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There's no instant or off the shelf solution for blocks of flats that have access problems. So I thought that it might be useful to provide a couple of examples of projects I worked on in Camden so you can see the sorts of things that me and the local authority got up to.
Example 1 North Central London
For my first example about access problems around blocks of flats I have chosen a local authority development of three low rise blocks located in north central London. I was the Crime Prevention Design Adviser on this borough at the time and I can pretty much remember the problems and solutions. Many of the techniques used to counteract the problems ended up in the tool bag to be used on other developments later.
Description of site
Three parallel four storey residential blocks each containing 12 flats occupying a roughly square site, with a public road to the south (Southern Road) and another public road to the west (Western Road), a shared boundary with some further residential blocks on the east side and a public footpath to the north side. Each block was separated from each other by a 4 metre gap which included a pathway. At either end of these three blocks were further gaps with pathways. All four pathways provided open access from the communal front garden into the large rear communal garden.
The rear garden was about twice the area of the footprint of the residential blocks. The fronts of the blocks were set about 5 metres back from Southern Road and there was a 1.8m hedge marking the boundary between the footpath and the front garden. The block entrances each had their own uncontrolled access path off Southern Road via gaps in the hedge. The shared boundaries with the other residential blocks, the public footpath and the road on the west side consisted of poorly maintained and holed hedges and fences, with the incomplete hedge bordering the public footpath standing about three metres tall.
The main entrance doors to each block of flats were deeply recessed. The windows and private flat entrance doors had recently been replaced with new enhanced security types. Each block also had a back door leading into the rear garden. These were not recessed.
Ever since the doors and windows had been replaced there had been no forced burglary. However, three ground floor flats had been burgled during the summer via open windows to the rear. Some potted plants had been stolen from the rear garden on two occasions. Graffiti tags had been sprayed along the side walls of all the blocks. Trespass by non residents into the back gardens had resulted in damaged trees and shrubs, a great deal of littering and several calls for police assistance. Just before I got called in by the council the residents began finding drug detritus and human excreta in the rear gardens and even within the recessed entrances to the blocks.
I met with representatives of the residents committee and the council housing manager on site. I had already analysed the calls to police over the preceding 12 months and had spoken with the local home beat police officer (This would now be a member of local neighbourhood policing team). After two more meetings with the residents and with their agreement I prepared a written report for the council and the residents and made the following recommendations (Please note that the actual report would have contained photographs and would have been much more detailed):
- Reduce the height of the hedge to the front of the blocks to about 1.3m – 1.4m and maintain at that height. This is to provide an uninterrupted view of the fronts of the blocks from Southern Road and thus deter drug use in the recessed doorways and in the front gardens. The residents have requested some additional specimen trees and shrubs for the front garden. Please follow the separate guidance in respect to species selection so that the new plants do not cause surveillance problems in the future. The lighting at the main entrances is sufficient
- The hedge onto Southern Road has three gaps (access to each block entrance), which used to be occupied by unlocked gates. According to one of the older residents these gates were removed some forty years ago for repair and they were never seen again. Please replace the three gates. They do not need locks as their purpose is to maintain the symbolic barrier onto Southern Road and thereby transform the front garden into a defined area of semi-private space
- Bring forward the street entrance doors to remove the recess. This will remove the opportunity for drug taking, which occurs there because of the shelter that the recesses create. I have discussed this matter with Building Control and they have no objection to this alteration as the doors could open inward due to the low number of persons who would use them in an emergency
- Maintain the height of the hedge on Western Road at 1.8m. This hedge currently provides a substantial barrier to prevent trespass from Western Road. However, remove the last 4m of hedge at its northern end (which is in poor condition anyway) and replace with a 1.6m finial topped railing to provide a vision splay for people entering and exiting the public footpath
- Replace the overgrown and badly holed boundary hedge along the public footpath with a 1.6m railing (refer to residents for discussion about colour). Plant new trees and shrubs in the rear garden about 2m back from the new fence to make up for the loss of the hedge. The public footpath is little used, but this alteration will help people using it feel safer (because they can be seen) and those that do use it will be able to see into the block’s rear garden (they can anyway, but the gaps in the hedge are allowing trespassers into the rear garden and they also provide an escape route for them when the police have been called)
- Repair and maintain the eastern boundary fence and top with trellis. Consider growing a prickly shrub, such as pyracantha, up and over the fence. Local residents are keen to maintain the garden and have expressed an interest in this idea.
- Block the gaps between the blocks of flats and at either end with lockable 2m gates and panels (located to the front of the blocks) to prevent trespass into the rear gardens from the front and to complete the overall boundary improvement. I have provided a specification for the gates, which should be constructed of metal box steel to allow lines of site along the sides of the blocks from Southern Road.
- External lighting generally needs to be improved and I will be visiting the site with your lighting engineer to discuss this matter.
Although the improvements took 6 months to complete, the benefits were quickly realised. Calls to the police to deal with crimes in the grounds reduced from around 3 a month to none. There were no burglaries or thefts reported for at least 12 months after the improvements and trespass and drug taking in the grounds stopped. The residents generally felt much happier and several worked together to maintain and improve the garden. This all happened about ten years ago and so I hope that the improvements have been maintained.
Example 2 COMING SOON