Last Friday, I was able to go on a walkabout across the town centre with Police Superintendent Andrew Martin.   

There is no point beating around the bush. We have significant challenges at the moment with the Town centre.

When I knock on doors it’s the issue that is coming up more than anything else.

There is sadly a fair bit of negativity associated with it and a number of residents who have lived in Ipswich their whole lives are shunning it, often going shopping elsewhere.

This is a sad state of affairs. As a town we’re much bigger than Bury St Edmunds, and it should be the case that many Bury people come to shop in our Town. Sadly, at the moment it's more likely to be the other way around.  

Ipswich Star: Tom Hunt focuses his column this week on his walk around the town and the shoplifting issues affecting businesses.Tom Hunt focuses his column this week on his walk around the town and the shoplifting issues affecting businesses. (Image: Tom Hunt)

There are many reasons for this. Too many empty units. Not enough big draws. Expensive car parking.

But the chief concern is about crime and anti-social behaviour. Thousands of my constituents are going into the town centre less and less because of fear of crime.

Many don’t feel comfortable. To put it into perspective, if I got £5 for every time this was brought up with me on the doorstep or in emails over the past few months, I’d comfortably be a millionaire!  

The reality is that violent crime in Ipswich has actually gone down over the past year. Particularly in relation to last summer. However, a number of high-profile incidents, with tragic consequences, have caused significant alarm for many of my constituents.  

During my walkabout last Friday, we spent a lot of our time talking to businesses that had time and time again been the victim of shoplifting. Two of those businesses have now taken to locking their doors.

You must ring the doorbell to be allowed in. The businesses in question felt they had no other choice but to do this. It has cut out shop theft but has undoubtedly had a negative effect on footfall in the shop. It’s shocking that many of our much-valued town centre businesses feel they have to do this.  

Looking to address these issues and being open about the challenges doesn’t amount to “talking down the town”. It’s because we care about our town and believe in its future that there is increasing determination to deal with these issues.  

Sophie Alexander from Ipswich Central is right to talk about a zero-tolerance approach to empty units, and the need to be much more dynamic about filling them.

However, in addition to this we also need a zero-tolerance approach to anti-social behaviour in the town centre and shoplifting.

Retailers should have the opportunity to have a regular meeting with all the key stakeholders, including the police, where they can raise their concerns.

Like bars and clubs in the town centre already have with “Bar watch”, which I have attended.  

Those caught shoplifting should be properly punished. There needs to be a far greater deterrent.

This isn’t just an issue for the police but the CPS and the courts system also. Shoplifting is having a debilitating impact on our town centre, and we should be merciless in bearing down on it.

In addition to making my views clear locally, I have also raised this on multiple occasions in Parliament.  

Over the next few weeks, we are going to see three new PCSO’s that will be focused directly on policing the town centre during the daylight hours.

This will come in addition to the extra funding we’ve had to increase policing during the evening in the town centre.

There is no greater priority for me right now than working with all stakeholders, including the Labour led Borough Council, to resolve these issues.