What the new UK ‘Protect Duty’ could mean for the public realm

Post Date
22 March 2023
Alastair Haigh
Read Time
4 minutes

In the wake of a number of terrorist attacks across the UK in recent years, the UK Government is expected to bring a new ‘Protect Duty’ legislation into force later this year. This legislation will impose duties on local authorities, public venues and spaces, and large organisations, to ensure they consider potential threats, and put in place appropriate and proportionate mitigation measures.

What will this new duty mean in relation to the design of the public realm?

The information issued to date suggests that for smaller organisations or venues it would entail simple low – or no – cost preparedness measures. However, for larger organisations, venues or spaces, proportionate security measures could involve more significant mitigation requirements, including implementing measures for appropriate access control, or reducing the risk of vehicles as a weapon attack. Hostile vehicle mitigation (HVM) is not a new concept in public realm design. However up until now, with some exceptions (for example, on transport security and for certain sports grounds), there was no legislative requirement to consider or implement security measures. Will the formalisation of this requirement result in a sea of bollards cropping up in our towns, cities, and spaces; and what impact does this have on the character, appearance, and accessibility of these places?

Specialist HVM will involve financial costs to plan, design and implement, and will have unique challenges dependent on both the location, site, and the nature of the project (e.g., a new build or retrofitting into an existing public realm). Landscape Architects are uniquely placed to assist with this design process, and can integrate HVM principles creatively to create welcoming, accessible, attractive, and functional urban spaces.

Generally, the larger the distance between people/assets and a hostile vehicle, the greater the benefit in terms of safety. Engaging landscape architects early can help design masterplans with appropriate space to incorporate and sensitively integrate this infrastructure. Equally the consideration of how vehicle speeds can be reduced prior to arrival at a secure boundary can have both positive benefits for spaces and reduce the specification (and therefore cost) of HVM elements required. Through consideration at an early-stage, efficient routes for secure perimeters can be developed which are also co-ordinated with existing and proposed utilities to ensure successful delivery of a cost-effective solution.

The visibility of security measures can help deter terrorist attacks; however, these measures can also have an adverse impact on a space by introducing a defensive and unwelcoming character which can have negative psychological effects on users. Integrating HVM measures seamlessly within the landscape to create welcoming and functional spaces can make spaces more attractive to visit and work in, increasing footfall and enjoyment by all. In recent years, more and more impact tested products have been developed. These now include many standard street furniture elements such as benches, cycle stands and planters. The sensitive incorporation of these into a scheme can increase the attractiveness and usefulness of a space. Other elements such as changes in level can be used to form part of a secure boundary and areas of soft landscape can add biodiversity and visual interest to a space whilst effectively screening hostile vehicle measures. With a good knowledge of the different solutions and products available, and the installation requirements of these, Landscape Architects can help ensure appropriate products are selected to overcome technical challenges, ensure cost efficiency, meet operational requirements, and create an attractive and functional public realm.

Hostile Vehicle Mitigation measures can also physically reduce the permeability of a space and designing HVM to ensure capacity, comfort and convenience for pedestrian movement should be a priority. With a maximum spacing of 1.2m between HVM elements, bollards provide the greatest permeability and therefore have their place within a considered HVM solution. However, the detailed design, placing and number of these bollards is important to ensure appropriate pedestrian flow rates. Inclusivity and accessibility within the public realm and the needs of different users, including those with visual or physical impairments, must also be properly considered.

The new Protect Duty will most likely bring the requirement for additional HVM measures across our towns, cities, and spaces. However, careful consideration and design will be required to ensure that by providing appropriate protection we don’t lose the reasons people want to gather in these places in the first place.

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