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The Grenfell inquiry must feel the collars of the developers carving up our cities

The revolving door connecting politicians with lobbyists clearly helps them, but does it benefit us?

Anna Minton is a housing writer and author of Ground Control: fear and happiness in the twenty-first-century city

The community of North Kensington is demanding that the public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire be widened in scope. It must, local people say, “seek to understand how residents’ voices have been systematically ignored for so long”. On the other side of London, Haringey residents took to the streets last week, protesting at their council’s plans for regeneration.

To understand why people feel their voices are not being heard, it is essential to investigate the environment in which politicians and developers operate. Local government has a history of corruption that includes the jailing of the Newcastle council leader T Dan Smith in the early 1970s, and the illegal decisions made by Shirley Porter in the Westminster “homes for votes” scandal in the 1980s.

Today such criminality is rarer. Instead, we have a concerning culture of cronyism that, while not illegal, suggests a lack of accountability. From the housing minister down to the local councillor, elected politicians now routinely rub shoulders with property developers, house builders and commercial lobbyists. This is no accident. Politicians’ decisions have an impact on companies’ ambitions, whether they are reviewing planning applications, setting affordable housing targets or “regenerating” whole areas. Bluntly, companies want these decisions to go their way. Develop connections with the decision-maker and you can “strip out risk”, in the words of one lobbying firm.

The politicisation of planning has come with the growth of the regeneration industry. While once planning officers in local government made recommendations that elected members of planning committees generally followed, today lobbyists are able to exert far greater influence.

It’s not easy to see into this world, but there are traces in the public domain. Registers of hospitality, for example, detail some of the interactions between councillors and the commercial property business. Take a week in the life of Nick Paget-Brown, the Kensington and Chelsea leader who resigned in the aftermath of the Grenfell fire. In October last year he had lunch at the five-star riverside Royal Horseguards Hotel courtesy of the property giant Willmott Dixon. The previous evening he had been at a reception put on by the business lobby group London First, whose membership is dominated by property and housing firms. He had breakfast with the Grosvenor Estate, the global property empire worth £6.5bn, and lunch at Knightsbridge’s Carlton Tower Hotel. This was paid for by the Cadogan Estate, the second largest of the aristocratic estates (after Grosvenor), which owns 93 acres in Kensington, including Sloane Square and the King’s Road.

Image result for rock feilding mellenTory in charge of Grenfell Tower refurbishment investigated TWICE over his role: Rock Feilding-Mellen was probed after Kensington and Chelsea Council approved a scheme to lease a library building to a prep school at which his children were on the waiting list

Rock Feilding-Mellen, the councillor in charge of the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, who has stepped down as the council’s deputy leader, had his own list of engagements. As the Grenfell Action Group noted earlier this year, he was a dinner guest of Terrapin, the firm founded by Peter Bingle, a property lobbyist renowned for lavish hospitality.

Bingle is also a player in the other big regeneration story of recent weeks: Haringey council’s approval of plans for its HDV – Haringey development vehicle. This is a “partnership” with the Australian property developer Lendlease, a lobbying client of Terrapin’s. The HDV promises to create a £2bn fund to build a new town centre and thousands of new homes, but local residents on the Northumberland Park housing estate, whose homes will be demolished, are vehemently opposed. The Haringey leader, Claire Kober, has lunched or dined six times at Terrapin’s expense.

Nick Paget-Brown, leader of Kensington and Chelsea council.
Nick Paget-Brown, former leader of Kensington and Chelsea council.

In Southwark, just as in Haringey and Kensington, there is a revolving door between politicians and lobbyists. The former leader of Southwark council, Jeremy Fraser, went on to found the lobbying firm Four Communications, where he was joined by Southwark’s former cabinet member for regeneration Steve Lancashire. Derek Myers, who until 2013 jointly ran Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham councils, is now a director of the London Communications Agency, a lobbying agency with property developers on its client list. Merrick Cockell, the leader of Kensington and Chelsea until 2013, now chairs the lobbying firm Cratus Communications, which also specialises in property lobbying. In Westminster, the hospitality register for the last three years of its deputy leader, Robert Davis – chair of the council’s planning committee for 17 years – runs to 19 pages.

