UDG responds to call for evidence: reviewing personal safety measures on streets in England

UDG has responded to the Government's call for evidence with the following:

We are very pleased that this review is taking place. We would like to highlight:

Research by Professor Rhiannon Corcoran on pro-social behaviour points to the importance of maintenance, and the avoidance of the creation of harsh urban environments, as important in bringing about a change in people’s behaviour towards a more mutualistic, socially responsible, and caring way of behaving. We are concerned that a lack of funding for maintenance is having a very serious impact, not only on the overall appearance of streets, but in the design of new streets, as highway authorities seek to avoid taking on new maintenance burdens by refusing to adopt trees, parking areas, or landscape areas, and by agreeing to adopt areas of the street and street lighting that are specified to a most basic level, using the cheapest possible materials. Finding effective ways to fund maintenance will make an important contribution to encouraging pro-social behaviour.   

There is legislation in the form of the Code of Practice on Litter and Refuse under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. There are planning powers such as S215 Untidy Land Notices under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990  which can be (but are rarely) used to require property owners to remedy land and buildings which have been allowed to deteriorate to the extent that they are affecting the amenity of an area.

Research repeatedly identifies loneliness as a major and growing problem, and one that can have a substantial impact on people’s physical and mental health. Providing activities that allow people to meet and develop acquaintances and friendships is important. There is some evidence to suggest that small front gardens offer a design measure that help social contact, as do local facilities that permit repeat encounters with the same people.

Children are said to act as “social glue”. They need street environments that they and their parents or carers consider safe for them to use. Tim Gill is one of the leading authorities in this area. Research shows that children are unable to judge the speed and distance of oncoming traffic travelling at more than 20mph (Dr Catherine Purcell, University of Cardiff)

Research by Dr Rachel Aldred, University of Westminster, identifies a substantial reduction in crime on these streets.

Roller shutters, grills. Shopping areas assume a very harsh and threatening appearance if there is extensive use of roller shutters and grills. They advertise danger, and damage the amenity of an area. They can be a requirement of shop insurance policies. It is recommended that discussions take place with insurance companies and the police, to see whether these measures really do have any impact in reducing burglary and damage, and whether there are other measures that could be as or more effective, that do not involve damaging the streetscenes or create an atmosphere of fear: a street under siege.

There have been anecdotal reports of different colour temperatures influencing human behaviour.

Buildings and gardens that face on to the street. The distributor road model, streets with no frontage access from the highway, which is still extensively in use by highway authorities in England, provides no overlooking, and also leads to a network of isolated footpaths.   

Avoidance of remote car based facilities - the 15 minute city/20 minute neighbourhood model. The more facilities that are created that depend on access by car, the fewer will be the numbers of people accessing facilities on foot or by bicycle and the fewer will be the numbers of people on streets able to provide active surveillance.

  • Community hubs: Local delivery; drop-off; mobility hubs/re-modelled logistics systems - several organisations have developed models, including Jacobs, WSP and Edge. The UDG ran an event on this subject earlier this year. These ideas are core to creating towns and cities of short distances. 

Research by members of the Royal Institute of Navigation, such as Professor Kate Jeffery, UCL, points to the substantial differences in navigational ability between people, sufficient for them to be concerned about becoming lost; the research also identified the mechanisms in the brain by which people navigate, including place cells, grid cells, and head direction cells that respond to landmarks. It is possible to make navigation in new developments easier, by providing distant landmarks, ensuring that there is variety in the appearance of streets and the buildings that flank them, and avoiding “rotational symmetry” where a view looks the same in different directions: some streets look identical in both directions, the same can apply to junctions. The sinuous street layouts advocated in the post war period, involving loop roads and culs de sac, accompanied by standard house types, are difficult to navigate.

Are being advanced as an overall objective.

We would be pleased to help with providing contacts, should you wish to follow up any of these areas. We would also be pleased to help by running an open seminar on this subject later in the year.

We wish you well in the work ahead, which we believe is of great importance. Fear is a pervasive mobility impairment that affects a very large proportion of the population, and women, and elderly people in particular.

Robert Huxford
Director, Urban Design Group



Foreword from Rachel Maclean MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport

Streets are an essential part of people’s journeys, but it has become clear that many people, particularly women, feel unsafe using the street and experience harassment, intimidation or unwanted sexual behaviour in public spaces. This must be addressed if we are to make streets safe for everyone.

I know these issues cannot be solved by design alone. There are much wider cultural, behavioural, and societal issues that need addressing. But streets and roads make up three-quarters of all public space, so their design has a significant impact on people’s lives.

Improvements to the safety of transport will be of limited use if people do not feel safe using the street to access it. We want to find out how the design, maintenance and operation of streets can be improved to make sure everyone feels safe and confident using them in their daily lives. This is about perception, as much as reality – a street may not be dangerous according to the data and yet people will avoid using it, perhaps at certain times of day or night, because it does not feel safe.

This call for evidence is a chance to tell us which design features work and which do not, and provide evidence and data to help us establish the extent of the problem. We are updating the Manual for streets (MfS) and Manual for streets 2 (MfS 2), which provides an opportunity to understand design measures and approaches that may help streets feel safer.

We aim to gather information to enable us to understand the problem, identify possible solutions and include what works and what doesn’t within our updated advice.