‘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.”