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Thefts prompt disbelief at design of bike sheds on Cambridge development that earned security certificate

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A spate of cycle thefts have taken place in a group of bike sheds on a new Cambridge development that all have a rather unfortunate design.

The ventilation holes in the brick wall are big enough for any would-be thief to put an arm through and open the door from the inside.

James Williams, who has had two bikes stolen, highlights the design flaw. Picture: Keith Heppell
James Williams, who has had two bikes stolen, highlights the design flaw. Picture: Keith Heppell

Anti-bike crime campaigner James Hems went to check out the scene in Hobson Road, Great Kneighton, after a neighbour said he had spotted doors to the buildings swinging open early in the morning on the weekend of February 27. And what he found left him with his “head in hands”, he says.

Mr Hems, a member of the Stolen Bikes in Cambridge action group on Facebook, said: “I saw on our neighbourhood WhatsApp group that someone was coming back from their night shift at Addenbrooke’s when they noticed that a lot of bike store doors were open. And although their bike hadn’t been stolen, they raised the alarm and soon other people started finding out their bikes had gone.

“To our knowledge, nine of the bike stores were broken into and six bikes were stolen. And there could be other people that aren’t aware of the Facebook group who may have reported thefts. For each group of apartments there is at least one of these units.

“When I got there I couldn’t believe what I was seeing – these storage units are unbelievably easy to break into. There are gaps between bricks for ventilation through which you can easily put in an arm and reach the catch inside the door and unlock it.

“They just took the most valuable ones – people have lost thousands of pounds worth of bikes.

“It’s obvious that these storage areas are not fit for purpose.”

Resident James Williams had his bike stolen from the store.

He said: “It’s a real shame because I built the bike myself but I’m hoping the insurance will cover it.

“I think the ease with which the thieves were able to break in surprised everyone. Previously in 2019 I had a bike stolen from the bike store but on that occasion even the thieves did not spot that particular security flaw. They had broken the lock so a new sturdier lock was put in its place.

“I have lived there for three years, going in and out of that door every day, and hadn’t put two and two together. I feel like a bit of an idiot for not seeing it but I’m blind to those kinds of things I suppose.

From left, James Hems, Martin Keegan and James Williams at the bike store. Picture: Keith Heppell
From left, James Hems, Martin Keegan and James Williams at the bike store. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I don’t know whether it was designed that way or a failure of implementation when it was built.”

Another resident who had his bike stolen said it was the tenth that had been stolen from him since living in Cambridge.

“I used to report them stolen to the police but they didn’t do anything,” he said. “I’ve lost more than £10,000 on replacing my stolen bikes. Most were taken from here but some were stolen at Cambridge station and one was stolen in the city centre.

“We actually put mesh across the ventilation holes in our bike store a while ago, but that didn’t stop the thieves. They just smashed off the lock. I’ve completely lost all faith now in having a bike in Cambridge – I’m just going to get a car and clog up the city again. Cycling in Cambridge is lovely – but you just can’t own a bike here.”

Mr Hems has raised the issue with city councillor Katie Thornburrow at a south area committee this week. She promised to meet with developer Countryside to ask how it will rectify the situation.

A spokesperson for Countryside Properties said: “We are aware of the recent bicycle thefts from bicycle storage units on Hobson Road. This has been reported to the police. We are monitoring the situation and working to ensure the security of the units.”

Cllr Thornburrow said: “These stores are not secure, they are not fit for purpose. It’s very fundamental – you shouldn’t leave an opening that someone can reach into and turn the door handle. I’ve been in contact with the Countryside and I’m hoping to meet with them next week.”

She is hoping to find a security solution for residents who feel they have no other option but to keep their bikes inside their flats.

James Williams, who has had two bikes stolen, highlights the design flaw. Picture: Keith Heppell
James Williams, who has had two bikes stolen, highlights the design flaw. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I do have worries about the level of bike crime in Cambridge, not just around Trumpington,” she said. “A lot of people are just putting their bikes on the balconies and you need to be fit and strong to do that and it’s not reasonable. We need a solution where you can reliably leave your bike at ground level without it being stolen.

“You have to be able to have an accessible secure store which you rely on to encourage people to use bikes. It’s really terrible and I need to feed this back at planning policy level for new developments. But as well as the lessons learnt from this for planning, we need to help current residents.

“Perhaps we need good quality CCTV so that if these doors are breached there is more evidence. Police need to follow up on what has become very significant.

“Maybe we should assume that bike stores will be broken into. Maybe you do need Sheffield stands that won’t be unscrewed and CCTV.

“If you have a very expensive bike you may need to keep it in your house. We want to encourage people to have bikes and we need to make sure there is storage people can rely on.”

The development by Countryside Properties in Great Kneighton was awarded a Secured By Design certificate to show how specially trained police officers and staff, based at Cambridgeshire Constabulary HQ at Huntingdon, worked with developers, architects and local authority planners to ‘design out crime’ at the planning stage through to construction, although the bike sheds were not included in the developers' application for the award according to Secured By Design.

A spokesperson for Secured by Design said: "This bike shed is not part of the development that is covered by the Secured by Design award. There are three types of Secured by Design Developers awards, Gold, Silver and Bronze. The developer in this case applied for and was awarded a SBD Silver award. This award is issued by Secured by Design in recognition of the use of ‘Police Preferred Specification’ doorsets and windows and the steps taken to reduce the opportunity for crime and anti-social behaviour within and against the domestic building(s) only. This award also provides evidence of compliance with Building Regulations for domestic security in England, Scotland and Wales. In other words, it only relates to the physical security of the home itself.

"A Secured by Design Gold award covers the security of the external environment (such as bike storage units, external bin stores etc) together with the physical security specification of the home, but this award was not applied for by the developer in this case."

A police spokesperson confirmed the thefts: "We received six reports of bike thefts from Hobson Road and Hawkey Road in Cambridge on 27 February. All bikes were believed to have been stolen overnight while locked in communal cycle storage facilities. No arrests have been made and we would urge anyone with information to contact us via web-chat or 101 quoting crime reference 35/11628/21.

"We take reports of bike theft seriously and would encourage people to report offences so we can build up a picture and deploy resources accordingly. We have done a significant amount of crime prevention work to help people reduce their risk of becoming a victim of cycle theft, including holding a number of cycle marking events across the county. All cycle theft is recorded and assessed as to whether or not there is a proportionate line of enquiry to follow that may allow officers to solve the crime. All crime trends are reviewed and analysed to identify bike-theft ‘hotspots’. We urge cyclists to ensure their bike is secured with at least one decent lock, as well as being marked and registered to increase the chance of it being returned if it is stolen."

More advice is available on the police'swebsite: cambs.police.uk/information-and-services/Cycle-crime.

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