Gross injustice: Barriers go up on Reading garden

Gerrard Winstanley office at
Tue May 29 18:24:06 BST 2007

picture is here

Squatters who tranformed junkyard are evicted

May 29 2007
By Saima Sabir

SQUATTERS have been rewarded for transforming a derelict junk yard 
into a community garden - with a council eviction order.

And to add insult to injury, when Reading Borough Council repossesses 
the former eyesore it will then clear the site ready for the 
demolition of long-derelict neighbouring buildings.

The squatters,living in the former Women's Information Centre building 
in Silver Street, had worked for months to transform the rubbish-
strewn land.

They cleared litter and flytipped junk, recycling what they could, 
built tables and benches, raised flowerbeds and children's play 
structures and laid a lawn.

The squatters held an open day for what they call the Common Ground 
public community garden on Saturday, with a barbecue and dancing.

When neighbours and supporters turned up they were greeted by two 
council security men handing out leaflets warning them they were 
entering at their peril.

But organisers said everyone ignored them and more than 200 people 
visited the garden during the day.

Painter and decorator Stuart Melvin, 22, one of the squatters, said: 
"This is utterly ridiculous and I am not surprised.

"The council leave these public assets to rot and we believe they 
failed in their duty.People need homes,and green spaces need to be 

"By cultivating unused derelict land without consent of local 
authorities and landowners, we present a positive demonstration of 
community initiative and resistance to the set of priorities which 
sees our local environment as just another tradeable commodity."

Silver Street neighbour John Wild, 36, said crime rates had fallen 
since the squatters moved in and he added: "These people have taken 
away a hideous eyesore, including needles, mattresses and used 

"They have cleaned it up and turned it into a lovely community garden.

"They should not be evicted, it's outrageous."

Katesgrove Lib Dem councillor Gareth Epps said: "The council has to 
take a proactive stance in bringing back empty properties into use."

But council spokesman Chris Branagan said: "We are seeking possession 
of the premises,and as soon as this has been achieved, we will secure 
the site pending imminent demolition of existing derelict property and 
disposal of the land."

[25a0] Is the council's plan to order a repossession notice correct or 
do you think the squatters have done the right thing in transforming 
an unused space?

Write in to share your views at letters at 

Barriers go up on garden you love

A demonstration outside Reading County Court failed to sway the judge

Squatters who transformed a former drug den into a community garden 
have been told by a court to stop opening it to the public.

The Silver Street squatters, who spent four months turning the run 
down council-owned site into a garden for everyone, were served with a 
second injunction by Reading County Court on Friday.

An earlier injunction, obtained by Reading Borough Council, had failed 
to prevent an open day going ahead on Saturday, May 19, which 
attracted hundreds of visitors.

At the hearing on Friday representatives of the squatters were told a 
further order, preventing public access to the garden, would be 
imposed until December 31.

Judge Ann Campbell said she was appreciative of the garden but she 
told the squatters they had no legal basis to challenge the 

Amy Kelly, representing the council, told the court no action would be 
taken about the breach of the first injunction because "no 
particularly adverse consequences arose".

But Mrs Kelly added: "The council's concern is it has no control over 
who comes on to the land and it doubts, as they (the squatters) are 
trespassers themselves, that they've secured public liability 

But Mrs Kelly conceded: "It might be in the council's interest to have 
`good squatters' in the property". 

Mr Bowman said: "Before the garden was opened the site was very much 
more dangerous and open to the public. There were syringes lying 
around the garden."

He told the court no more specific events were planned for the garden 
but that it would be open to the public during the daytime.

"Regarding health and safety we feel it has been improved," said Mr 

"The course of action from the council which would make more sense 
would be to send health and safety officials down to decide what is 
the best way to keep it safe. 

"We feel the garden would be the best way to keep it this way. Leaving 
it boarded and derelict is not the best way."

Mr Sutherland said he spoke from an "emotional rather than legal" 

He said: "The day after our open day a disabled neighbour came down 
and told us how the garden has changed her life.

"She said she had never lived near any green space before and that the 
garden had dramatically improved her quality of life."

Judge Campbell said: "The bottom line here is that the council owns 
the property.

"The council therefore has an absolute right to say what goes on 

She added: "I see the pretty pictures of the garden but one's looking 
at the what-if situation. What if you get a young child in there who 
falls off one of your benches and breaks a leg and then the family 
sues you?

"That is the thinking behind the injunction."

She added: "I can see you have worked hard on the garden. It may be 
that the council are prepared to talk to you about it, but at the 
moment, from a legal point of view, they hold all the cards."

She concluded: "You may have many moral arguments but you do not have 
any legal arguments. And this is a court of law, not a court of 

The same court will hear a case for a possession order on the site on 
Monday, June 4.

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