Cities other than London and rural areas also provide examples of worrying relationships. In East Devon a serving councillor was found in 2013 to be offering his services as a consultant to help developers get the planning decisions they wanted. In Newcastle a councillor who worked for a lobbying company boasted of “tricks of the trade” that included making sure planning committees included friendly faces.

Meanwhile the culture of regular meetings and socialising does not stop with councils. The diary of David Lunts, head of housing and land at the Greater London Authority for the first three months of 2017, reveals a lunch in Mayfair with Bingle, a VIP dinner laid on by a London developer, another meal paid for by a housing giant, and dinner on Valentine’s Day with a regeneration firm. Consultants and a developer furnished him with more meals before he headed off to Cannes for Mipim, the world’s biggest property fair. He also had dinner with Rydon, the firm that refurbished Grenfell Tower.

Further up the food chain, it was only because of Bingle’s boasts that we heard of a dinner he gave the then local government secretary, Eric Pickles. Held in the Savoy’s Gondoliers Room, it was also attended by business chiefs, including one who was waiting for a planning decision from Pickles’s department. The dinner was never declared on any register of hospitality because Pickles said he was attending in a private capacity.

Lunt’s former colleague Richard Blakeway, who was London’s deputy mayor for housing until last year, and David Cameron’s adviser on housing policy, became a paid adviser to Willmott Dixon. He is also on the board of the Homes and Communities Agency, the government body that regulates and invests in social housing. Its chair is Blakeway’s old boss, the former London deputy mayor for policy and planning Ed Lister, who is also a non-executive director of the developer Stanhope.

The MP Mark Prisk, housing minister until 2013, advocated “removing unnecessary housing, construction and planning regulations” as part of the government’s red tape challenge. He became an adviser to the property developer Essential Living, eight months after leaving office. Prisk advises the firm on legislation, providing support for developments and “brand” building. Essential Living’s former development manager Nick Cuff was also a Conservative councillor and chair of Wandsworth’s planning committee. A colleague of Cuff’s, who spent 30 years in the south London borough’s planning department, now works for Bingle’s lobbying firm, Terrapin.

This is the world that Kensington’s Paget-Brown and Feilding-Mellen, Haringey’s Kober and countless other council leaders inhabit. Socialising between these property men – and they are mostly men – is used to cement ties, and the lines between politician, official, developer and lobbyist are barely drawn. This culture, and the questions of accountability it raises, must be part of the public inquiry into Grenfell. It is perhaps no surprise that the government doesn’t want it to be.

Tamasin Cave, a director of the lobbying transparency organisation Spinwatch, contributed to this article

Anna Minton is a housing writer and author of Ground Control: fear and happiness in the twenty-first-century city

European Parliament approves ban on pesticides in environmentally-sensitive areas

The European Parliament on 14 June 2017 endorsed a ban on the use of pesticides on environmental sensitive areas.

Ban on pesticides on sensitive areas
by John Swire on June 15, 2017

A group of MEPs in the European Parliament failed to block a European Commission proposal to ban the use of pesticides on ecological focus areas.

Under the approved legislation, farmers who receive subsidies from the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for improving biodiversity on land set aside for nature conservation will no longer be allowed to spray pesticides there.

Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 hectares must ensure that at least 5% of their land is set aside for nature improvement. This includes measures that affect biodiversity such as field margins, fallow land, buffer strips and hedges and trees.

It is up to national governments to draw up a list of ecological focus areas, based on a common EU definition, and taking national circumstances into account.

Before the final vote in parliament, 363 MEPs had backed a resolution seeking to dismiss the pesticide ban, just 13 short of the 376 required for a majority.

