Regenerating a troubled estate into an award-winning showcase – with help from Police

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From Swilly to North Prospect

A former ‘showcase’ council estate, which became synonymous for poor quality housing, crime and anti-social behaviour, is part-way through a major regeneration which is giving its new and returning residents a feeling of security and sense of pride about their new community. Once known as Swilly and renamed North Prospect in 1969, the development is two miles north of Plymouth city centre and is the largest regeneration project in the South West. Under the management of Plymouth Community Homes (PCH), it involves demolishing 800 homes, building 1,110 new homes and refurbishing a further 300. Building to achieve a development with a greater choice of house types commenced in 2011. The third of five building phases is now underway.

How Secured by Design became a key regeneration partner

To help address concerns about the reputation of the former Swilly estate and to encourage confidence in the new development, PCH invited Secured by Design (SBD), the national police crime prevention initiative, to work with architects, developers and local authority planners to ‘design out crime’. These planning meetings involving SBD’s specialist Designing Out Crime Officers started long before building commenced and have meant that security has been embedded in to the layout, landscaping and physical security of properties in North Prospect.

Incorporating SBD’s crime prevention techniques

SBD’s advice on the built environment has included creating safer spaces through greatly increasing natural surveillance. Streets have been cleared of large mature trees and front garden hedges replaced by railings whilst high fences protect rear gardens. Properties have living rooms that overlook cars parked either in the street or within the curtilage of the building. Gable end walls with windows provide visibility over pathways and public spaces. There are no alleyways at the rear of gardens to be used as escape routes and hiding places.

The physical security of properties includes products that meet SBD’s Police Preferred Specification, such as external doors and accessible windows that are sufficiently robust to resist attack from a casual or opportunist burglar. Front doors have quadruple locking systems, door chains and spy holes as well as letterboxes with protective cowls to stop thieves using rods to ‘fish’ for vehicle keys or other valuables left inside. Every property has been fitted with an external light. Rear garden gates have two bolts and a separate key-lock and every lockable shed has a large metal ground anchor to help protect bicycles, motorbikes and mowers.

The benefits of SBD advice

Devon & Cornwall Police report a fall in recorded crime in North Prospect by 62% between 2007 and 2016 in four key neighbourhood crime categories: residential burglary fell by 49%, criminal damage by 84%, vehicle offences 78% and violence against the person 14%. A Plymouth City Council survey of occupants of new affordable homes in 2013-14, which included 26% of respondents from North Prospect, found that resident satisfaction had increased from the previous year with 96% feeling safe in their new home and 91% feeling safe in their new neighbourhood.

Secured by Design (6) Secured by Design (5)

North Prospect, before and after

Key issues addressed by Plymouth Community Homes

These lower crime and increased satisfaction results are testament to the vision and determination shown by PCH who have become well practised at making North Prospect succeed in many ways.

These include:

  1. the complex, lengthy and sensitive process of helping residents to move to better homes
  2. obtaining the necessary grant funding at a time of constrained public sector finances to avoid a partially completed project
  3. tackling the many construction issues, including using existing infrastructure on a sloping site
  4. overcoming the many legal issues, such as identifying the owners of houses that had been left empty.

A troubled history

Swilly was conceived as a ‘home for World War I heroes’ and building work started in 1921. With its mostly three-bed, semi-detached homes, Swilly had all the outward trappings of a garden suburb lifestyle to bring up a family. The homes had large rear gardens so tenants could grow their own vegetables for a healthy lifestyle, neatly presented front gardens bordered with picket fences or hedges, and a lime tree at the front of every house. There were wide pavements sufficient to allow for mums with prams to pass each other, and narrow roads with the only expected traffic being the occasional milk float, coal cart, motorbike and bicycle.

From the 1960s onwards, many building faults and social problems caused it to gain a reputation as the ‘Cinderella’ housing estate in Plymouth and ranked as one of the most deprived communities in England. More recently, building surveys highlighted structural cracking, wall tie failure and extensive and untreatable damp. Residents complained that homes were difficult to live in and expensive to keep warm. Nearly 60% of homes failed even the basic Decent Homes Standard.

Swilly also gained a reputation for violence and anti-social behaviour which culminated in the notorious Swilly bonfire, which led to marauding fights in November for many years between youths from Swilly and rival youths from new, emerging estates nearby.

Creating a new community

In 2009, Plymouth City Council transferred its housing stock of 14,000 homes and 45,000 residents to PCH. As part of the agreement, PCH were required to deliver a major programme of improvements within five years with the regeneration of North Prospect identified as a high priority. PCH management set about providing new impetus to existing consultation with local residents about the future of North Prospect. These close ties with the local community proved to be the bedrock of PCH’s vision for a transformation of the estate as it began to return to its showcase status as a place where residents were choosing to live.

A modern approach to reverse what had gone before

The construction involved putting into reverse much of the original concept of the estate. Space was taken back from the large gardens and wide pavements and used to widen the roads to allow for today’s car ownership. The density of the housing rose from 30 to 50 dwellings per hectare to increase the financial viability of the construction to provide quality affordable housing for rent, shared ownership or private ownership. The estate that has emerged is an open environment with the latest build specification homes – which are more energy efficient to reduce fuel bills, robust to need less repair and maintenance, more secure and safe. North Prospect is winning architectural and building awards and is due for completion in 2022 at a cost of £130M.

Secured by Design (1)

James Savage, Programme Manager at Plymouth Community Homes

Going beyond better homes

Plymouth Community Homes Programme Manager, James Savage, said regeneration goes beyond providing new and better homes to improve family lifestyle, health, education and security. “A case study we did with the Homes and Communities Agency reported that because families now have properly insulated homes, children would not have to do their homework wrapped up in a duvet on their bed and could use the kitchen table instead. It’s so easy to get lost in all the statistics around new homes, but children are achieving at school and health rates are improving.”

Paul Shepherd, Designing Out Crime Officer, Devon & Cornwall Police, explained that long before a spade had even touched the ground, there were pre-planning meetings every week for many months to discuss and debate all building considerations including how to ‘design out crime’. “It was fantastic to have this level of reassurance that the plans were being continually improved. This was important because it channelled all of us into working to ensure residents were going to be happy and safe in their new community,” he said.

PCSO Lee Sheldon, who was the local officer on North Prospect between 2007 and 17, said: “The layout and landscaping, and the attitude of the new residents, has changed the place irrevocably. The drop in crime is noticeable for everyone and is no different to what you would find elsewhere. The transformation is quite remarkable.”

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