St Agnes Place

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St Agnes Place pre-demolition

St Agnes Place was a squatted street in Kennington, South London, which resisted eviction orders for more than 30 years.

History[edit]

The street post demolition. Photo taken July 2007

On 1 June 1969 house number 54 was the first to be squatted. The council had acquired the unit and planned to demolish it for the extension to Kennington Park. The derelict buildings were completely rebuilt by the squatters. An attempt to evict it in 1977 was successfully resisted on the rooftops. A High Court injunction ordered the demolition to stop. The resulting furore and publicity on a national scale prevented further demolition.

A block of buildings were demolished either side of the road, and some were badly damaged and scaffolded. But a large central block on both sides of the road were completely untouched, and were in occupation on the day of the attempted demolition, and thereafter. Some damaged ones were renovated again by the residents, and made habitable i.e. one was re-roofed, and several were re-wired and had basic services restored.

The residents of St Agnes paid utility bills and for several years were run by a housing cooperative with diverse occupancy, and in the last few years a larger number of young homeless people. In November 2005, Lambeth London Borough Council finally obtained a High Court of Justice order to evict the residents of 21 properties. This mass eviction was completed on 30 November 2005.

Bob Marley stayed there on several occasions in the 1970s; St Agnes Place had a Rastafari community and had a Rastafari temple along with other related social centres.

There were several community projects at St Agnes Place:

St Agnes Place was responsible for producing music and also broadcasting Wireless FM[2] and pirate radio station Rasta FM, which was raided by Ofcom in October 2005.[3]

One resident said: "It's evolved into a unique community in London. You can walk in and out of people's houses here. It's a safe street. There's no mugging here. I think there is a lot of things society as a whole could learn from the way we live here.".[4]

Eviction[edit]

Lambeth Council managed to get a possession order in 2003, the squatters failed in their argument for adverse possession, and some were threatened with 30 years of Council Tax.[citation needed]

There were a few dates given to the squatters in the summer of 2003 for them to leave when bailiffs would be arriving. Many of the residents moved out and a number of protesters associated with anti-capitalist, environmentalist and travellers movements moved in. Barricades were built and the bailiffs came and left making no attempt to evict anyone.

Nothing more happened regarding the eviction until Autumn 2005 when firstly, the council obtained a demolition order for the street. Secondly, a new court order was issued by the council: The possession orders obtained in 2003 were still valid but the warrants to execute the court order had expired. This new court case was to firstly issue fresh warrants and secondly to have the execution of these warrants handled by the High Court rather than the County Court. This meant that they could use riot police instead of a handful of bailiffs.

A massive eviction happened on Tuesday, 30 November 2005 by two hundred bailiffs and police wearing riot gear. There was not much resistance and most people just wanted to avoid any confrontation but wanted to be thrown out rather than leave as a matter of principle. The street was swept and tidied by residents prior to the arrival of the police and banners put up criticising the council, particularly Liberal Democrat councillor Keith Fitchett who described the residents as "parasites".[5]

The site of the Rastafarian Temple in July 2007. Note the green, yellow and red coloured railings

However, one of the squats on the far end of the street remained in place for another year and a half - separated by a large gap from the other houses in the street, the Rastafari temple, said to have been visited by Bob Marley in the late 70s and a place of genuine religious significance for Rastafari. The council expressed the intention of coming to some sort of agreement with the occupiers vis a vis rent/housing benefit. On the 12 April 2007, police raided it because it was allegedly being used to sell cannabis and crack cocaine. Moves were being made to evict them by the council anyway and some of the temple elders apparently told the police about the drug dealing and gangsters because they felt that the temple had been overrun.[6][7] After the raid three people were charged with possession with the intent to supply a Class C drug.[8][9] Nobody was charged with possession of crack cocaine, and cannabis has religious significance for Rastafari. Lambeth Council have stated their intention of helping the temple elders find new premises to rent. By July 2007 the site had been demolished.

On 5 April 2008 the trial collapsed and all defendants were found not guilty.[10]

Future development[edit]

Work on demolishing the houses in the street began immediately after the eviction - 10-foot-high (3.0 m) fencing and 24-hour security made sure the houses were not resquatted before they got the chance to demolish. Demolition was completed in 2007.

In 2010 Lambeth Council and two housing associations, London and Quadrant and Family Mosaic, put forward planning proposals for the land to be used for housing, 50% of which would be social/affordable housing, together with a re-sited adventure playground and One O'Clock Club.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Forced out - one mans story[dead link]
  2. ^ "Wireless FM". Wireless FM. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  3. ^ "Ofcom tackles illegal broadcasting". Ofcom.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  4. ^ "London's oldest squat faces end". BBC News. 2005-11-04. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  5. ^ "Bye Bye Fitchett". Stagnesplace.net. 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  6. ^ "Anger amid Rastafarian temple raid". BBC News. 2007-04-12. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  7. ^ "Rasta temple was 'not crack den'". BBC News. 2007-05-04. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  8. ^ "Three in court after temple raid". BBC News. 2007-04-14. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  9. ^ "Meeting to challenge malicious police raid of Rasta Temple". Ligali.org. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  10. ^ Owen Bowcott (2008-04-08). "Rastafarian temple drugs trial collapses | Law". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  11. ^ "Kennington Park to lose play area to new housing (see plans)". Southeasteleven.blogspot.com. 2010-09-12. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°28′54″N 0°06′28″W / 51.4818°N 0.1078°W / 51.4818; -0.1078