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This section is based upon and replaces Calvin Beckford's original guide for recessed doors called 'The Recessed Pest', which was originally conceived while dealing with the problems associated with drug markets in Soho and Bloomsbury in the West End of London during 2000 and 2001.
Many houses, blocks of flats and commercial buildings have been built with the main entrance door or emergency exit door recessed into the building. Deeply recessed entrance doors can attract crime problems and the following paragraphs identify what these might be and what you can do to make the problems go away. This section does not deal specifically with commercial buildings, but most of the solutions for blocks of flats can be adopted. The first part of this section deals with houses and houses in multiple occupation and the second part deals with blocks of flats.
“There is no single cause of crime that is sufficient to guarantee its occurrence: yet opportunity above all others is necessary and therefore has as much or more claim to being a root cause.” (Opportunity Makes the Thief - practical theory for crime prevention. Home Office Police Research Series Paper 98 by Marcus Felson & Ronald V. Clarke)
One family houses and houses in multiple occupation
If your house has a recessed front door it was probably designed that way to provide shelter from inclement weather when entering the house; a place to leave the umbrella or wet shoes. It’s also a place for a caller to stand whilst waiting for the door to be answered. For some modern homes the recess may have been designed to allow room for an outside pram store or meter cupboard.
The recessing of a front door, in most cases, does not present too much of a problem if it is only set back by around 600mm, which is the distance mentioned in the police initiative ‘Secured by Design’. If the recess is more than that then there is an increased chance that your front door will be the point of entry in a burglary, particularly if there are no houses on the opposite side of the street from you. Police don’t necessarily record information about the recessing of a front door when dealing with a burglary and the facts are only known due to research conducted by Crime Prevention staff over recent years.
Take for example the case of a very pleasant terrace of Victorian houses in an area of West London that used to have an ungated rear alleyway. The access was gated off about 15 years ago to stop burglars and thieves from getting to the backs of the houses, but unusually the crimes committed from the alleyway only accounted for about 30% of the total. Most of the burglars actually forced their way into the houses via the deeply recessed front doors. The doors were exceptionally deep; set back by about 1300mm from the front of the house. Add to this the numerous privet hedges at the front of these houses and the burglar could be well hidden from the street while forcing the door.
Solutions for houses
Many people, including the ones who used to own my house got rid of the recess by simply putting a new front door at the entrance, thus converting the recess into an extension of the hall. Others have added porches onto the front of the house to increase the space even more and so this solution not only removes a crime opportunity, but can increase your living space at the same time. You may need planning permission to carry out this work so you must first check with the local planning authority and if you rent the place or share the house with other residents then you’ll have to convince the landlord and other residents about the benefits of such an alteration.
Blocks of flats
Whilst the provision of shelter is again a factor in recessing the entrance door to a block of flats there are other regulatory reasons why the door might have been set back. It is likely that the main entrance door is used as a designated emergency exit to escape from a fire or for any other emergency when the building has to be evacuated. Most of these doors will open outwards in the direction of escape. If this would require the door to open onto a path or highway Building Regulations would require it to be set back so that opening the door would not result in someone on the highway getting injured by the door. There might also be the possibility that somebody could obstruct the opening of the door by, for example, parking a car right outside it. Some blocks of flats will have more than one emergency exit door and these could also be recessed.
The numbers of emergency exit doors and their direction of opening (including the entrance door) are determined by the building type, its use and size and the number of persons expected to use the premises and the doors.
If you are unfortunate enough to live in an area inhabited by drug users and dealers and or street drinkers and maybe prostitutes you will probably be seeing the very worst abuse of the recessed door. In 2001 a survey of 57 streets in the West End of London used by drug users identified 163 drug user and rough sleeping sites. These ranged from insecure rear yards and car parks through to telephone boxes and alleyways. The most commonly used place however was the recessed door, accounting for more than 30% of the sites identified. Drug users and street dwellers in general find recessed doorways attractive because they provide a modicum of shelter from the elements and prying eyes.
A local authority block of flats in Bloomsbury in the West End of London used to have a deeply recessed entrance door. The photograph below is the block in question after the work was completed (a pity I don't have the 'before' shot). One of the residents complained to me that she and her neighbours would often find drug users and dealers standing in the doorway doing their thing and they would have to wait for them to finish before they could enter their block. Working with the local housing authority and building control, the solution was to alter the opening direction of the door to ‘open in’ and bring the door forward to remove the recess. We had to consult building regulations and speak to the planners, but the proposed solution went ahead and the problem just disappeared. I got a big kiss from the resident who had complained! As an aside, the residents used to call the police at least once a week about this problem and so the solution reduced calls to the police by 52 in a year. Don’t let anyone tell me that the police should not be involved in crime prevention!
