Posted: 06.02.20 at 18:01 by Nick Hudson
Bench warfare has broken out in Atherstone, leaving opinion divided as the town’s civic leader admits councillors have been left with little choice over taking punitive action against “undesirable types”.
Town council chairman David Wright confirmed to Nub News that popular resting places in Long Street – outside the Nationwide and Red Lion Hotel – have been removed for a “trial period” after a renewed wave of public complaints about anti-social behaviour associated around them.
His comments came in the wake of social media going into meltdown when the wooden benches disappeared from their long-term locations, posing something of a whodunnit to locals.
Followers of a Facebook page threatened everything from a petition to a council tax revolt as the majority defended a local group of people regularly congregating by the bank.
Other online observers said the town council’s measures would also affect the elderly who use the seats to “catch their breath” while walking through the town centre.
But the mayor said the decision – taken at a full meeting of members in December – had left the town council “caught between a rock and a hard place”.
Councillor Wright, also deputy leader on North Warwickshire Borough Council, said complaints about the activities first surfaced two years ago.
The group had been seen on and around the Nationwide bench for some years – which was very close to the bank’s cash dispensing machine.
Cllr Wright said: “We liaised with the police at the time and they were of the opinion that the benches should not be moved as it was just transferring the problem elsewhere.”
Over the last 12 months the problem has returned, he said, with more concerned comments from local residents.
“They were telling us that they wanted them [the benches] moving as they felt intimidated,” added the councillor.
He said young people were congregating around the seat outside the Red Lion while “undesirable types” were hanging around the Nationwide bench.
Now, after more consultations with the local police, the town council has opted to relocate the two benches in the Market Square as there is plenty of room there – promising to review the decision in six months’ time. ”It is not permanent,” said Cllr Wright.
Sympathisers of the group of four of five people – thought to be led by a popular local known to all as ‘Goldie’ – took to the Atherstone People’s Forum complaining “Who stole Goldie’s bench?” and pointing out Goldie “wouldn’t hurt a fly”.
Joe Wall posted: “Seems like the council is targeting the people at the bottom, or in some sort of not-so-good situation.
“They don't cause nearly as much trouble as the people in the pubs, so it's just some members of the local town and council that look down their noses at people like that.”
Paige Evans-Clarke added on the forum: “Not paying my council tax until Goldie gets his bench back because him and his pals helped me look for my cat when majority of people in the town ignored me.”
Mr Wall recounted another story associated with Goldie – and an example of a good deed.
He added: “I was told that someone who runs a business nearby used the cash point at Nationwide on one occasion and it didn't give him his money straight away – so he walked away thinking the machine was out of order.
“But Goldie then saw money hanging out of the machine which belonged to the man and he grabbed it and walked round to the man’s business and gave it straight to him, exactly what he'd tried to withdraw – £200.”
Christine Hughes pointed out: “Lots of people use those benches not just Goldie.
“I see lots of elderly people sitting on the benches just to catch their breath.
“What are they supposed to sit on now? The council needs to concentrate on more important things.”
While Sam Deeming suggested: “If they don’t want the drinkers sitting there, then ban them from drinking on the street.”
Town and borough councillor Dawn Downes cited Atherstone as an important historic town, adding: “Although we do like our characters.”
On the decision to relocate the benches, she said it is unfortunate that Facebook is something of a “judge without a jury, because people don’t always know the other side”.
Cllr Downes added: “These benches were inappropriately placed. It may be nice to have flowers next to one – but not near a bank’s cash machine.
“It would be better relocated outside a coffee shop.”
Looking ahead, she promised: “There will be loads of benches for people to sit on.”
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