Ipswich: Plans for wet centre to tackle street drinking could be shelved

IPSWICH: Plans to tackle street drinking in Ipswich are today hanging in the balance due to the cuts in public spending.

This blow comes after four tragic deaths within the street drinking community in the last 18 months.

The idea for a wet centre was first raised two years ago as a means of stopping people gathering in public thoroughfares and parks to drink alcohol.

The aim of a wet centre is to provide a safe place for people to address their problems, with the help of a dedicated team of specialists. Although people can still drink in the centres, there is a limit on the quantity.

But today– despite the deaths of four members of Ipswich’s community – Alison Studd, Martin Edwards, Des Thorpe and Rosalyn Hunt – the likelihood of a wet centre opening could be in jeopardy unless a voluntary organisation comes forward to set up the support network.

Suffolk police and Ipswich Borough Council are among the partners working to tackle the issue, and while the idea is still “on the table” it is looking increasingly unlikely to become a reality in the foreseeable future.

In Ipswich there are believed to be a group of around 40 street drinkers.

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Leader of the borough council, Liz Harsant said if a wet centre were to open, it would have to be taken on by the voluntary sector because “there is no money around”.

Mrs Harsant admitted the problem of street drinking in Ipswich at the moment is “not good”.

She said: “We have to have some sympathy with these people, they are desperately in need of help, many have mental health problems and a number of people have nowhere to sleep at night.

“The new community resource centre at the Ipswich Umbrella Trust (IUT) is a positive move forward.

“I know police are quite keen on a wet centre, it is just an issue of where it will be and how it will be managed.”

And Roger Fern, borough councillor and spokesman for the IUT said he would like to see a separate wet centre and night shelter open in the town to help combat the issue of homelessness as well as alcohol addictions.

He said: “I am not foolish enough to believe there is oodles of money about and that this will definitely happen.

“But one has to decide on priorities and consider the cost to the public purse, which is likely to be infinitely greater dealing with the associated problems, than the cost of setting up a wet centre.”

The first wet centre in Britain opened in Dundee in 1978.

n Do you think there should be a wet centre in Ipswich? Call the newsdesk on 01473 324788 or e-mail starnews@eveningstar.co.uk.