secure gated developments in London. The current advice issued by planners is that unless a site is already established as a gated environment, there is little prospect of these gated developments receiving consent in the future."

Councillor Barry Phelps, Kensington and Chelsea's cabinet member for planning, concurs with this view. "In Kensington and Chelsea, it is highly unlikely anyone will be given permission to privatise a road and gate it, taking away a public benefit for private use."

British developers do not favour the South African-style slavering-Rottweilers-and-barbed-wire approach, but many believe the planning process has gone awry. "If people do not feel at ease in the open street," warns Hunter, "then they will build their own security."

Bob Barlow, marketing consultant to major house builders and housing associations across the South-east, is more robust: "The amount of twaddle talked about so-called 'gated communities' has reached a ridiculous level, with a lot of politically correct hand-wringing about social exclusivity and well-off ghettos. So let's be absolutely clear. Controlled, gated access to new developments is overwhelmingly about one thing - car parking."

Barlow sees nothing wrong with a world "where children can play safely away from traffic and opportunistic weirdos. And if bad guys decide getting a stolen car or burgled TV through a set of gates is too much like hard work - how terrible is that?"

Two examples of gated developments that are capturing the imagination of buyers are Barratt Homes' Wentworth Gate at Virginia Water, Surrey, which has an impressive gatehouse and electronic gates with 24-hour liveried security, and Blenheim Gate, a small enclave of 13 houses on the borders of Lee and Mottingham in south London. Wentworth Gate has already sold out, but five homes remain at Blenheim Gate, priced from around £430,000.

If consumer demand is anything to go by, then perhaps the Government needs to listen to what the majority of residents really want. According to Stavros Kapsalis at Jackson-Stops & Staff in Twickenham, "gated developments are hugely popular and prices attract a premium. You do get good value for your money. As well as state-of-the-art security, you get to live in a pleasant space that is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of life." Currently, Kapsalis is selling Millside Place in Old Isleworth, Middlesex, a modern four-bed townhouse over four storeys in a gated development near Syon Park and the Thames. The price is £459,950 and includes a garage and off-street parking.

Ironically, while new planning policies seems to be about building and uniting communities, it appears gated neighbourhoods offer the same bonhomie. "Gated developments have obvious benefits as far as families are concerned," comments Bob Rutherford, sales and marketing director of KingsOak Thames Valley. "We have found that on our smaller gated developments like Broomfield Gate in Slough, purchasers foster a real sense of community and parents feel much more secure - especially those with young children."

At Broomfield Gate on Crofthill Road, Slough, 22 three- and four-bed terraced houses and four- and five-bed detached houses are for sale, starting from £229,995. Rutherford believes that, with access off a driveway with private gates, Broomfield Gate is set to become one of the area's most favoured residential addresses.

Tony Blair and his colleagues might be more pleased with Greenwich Millennium Village, just south of the Millennium Dome. This is an open-plan development where houses are arranged round a central courtyard. Joint developers Countryside, Taylor Woodrow and English Partnerships have included a number of security cameras around the development, which will eventually extend to 1,400 homes. Priced from just over £200,000 a unit, the eco-friendly site is viewed as a pioneer for future building, so maybe the Big Brother approach will catch on.

FPDSavills' planning director David Henry concedes that there is a "perception of rising street crime, so the demand for gated communities has increased"; however, perhaps the key to how these safer spaces are built may not be too far off the Greenwich Millennium Village model after all. "You can have a high level of unobtrusive security without it looking like Colditz," he says. And if you are looking for good investment, James Pace from Farrar & Co in Fulham believes gated properties can command a premium of up to 10 per cent over the equivalent on public streets. "People want to lock up and leave in the knowledge that their house won't be ransacked during their absence."

It's easy to dismiss the "gated" concept as some paranoid 21st-century trend. But historically, as John Hunter from Northacre points out, carriage driveways in places like Earls Terrace off west London's Kensington High Street, were gated. "What is the point of an in-and -out driveway with east and west gatekeeper lodges without the gates?"

Many believe this is not about whether you have faith in the current planning system. "Surely it all comes down to individual choice," argues Ed Lewis from FPDSavills. "It is everyone"s right to live in a conurbation free of menace, whether they have the money to pay for it or not. I do not think it right that we have to pay for security, as it all comes down to law and order issues at the end of the day."

Northacre, 020-7376 7000; Barratt Homes, 020-8857 6524; Millside Place: Jackson-Stops & Staff, 020-8892 4488; KingsOak, 01753 647685; Countryside, Taylor Woodrow and English Partnerships, Greenwich Millennium Village, 020-8293 6900