Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council move to reinstall benches used by homeless

By Michael Shiels McNamee

Benches used by homeless people in Belfast city centre are to be reinstalled after a public outcry.

Wooden slats from benches in Jubilee Gardens at the junction of High Street and Victoria Street were removed under order of council officials as part of a drive to improve the area.

The move sparked anger in City Hall, with Sinn Fein's Jim McVeigh saying the decision had not been put in front of councillors.

The removal of the slats was defended by UUP councillor Jim Rodgers, who said there had been complaints about anti-social behaviour and criminality, and the council had to show leadership to improve the area.

Last night, Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl welcomed the move to reinstate the benches.

"The decision to remove the bench slats was taken by council officers, without input from the councillors," she said.

"I have been liaising with the council since then and voiced my opinion that the benches should be reinstated immediately unless inter-agency experts advised otherwise.

"Of course the council must tackle anti-social behaviour but, unfortunately, there were aspects of this issue handled poorly by them. That is unfortunate, as there is much excellent work being done by them and others, especially over the winter period."

The move was also welcomed by Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who said she was "glad that this shameful decision has been reversed".

She added: "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.

"Technically there should be enough beds in the city, but many people won't use them. However, removal of these benches will simply move the problem elsewhere without dealing with the cause," she said.

Belfast Telegraph

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