Legislation and regulation affecting blocks of flats
The reader will be interested to learn that in many cases, as with the true story above, recessed doorways can be brought forward providing due regard is given to the requirements of other legislation and regulation. Working closely with the police crime prevention service the local authority and sometimes the fire brigade will help immensely. The following paragraphs describe the regulations that might affect your recessed entrance door.
Opening direction of an emergency exit door
The Building Regulations Fire Safety Approved Document B Volume 1 - Dwellinghouses (2006 edition) does not offer guidance for the opening direction of final exit doors. In the absence of guidance I have therefore referred to The Building Regulations 2000 Fire Safety Approved Document B Volume 2 – Buildings other than Dwellinghouses 2006 edition amended 2007.
Paragraph 5.14 advises that “the door of any doorway or exit should, if reasonably practicable, be hung to open in the direction of escape and should always do so if the number of persons that might be expected to use the door at the time of a fire is more than 60. Note: where there is a very high fire risk with potential for rapid fire growth, such as with some industrial activities, doors should open in the direction of escape even where the number of persons does not exceed 60.”
Implied in this advice is that if it is anticipated that 60 or less people are to use the door and there is NOT a very high risk of fire it COULD open inwards. There are additional regulations for licensed premises, which DO require exit doors to open in the direction of escape.
Please note that there will be similar guidance in the Building Regulations for Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. As soon as I have found the references I will post them here.
Steps outside the exit door
If there is more than one step outside the emergency exit door or the single step is greater than 150mm in height it may not be possible to move the doors forward. This is because the change of floor level might cause a trip hazard that could affect the means of escape. However, if the steps can be built outwards or replaced with a ramp or the footway raised to reduce the step height or create a level threshold the alteration may be possible.
The local council's Highways Authority has a duty to protect the public from injury whilst using the public highway and to prevent its obstruction. Indeed, Section 153 of the Highways Act 1980 makes it an offence to open any "door, gate or bar" outwards onto the public highway unless the owner has consent from the Highways Authority. It is for these sound reasons why emergency exit doors (and some entrance doors) are recessed so that when opening outwards they do not open onto the public footway where they might cause obstruction or injury to pedestrians. In addition to this, because the doors are recessed, they will still be able to open even if an irresponsible driver has parked their vehicle on the footway and is obstructing the exit.
Council’s duty to prevent crime
At the present time, the Building Regulations and the Highways Act do not take into account the need to prevent crime. This is not surprising, as these regulations and legislation were never intended to do so – crime prevention has in most cases never been regulated for. To some extent this has now changed and the change has been brought about by the introduction of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
Section 17 – (1) of the Crime and Disorder Act says:
“Without prejudice to any other obligation imposed on it, it shall be the duty of each authority to which this section applies to exercise its various functions with due regard to the likely effect of the exercise of those functions on, and the need to do all that it reasonably can to prevent, crime and disorder in its area.”
This means that when, for example, a Planning Officer is dealing with a planning application for a new building, the officer must consider the implication for crime and disorder. This consideration will not just be for the building itself, but also for the effect of the development in the wider area. A similar position exists with an application to the Building Control Officer to ensure compliance with the building regulations, because the regulations that relate to emergency exit doors now have to be considered together with the crime risks associated with them.
It is, of course, accepted that the need to provide a safe means of exit from a building in an emergency will often outweigh the crime opportunities that these regulations may unwittingly create. However, this does not mean that alternative and acceptable compromises cannot be found. In a drug market scenario, a recessed outward opening door might be obstructed by a drug user sitting or sleeping in it or by bedding material left in the recess. What is important is that the crime opportunity has been considered and that the decision about where to position a door and its direction of opening has been considered in this light.
The owner/landlord/managing agent of a building has a legal responsibility to keep fire exits free from obstruction when the building is occupied. By definition this responsibility includes the removal of persons sleeping or sitting in a recess in front of an emergency escape door as well as the removal of obstructions on the inside of the door. In addition to this, reasonable steps must be taken to prevent people from using any part of the premises to take drugs (Section 8, Misuse of Drugs Act 1971), and this includes a recess. Added to this burden will be Health and Safety Legislation and the Occupier’s Liability Act 1957 and 1984. Both would place responsibilities upon management to ensure that doors do not open in a manner that might cause injury to people in the immediate vicinity and that the building and the grounds upon which it stands are safe for all people to use.
