Story by Jack Foley
SECURITY is to be stepped up in Londons cinema and clubbing heartland, Leicester Square, as part of a multi-million pound facelift designed to improve safety and give the area a more Continental appeal.
A two-phase programme of improvements has been announced which will begin with the installation of a £1.2 million network of CCTV cameras, being introduced across the West End in a bid to combat increasing numbers of drunken revellers and street robbers.
Once the security measures have been launched and start to take effect, the second part of the scheme will involve restaurants and bars being encouraged to provide more outdoor tables and to serve customers beyond 11pm, in a bid to create a more European atmosphere, where there is less of a loutish, drinking culture.
Police officers will also be given the power to seize bottles and cans from drinkers, as well as on-the-spot fines for drunkenness, while being able to force homeless people to move on. They will be assisted by 12 council wardens, who can deal with low-level troublemakers.
The reforms are part of a package of measures being prepared by Westminster Council, which are due to be approved next week, designed to respond to Home Office statistics that showed there were 2,764 robberies in the borough last year, up more than 15 per cent on the previous 12 months. Violent crimes also rose by three per cent, to 8,732.
As such, Leicester Square, in particular, is to be given a complete overhaul, with the buskers and unlicensed street traders who were a regular feature of the Squares social scene, being removed, along with henna tattooists. All now face being banned from the area under a court injunction, should they attempt to return.
The proposals are also intended to make Leicester Square the official home of cinema in Britain, playing host to public art displays and free screenings of children's films, and to make it more attractive to tourists and families, particularly after dark.
The plans follow comments made by Westminster Council leader, Simon Milton, who recently deplored the fact that, in his opinion, anarchy reigns after dark in the West End, with the area becoming filled with hundreds of drunk people and drug dealers, while guns and violence were now common.
He hopes that the new scheme will make Leicester Square the jewel in Westminster's crown.
The CCTV scheme, which has been funded by the Home Office as part of a joint initiative between the Met Police and the council, is due to be launched on Thursday (September 19, 2002), and will involve 33 cameras monitoring Leicester Square, Regent Street, Covent Garden, Soho, Chinatown and Piccadilly.
If successful, the scheme will be extended across the West End.