Peoples’ Food Policy –

This policy may been seen as being especially useful at a time when there is a pretty blank slate in front of us post-brexit, which big business will be ready to take over if we are not. The preparation of this originally came out of the food sovereignty gathering in Hebden Bridge in Nov 2015, and was subsequently developed by a team. There was a web-based invitation for anyone to run workshops, according to a framework and to upload what came from them.

Now the policy has been produced as a 53 page doc.

Note that the name of this initiative was changed from ‘national food policy’ to ‘people’s food policy’.


Defra secretary Michael Gove indicates departure from largess of subsidies to large landowners & refocus on environment & countryside stewardship in post-brexit UK farm subsidy system

…a flurry of sweeteners for those of us who cast a critical glance on social and environmental justice and sovereignty issues (Gove has even mooted the end of live animal export). We will assuredly hear avowed assurances on how post-brexit the UK will protect our food and animal welfare standards to extinguish any notion that the UK will capitulate to the lower environmental standards of the USA in any future trade deal, but brace yourself for a more subtle and insidious outline of his views on Agricultural-technology and “innovation” in tandem with Liam Fox’s preparations for new international trade deals across the world, with biotech an essential component of that.

The Royal Norfolk Show 2017: Defra secretary Michael Gove hears Brexit priorities from East Anglian farmers
by Chris Hill
PUBLISHED: 28 June 2017
Source: The East Anglian Daily Times

Environment secretary Michael Gove said he was in “listening mode” to understand the Brexit concerns of East Anglia’s farming community during his visit to the Royal Norfolk Show.

The cabinet minister acknowledged he is “new to the world of farming”, but keen to hear the views of farmers as he was shown the region’s latest agri-tech and science developments at the Innovation Hub, and met local producers in the food hall.

Many of the issues discussed revolved around the nation’s looming departure from the EU and its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will demand new policies to be written which will dictate farmers’ ability to trade and compete, the degree to which they are financially supported, and their ability to recruit seasonal migrant workers.

“I’m listening,” he said. “The single most important thing I can do at this stage is to listen so I can be an effective advocate for farming in government.

“The first thing to say is I have friends in Norfolk. I have a friend who farms just outside Great Yarmouth and a friend who farms near King’s Lynn. So I already have some familiarity with the issues.

“The other great thing is that people have been completely candid with me today and I think that their concerns and hopes boil down to a number of specific areas.

“One is what would be the nature of subsidy and support in the future, and as we leave the CAP and as the CAP changes itself, will money be there for environmental support and countryside stewardship? And, if so, what will the criteria be, and will there be other ways that farmers are supported in the valuable work they do? So money is ‘issue one’.

“Issue two is labour. People want a guarantee that they will be able to secure the labour they need in order to make sure our rural economy keeps going.

“One of the things I am determined to do as we fashion a new migration policy, is to ensure the needs of agriculture and the rural economy are at the heart of it.

“I think the third thing I would mention is the opportunities presented by our new trading arrangements. Farmers recognise that as we leave the EU there are opportunities because of the high quality produce that the UK is famous for, and Norfolk in particular is noted for, there is an opportunity to sell more abroad – but we also need to make sure that as we do sell abroad that we do not compromise our high environmental and animal welfare standards.”

Mr Gove, a key architect of the “Leave” campaign during last year’s EU referendum, said Brexit represented a “huge opportunity for British agriculture”, opening up new markets overseas and freeing farmers from the “onerous bureaucracy” of the EU.

He also reaffirmed the government’s commitment to maintain current subsidy payments at their current level until at least 2022, and whatever happened beyond that, he was determined to ensure farmers could compete in international markets.

“Subsidy, if it is applied in the wrong way, can actually make farmers less productive,” he said. “So just because some other countries have subsidies it does not mean they are as productive as we can be.

