These new benches discourage rough sleepers from resting on them because of their metal arm rests. Housing campaigner Daniel Harris discovered the benches in Brighton on March 1st and began a petition asking for their removal immediately. The petition gained almost 3,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
The organisation responsible for installing the benches is unclear, since Brighton and Hove City Council’s lead member for homelessness denies the benches were installed by the local authority. First Base, the developer of the old Amex headquarters on Edward Street, has stated that it was not responsible for them either.
Lucinda Mitchell, project director for First Base said: “We have no knowledge of who is responsible for the benches in the vicinity of our Edward street development site. We only became aware when this was brought to our attention on March 1, and we are liaising closely with the council and other local partners regarding this issue.”
The council’s lead member for homelessness Cllr Clare Moonan, said: “These are not council benches and are not on council land. We have no control over this private space. We do not have a policy of installing benches that are anti rough sleepers!!”
Mr Harris said the benches were ‘clearly designed and chosen for one reason – to keep away rough sleepers’.
Similar events unfolded in Bournemouth last month, when a petition signed by over 2,000 people persuaded the city council to remove the bench bars. The well-known rapper Professor Green also campaigned for the exclusionary benches to be removed.
It is estimated by Brighton shelters that 1 in 69 of the city’s residents are homeless, a shocking statistic that highlights the scale of the problem. The most recent count of Brighton’s rough sleeping population was 178, making it second only to Westminster for the number of homeless.
The council should be taking productive action to create safe spaces for those without stable homes, not excluding them from the only public spaces available to them.
The council however, have stressed the necessity of arm rests on benches to make them accessible to the disabled, or those with mobility issues. They argue that no benches are installed with intent to exclude the homeless.
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesperson said: “The benches highlighted in the petition being shared online were not installed by the council and are not on council owned land.
“No council benches are installed with an ‘anti-homeless’ intent as alleged recently on social media. The council has made tackling rough sleeping and protecting the vulnerable a priority. ”