April 25 2014 Latest news:
by Paul Wright
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Two protesters have been arrested as a stand-off with Camden police ended in officers smashing their way into a council-owned property.
Police stormed the house in Southampton Road, Gospel Oak, after campaigners from the Camden Housing Action Group staged an occupation.
They were protesting against what they claimed was a broken promise by the council not to sell off any council housing – something Camden Council strongly denies.
Three council-owned properties were sold off at auction for a total of £2.38million on Monday after an “independent survey” claimed extensive structural and refurbishment work was needed to bring them back into use.
Incensed that private developers would be taking over council-owned property, the housing campaigners gained entrance to one of the properties, hoisted up banners and announced they were staging an occupation.
Tom Hunter, a member of the Camden Housing Action Group, said the council’s “broken promises” prompted the protest.
“The council made a commitment not to sell off council houses,” he said.
“We’ve got 25,000 people on a waiting list to be housed so the last thing we need is the council to sell off its properties.
“Selling to private developers will only raise prices of surrounding properties and hasten the already rapid social cleansing and gentrification we’re seeing in Camden.
“We’ve had great support from people passing our occupation – the housing crisis in London really strikes a chord with the public.”
But Cllr Theo Blackwell, cabinet member for finance, said protesters had “grasped the wrong end of the stick”.
“Camden Council is building council homes, not flogging them,” he said. “All three of these are old commercial properties which have remained empty since the end of their leases.
“The attached flats were never used as council homes and were rented with the commercial units below to the people who ran the shops. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to sell off properties like these but we can do more with the money we’ve now raised.
“Funds from their sale and other projects will now be used to help fund 1,100 new council homes, right now, as well as helping to make repairs to existing council homes.”
The campaigners said they were also protesting Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, which criminalises squatting in abandoned residential properties.
Anna Gardener, another member of the group, said: “By using the building as a protest occupation, Section 144 cannot be applied.
“We want to show the importance of being able to still use abandoned residential buildings for community protests such as ours.”
As police wrestled two of the group’s members to the ground, they were then arrested.
Fatima Pita, 28 and Filipo Yanis-Nikou, 27, are both set to appear at Highbury Corner Magistrates court charged with trespassing in a residential building.
While the council’s properties services team informed the police of the occupation, Cllr Blackwell said he was not personally in favour of the prosecution of protesters.