“We can compete best on quality. The critical thing about British farm produce is that in a world where provenance matters more, where people want to know the journey from farm to fork in intimate detail, Britain is in a very strong position because of the high environmental and animal welfare standards that we maintain.”

Among the farming industry representatives who spoke to Mr Gove were Jon Duffy, chief executive of Anglia Farmers, who said: “I am impressed that he is here in the first place, and that he wants to go out and take soundings on people’s views. He asked questions rather than telling us what would happen.

“I said I would like to see agriculture further up the agenda within Defra, and Defra further up the agenda in Brexit. He listened, and he understood that.”

Shipdham dairy farmer Ken Proctor, Norfolk’s county delegate for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) also spoke to the Defra minister. He said: “I was impressed that he listened to the subjects we were portraying, he took evidence and asked questions, which showed the message was received loud and clear.

“He was saying that Defra is going to be a much more important department in the government now and after Brexit, and I think that is very important.”

See also: The problem with the EU Common Agricultural Policy – TLIO information briefing

Economic analysis of the Common Agricultural Policy: The CAP – cap it or scrap it?

Homeless people living on canal banks and forced to fish for their food in desperate struggle to survive

As pedestrians walk above, a man below casts his rod into Bridgwater Canal in Salford, Greater Manchester in desperation of catching his next meal

Next to the humming streets and just a few feet away from a busy city road lies the shocking truth of the state of Britain’s homelessness epidemic.

As pedestrians walk above, a man below casts his rod into Bridgwater Canal in Eccles, Salford, Greater Manchester, in desperation of catching his next meal.

This isn’t a day out for Stuart, his girlfriend Georgia Twemlow, and John – this is their life, at least for now.

Stuart sits on a disposed sofa by the banks with a fishing rod propped against his leg. Abba is blaring from his stereo, reports Manchester Evening News .

He’s fired up a barbecue and drinks from a bottle of water.

His friend ‘Russian John’ sits by his side. They both look towards the water, hoping for a bite.

Stuart and Georgina were turned down for housing 

All are homeless and Stuart and Georgia say they’ve been turned down for housing and have nowhere else to go.

Last week they were sleeping in a bus shelter, now this canal bank is their home.

The unusual settlement he has made with Georgia and John is now attracting attention from passers-by, but Stuart says people have been mostly supportive.

“I’ve made it my home, until the system changes,” he tells us.

“I chose this spot because it’s in my home town, it’s close to church, and it’s near the doctor’s – although I wasn’t allowed to register because I’ve got no address.

“It’s not near housing so we’re not bothering anyone. It’s all right, hopefully I’ll be able to feed myself and anyone else who needs it. I can totally Ray Mears it.”

Stuart has even planted chilli, garlic, apples turnips and onions in a patch of soil by the canal.

When he needs a wash he jumps into the water with his shower gel.

Friends who do have a home arrive to take a load of washing off him. They bring him food and cigarettes. Having lived here all his life, he’s well known in the area.

One visiting pal tells me: “Stuart’s a good guy, we’ve known him from growing up together on the Winton estate – he’d do anything for anyone.

”It’s sad he’s fallen on hard times and we want to help him out.”

Their camp isn’t going down well with everyone though – a visiting PCSO tells me there have been 14 complaints in two days.

But as the day continues, Stuart, Georgia and John are joined by more companions. Many explain they have mental health issues and they come to pass the time – as well as to draw support from each other’s company.

At night, they will take it turns to keep watch while the others sleep.

Georgia, 28, who suffers with depression, says she just needs a base to get her life back on track – but claims the council isn’t helping her because she’s classed as a ‘single person’.

She says she’s worked in the past but claims her landlord changed her locks to get her out, and without an address, she can’t get a bank account and is struggling to find work.

Faced with difficulties in her family estranged, she doesn’t like to ask friends for help.

