JNC Squats Resist Double Eviction

conservation area: conservation areaThe two occupied social centres operating under the Justice Not Crisis banner discovered on Monday that they were both to be evicted on the same day - Tuesday 21 April. This was not to be, thanks to a spirited resistance from the squatters and supporters. To successfully defend one squat can be considered fortunate; to defend two in one morning begins to seem miraculous. It just goes to show that the powers that be are far from infallible, and that solid peaceful direct action can bring major benefits for the community. The squats however remain on high eviction alert, and request all supporters to mobilise. Come down, even if for an hour, and help keep these facilities open for workers, for the environment and for the community.
Notice of a Tuesday eviction for the Social Justice Centre at 318 Pershore Road was given some days in advance. This was however thrown into doubt after the legal owners, Warwickshire Cricket Club, suddenly found themselves without a promised loan of £20 million from Birmingham's council leaders [see: http://www.birminghampost.net/news/west-midlands-news/2009/04/17/council-s-20m-funding-offer-for-edgbaston-cricket-ground-blocked-65233-23404529] and speculation was rife that they may wish to open negotiations with the squatters to rent the building after losing such major finance. The Centre houses several homeless people, many were rough sleepers, and successfully managed, with others, by a person who was formerly sleeping rough on Brummie streets. It also houses part of the Birmingham People's Library, a long running initiative given new life by the squat, as well as providing a venue for various social and cultural activities including advice for benefit claimants.
The squatted former Beechwood Hotel and conservation area at 201 Bristol Road, meanwhile, lost its legal defence against a possession order by the private owners, Manor Coast Ltd (Proprietor: Mr Kang) in the High Court on April 17th. This squat, as well as providing a similar facility to the Social Justice Centre, also has a conscious ecological focus. This is because the extensive grounds form part of a nature conservation area, which seems irrelevant to the owners and former managers. Mr Kang himself was convicted of illegally removing trees within it; there has also been dumping and burning of toxic waste on site. Suspicion is rife that Mr Kang is using a strategy familiar to landowners who find themselves saddled with inconvenient regulations in the public good - deliberate running down of the land so that it will lose its protected status. The owners will then be free to 'develop' the site in the interests of Capital and big business while destroying these important facilities. The occupiers are keen to turn this situation around and restore the grounds to proper ecological management, and are working with local stakeholders to this end. In the meantime, practical steps taken include the planting of a vegetable plot. There is a permaculture day planned for this Saturday 25th April during which further practical steps are to be taken as well as sharing skills in these areas, and all are welcome.
On Monday notice was received that both squats were to be evicted the following morning. The decision made to defend these buildings, supporters were mobilised and defences put in place. Bailiffs turned up first at 318 Pershore Road, at 9am and, after an hour or so of faff, moved people away from the front door and proceeded to break down the door and barricade, ignoring the lone squatter on the roof. Police in attendance confirmed that he was not causing a breach of the peace, even preventing him from coming down from the roof on health and safety grounds. It soon became apparent that without removing him, the Cricket Club had not legally taken possession of the building and after leaving the building was reoccupied by the squatters.
At Bristol Road, the same bailiffs attended at 11am with Mr Kang and a locksmith, and police. Here they were faced with up to eight people on the roof, and more inside the building. After 90 minutes of more faff, police left followed swiftly by bailiffs. Last to leave was the locksmith who had not even got out of his vehicle throughout.
After this somewhat unexpected double victory, the occupiers while jubilant remain on high eviction alert and request all supporters to come down to help defend the building from further attacks. It is a beautiful building and grounds and well worth keeping open. Meanwhile, the occupiers continue their request to negotiate some civil arrangement with the legal owners so that the work can continue.
Justice Not Crisis commented:
"This is a major victory for homeless people, residents and land conservation and we are obviously delighted with the result. We are also concerned that despite our requests we have had no communication with either WCCC or Mr Kang regarding our wish to rent the property and manage them properly paying rent to the respective owners. We will continue to attempt negotiations and hope to resolve the matter without causing the owners any more costs in instructing bailiffs."

See indymedia for forthcoming video of this event.