IN a spectacular U-turn Bournemouth Borough Council has announced it will remove the controversial ‘anti-homeless’ bars from its public benches.

The move came after days of mounting criticism and anger against the bars in particular and the council’s policy towards homeless people in general.

In a statement the councillor responsible for housing, Bob Lawton, said: “The decision last summer to install the bars on a very small number of benches in key select locations in the town centre was made by a multi-agency operational group, chaired by the council and attended by the police, rough sleeper team and the town centre BID. “The decision was taken in response to many complaints about people lying on them throughout the day, meaning that wider members of the community were unable to use them to sit on.

“However we have listened to the extensive feedback over the last week and in light of the depth of feeling, have today reviewed that decision and agreed to have the bars removed.”

Earlier a leading Bournemouth councillor slammed his own party’s response to the seating bars branding them ‘anti-social and unkind’.

Chairman of the council’s licensing board, Andrew Morgan said: “Our Victorian and Edwardian forebears would be horrified at this disfigurement of our benches which is both anti-social and unkind.

“We need a little bit more love and a toning-down of toughness which lacks humanity,” he said, describing the bars as a ‘design crime’ which look like; ‘a massive v-sign from the bench saying you are not welcome in this town’.

Cllr Morgan, claimed the ruling Conservative group hadn’t discussed the issue ‘at all’. “I’ve said it needs to be discussed but was told we might manage to fit it in in four weeks’ time but I don’t think that’s good enough,” he said. He planned to raise the issue at the group’s meeting last night.“I do know the council makes huge efforts to reach out to homeless people but I think by being seen to take such a hard line on this, the council is being completely inflexible and is lacking any humanity on it and it’s just plain wrong,” he said.

The bars, which cost more than £3,000 to install, have become a PR disaster for the town which has been in the media spotlight over its homeless policies for nearly three weeks.

They have been the subject of a 17,000 strong petition demanding the council remove them and were heavily criticised by rapper Professor Green. Over the weekend, Bournemouth MP Tobias Ellwood, who was sleeping out to publicise the plight of homeless veterans, said the council should look at: “The deeper, more complicated picture, rather than saying ‘no you cannot go to this bench or that bench’.“

The bars also featured in an Instagram post by artist Stuart Semple, who branded them a ‘design against humanity’. After the Daily Echo told him about the U-turn, Mr Semple said: “I’m over the moon, honestly it’s brilliant but they are not off the hook yet. I don’t think there’s any question they were in the wrong in the first place.” He spent yesterday morning helping a group of activists transform the benches with cushions and wrappings into ‘Love Benches’.

“It shows when we come together and call out things we do not agree with that change is possible,” he said.

Mark Charles Dunningham, who is homeless, said the bars on the benches made him feel “terrible”.

“We’re humans, not animals. The £3,600 they spent on them would feed me for a year.”

In a move which will be seen as a direct rebuke to his own party, Cllr Morgan criticised an earlier email sent by Cllr Lawton in which he claimed that: “Many residents, elderly and disabled people complained to the council that they could not sit down as the benches were occupied by somebody sleeping or just lying down especially in the summer…. I have received many emails/correspondence for and against the action we have taken, however the majority I have received are in support of the council.”

Cllr Morgan added: “I have a feeling we are letting policy be driven by a few angry people who like to complain about things and expect a disproportionate reaction.

“We need to take a step back and think what sort of message does this send from the south coast’s premier tourist resort.”