It is indeed unfortunate that the understandable needs of safety regulation, which has caused the recessing of so many outward opening doors, has unwittingly created the opportunity for crime and anti-social behaviour. For those of you managing buildings in inner cities where crime and anti-social behaviour is often so much greater than elsewhere it would be understandable if you felt that you were in a ‘no win’ situation. This is why it is important to read and where necessary act upon the advice in this section. Working in partnership with the police and local authority you can at least show that you have taken your responsibilities seriously and have done all that can be reasonably expected to be done within the restrictions of the present laws.
You can see that the landlord for this building below certainly has their work cut out!
Solutions for Blocks of Flats and most Commercial Buildings
The following paragraphs suggest some solutions that might be suitable for your individual circumstances. You must seek approval from the council planning department and Building Control before you carry out any work
PLAN A - Remove the recess by bringing the doors forward
This can normally be achieved in the following circumstances:
1. There are 60 or less users of the emergency exit doors, including the entrance door and there is a low risk of fire, allowing them to open inwards (Should you live in one, this does not include places licensed for entertainment). The Building Regulations 2000 Fire Safety Approved Document B Volume 2 – Buildings other than Dwellinghouses 2006 edition amended 2007 allows this in some circumstances (see above)
In some cases inward opening doors are not as secure as outward opening doors (because they can be kicked in). You must then ensure that the inward opening door and its locking provision will satisfy both security and fire safety needs. Reference to your insurers would also be wise.
2. There are 60 or less users of the doors, but there is a private forecourt immediately outside the recess allowing the doors to be brought forward and continue to open outwards onto the forecourt. See notes below for further important guidance.
3. There are more than 60 users of the doors and there is a private forecourt immediately outside of the recessed door allowing the door to be brought forward and continue to open outwards onto the forecourt. See notes below for further important guidance.
To ensure the safety of pedestrians it is necessary to place structures either side of the door opening arc. Examples of such structures include an area of small cobbles placed either side of the door, together with deflector rails on the walls. Planters, bollards and rails are also used to the same effect of diverting the pedestrian away from the opening arc. In England and Wales this matter is dealt with by Regulation 4 Requirement M2 of the Building Regulations. There is similar guidance in the Building Regulations for Scotland, Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland
Although not a requirement under the Building Regulations it is advisable to include a glazed viewing panel in an outward opening door as this will allow the user to see if there is an obstruction (or a pedestrian) on the other side. The use of 6.4mm laminated glass with a small gauge grille fixed behind is recommended. These measures will help to prevent the manipulation of the crash bars or other emergency release mechanism by a burglar through the viewing panel. If the door needs to be of a fire and smoke resistant type Building Control will advise you.
4. There are more than 60 users of the doors, there is no private forecourt immediately outside of the recessed door, but the footway is very wide, possibly allowing outward opening of the door.
The Highways Authority has a duty under the Highways Act to protect pedestrians from injury whilst using the footway. At the same time Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (see above) places a duty upon the local authorities to prevent crime and disorder.
In effect this means that Highways, Building Control and Planning Officers have to consider crime and the prevention of crime and disorder when carrying out their respective duties. Unfortunately, Building and Highway Regulations, which require some doors to be recessed, actually create the opportunities for crime to be committed. Bear in mind also that Section 8 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 requires the building owner to take reasonable steps to prevent any part of a premises to be used to take controlled drugs. Until such times as the various regulations and laws are amended to take account of these anomalies council officers will do all they can to help within the law.
In consideration of the above the Highways Authority may, in circumstances where the crime problem is acute, allow a door to open over the highway providing the footway is very wide and the structures to protect pedestrians as described above are put in place.
If the recess you have removed forms the entrance into your building you might want to provide a little shelter from the elements by providing a small roof canopy above the doorway. Before carrying out any work you are advised to contact your local planning department, as you will need planning permission.
PLAN B - Reduce the depth of the recess to a minimum
1. With reference to Building Control and the Highways Authority ensure that the recess is no deeper than 600mm
The authorities may allow a slight protrusion over the highway on the basis that a particular set of doors will rarely be used anyway. Wall mounted deflectors or other structure may be required. Having achieved this alteration go to PLAN C below for further advice.
2. With reference to Building Control and the Highways Authority ensure that the recess is no greater than that required for the opening of the door within the recess.
