As lockdown measures are eased and companies across Belfast City Centre begin to welcome staff back to the workplace, Linen Quarter Business Improvement District is taking a leading role in prioritising public safety.
The BID’s key role is to enhance the Linen Quarter and it hopes that its safety measures will address on-going issues in the city centre such as crime and anti-social behaviour, made all the more important by recent unrest.
Its flagship investment is an enhanced policing service that includes a presence from community-focused officers that understand the district and work with businesses to solve problems. This has included tackling crime and anti-social behaviour along Great Victoria Street, preventing and investigating lockdown burglaries and theft and providing solutions that address concerns around personal safety.
Managing Director of the Linen Quarter Business Improvement District, Chris McCracken, said: “The Linen Quarter is a major centre of employment and hosts our best-known hotels, restaurants and nightlife spots. Our city has a growing reputation as a vibrant and unique destination – attracting international conferences and becoming a burgeoning city-break option.
“However, people’s experience of the city centre can sometimes be blighted by crime and anti-social behaviour, and left unchecked it has the potential to undermine our hard-earned progress. As we recover from the pandemic, we need to put in place effective measures to prevent old problems from returning.
“Some of the problems faced by hospitality providers before lockdown included drug misuse, aggressive begging and abuse towards customers and staff. We have worked with the police to collect victim impact statements, and all three Belfast BIDs have engaged with the Court Service to request that these crimes be dealt with more robustly. This advocacy has had a positive response, and we are pleased that several recent arrests have now resulted in custodial sentences. The work of the local charities to tackle root causes, such as substance dependency, is also invaluable and the BID fully supports these interventions.
“Several criminals saw lockdown as an opportunity to break into empty city centre premises and in one case there was a cash in transit robbery. I am really pleased with how swiftly the police acted to make arrests and return stolen goods. In many cases the vigilance of our community officers, who have been patrolling the district on a daily basis, prevented thefts and apprehended offenders before serious damage could be done.
“However, the best way to keep property safe is to ensure offices and vehicles are properly locked and alarmed. It really is a case of lock it to stop it, and we urge all business owners to ensure these simple steps are in place.
“Recent events in England have highlighted that every effort should be made to ensure that people, especially women, feel safe in an urban environment – no matter what the circumstances . Our on-going engagement with the Department of Infrastructure to improve lighting has had a positive response, we have supported the PSNI in the distribution of personal safety alarms, and we have also made a commitment to co-fund additional CCTV. All of these measures enhance the security of our streets and improve public perceptions of safety.”
Chris continued: “Linen Quarter BID is determined to keep playing our part to build Belfast back up post-pandemic as a safer city. The partnership between the PSNI and the local business community is critical to our success. We need to build on this with more co-ordinated action between local authorities, health, housing, and social services. These are deep rooted and complex problems that require a multi-agency response focused on long term problem solving.”
Inspector David Gibson of the City Centre Policing Team with the Police Service Northern Ireland said: “The Police Service of Northern Ireland appreciates that the past 12 months have been a busy and challenging period for the business community. Risks remain as we ease out of lockdown, however we are committed to our role in supporting local businesses through the StreetBeat initiative.
“We will be continuing to work with our partner agencies to focus on keeping people safe across the Linen Quarter over the coming months and I would encourage any business in the Linen Quarter with any concerns or queries to contact Constable Chris Wallace on 07825634384 or by email [email protected].”
For more information on Linen Quarter BID, visit linenquarter.org