Aug 21, 2019 Last Updated 10:52 AM, Aug 14, 2019

Designing out crime in social housing

Published in Housing
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A secure building helps to prevent and limit damage from break-ins, acts of vandalism and arson. However, what is often overlooked is how the design of a building or site can also help to deter crime before it occurs, writes Allison Whittington, Head of Housing at Zurich Municipal.


Through research and experience, Zurich Municipal has found that the effective design and security of social housing can aide in the reduction of crime rates. Taking a holistic approach to housing estate design can help in the management of crime and disruption, protecting the communities living there.

Tackling crime by design

Giving proper consideration to estate design from the very outset can not only help foster a sense of community and responsibility amongst social housing residents, but can also benefit developers in the long term, with any additional upfront design costs likely to be offset by future financial savings arising from crime prevention.

There are many techniques that housing associations can utilise to design out crime. For example, high standards of physical security measures such as double glazing, window locks and secure doors.

Housing developers should also consider formal surveillance measures such as CCTV and alarms as additional safeguards. However, physical surveillance of this type isn’t the only option. Other avenues for designing against crime include ensuring that the built environment contains buildings that are easily visible by the rest of the community, with well-lit streets and communal areas that create areas of natural surveillance. These well-lit and open spaces benefit from the natural surveillance of passing traffic, pedestrians and nearby homes.

Research has shown that implementing some of the above measures can make a real difference to crime rates. For example, in terms of natural surveillance, studies have shown that properties that are overlooked experience 38% fewer crimes than those that aren’t. In addition to this, further research by the University of Huddersfield has found that properties with these designs receive fewer reported burglaries.

The implementation of cul-de-sacs into communities instead of penetrable road layouts can help to reduce crime, as properties located on through-roads experience 93% more crime than those on cul-de-sacs.

The economic benefit

Incorporating crime prevention measures into the design stage of any new housing project can make tenants feel safer and can also prove cost-effective in the long-run. The economic impacts of crime are well documented; in 2015, one investigation by the Institute for Economics and Peace found that violent incidents cost the UK economy £124bn per year, including £4bn for theft and £5.3bn for burglary.

Alongside this, the fracturing impact crime has on communities is also well documented. For example, the Home Office has previously considered the social impacts of serious crimes, including the serious effects this has on people’s physical and emotional health, as well as their quality of life.

Including the measures outlined above will ensure that residents will continue to be protected and feel safe in their homes, and improve the long-term security of the community.

Ongoing evaluation

In the same way that the implementation of techniques to design out crime cannot be an afterthought; the maintenance and evaluation of the chosen methods should continue long after any development is completed.

Post-installation or post-occupancy evaluation should be routinely undertaken to support adjustments to the original design. This will generate knowledge that will prove useful to the wider social housing community and ensure that security continues to evolve to reflect the needs of residents. It will also give social housing providers a clearer understanding of what methods work, and which are not as effective as others in any given development.

By implementing routine inspections and evaluations, developers are alerted of when and where refurbishments are needed in a timely fashion, preventing the development falling into disrepair and, consequently, becoming more susceptible to crime.

Working together

The success of crime prevention measures is always dependent on collaborative working with designers, local community leaders and insurance partners. Insurance providers such as Zurich Municipal have decades of experience in local communities and have knowledge of what is needed to ensure that the chosen crime prevention methods will successfully safeguard a community.

Seeking advice and utilising wider experience and expertise will positively contribute to the security of a development. This is crucial for effective crime prevention and developers should ensure that they foster a sense of ownership amongst communities within their housing developments.

Housing developers should promote collaborative working between their design team and insurance providers during the first phases of a development. This collaboration will help to embed crime prevention and security into the design process and ensure that the future safety and security of a community is not overlooked at any stage and, if engaged effectively at this early stage, the various expert parties will be able to advise on successful crime prevention design techniques through their combined areas of industry expertise.

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