Stuart, 35, known by pals as ‘Pottsy’, has led a turbulent life. In the past, he says he’s worked as a cobbler, locksmith, painter and decorator and in factories.

Stuart has been living on the streets ever since he was evicted from his social housing flat

But after suffering a breakdown and losing his family, he was kicked out of his rental property two months ago.

The housing system can often be hard to navigate – although housing bosses generally maintain that temporary housing, in the form of hostel places, is there for everyone who wants it. Stuart, however, insists he’s tried to get help from Salford Council but says he was told that he ‘was not a priority’.

“Look, I’ve got a criminal record,” he explains. “I’ve done some bad things in my life, but it’s all been petty crime. Drugs have been my problem but I don’t take them any more.

“But I’m in this situation for helping a homeless man. I met him in Rochdale and he needed somewhere to stay. I was on benefits, was living in a flat and I let him stay in my lounge. I wanted to give the lad a chance. But the landlord found out and kicked me out. He was a good landlord, he just couldn’t deal with it at the time.

“We were both made homeless. I sofa-surfed for a while, tried to find somewhere new but I couldn’t. Without an address, I can’t get a bank account, it’s the system.”

Forced out of a tent in Manchester city centre and resorting to sleeping in a bus shelter, both say they’ve appealed again to Salford Council for housing.

“They said we aren’t a priority. When will we be? When we’re beaten up, stabbed? They wouldn’t even tell me what their criteria is,” says Stuart.

“It’s just got worse and worse. People end up in prison because it’s the only place they have somewhere to live. The system isn’t working, someone needs to shake it up.

“I’ll keep living here until I get my life back.”

“I want everyone to have a nice home. Everyone says there’s enough fish in the sea – and I know for sure there’s enough land and houses for everyone to live in but there are still people starving while at the supermarkets there are bins brimming with food.”

Stuart looks back at his rod, a maggot dangling from the end of his line. “We caught our first fish last night – a roach. We had it for dinner. We’re dropping bread in and we hope that will attract the little fish.

“And then those little fish will bring in the pike, then we’ll eat. I’ll feed anyone who needs it.

“It’s about playing the long game. The slowest horse wins the race.”

Salford Council has been contacted for comment about Stuart and Georgia’s situation.

They have a sofa and two chairs, a bookcase and a bed to sleep on which they found chucked out by a nearby furniture dealer. They’ve managed to find a carpet to cover the concrete towpath as well as an old tent cover to shelter them from the rain.

With the sun shining as it has done today, it looks like the open air set of a sitcom.

But the grim reality of life outdoors is anything but funny. The fishing rod isn’t just a way of passing the time – it’s to give the group food for their next meal.

Stuart is a 35-year-old dad-of-four. He once had a stable life but has been living on the streets – including a spell in a tent in Manchester city centre – ever since being evicted from his social housing flat.

Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s wife’s ancestral home benefits from £7.6m state rescue

It was billed as an act of generosity — a decision that would “save” a “key piece of northern heritage” for the nation.

But Philip Hammond’s commitment in this week’s Autumn Statement to spend £7.6m on restoring Wentworth Woodhouse, England’s largest private home, also had a little-known beneficiary: the house happens to be ancestral home of the mother-in-law of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP who is among the chancellor’s noisiest critics.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he had no involvement in the campaign to save Wentworth Woodhouse. But after hearing the Autumn Statement in which the funding was announced, he for once dropped his criticism of Mr Hammond and described his overall budget as “excellent”.

“I liked the fact that there was only one gimmick. The fact that the gimmick was Wentworth Woodhouse I liked more,” said the backbencher, one of whose children has Wentworth as a middle name.

The house is renowned as the inspiration for Jane Austen’s Pemberley, possibly erroneously given that there is no evidence that the author visited the estate. Its ill-repair dates from the post-war Labour government’s decision to allow coal mining in the gardens after the nationalisation of the coal industry in 1945. Mr Rees-Mogg described the move as “the most outrageous act of socialist envy”, although the Fitzwilliam family, the owners, had built their vast fortune from mining on their lands.

