Alleyways were originally designed to allow access for coalmen and rubbish collectors, but today deliveries to the back of homes are less frequent, with rubbish bins usually collected from the front.
These days, alleyways often suffer from being overgrown and full of fly-tipped rubbish. They can be a magnet for antisocial behaviour such as drinking, drug use and vandalism and can allow easier access to burglars to the rear and side of properties.
You can stop easy access to alleyways by installing alley gates. They are effectively security gates that are designed specifically with the purpose of crime reduction.
Some of the steps will take longer, and some can be done at the same time. Alley gating can take anything from six months to over a year to complete. The time it takes is dependent on many factors. The key to success is to plan ahead and communicate effectively with your neighbours.
What to do first
The first thing you will need to do is talk to your neighbours and other people you know or recognise along your street or road. Ask if they would be prepared to put time and money into a gating scheme. Without the active support of at least a few of your neighbours, it is unlikely you will be able to get the gates put up.
Find out from the Council if your alleyway is a public right of way. If it is a public right of way, you will probably not be able to gate it. Most alleyways are private property with access to all who back on to it. The public does not have a right to use private alleyways.
Contact the Land Registry. Arrange an appointment to view deeds relating to your alleyway. Try to come away with a map and written details covering the ownership and rights of way over the alleyway. Look at your own and others’ house deeds and what the general rights of access are. You will need the consent of all those who own or have rights of way over the alleyways you wish to gate. Please contact us and tell us about your plans.
If your group is based in a Neighbourhood Watch street you will need to start a separate alley gating group. This is because the Neighbourhood Watch scheme will not have a constitution designed for raising money or maintaining property such as gates. However, you could start a sub-committee of the Neighbourhood Watch scheme to be responsible for the gating scheme. The committee members will tend to be those who are part of the resident's group and are willing to play a greater role in planning and completing the gating project.
Contact your local Safer Neighbourhoods policing team. They will give you advice on where the gates should be placed, which fences need to be raised and other crime prevention measures you should consider. You can find details of your local policing team by visiting Metropolitan Police.
Contact the Council’s planning department to find out if you need planning permission. If you do, then make sure you treat all the gates and the fencing on the land as one application.
You will need to hold a meeting with all the affected residents and businesses to discuss the reason for your alley gate scheme. Consider inviting the police, your local councillors and other residents who support your scheme.
If you have not been able to persuade enough people to join the alley gating scheme, decide which members of the newly formed committee will knock on people’s doors to ask property owners to fill out a consent form.
Obtain estimates from gate manufacturers for the type of gates you are considering.
Investigate the types of bank accounts that can be used for your gating fund. You will have to agree a constitution before you can open a group or community account. Bank accounts must be in a scheme name, not that of an individual.
You need to contact the following organisations to make sure there are no objections or problems with installing gates:
- Water (usually Thames Water) - to check if there are public sewers or mains pipes under the alleyways
- London Borough of Bexley Waste Operations - to check if there are homes that have rear collections via the alleyways
- Electricity Company - to ask them to check the layout of any underground cables and pipes. Access will be needed if there are substations in the alleyways
Possible problems and things to consider
No alley gating scheme is without its difficulties.
You may need to consider the following in order to minimise problems during the planning stage:
- rented properties - you will need to contact the homeowner for permission since tenants have no authority over the land. You could ask the tenant for the landlord’s details or ask them to pass on a letter
- garages - if there are garages on the land, then the owners of the garages will need to give their permission for the installation of the gates as well
Land ownership and consent
- Write a letter to your neighbours telling them the reasons why you think alley gates are a good idea for your area and ask if they are interested in starting an alley gate scheme. Get their consent in writing. You must deliver this to every affected property, including any businesses.
- Contact the Land Registry to determine who owns the alleyway. Get written consent to erect alley gates from all of the landowner(s).
- Contact the London Borough of Bexley to find out if you will need planning permission. You should not need planning permission if the gates are on private land, do not obstruct the public highway and do not exceed two metres in height. Remember to include scale drawings and maps with each application showing clearly the proposed positions of the gates, where you want fences to be raised and to what height. Include specifications of gates and how they are going to be fixed.
- Always keep residents informed of your progress as lengthy projects can lose momentum.
First committee meeting
- Once you have the majority of property owners consenting to your scheme, hold an alley gate committee meeting and invite residents and property owners so that they can air their views on the scheme. Invite your local councillors and Safer Neighbourhoods Team (SNT); they may be able to answer some of the questions that arise.
