St Agnes Place Evictions

St Agnes Place, Kennington, London’s oldest squatted street was raided by riot cops and bailiffs on Tuesday morning.

Reports on Indymedia and St Agnes Place websites.

Big hello to BBC London and Evading Standards for the unbalanced reports of the eviction.

Big hello also to that greedy property developing Lib Dem councillor Keith Fitchett and the coruption riddden Lambeth Council ( Eyes passim! ).

The eviction of St. Agnes Place, – by Mark S Brown

On Tuesday 29th November, the illegal eviction took place of St Agnes Place. Residents here were thrown out onto the freezing street with nowhere to go, even though their hearing for possession of the property was not scheduled until mid-december. This was a totally illegal action by baliffs and police, as papers were not served. The police operation involved 200 police officers, with mounted police.

One resident, who remained barricaded in one house until late in the evening, was removed by a territorial armed police unit after having threatened to set alight to himself, and was extremely badly beaten in the street, receiving several brutal blows to the head with truncheons.

Squatters were not allowed to retrieve their belongings by the evening, meaning some people were without their own sleeping bags, bedding ..etc. This remained the case until late afternoon Wednesday. The reason given for this was that baliffs were still going from house-to-house, and that the house were a health and safety hazard (presumably because of the removal of floorboards).

The active members of the community are set to pursue a legal challenge.

The right-wing media and councillors portray the squatters of St. Agnes as free-loading parasites. While this may be true for some (certainly not all), the fact remains is that the real parasite is local councillor Fichett, who “misplaced” £3 million of taxpayers money, and yet, has incredibly been allowed to keep his job.
Lambeth Council cite the lost rental income from properties on the street over 30 years, which is a half-truth since Lambeth waved away it’s rights to rental income when they abandoned these properties (infact, squatters over the years have neglected to get their shit together and attain ownership of properties on the street under the old 12-year rule).

The council publicised their new plans for the area where the street exists, which include new leisure facilities for the community, plus 60 social housing units. It is unfortunate that the council was seen not to embrace the positive aspects to life on the street, and weigh the pros and cons of the cost of eviction, demolition and re-build and the architectural quality of these rows rows of housing in the decision. With the alcohol-soakled wave of anti-social behaviour washing across UK’s urban areas in recent years, the council should have considered the long-term legacy of the positive aspects of this street such as the remarkable lack of hard drugs (as opposed to any sink-estate or town block housing estate). St Agnes Place was voted
as UK’s safest street in a survey 2 years ago. Councillors neglected to work more closely with residents, such as through positive engagment in community projects which couild have transformed the fertile ground of community-based solutions.

Meanwhile, the kids adventure playground next door to the street remains under threat from development.

WAKE FOR ST AGNES PLACE, took place on the evening of the eviction “To celebrate 30 years of diversity and community, a celebration for St Agnes Place by the supporters of St Agnes Place community and evicted residents gathered outside the Town Hall in Brixton. They celebrated their community and praised residents still refusing to leave their homes. “Lambeth Council are not only corrupt
but are unlawful in their actions” one supporter was quoted as saying. There was a large and sympathetic press presence and all present resolved to continue the struggle until Lambeth Councillors responsible are brought to justice.

History of St Agnes Place
Squatters first moved in to St Agnes Place in late 1974, some of its houses having been empty for 14 years. St Agnes Place was given new life by the squatter occupants. By April 1976, 65 people were squatting there. In April 1976, Lambeth Council announced a five-point plan of attack:

Immediate eviction for single squatters.
Power supply cut-offs to squatted premises.

More houses to be ”sealed up” or ”made uninhabitable” to deter squatters.

Council-funded groups to have their grants cut if they tolerated squatting. The use of private investigators to help deal with squatters. In addition, the crackdown on squatters involved the demolition of houses long before sites were actually required. In particular, Villa Road and St Agnes Place were due to be pulled down
for two open spaces. Although the Council readily admitted that it would not have enough money to complete either scheme for five years, it insisted it wanted to demolish the houses to get rid of the squatters as quickly as possible.

By December 1976 almost 100 people were squatting in St Agnes Place and, anxious to ensure this number did not increase, the Council gutted a number of houses immediately the tenants moved out. On 10 December, it expected to do the same to No 85 without too much difficulty. The tenant, 78-year-old Ruby Thompson who had lived there for 30 years was leaving, but as she went out squatters entered the house from the rear and occupied the two top floors, while workers wrecked her ground floor flat. (The workers were non-union because UCATT, the building workers union, had instructed its members to black work involving the gutting of good homes.) The press had been alerted to the event and lambasted the Council. The Evening Standard headlined its story ”Council “vandals” are defied by squatters”, and the Sunday Times later ran an editorial under a similar headline.

Councils were being urged to cut spending, and yet here was a council deliberately wrecking perfectly good homes for no reason other than a vendetta against squatters. Council-bashing in the press, particularly of Labour councils, became a suitable alternative to squatter-bashing, at least for a while. There was strong opposition within the Labour Group of the Labour-controlled Council for the anti-squatting measures policy. Norwood councillor Ted Knight (later to become the Leader of the new left-dominated Labour administration in 1978) was quoted as saying:

”The Council”s policies are bankrupt. They talk to the waiting list and say it is because of squatters. They talk to the homeless and say it is because of the waiting list. And yet we still have vast quantities of empty property.”

Indeed, the administrative resources needed to implement the policy were not available and, although some unlucky squatters suffered, squatting continued largely unabated in Lambeth. Any reduction in their number was due to the Council carrying out its redevelopment programme rather than to its punitive policy. The policy finally foundered when the Council underestimated the strength of the opposition to it and overplayed its hand at St Agnes Place.

On 19 January 1977, the occupants of St Agnes Place were awakened by the sound of a huge crane rigged up with a demolition ball moving into position outside. The street was closed off by police coaches parked across the road. The squatters resisted, and with the help of Lambeth Community Law Centre, hurriedly and successfully applied for an injunction to halt the demolition but not before 16 houses had been wrecked, 10 irretrievably.

The outcry which this affair caused brought an end to the Council’s most rabidly anti-squatting policies. On 25 January the Labour Group voted to think again about the future of St Agnes Place and later it agreed to allow the squatters to remain until the park could be laid out. Many councillors were angered by the deceit that had surrounded sending in demolition contractors as the decision had been kept secret from all but a handful of high-ranking officers and councillors. Even the police were said to have been misled when asked to attend. They were told to come to assist in an eviction and the officer in charge of the operation was later quoted as saying that he hoped never again to be involved in anything similar.

The fight for St Agnes Place has been a remarkable one. At times official attitudes were completely at odds with the needs of local people. For example, Councillor Carey, leader of the Conservative Group, had seconded the proposal to demolish St Agnes Place at a Planning Committee meeting with the memorable suggestion that there were already too many people living in Lambeth and ”to make sure that the extra population doesn”t stay, we should demolish houses that encourage them to do so.”

In the aftermath of the St Agnes Place affair, the entire ”get tough on squatting” steamroller ground to a halt, not only in Lambeth, but elsewhere. The continuing presence of squatters in St Agnes Place, constituted a victory for all squatters. The outcome of these struggles, moreover, comprised a victory for the homeless in Lambeth, because it prevented the loss of housing that the original plans entailed. The role of squatting in forcing policy changes out of Lambeth Council had been absolutely crucial. As Lambeth’s Assistant Director of Housing remarked ”If it wasn’t for squatter pressure we”d have all these [houses] down months ago and nobody would have noticed.”

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