(AA)++ The land is ours; 18th May 1996

esperanto (lingvoj@lds.co.uk)
Sat, 18 May 1996 21:33:08 +0200


Campaigners from The Land is Ours are
occupying the site of the old distillery and oil
depot on York Road, SWl1. We're building a
sustainable village with gardens and public
amenities. We're laying on lots of events:
music (acoustic only), circus stunts, talks,
painting and story-telling. Everyone's
welcome - please come and join us.
On 8th May we celebrated the fiftieth
anniversary of the biggest occupations in
British history, when demobbed servicemen
took over a thousand derelict sites. On 12th
May we'll be handing the land over to the
people who want to live there or to use it in
the longer term. This, if you're interested,
means you.

We want to highlight the desperate need to
make good use of the derelict sites in Britain's
cities. They're the best places for the
affordable housing, the community facilities
and the green spaces our cities need so badly.
At the moment they're either being wasted or
used for the sorts of developments which tear
up cornmunities - such as giant superstores
and extremely expensive housing.
We want to show what can be done in places
like this - and how much better development
can be when ordinary people are involved
rather than just big business and bureaucrats.

Because, with the right sort of development -
making use of the waterfront and the excellent
location - it could be wonderful. Also, since
Elm Farm was shut down by Wandsworth
Borough Council, the people of Battersea
have been deprived of one of their best
amenities. We want to restore some of the
things the area has lost.

We're acutely aware that we're within earshot
of people's homes, so no amplified music or
other major noise will be allowed on site. This
is a peaceful, friendly and constructive
occupation. If you feel worried by any aspect
of what we're doing, please come to the
reception tent at the main entrance and tell us
what you think, and we'll try to sort it out.

To a large extent this is up to you. We believe
that homeless people and the local community
should be the driving forces of development.
So please come along and join our meetings.
Tell us what you think and what you would
like to see the land used for. Then we can work
out together how we can put your ideas into
practice. A planning meeting is held every
morning at 1lam-everyone is welcome.

The Land is Ours is a campaign, not an
organisation. It has no membership and no
paid staff. We're campaigning for sensible
land use in Britain and better access both to
the land itself and the decision-making
processes that affect it.

The Land is Ours
East Oxford Community Centre
Princes Street, Oxford OX4 lDD

Through The Anarchist Press
John Rety

I have now seen anarchy in practice and, so far, it works. The Land is Ours
campaign, after three months of careful preparation, occupied a
thirteen-acre site (Gargoyle Wharf, York Road, Wandsworth) and within
minutes of arrival two coachloads of people set about transforming the
derelict land fronting the River Thames south of Wandsworth Bridge into a '
sustainable village' including gardens, vegetable plots, imaginative housing
and community projects for local people, who have given tremendous support
all through the week.
In six days a basic corc of about a hundred people, with over a thousand
who have come to help on a daily basis, have made this place both liveable,
entertaining and worth coming to. There is no better cuisine in London, and
the store-room is full of the choicest vegetables from donations and from
the local New Covent Garden Market. A community of individuals ! The
vegetable plots are increasing at a daily rate, with some friendly rivalry
between the new piled-on permaculture where hands are the only tools and the
traditional methods of working up the ground with pickaxes, forks and=
The owners - if such a word is fit to use in the context- are the
Guinness brewery group who inherited the site in 1986 when they 'took over'
the Distillers Company, and ever since then the thirteen acres remained
unused. Guinness, in partnership with Safeways, put in a lame proposition
for a superstore which even the notorious Wandsworth Council had to reject.
The site is self-policed - again this is a ready-made phrase - which in
effect means that there is a completely crime-free zone. Inside the site no
money changes hands, although the initial cost of setting up the operation
came to =A33,000, mainly from donations, which was spent on a large=
hire of coaches and building materials. Ever since then the local builders
and other well-wishers have brought in supplies (see photo). There is now a
rudimentary water supply for drinking and for irrigation. A proposal to use
Thames river-water for irrigation is being considered.
The communal pavilion, 'Octavia's Love Nest', is a beautiful wooden
structure in which Colin Ward gave his talk on ' Squatting Through the
Ages'. This structure went up in three days, and a windmill generating solar
power should be in place by today.
The place is swarming with reporters from all over the world and Tony Benn
came on Tuesday 7th May as early as 7am and gave his opinion that
homelessness "was a necessary discipline of capitalist society". He said
that what he saw was admirable. When asked if he would stay, he nevertheless
chose to return to his cronies in the Gas House across the river.
Guinness, of course, do not seem to exist in the summons which they issued
against Nicholas Harris, George Monbiot, Steve Collier and Persons Unknown
(could it be you, dear reader?). The plaintiff is named as United
Distilleries plc for the hearing on Wednesday 15th May at the Royal Courts
of Justice in the Strand. The shares of Guinness stand at about =A34.60 a
share at the moment and the site is also worth a cool =A320 million. A drop=
the Guinness fortune, and it is rather irrelevant that, rich as they are,
they are prepared to go lying into court (some solicitors have neither shame
nor brain) for the summons testified that the "land herein mentioned are not
residential in nature". Then what was that about their planning application
for 110 (unaffordable) flats skirting the superstore? And what are these
people, these Londoners, who at this moment are residing here, their
laughter filling the air as their hammers knock the wood into its place and
pushing the good mulch in their wheelbarrows. Irish mist?
This is anarchy in action, and I'm cautiously optimistic that it is here
to stay.=20