This should be a straightforward alteration, but you will still have to contact the local authority if you move the doors. Having achieved this alteration go to PLAN C for further advice.
PLAN C - Maximise formal and informal surveillance of the recess
1. If you are unable to remove the recess by moving the doors forward you can still make alterations that may reduce the misuse of the recess. This is achieved by increasing both formal and informal surveillance of the recess, but unlike the removal of a recess, we cannot offer any guarantees that anti-social behaviour will be reduced.
In this context ‘formal surveillance’ means the visual supervision of the recess by concierge staff and security officers either by patrolling the building and looking through the doors into the recess or watching a CCTV image of the recess. ‘Informal surveillance’ means looking into the recess by residents from either inside the building looking out or when passing by the recess along the street and by passing members of the public.
In 2000 a project took place in the West End of London known as 'Clearscape™', which involved replacing one solid emergency exit door each in a cinema and a night club with specially made glazed doors. A CCTV camera was located behind each of these doors to monitor the use of the recess. The findings showed less anti-social activity in the monitored recesses when compared to those that had solid doors. The effect of the increased surveillance and the response to the CCTV images by the staff does seem to have increased the miscreant’s fear of detection causing them to seek an alternative location (a different recessed door!).
Other solutions and considerations
Deep clean the recess and where necessary make repairs to the walls, ceiling and floor surfaces ensuring that any holes are filled and loose panels are fixed. Drug users often hide their various drug paraphernalia in any handy cavity.
Paint the walls and ceiling with anti-graffiti paint. This will make it easier to remove any new graffiti and other surface deposits such as blood. If there is either formal surveillance of the recess, such as CCTV, which will guarantee attendance by a member of staff, or there is a great deal of informal surveillance, such as lots of people walking by, maximise the ‘clinical’ effect by using a light coloured paint and a bright light. UV or blue light sources have been used in recesses to deter drug users in the belief that the blue light will make it more difficult to locate a vein for injecting. Having some experience of the use of this type of light whilst working in the West End of London I am not at all convinced that this light source is effective. I therefore do not recommend its use.
Consider replacing the emergency exit door with an all glazed or top half glazed door. It is recommended that the new doorset should be certificated to LPS 1175 Security Rating 2 minimum, which may require escape furniture. You must consult your insurers about this alteration to satisfy them that you have not increased your risk of burglary. Although you must consult Building Control when making alterations to an emergency exit door you should also note that Part L of the Building Regulations (April 1st 2002) require you to seek building control approval when installing a door which has more than 50% glazing.
When using a glazed emergency exit door a closed circuit television camera could be located behind the door positioned to look through the glass into the recess. Activity in the recess can then be monitored, recorded and acted upon by members of staff or security officers. The camera should be visible through the glass so that the person in the recess is aware that he or she is under surveillance. Reinforce this by placing a sign on one of the walls to inform the public that the recess is under surveillance by CCTV and that any misuse will be acted upon. Some people have additionally installed loudspeakers in the recess to tell miscreants to move on. For good quality, non-grainy images the recess should be well lit.
When using a non-glazed emergency exit door consider installing a closed circuit television camera into one corner of the ceiling. The image may not be quite as good as the one from a camera looking directly through the glass, but the camera will at least detect activity, which can be acted upon. A sign should be placed on the wall to inform the public about the CCTV and a loudspeaker can be installed.
It is a good idea to install a door viewer or secure vision panel into a solid door so that the legitimate building user can look out into the recess before opening the door.
Mandatory signage used for escape doors will be required and advice must be sought from Building Control. An extract of the relevant Building Regulation states the following:
Where there is a danger that a door designated as a fire exit might become obstructed because its importance as a fire safety measure is not appreciated, e.g. a final exit door opening out from the face of the building in a secluded area, or a seldom used intercommunicating door between rooms or occupancies, a conspicuous "FIRE ESCAPE - KEEP CLEAR" notice should be displayed on the appropriate face of the door. This is a mandatory sign and requires white lettering on a blue background.
A business in West London used a novel method to reduce the problems in one of their recessed doorways. They installed ‘splash plates’ from the floor surface to the wall at an angle of about 45°. These plates did not obstruct the opening of the doors. Allegedly this measure reduced the available surface area for rough sleeping and caused urine to splash back onto the relieving reveller’s shoes and trousers. Of course, splash plates made of stainless steel are likely to create noise in addition to wetting one’s trousers – perhaps another deterrent!