A group of local residents are set to hold a picnic protest after police and the council removed benches on Armley Town Street.
The benches were removed by council workers and the police from outside William Hill betting shop on Monday.
The benches had become a magnet for street drinkers in the area and police wanted the benches to be moved to help tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour in the area.
But some residents are angry that the benches have been removed and have said the root causes of street drinking should be tackled, not removing street furniture from the community.
A group of concerned residents are bringing along chairs, blankets and food for a ‘Where’s our benches?’ picnic protest on Saturday at noon.
One of the organisers, Samantha Stewart, said it was another case of the community being ignored. She said:
“The benches are not the cause of the anti-social behaviour. Their removal is an example of decision makers ignoring the issues and problems of vulnerable people who are addicted to alcohol. Moving these people somewhere else is not solving the problem. Our community needs to support vulnerable people to improve their lives, not move them on and wash our hands of them.
“I feel that the decision makers have ignored public opinion and perhaps more importantly they have ignored the needs of elderly and disabled people and people with young children using Town Street who will now find it more difficult to access the area with reduced seating.
“If our community leaders could take steps to address poverty, lack of services for the vulnerable, lack of a good secondary school, lack of provision for young people and better enforce the laws about shops selling alcohol to people who are already drunk that would help far more than taking away a resource which is used by everyone, not just a minority who cause problems.
“Communal spaces are needed for community cohesion, we will use our space on Saturday for a picnic, we’ll bring our own chairs but we would like our benches back please.”
Ms Stewart said people had emailed their support for the benches and that there had been a groundswell of support on the Good Stuff Armley Facebook page.
A poll on the issue carried out by the West Leeds Dispatch last week had 152 responses – 73.03% of respondents voted against the removal of the benches, with 26.97% voting for removal.
Consultation on the removal of the benches had been carried out via police surgeries on Armley Town Street and at last month’s Armley Forum meeting, which is open to the public to attend.
Local group All Together Armley (ATA) also asked for people’s views. Gudrun Shemilt, of ATA, said the decision had been taken as part of a wider plan for Town Street:
“This action is part of an in-depth study by the crime reduction environmental design team and forms part of an agreement to design out areas that have a negative impact on the wellbeing of the community and design in positive aspects.
“The next stage is to replace the benches with seating and/or other features which will allow resting places for people who have a need, but not lingering places for people who engage in anti-social behaviour. Consultation with the community will begin shortly as to the proposed options.
“The removal of the benches was agreed by the Armley Forum at its October meeting following a presentation by the Police evidencing crime figure reduction in areas where similar issues existed. A variety of representations from community and agencies consultations have been amalgamated to form the opinion of support for this action.”
Cllr Alison Lowe (Lab, Armley) said she was away during the consultation to remove the benches but she added:
“Personally I am sad the ‘spoilers’ have won but I am not surprised by this decision as the voice of traders needed to be heard. I hope the removal of the benches will support all our efforts to improve the happiness and wellbeing of people in Armley.”
Police have said street drinking is a complicated issue to resolve but said co-ordinated, individual tailored support packages were in place to help street drinkers make a long-term change to their lives.
Armley Forum had last year voted against a trader’s request to have benches removed on Town Street.
UPDATED 5.15pm: All Together Armley have this afternoon updated their Facebook page with some designs for replacement benches and alternative designs for the area. More on their consultation can be found on the ATA website.
UPDATED: 9.40pm, Friday, November 4: Inspector Simon Jessup, who heads neighbourhood policing in the area, said:
“The removal of the benches on Armley Town Street is part of ongoing regeneration work in the area and is one of the tactics being used to reduce street drinking and anti-social behaviour that the residents of Armley are rightly concerned about. Issues around the benches have been the focus of numerous complaints and residents have told us that when there are people gathered around the benches drinking, they feel fearful and refrain from using the local amenities.
“The police, together with Leeds Community Safety, have worked in partnership to reduce street drinking and anti-social behaviour, with support from ward councillors and the local MP. There is a designated public places order (DPPO) in force preventing people from street drinking. The regular drinkers who take no notice of the DPPO have been served with injunctions, police patrols have been stepped up at times when street drinking is prevalent and there has been street outreach alcohol workers deployed into the area.
“There has been some impact on the problem but it is far from solved. Safer Leeds, the Leeds Community Safety Partnership that includes the City Council and the Police, have taken a decision to remove the benches to see if that tactic reduces street drinking further. The move followed consultation with the community and was voted overwhelmingly in favour of at Armley Forum.
“The police and the local authority are happy to keep discussing the issue at the next Armley Forum attended by the local councillors, officers from the council and a representative of the local police. I would encourage people to attend to discuss this important issue.”