by Syma Mohammed , Reporter
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Squatters from Camden have occupied a library closed down due to cuts to “reclaim the service for the community” – and have already had 2,000 books donated to the cause.
Occupy London activists have reopened Friern Barnet Library and, along with local campaigners, are running a book-lending service, exercise classes and mother and toddler groups.
The library was closed by Barnet Council in April as part of a cost-saving exercise despite campaigners amassing 7,000 signatures.
Nearly two weeks ago the squatters gave their support to the campaign and entered the building in Friern Barnet Way, Friern Barnet.
Pete Phoenix, 41, a member of Occupy London, has been leading negotiations with the council about the future of the library since last Monday.
He said: “We are occupying the library on a rota basis. We have made a lot of progress.
“We’ve had 2,000 books donated by the community. We’ve had meetings with the council. They have offered us another building and we are trying to negotiate a solution.”
On Tuesday, he successfully negotiated a three-week stay of execution to put together a defence to stop squatters from being evicted from the library after the council decided to take legal action.
Following the decision at Barnet County Court in Finchley, Mr Phoenix said: “It’s a massive victory for the people of Barnet and London, and the national library campaign.”
It was a boost to squatters in general who were dealt a blow earlier this month when Parliament passed a bill that has made squatting in residential property a criminal offence punishable by a £5,000 fine or up to six months in prison.
The law does not extend to commercial properties.
Mr Phoenix is upset about the changes to the law and said: “I think it’s undemocratic, unlawful and unfair.
“I’ve had five or six calls this week from people getting evicted and getting dogs set on them. We are approaching a massive housing crisis because of this law.
“There are 930,000 empty homes and 430,000 empty commercial properties in the UK. There are 400,000 people homeless in this country including those in shelters and temporary accommodation.
“Most squatters live in rundown accommodation and actually do up the places they live in.”
He said he was “shocked” by a government report which said it is prepared to arrest 4,000 people under the new law and imprison them.
He said: “It costs £40,000 to put a person in prison. If they used that money and did up houses, we could create employment.”
A council spokeswoman said: “We note the decision of the court.
“The council has a duty to its taxpayers to protect its assets and will be continuing with legal proceedings for the removal of the squatters.
“This does not preclude ongoing talks with the group about setting up a community library.”