Trevor Laffan: Crime prevention is now vital part of the planning process

Trevor Laffan talks about the potential pitfalls when it comes to large developments in our cities
Trevor Laffan: Crime prevention is now vital part of the planning process

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, or CPTED, plays an important role in the planning process, says Trevor Laffan. Picture: Stock

THE regeneration of Cork’s city docklands has been provided with funding of €405million by the Government, it was reported this week.

Some €50million of that will be spent on a facelift for the city centre.

It’s the largest allocation for a single local authority in the country and will include a new central library as part of a €46million revamp of the Grand Parade, and a revamp of Bishop Lucey Park.

The city’s vast docklands site has been earmarked for development as a new urban quarter, with the potential to house more than 25,000, and a mix of apartments, schools, sports and recreation facilities, as well as transport infrastructure, including two new bridges.

This massive undertaking will transform the recreational, residential and commercial areas, and prime the docklands for significant follow up private sector development.

Hopefully there will be a positive outcome, but without wishing to rain on the parade, there are potential pitfalls too.

Simple design failures in a development like this can create opportunities for anti-social behaviour and criminal activity further down the line. It has happened before in Europe to the extent that some places became no-go-areas.

This isn’t the first development of this type and size, so it makes sense to have a look at similar projects to see how they got on and to learn what worked and what didn’t.

Back in 2006, when the docklands project was first proposed, An Garda Siochana took part in an EU-funded project to examine similar projects under construction across the EU in relation to the crime prevention techniques being employed in the design of urban renewals.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design — CPTED as it is better known — is a philosophy based on the theory that proper design and effective use of the built environment can lead to a reduction in crime and the fear of crime, as well as an improvement in the quality of life for the community. It is best employed by engaging all stakeholders in a consultation process at the design stage of a proposed development.

In plain English, it means using suitably qualified police officers to study the drawings of a proposed development at the early stages of the design process to identify the potential difficulties that may materialise from a crime prevention perspective before the work actually begins. It makes sense.

For example, back in the 1990s, during my community policing days, there was a laneway on the northside of the city leading from a housing estate onto the public roadway. There were private gardens on both sides, lined with trees that provided shelter for the residents... and cover for the ne’er do wells. The gardens became a handy dumping ground for cans, bottles, needles and other rubbish.

The laneway eventually became a rat-run and haven for anti-social behaviour. The residents were driven demented. They wanted action and the best solution was to block off the laneway, but that was easier said than done. There were many obstacles to be overcome so it took a few years, but eventually the laneway was absorbed into the surrounding gardens and promptly disappeared, along with the anti-social behaviour.

With the knowledge, experience and expertise we have at our disposal in relation to crime prevention now, it makes sense to use what we know, and that’s what CPTED is about.

A similar laneway being proposed in a modern housing estate today would be identified as a potential hot spot by CPTED and altering a line on a drawing could solve the problem before it became an issue.

CPTED is commonly used in other jurisdictions and is now a big business. It’s successful because the technique works. Identifying potential problem areas at the design stage makes them easier to solve.

It’s a simple matter to erase a pencil mark on a drawing or a plan, but it’s more difficult, and more expensive, to alter it later when that pencil line turns into concrete.

This is particularly relevant in terms of alleyways, alcoves and similar areas that can provide access, egress and cover for criminal activity. 

Once they’re in situ, they are difficult to remove. There have been many projects of this type across Europe in recent years and we visited some of them.

Oud-Krispijn, a neighbourhood in the city of Dortrecht in the Netherlands, was experiencing social problems which were becoming progressively worse. Drug abuse and criminality were reaching such proportions that the area became the first ever neighbourhood to be designated as a Problem Accumulation Area.

The government gave financial assistance to the local authority to address the issue, but despite their best intentions, it got worse. The physical environment was a major issue so in the early 2000s they decided to try a new approach. The housing associations and the police joined forces to develop a substantial reconstruction programme.

This programme was at an advanced stage when we saw it in 2008 and was due for completion in 2013, but by then, 1000 houses had been demolished and 500 new properties were constructed using CPTED principles. The effect was impressive, and the environment looked and felt safe.

They also wanted to extend the city centre in The Hague. Lack of space had become a serious issue for the local authority, and they planned to relocate an industrial area to beyond the city limits and use the vacant site to develop commercial and residential properties.

This project is similar to our proposed Docklands Project and they also used CPTED principles. So did the Rheinau Port in Cologne, Germany and their docklands area was developed at a cost of €700million.

The project planned for Cork is not the first of its kind. It’s been done before, and CPTED has proven to be a useful tool.

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