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Dont Need To Be A Fortress

We gaze around the built environment, taking in protection against explosives, and access control, but mainly planning.

One chilly November morning in 1948, in black overcoat and Homburg hat, I walked up the main steps of the War Office to be confronted by the tall frock-coated head porter in his gold banded top hat. He looked down at me and I looked up at him; there could be no question which of us was the more impressive figure. He asked me civilly but without cordiality, what was my business and was about to direct me to the side entrance for unimportant callers, when I rather hesitantly said: “As a matter of fact, I’m the new CIGS.” A look of amazed incredulity passed over his face. So recalled Field Marshal Slim, on his first day in the job as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, from the Ministry of Defence website. Much has changed in 60 years; or rather, what has not?! It’s not the War Office any more but the Ministry of Defence; and in 2004 the MoD police and guards merged into the MoD Police and Guarding Agency. Uniforms are different, too; no more frock-coats, but hi-vis jackets. But the principles of access control remain, as a great man like Slim could appreciate with amused insight: send the tradesmen to the tradesmen’s entrance, greet those authorised to enter, and send the unauthorised on their way. Electronic access control can replace some of the tasks done by that man on the door, but not all.

Liane Hartley, Principal Socio-Economist at consultants Capita Symonds argues that the built environment profession as a whole needs to respond in a coherent and strategic manner towards embedding social cohesion, community safety and effective risk management in the design and development of all places and neighbourhoods. Responding to these issues through designs and plans means that counter-terrorism can be considered and addressed by default.

Part to play

Lord West’s recent calls for businesses and planners to play their part in the protection of people and assets in the fight against terror are a welcome recognition of the vital role that they play in counter-terrorism. But should the focus be shifted from planning against terror to planning for cohesion? Social Cohesion and Community Safety require an understanding of how people interact with the surrounding social, environmental and economic context in a positive or negative way. It is a powerful perspective in which to view the development and design process because once a building or development is in place, its success or failure will be the result of how well it interacts with its surroundings and whether it generates positive or negative use.


We need an approach to the delivery of places, facilities and environments that can tackle all forms of social malaise, with terrorism being the most extreme and devastating. As security professionals we need to be engaging with planners, architects and developers in "Designing Out Terrorism" at the earliest stages of the design process. Planners have to consider an ever-growing range of issues when determining applications. Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act (1998) already requires local authorities to consider crime and disorder reduction in the exercise of all duties and decision-making. Planning is a key factor in this because how we plan and build our environment has a direct effect on how it is used or misused. However it is not just planners who need the sort of training that Lord West is advocating. Architects, transport planners, urban designers, masterplanners, and project managers, should also shoulder some of the responsibility, and this is simply from a public sector stance.

Security, prosperity

In the private sector much work needs to be done to sell the message that securing people and assets makes good business as well as social sense. Again, this needs to be done on a variety of levels; whether the private sector is commissioning developments, selling them or occupying them. The benefits of a secure environment to businesses are that:
l for a building to be successful it must always be perceived as safe (low levels of crime and fear of crime) and attractive (well maintained and designed) to its users
l if a building is successful it will always attract users
l if a building is always attracting users it will always yield returns on investment
l the global economy demands a safe and attractive environment to conduct and attract business – image is everything!
l a safe and attractive building will always be a profitable one

Therefore crime and design is a strategic investment consideration as well as a social benefit one. Effective security should not be restricted to large and prestigious assets – everyone deserves good security. However different places and developments will yield a different set of risks, threats and level of attractiveness to would-be criminals and terrorists. We neither need nor want fortress environments to set a precedent for how counter-terrorism should be addressed through design. Security, community safety and risk management measures should be applied on the basis of a clear understanding of the risks that are likely to be posed. This is to avoid the dangers of procuring over specified and under-utilised security systems that are inefficient, expensive and often unnecessary. Development does not take place in a vacuum; there is a surrounding social, environmental and economic context to development. Therefore, balancing these dynamics and understanding the risks and vulnerabilities they may pose, can help us incorporate security and safety solutions in the design that are borne out of specific local conditions rather than remote universal ones.

Who pays?

When considering developing a site, a number of parties will be seeking a particular outcome, including the client, developer, local authority, local community and service providers. It is important to manage expectations for the development and a key means for this is through the design of the development, apportionment of uses and its relationship to existing uses and neighbourhoods. It is essential that from the outset of the development process, a framework is developed to guide the design and development to achieve the optimal conditions for the development emerging as safe, sustainable and successful.

Design when?

It is likely that local authorities will have detailed policies on what is required; architects will strive to provide interesting and aesthetically pleasing designs which are not always security friendly; the police will want areas easy to control; building operators will want facilities that are easy to manage whilst insurers will want minimal risk. Finally, the users will want an accessible and welcoming environment where they feel inherently safe and secure. So at what point should security, community safety and counter terrorism be considered in the design and development process and by whom? It is essential to ensure that principles of security, risk management and community safety are built into the overall process from the very start. If this is successful then crime reduction, safer communities and social cohesion will be a natural by-product. Once these new places are established it will be difficult to rectify problems and try to address community and design issues later. It is also crucial that everyone involved in the design and development process appreciates the importance to consider security and risk. It is inevitable that given the diverse viewpoints of the stake-holders in a project there will be a variety of potential ways forward which means that the final approach has to be a compromise of those requirements but without compromising the overall aim of achieving a robust, unobtrusive and cost-effective security regime. It is essential that such a compromise is reached as the failure of any one stake-holder to fully embrace the strategy or, the implementation of a strategy that fails to recognise or alienates any particular group or individual, could have catastrophic results.


Planning for Cohesion should be the responsibility of everyone engaged in the built environment from public or private sector. ‘Design Stages’ from the Royal Institute of British Architects, (RIBA, is a useful mechanism for identifying the various stages at which security could and should be addressed. In terms of training and skills planners should not be expected to provide security advice or solutions but be able to understand their contribution to a scheme or proposal and whether they will lead to the development emerging as safe, sustainable and successful. To this end, the security profession needs a clear role in advising where and how security should be considered in planning, designing and delivering a development, and what resources the built environment needs to have in order to provide and effective response.

About the author

Liane Hartley, Principal Socio-Economist at security experts Capita Symonds, is a planner by profession with nine years experience as a planning, regeneration and socio-economic consultant to the public and private sectors. She also specialises in community safety and sustainability.

About Capita Symonds

A UK multi-disciplinary consultancy in security, building design, civil engineering, environment, management and transport sectors. For more, visit:


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