The Fitzwilliams moved out in 1946 and the house was put into a family trust. Lady Juliet Tadgell, the only child of the earl and now Mr Rees-Mogg’s mother-in-law, inherited the family fortune but not the home. She is one of the trustees of the Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust, which has raised £7m to acquire the house.

Politicians involved with the campaign to save the stately home say they had no idea of Mr Rees-Mogg’s personal attachment to the property. “I am not sure he’s ever been to Rotherham but we’d be glad to see him here,” said John Healey, the local Labour MP. Robert Jenrick, the Conservative MP and heritage specialist, said Mr Rees-Mogg had “played no part in our lobbying of the chancellor”.

Located in south Yorkshire, Wentworth Woodhouse is not very well known, reflecting its limited opening to the public as well as its unglamorous location near the M1, among the area’s former mines.

The government funding, which will be used to address subsidence caused by the coal mining, is expected to create jobs in the surrounding area, which includes the town of Rotherham. “The factor that really secured the funding was making a major investment in a very deprived community,” said Mr Jenrick. The Fitzwilliam family continue to own much of the surrounding estate and have invested in restoring it.

Mr Healey said there was some irony in Mr Hammond’s rescue as the government had fought a long and finally successful battle in the courts to resist demands for £100m in compensation for the subsidence caused by the mining. The case failed in June.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he had “deliberately played no role in the campaign”. Nor had he been asked to contribute financially to the project: a recent report of his net worth being up to £150m was “not faintly true”.

The Trust expects to complete the acquisition of Wentworth Woodhouse early next year. It estimates that at least £35m more investment is needed over 15 years to make the house self-reliant, including the conversion of some areas into apartments and business units.

Mr Rees-Mogg said he had visited the house a couple of years ago at the invitation of the then owners, the Newbolds. The public will be able to visit from next spring.

Summer of 1645: Trials of the Leveller founder, Freeborn John Lilburne

The World Turned Upside Down: The Trials of Freeborn John


June and July are interesting months in the historical chronology of the Levellers. Three hundred and seventy two years ago next month sees the anniversary of the arrest of John Lilburne, the famous Leveller agitator, for the alleged slandering of William Lenthall, at that time the Speaker of the House of Commons. The grounds upon which the warrants were issued centred upon supposedly false accusations that Lenthall had been corresponding with Royalists. The fact that many of those within the English Civil War Parliamentary Movement, who were simultaneously members of the landed gentry and therefore represented the interests of wealth and privilege that had historically been aligned to the Crown, were ultimately seeking a compromise with the King and the establishment of a limited monarchy along modern constitutional lines, means that it is perfectly possible that these accusations were well founded. However, in the absence of hard evidence Lilburne had nothing to substantiate the claims that he had made and was therefore to find himself imprisoned.

That October, however, in spite of the gravity of what he had been accused of, Lilburne was to be released in the wake of a petition to the House of Commons which had been signed by over two thousand leading London citizens. This in itself would tend to suggest that many of the population, particularly among the limited classes who were at that time eligible to vote, not only shared his views but were willing to put their signatures to a document in order to defend them. Of further significance is the historic role of the London Citizenry in the crowning of each successive monarch in Anglo-Saxon times. Something that would feature much in the writings and discourse of many of those who were to become caught up in the Leveller Movement of which Lilburne himself was to all intents and purposes the founder.  A fact that is evidenced by reference to the transcripts of the Putney Debates.

But this was not to be the end of the affair by any means. The following year, in June 1646 Lilburne was to find himself arrested and imprisoned again. This time for slandering the Earl of Manchester, whom he had accused of protecting an officer who had been charged with treason. In addition to this he had also referred to Manchester, who had been Lilburne’s former commander prior to the latter’s resignation of his commission upon refusing to sign the Solemn League and Covenant, a matter we shall look at in detail in a future post, both as a traitor as well as a Royalist sympathiser.

