Shoplifters face instant stores ban

OFFENDERS caught shoplifting could face an instant ban from most town centre stores, under a new system being developed by the Ipswich Central initiative.

OFFENDERS caught shoplifting could face an instant ban from most town centre stores, under a new system being developed by the Ipswich Central initiative.

And the Street Rangers employed by the Business Improvement District (BID) company are also poised to start using powers to issue fines to those caught dropping litter, painting graffiti or guilty of other forms of anti-social behaviour.

The new measures are being introduced by Ipswich Central in response both to an increase in shop theft since the start of the recession and to recommendations contained in an independent audit of its performance during the second year of the five-year BID programme.

In the key area of safety and security, the audit - carried out by the New Horizons consultancy - gives Ipswich Central three stars out of a possible four, but recommends that its team of rangers, who are now police-accredited, should make fuller use of their powers.

As a result, Ipswich Central executive director Paul Clement has confirmed that the Rangers will start issuing fines for littering, graffiti and anti-social behaviour within the next six weeks.

And he revealed that the Exclusion Notice system - a “banned from one, banned from all” scheme under which 33 people are already excluded from all town centre businesses choosing to take part - is about to be strengthened with the issuing of notices on-the-spot, in the event of shoplifting or other offences.

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In what is thought to be the first scheme of its kind in the country, the Ipswich Central rangers will be equipped with technology to print out an Exclusion Notice to serve on the individual immediately, rather than the notice having to be processed and served later as is currently the case.

“The rangers have earned more powers via their links with the police but have yet to use them all,” says the audit report. “These powers should be fully deployed to enhance the value that the rangers bring to the streets.”

The report also recommends further efforts to extend uptake of the radio link system through which town centre businesses are able to share details of individuals or groups causing problems.

Although the number of firms involved peaked at 145 during the year, the number has since fallen as a result of some businesses closing and the report suggests that radio equipment should now be loaned out on a “free trial” basis to encourage further uptake, particularly among businesses involved in the evening economy.

Ipswich Central also scores three stars for the cleanliness, appearance and marketing of the town centre, but with recommendations for improvements in areas such as facilities for disposing of cigarette ends and chewing gum and the provision of information at bus and rail stations, main car parks and park and ride sites.

Only two stars are awarded, however, in the area of transport, despite a successful second year for the monthly free parking Sunday promotion.

The audit recommends the extension of offers to more car parks and more days of the week, and says a standardisation in car park prices - including some cuts - would be “a huge help”.

It also calls for greater progress in increasing the use of public transport to off-set the increase in car journeys, including greater promotion of shuttle services, and for measures to overcome the physical barriers between the Waterfront and the rest of the town centre.

In response to the audit, and following consultation with town centre businesses earlier this year, the car parking promotion is to be revised to operate every Sunday with visitors able to use the Foundation Street car park all day for just �1.

Mr Clement said the success of the original scheme had demonstrated that the cost of parking was an issue and that, if it was addressed, people would stay longer and spend more. By operating every Sunday, the new scheme meant visitors would no longer have worry about when the next promotional day was, which was expected to provide an even bigger boost to overall numbers.

The new parking promotion is one of 25 action points introduced in response to the latest consultation with town centre businesses, which pay a supplementary business rate to fund the Ipswich Centre initiative which has a total five-year budget of �3.2million.