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Council to reinstall benches in public square used by homeless

The slats on the benches have been cut off to deter people from gathering. Picture by Mal McCann

 

BENCHES are to be reinstalled in a public square in Belfast city centre used by rough sleepers.

It follows pressure from councillors and a meeting yesterday between Belfast City Council and organisations including the PSNI, Housing Executive and bodies representing the homeless.

Belfast City Council said last week that it had taken away the benches from Jubilee Square, at the junction of Victoria Street and High Street, as part of "general improvements" aimed at reducing "any potential for anti-social behaviour".

The move came after complaints to the council from businesses and members of the public about anti-social behaviour and crowds gathering in the area.

While concrete slabs remain in place at either side, the wooden slats used to make seating have been cut off.

The council has now agreed to reinstall the benches over the Christmas period, with the issue to be discussed by the people and communities committee in January.

Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl said: "The decision to remove the bench slats was taken by council officers, without input from the councillors.

"Of course the council must tackle anti-social behaviour but unfortunately, there were aspects of this issue handled poorly by them."

Green Party South Belfast MLA Clare Bailey said she was "glad that this shameful decision has been reversed".

"While there are technically enough beds in the city, Belfast City Council need to begin to understand the reasons why a small number of rough sleepers feel safer sleeping on the street than accessing hostel accommodation.

"Removal of these benches will simply move the problem elsewhere without dealing with the cause," added Ms Bailey.

A rally against the removal of the benches and highlighting homelessness, organised by social media enterprise VIEWdigital, is to take place in Jubilee Square at 1pm on Friday.

The protest has received support from veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman, who told an event at Stormont that "you don't solve homelessness by removing park benches".

Singer Brian Kennedy has also sent a letter which will be read out at the rally, in which he urges the council to "acknowledge the homeless pandemic".

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “Work will begin (this) morning to replace the bench slats at Jubilee Gardens.

"This is a temporary measure pending a more detailed Council review which will take place early in the New Year. We are also planning further consultation with our city partners in the voluntary and statutory sector to ensure the most vulnerable citizens in our society are protected through a continued inter-agency approach.”

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