The Independent London Newspaper
22nd February 2017

Owner ready to bring in ‘guardians’ as gardens squatters face eviction threat

    Rob

    ‘Rob’ has been living on the Rochester Square Gardens site in Camden Town for eight months

    Published: 16 June, 2016
    by ELLA JESSEL

    SQUATTERS living in a garden square in Camden Town are facing eviction after the landowner asked for permission to halt the “unauthorised occupation”.

    A fluctuating group of around 30 people have lived and worked on the site in Rochester Square Gardens for at least three years, running bike workshops and tending the open space.  

    But they are facing court proceedings after the landowner asking them to hand possession of the land back.

    Once the site of a film prop business, the occu­piers cleaned up the site after moving in and have since resisted previous attempts at eviction. 

    Now owner Eric Wragge has applied to “prevent future unauthorised occupation” by using two live-in property guardians who would pay to rent caravans on the site.

    Mr Wragge declined to comment, but his application to the Town Hall reveals plans to clear the site for redevelop­ment. It adds: “It should be noted that this mostly open, half-acre property was – despite security patrols – reoccupied within weeks of a previous eviction and it is almost certain that squat­ters will return unless a continuous on-site presence is provided for.”

    In a letter sent to occupiers in April, Mr Wragge issued the occupiers with an ultimatum: either they could all be evicted by bailiffs and the site secured by property guardians, or the occupiers themselves could apply for two guardian roles, with the rest leaving voluntarily.

    “Rob”, who has been living in a tepee in the gardens for eight months, said turning into a security guard was not an option. 

    “This space is so important because it’s been created by unique, creative, peaceable inhabitants for the love of it,” he said. 

    “The landowner wants to eradicate every living thing in this space so he can recreate this space in his own image. He wants to use the power and weight of his name against unnamed and unarmed people.”

    Meanwhile, the council’s own use of property guardians has been under scrutiny, with housing officers this week responding to queries on the nature of the Town Hall’s contract with security firm VPS.

    Melissa Dillon, head of regeneration at the council, told local residents that property guardians could be used to secure up to 350 vacant properties awaiting regeneration or demolition on estates such as Abbey Road, Agar Grove, Bacton Low Rise and Maitland Park. 

    Guardians are prohibited from talking to the council, but a group living on the Agar Grove Estate took the unusual step of attending a District Management Committee meeting in Kentish Town on Tuesday, urging the council to let them stay in their flats until the redevelopment starts.

    Guardians have called for a rethink of a new council rule that means they must leave regener­ation sites after 18 months, claiming it is “arbitrary” and disruptive to existing council tenants.

    One guardian, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We, of course, have agreed both legally and in spirit to the temporary nature of being a guardian and absolutely accept the fact that we must move out of the building when it is necessary to do so.

    “However, it would be a terrible shame for us all to have to move home unnecessarily. We’d be most grateful to the council if they could reconsider the maximum stay rule.”

    Housing chief Pat Callaghan said property guardianship was not a “permanent housing solution”, adding: “The 18-month rule is explained to all guardians as part of the process of signing their licence agreement and that has always been the case.”

    Comments

    RE: Squatters having a serious detrimental impact on life!LOL!

    Re: Adam Straw's comment: "The squatters have had a serious detrimental impact on my quality of life". I get your point Adam but PLEASE this is a complete exaggeration. I also live in one of the houses that looks out onto Rochester Square. in fact i live in THE CLOSEST house to it and i seldom hear noise. I also work from home and it does not bother me or keep me awake. I hope i never get as jaded as you to dislike the sound of the music. This is Camden Town! I suggest, Adam, that you don't live in a house in central London. You would get a detached isolated house in The Cotswolds for the same price.

    Story error + Rob's an idiot

    Correction: they’re not “facing court proceedings”. Their Feb 11 post to www.facebook.com/rochestersquare says they already got to waste the court's time and have their non-case heard months ago . . . and the judge (who they say was “extremely fair”) ordered them to leave. Mr. Wragge sounds incredibly generous (can you post his letter?!) for even talking to these people and “Rob” is in idiot for defying the law and pretending he gets to dictate how people use their land.

    Rochester Square

    This is a wholly one-sided article. I do not know why the journalist did not ask local residents, or anyone else nearby who has experience of the squatters, whether ending their occupation will be a good idea.

    I live in one of the houses that looks out on to Rochester Square. The squatters have had a serious detrimental impact on my quality of life. They make a great deal of noise throughout the day and often in the night. I often have to work from home, but the noise prevents me from doing so. I am kept awake at night at least once or twice a week by their noise. It often makes being at home feel like living next to a small festival. There is Japanese knotweed in the square, which the squatters prevent removal of. This will threaten local properties. Large piles of rubbish can be seen around the square, and big rats are often seen running alongside and out of the square. The tents and tarpaulin make parts of the square look like a shanty town.

    For these reasons I will be very happy if the squatters are removed. If your journalist would like to contact me for any future articles, to ensure your paper publishes an even handed approach, I would be very happy to speak to her.

    Adam Straw

    Squatters having serious detrimental impact on life quality! LOL

    Re: Adam Straw's comment: "The squatters have had a serious detrimental impact on my quality of life"....I get your point Adam but PLEASE this is a complete exaggeration. I also live in one of the houses that looks out on to Rochester Square... in fact i live in the CLOSEST house to it and i seldom hear noise. I also work from home and it does not bother me or keep me awake. In fact i hope i never get as jaded as you to dislike the sound of the music. This is Camden Town! I suggest, Adam, that you don't live in a house in central London - You would get a detached isolated house in The Cotswolds for the same price.

    Landowners Rights

    "Rob" seems to think it is unreasonable of the landowner to want to 'create the space in his own image'. Why should that be deemed unreasonable? If he owns the land he should he be allowed to do what he likes with it??

    Post new comment

    By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.