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Safety concerns have been raised after it was suggested women who run out of battery on their phones on nights out in Wrexham could be directed to use street benches to charge them.

Wrexham Council is planning to install so-called “smart” benches, which use solar energy to power the battery of mobile devices, on the city’s High Street.

Speaking during a meeting this week, an official from the local authority said they were partly being introduced to improve the safety of people visiting night-time venues.

David Evans, SMART city development officer, said the idea came about after he was told by bar and nightclub owners of cases of women in vulnerable situations entering licensed premises to charge their phones.

He said this would generally occur between 11pm and 2am, when people were either unable to get a taxi home due to a lack of availability or had become separated from their friends.

Mr Evans added that rather than entering pubs alone, women could use the new smart benches to charge their phones.

However, safety fears were expressed regarding the proposed arrangement after possible cutbacks to CCTV coverage in the city centre were highlighted.

The issue was raised by Labour group leader Dana Davies, who said: “Regarding the mobile phone benches, I’m really interested in the response that vulnerable people could be using these.

“The lead member gave assurances that they’d be fully lit and also within the location of current CCTV coverage.

“I’m looking for a commitment here, because if we are supporting those mobile charging benches, we’re also supporting that there will be a mitigation of risk for vulnerable residents.

“CCTV is under a massive discussion at the moment with community councils because they are responsible for the payment of those CCTV cameras in the city centre and wider Wrexham county borough area.”

Speaking at a meeting of the council’s employment, business and investment scrutiny committee on Wednesday (May 1, 2024), Cllr Davies said CCTV coverage could be reduced if community councils did not agree to fund the cameras.

She asked for an assurance that the benches would always be covered by surveillance to ensure the safety of people using them.

In response, Cllr Nigel Williams, Wrexham’s lead member for economy, said: “CCTV cameras aren’t in my remit as they’re under (council leader) Mark Pritchard.

“As we currently stand, where the benches are planned to go, there is coverage at the moment. That’s the only commitment I can give you.

“We could give a commitment that you’re safe in a particular area, but then a camera isn’t working for a particular period of time.”

He added: “We’re already making strides when most towns and cities across the country don’t have these benches, so we are trying to promote a safer night-time economy.

“It’s a bit unfair to say we need to make sure that cameras are there all the time or we shouldn’t put them in.”

Whilst praising the use of new technology, Cllr Davies said she believed the issue should be raised with the authority’s executive before the benches are installed.

Similar seats have already been put in place elsewhere in North Wales, including the villages of Llanfair Talhaiarn and Llangernywl in Conwy.

Plans to introduce them in Wrexham form part of the council’s “SMART Towns” initiative to help businesses recover from the impact of Covid-19.

Plaid Cymru councillor Andy Gallander, who runs the Rough Hands Tap craft beer bar on Queen Street, said owners of late night establishments should take responsibility for looking after vulnerable people.

The Rhosnesni representative said: “I do need to just make one comment regarding the smart benches.

“As a licensee and a member of the licensing committee, all licensed premises have a duty of care over anyone who’s on their own and needs to use electric to charge their phones.

“The safety of our residents is a priority, regardless of if there’s a bench there or not.

“All licensees should welcome in and make sure that young women especially have the ability to charge their phone or direct them to a taxi rank within the local area.”

It was recommended by the committee at the end of the meeting that any changes to CCTV coverage in Wrexham should take into account coverage of the benches.

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Autor(en)/Author(s): Liam Randall

Quelle/Source: Herald.Wales, 07.05.2024

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