Tech firm stands up for ‘smart benches’ opposed by conservation group
Street seats which have charging points for mobile phones and offer free wifi were largely rejected by Town Hall planning chiefs
26 January, 2018 — By Emily Finch
Cllr Claudia Webbe, Islington’s executive member for environment and transport, at one of Strawberry Energy’s benches when it was first installed. PHOTO: CANCER RESEARCH UK
A TECH firm is making a last-ditch attempt to keep Town Hall-backed “smart benches” installed across the borough while a conservation group insists: “We want them gone.”
Islington Council’s own planning committee rejected four out of five of the solar-powered benches in August last year when retrospective planning permission was sought after they had already been installed.
Now the firm behind the benches, which have charging points for mobile phones and offer free wifi, has launched a review into the committee’s decision over three of the benches located in Old Street, Islington Green and Newington Green Road. One bench has been removed from Essex Road while another one on the same stretch of road has been allowed to stay, with “conditions”, including painting the seats black and demonstrating that the solar panels provide enough energy to charge phones.
The council have stressed it was not their application which was rejected but that of the company that make them, Strawberry Energy. The Tribune understands the company will foot the bill for relocating the benches which have a tall, protruding side.
David Gibson, chairman of the Islington Society, said: “We can’t understand why they’re still there – it’s been likened to somebody dumping their furniture on the street. We are waiting for the council to take them away – they are really awful and I’m not sure if there’s any point in them. We want them gone.”
The police also warned that the benches could attract phone thieves.
Strawberry Energy’s chief executive, Miloš Milisavljević, said: “Since last summer, we had a couple of very good meetings with Islington Planning and we are working together with them on finding new locations for the Smart Benches in Islington.
“We expect to have some news in the next month or so.”