- Form a committee and elect a chairperson, secretary and treasurer, these will be the constitutional members. The committee will take the lead in your alley gate scheme. They will obtain estimates from gate manufacturers, write to the utility companies, obtain plans of the area where the gates will be installed and keep residents and property owners informed on the progress of the scheme. The remaining committee members will attend meetings and help out where possible.
- At the meeting, decide on a name for your alley gate scheme. Fill out a constitution. The name of your scheme/committee should be displayed at the top of your constitution form. The constitution and committee member’s details must also be displayed.
Bank account, quotations and utility companies
- Now that you have formed a committee and agreed your constitution, the chairperson, secretary and treasurer will need to set up a group bank account in the name of your alley gate scheme. Use your constitution as confirmation of your resident's group. The bank account will be a safe place to keep funds that you collect from resident’s contributions to the scheme.
- Get three estimates from security gate manufacturing companies and compare the costs. Decide whether the gates will be hung on freestanding posts that are cemented into the ground or attached to the wall of a property. Ask the gate manufacturer to quote for a security locking system. This will make it difficult for people without access rights to your alley to have keys copied.
- Don’t forget to include other expenses when costing the overall project. Other costs may include:
• installation costs
• solicitors, local authority, land registry fees
• maintenance costs
• skip hire and paying for rubbish to be cleared out of the alley
• gate keys for all residents. You may want to consider a combination lock as an alternative to providing a large number of keys. Discuss this option with prospective installers and get comparative estimates. Including all project costs at this stage will save you having to go back for more money at a later stage
- Write to the utility companies to check that there are no pipes or cables that are likely to be damaged when gates are installed. These checks are vitally important to the gating process. Gate contractors will need to know they are not going to hit an electricity cable when installing gateposts.
Second committee meeting
By now you should have the consent of the majority of property owners and the estimates from gate manufacturers.
- Hold a second committee meeting and invite all residents. You may wish to invite your local councillors and SNT. You will have more information to give property owners and more questions may come up.
- Discuss the type of gates that the committee members have chosen and relay the costs. Let residents know how they can make their contribution towards the scheme. Discuss where the gates will be situated and how they will be installed.
- If there are any property owners objecting to the scheme or property owners who have not responded to your scheme, discuss how this may be resolved. You must take all objections into account.
- After the meeting, ask the secretary to send notes of the meeting to all of the involved properties so that all property owners are aware of progress, give a date for when you will be collecting funds to pay for the gates.
- Write to those who did not return a consent form telling them which gates were chosen and how much they cost. Ask them to support the scheme and pay towards the project. Point out that without their support the gates may not go up, leaving everyone vulnerable. Ask for replies to be within a set time period (for example ten days). It is possible that you may still have someone objecting at this stage. Sometimes neighbours simply want more information or reassurance that they will still have access to the alley.
- Send another letter to affected houses asking for permission to fix gates to walls (if you have chosen this option), or dig holes for freestanding posts. If any fences need to be raised, you will need written permission from the property owner for this too. Again, ask for replies to be within a set time period. When the deadline passes, you can start chasing those who have not replied.
- You can ask the police to provide property marking and other security advice to people at any stage.
- Collect funds from contributing properties on the date that you stated in your letter.
- At the end of the set time for returns you should have:
- permission from all residents and landowners and users
- planning permission granted (if you needed it)
- most, if not all, of the money you will need
Making and installing the gates
- Once you have collected enough money for the gates, tell your chosen company that you are ready for them to start manufacturing them. Tell them about any alterations you have made to the plans they gave you the estimate for. Agree any difference in price only after telling the committee and getting their agreement. Once, agreed, or a new firm is brought in and their price agreed, give the go-ahead. Gates usually take three to four weeks to manufacture and up to a week to install.
- Tell all affected homeowners when the gate installation will take place.
- When the gates are up, inspect them with the owners whose property the posts are set by or fixed to, to ensure that everything is satisfactory.
- After the locks are fitted, get keys cut and distribute them to all affected homes before closing the gates. Tie them open if necessary but they must not be locked until all residents have a key or provided with the code if you have chosen a combination lock.
- If you have been helped or sponsored you could place a plaque on the gates as a thank you. Stainless steel plaques are the most durable.
If your alleyway needs to be cleared of rubbish and dangerous items remember that it is not the responsibility of the Council for clearing any rubbish from private alleyways. They will, however, be able to provide advice on the safe and legal disposal of waste.
People must get into the habit of shutting the gates. Consider writing an agreement for users of the alleyway covering its use and the care of the gates.
Please remember to take out an insurance policy on all the gates within the scheme. At the least, this needs to cover against third-party liability. You may
also want to consider signage for your new alley gate. This would be to warn anyone who attempts to climb over the gate that the owners do not accept liability for any injury caused.