In the media, there are both left wing and right wing views on squatting. The former tends to be liberal and tolerant, the latter is outraged and bays for blood. Recently there has been a campaign emanating from the Telegraph and the Evening Standard to criminalise squatting. The Housing Minister Grant Schapps has been saying some really stupid things like how home-owners are entitled to use sledgehammers to break the door to regain possession of their houses, since it is ‘only’ property damage.
According to Councillor Maria Caulfield (Cabinet Member for Housing, Brighton and Hove City Councill) who wrote a letter to the Argus:
Unfortunately, the romantic notion of the squatter who inhabits a property that would otherwise stand around empty, even makes improvements to the property and leaves for the next empty home without costing anyone anything, has long since disappeared.
In Caulfield’s world, “squatters cost local taxpayers thousands of pounds” because of all the damage they do to Council properties. She seems to sidestep all too neatly the question of why these properties are empty and why the Council does not have plans for them. She even claims that having to repair buildings damaged by squatters leads to “unwelcome delays” for families who are desperate to move into these properties.
You just have ask WHY there are 3,600 empty homes in Brighton.
Squatting can be seen anti-capitalist direct action and thus attracts a lot of repression. Squats are often illegally harrassed by FIT [Forward Intelligence Team] units or even raided before demonstrations. This occured in 2004 with the illegal eviction of a squat in the leadup to the Labour Party Conference. In another case, the night before a SmashEDO demo in 2010, a squat was raided on a flimsy pretext, leaving the front door completely destroyed.
‘Mad Mike’ Weatherley, the MP for Hove, is currently proposing in Parliament that squatting should be made a criminal offence. This is quite ironic seeing as Brighton and Hove police routinely evicts squats illegally on flimsy grounds such as suspected criminal damage or abstraction of electricity which they think allows them to over-ride the Section6 and kick the door in. Let’s get this straight – the police regularly intimidate squatters with spurious charges (eg criminal damage for taking off a lock) which never end up in court. What a waste of taxpayers’ money!
The flipside of the coin here is munterism, by which I mean squatters being vague and uninformed.The cops have also got used to being able to blag or kick their way into buildings. If people were more on it and knew their rights the police would not be able to do this (or at least it would happen less). Brighton has changed a lot in the last 15 years. It’s now a place where the centre is patrolled by private security (SASS), you have to pay for parking pretty much everywhere in the centre, traveller vehicles are hassled out of town and (most outrageous of all) the cops are planning to put a police station on the Level (‘for the community’!?). Squats in the Laines might now be hard to pull off, but then having said that, 325 and ABC did a squat party on London Road in the old Sainsburys (now Aldi) in 2007.
Nowadays it is hard to squat here, not impossible but difficult. Sussex Street, Shaftesbury Place, Rugby Place, Southdown Road, College Terrace and Albion Road have all seen squats which lasted at the most a few months, sometimes just days. There are other squats, better off anonymous, which have existed for years, but these are certainly the exceptions rather than the rule. However, things do seem to be on the up, as proven by the recent Taj occupation. It was amazing that a building in central Brighton could be held until eviction through the court process without descending into a mess. The main reason for that was presumably the safer spaces policy which ensured that no-one in the building was using alcohol or other drugs.
Enough people are fed up of projects descending into chaos that now good things are sprouting up again. In its brief lifetime the Sabotaj project attracted a lot of people and energy. Despite squatting being legal (for now!) and despite there being plenty of positive stories about squatting if you care to look for them, it seems that mainstream opinion is massively against squatting. This is in some degree shaped by (and indeed shapes) the appalling coverage given to the comparitively few instances of bad squatting stories. The Government has now (July 2011) begun a three month consultation period which may result in the criminalisation of squatting. SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) has reformed. And whatever happens, squatting will continue.
Don’t believe the hype…
Squat the world!
This is the last bit of a two part history of Brighton that snob(aha) have been putting together. CHECK.