I found myself embroiled in a strange saga this week. I’ve dubbed it Benchgate.

In what initially seemed a fairly run of the mill story, Stockton’s council admitted uprooting benches claiming businesses had complained over those using them being “distracting”.

The council’s strangely worded statement ultimately pitted the concerns of successful businesses against denizens of the bench – the role-models of Stockton’s ongoing regeneration versus the distracting; a small group of people who regularly congregated in the spot to drink to excess.

To one man, the battle of the bench represented so much more – to Richard Lee, it was gentrification in its most socially unconscious form. It was removing the symptoms but not the cause of Dovecot Street’s problems to assuage the concerns of those living a more privileged life, to showcase a better Stockton.

In a heart-warming act of minor dissent, Mr Lee bought a bench, had a plaque made in honour of the distracting and installed it in Dovecot Street.

He told me how a family member had been one of those successful men in suits before he killed himself after a brief but awful battle with alcoholism.

Mr Lee’s bench protest was a plea to society to better understand the plight of those with such issues, to acknowledge common humanity and to forge relationships to help those struggling.

It was a visible protest against a council – against a society – that would seemingly rather shift a problem along the road and out of sight than invest in adequately tackling the issues at the heart of it.

And there are issues in this area of Stockton, there’s no doubt about it.

The businesses in the area were well within their rights to lodge hundreds of complaints about anti-social behaviour in Dovecot Street.

For years, the area has been blighted by drug use, by the availability of irresponsibly cheap booze and by those troubled few who behave yet more irresponsibly as a result.

Those businesses fought for a year to get those benches removed and I refuse to believe that campaign was entirely driven by unsympathetic suits who would rather kick a man when he’s down than lend a hand.

It’s undeniably difficult to run a business, to live or work in an environment that’s coloured by frequent acts of what one businessman called “severe and unacceptable anti-social behaviour” – everything from public urination to violence and intimidation.

Those in Dovecot Street would be forgiven for celebrating the removal of the benches and the dispersal of its denizens.

But those who have spoken out have joined Mr Lee in urging Stockton council to do more, to use this sorry saga as a starting point for a fresh conversation about the issues still lurking under the town’s modern facelift.

People and their problems do not vanish along with street furniture – they might not be congregating in Dovecot Street, but they’re still around and they matter.

As Mr Lee said, you can’t successfully regenerate a town without putting significant effort into regenerating the lives of its most vulnerable.