Thursday, 15 September 2011

Squatting protests - live updates | News |

Squatting protests - live updates

• Campaigners target justice secretary's home
• Protesters engage in actions to highlight criminalisation of squatting
• "Cardboard city" flashmob expected outside DCLG

Ken Clarke's roof
Justice secretary Ken Clarke's house in south London, was targeted by campaign groups protesting about the criminalisation of squatting Photograph:

2.06pm: Welcome this afternoon to our live blog on housing protests which are due to take place around London today. We understand that various campaign groups are going to hold protests outside of government buildings including the Department of Communities and Local Government which has responsibility for housing. It's still a little hush hush but we will update as events come through.

They are making noise about a number of issues. The first is the imminent eviction of Dale Farm in Essex in which travellers are expected to be removed in the coming week from a plot of land which they own but do not have planning permission to erect dwellings on.

The second issue is the criminalisation of squatting. After after a spate of vacant central London town houses were squatted, including that of Guy Ritchie, the justice secretary Ken Clarke, along with housing minister Grant Schapps decided to make squatting a criminal offence. Currently if you enter a house which has been abandoned and unsecured and claim it as your abode, it is treated by courts as a civil offence.

The third issue is that of council's planned evictions of tenants whose family members were involved in last August's riots. The first known example of this was Wandsworth council, in London who have already served one family with a notice of planned eviction.

And finally, there are of course the cuts to housing benefits. What has most riled activists are the shift from so called subsidised rents which housing associations currently provided when compared to the full market value. The £500 a week housing benefit cap is also a source of concern in London where rent is especially high.

Stay tuned for further updates this afternoon.

2.33pm: We're already getting a report from journalist Diane Taylor that activists have target the house of justice secretary Ken Clarke. They climbed on to his roof of his house in Oval an hour-and-a-half ago with one activist giving him a mocked up six month eviction notice.The crowd has now moved on to another target and it was all over very quickly. A full update and pictures are expected soon.

2.55pm: Journalist Diane Taylor has just sent this through on the protest on top of Ken Clarke's roof. It seems small, 10 people so far, but they are expected to join up with flashmobbers later in the day:

Two of them clambered onto the porch roof of Clarke's terraced house in a quiet residential street a stone's throw from parliament just before 1.30pm to draw attention to the government's plans to criminalise squatters. They unfurled banners declaring 'housing is a human right' and served a mock six-month eviction notice on him.

There was no sign of any police officers while the activists protested on Clarke's porch roof.

Phoenix, one of the activists involved in today's protest, is a veteran squatter. He has been involved in hundreds of direct action protests, beginning with the anti-roads protest in Twyford Down in 1992 and has lost count of how many buildings he has scaled to draw attention to a variety of causes.

The activists barged into a TV interview with Alastair Darling on College Green and demanded to know whether or not he was backing the government's proposals to toughen up anti-squatting legislation. He declined to respond. They then visited the recently vacated Lib Dem HQ and made a failed attempt to squat it.

"It's now an empty property. It would make a perfect community centre," said Phoenix.

3.13pm: We've had some video footage of the roof protest delivered to the office and it's currently being edited.

3.28pm: Despite MoJ plans it's not all bad news for squatters. In a ruling which could effect all councils Camden was made to disclose a list of its empty homes to the Advisory Service for Squatters.

In a tribunal ruling on the Judge Fiona Henderson said that the "public interest in putting empty properties back into use" outweighed the council's concerns that the list would unleash a crime wave as drug users, and criminals moved into the unoccupied properties across the borough.

3.38pm: Joseph Blake from Squatters' Action for Secure Homes (SQUASH) who haven't been part of today's protest has welcomed it nevertheless and says this:

Today's protests against the criminalisation of squatting hopefully marks the first of many days of action across the country. Ken Clarke was targeted because by attempting to criminalise squatting he is essentially criminalising the homeless in the middle of a housing crisis and people are rightfully angry. This proposed bill will only serve the interests of property speculators and unscrupulous landlords whilst at the same time criminalising the last remaining option for many to put a roof over their heads.

4.09pm: The Ministry of Justice has just sent us a statement on the proposed changes to the law affecting squatting and the consultation process that has been deadlined for October 5th.

Not everyone who squats does so through desperation or because the alternative would be rough sleeping and the reason people squat may vary.

The consultation process will tell us more about the types of people who squat and the extent of squatting. It will invite the views of organisations that are likely to be affected by our proposals, including homeless charities who might be able to provide us with further information about potential impacts on homeless people, and allow us to shape any future legislation.

The Government has already made available £4.5bn to help deliver new affordable housing through the Affordable Homes Programme, and as part of that £100million to bring empty homes back into use.

4.30pm: We have just spoken to Justin Fielding, a teacher from south London who is organising the flashmob demo outside of DCLG in 30 minutes. He said, "We're going to stage a mini cardboard city in solidarity with people being evicted from Dale Farm, and also in solidarity with people who are being evicted in the riots."

Fielding added that there was a third reason which was the criminalisation of squatting. He said he had no idea as yet as to how many people were going to appear at five o'clock outside of the DCLG building, but says that the hashtag to follow on twitter is #dclgmob.

4.43pm: Here's that video of the action outside and on top of, Ken Clarke's house as mentioned earlier. It was shot by fellow protester Ross Domoney. The Ministry of Justice has refused to comment directly on the action but said this earlier.