The solar park bench - a boon for bums on seats

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THE FAINTLY uncomfortable sensation of sitting on a cold bench on a sunny winter's day could soon be a thing of the past. The solar-heated bench is set to become the ultimate winter warmer.

The first such seats are to be installed along Manchester Street, Liverpool, as part of a regeneration plan for the neighbourhood by a group of pioneering architects and designers. They are studying ways of developing a pavement cafe society with a mixture of shops and houses across an area of one- and-a-half acres.

The solar bench will have a horizontal canopy with panels tilted at 30 degrees, the optimum angle for absorbing the sun's energy in northern England. The system does not require direct sunlight to work.

The panels will be filled with water, which will be warmed by the sun, reaching 30-40C. Pipes will run from the panels into the ground and up into the steel bench. The structure will be egg-shaped, approximately 4.5m high, 20m long and 15m wide.

The total cost of the project, excluding the building redevelopment, will be around pounds 1m. The scheme depends on funding from arts grants but could be finished by 2000.

The concept has a serious purpose, said Peter Richardson, principal of Zoo architects in Glasgow, a business design team exploring the aesthetics of the development. "The aim is to use renewable energy and heated benches are just part of that strategy," he said. Photo-voltaic solar panels could be included to power street lighting in the area.

The site has access to an underground water source and the system will have heat pumps to provide under-floor warmth for cafes and shops.

"If you sit on a bench in Liverpool in winter you'll leave a bit of skin behind," said Bill Maynard, of Urban Splash, the development company involved in the project. "This means warm bottoms all year round."