On the eleventh of July 1646 Lilburne was brought before the House of Lords, and following a short trial, sentenced to seven years imprisonment. The Judgement of the House of Lords, dated the same day as his trial, that of 11th July 1646, is transcribed in full below:

“It is to be remembered, that, the Tenth Day of July, in the Two and Twentieth Year of the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King Charles, Sir Nathaniell Finch Knight, His Majesty’s Serjeant at Law, did deliver in, before the Lords assembled in Parliament at Westm’r, certain Articles against Lieutenant Colonel John Lilburne, for High Crimes and Misdemeanors done and committed by him, together with certain Books and Papers thereunto annexed; which Articles, and the said Books and Papers thereunto annexed, are filed among the Records of Parliament; the Tenor of which Articles followeth, in these Words:

“It was then and there, (that is to say,) the said Tenth Day of July, by their Lordships Ordered, That the said John Lilbourne be brought to the Bar of this House the 11th Day of the said July, to answer the said Articles, that thereupon their Lordships might proceed therein according as to Justice should appertain; at which Day, scilicet, the 11th Day of July, Anno Domini 1646, the said John Lilburne, according to the said Order, was brought before the Peers then assembled and sitting in Parliament, to answer the said Articles; and the said John Lilburne being thereupon required, by the said Peers in Parliament, to kneel at the Bar of the said House, as is used in such Cases, and to hear his said Charge read, to the End that he might be enabled to make Defence thereunto, the said John Lilburne, in Contempt and Scorn of the said High Court, did not only refuse to kneel at the said Bar, but did also, in a contemptuous Manner, then and there, at the open Bar of the said House, openly and contemptuously refuse to hear the said Articles read, and used divers contemptuous Words, in high Derogation of the Justice, Dignity, and Power of the said Court; and the said Charge being nevertheless then and there read, the said John Lilburne was then and there, by the said Lords assembled in Parliament, demanded what Answer or Defence he would make thereunto; the said John Lilburne, persisting in his obstinate and contemptuous Behaviour, did peremptorily and absolutely refuse to make any Defence or Answer to the said Articles; and did then and there, in high Contempt of the said Court, and of the Peers there assembled, at the open Bar of the said House of Peers, affirm, “That they were Usurpers and unrighteous Judges, and that he would not answer the said Articles;” and used divers other insolent and contemptuous Speeches against their Lordships and that High Court: Whereupon the Lords assembled in Parliament, taking into their serious Consideration the said contemptuous Carriage and Words of the said John Lilburne, to the great Affront and Contempt of this High and Honourable Court, and the Justice, Authority, and Dignity thereof; it is therefore, this present 11th Day of July, Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords assembled in Parliament, That the said John Lilburne be fined, and the said John Lilburne by the Lords assembled in Parliament, for his said Contempt, is fined, to the King’s Majesty, in the Sum of Two Thousand Pounds: And it is further Ordered and Adjudged, by the said Lords assembled in Parliament, That the said John Lilburne, for his said Contempts, be and stand committed to The Tower of London, during the Pleasure of this House: And further the said Lords assembled in Parliament, taking into Consideration the said contemptuous Refusal of the said John Lilburne to make any Defence or Answer to the said Articles, did Declare, That the said John Lilburne ought not thereby to escape the Justice of this House; but the said Articles, and the Offences thereby charged to have been committed by the said John Lilburne, ought thereupon to be taken as confessed: Therefore the Lords assembled in Parliament, taking the Premises into Consideration, and for that it appears by the said Articles that the said John Lilburne hath not only maliciously published several scandalous and libelous Passages of a very high Nature against the Peers of this Parliament therein particularly named, and against the Peerage of this Realm in general, but contrived, and contemptuously published, and openly at the Bar of the House delivered, certain scandalous Papers, to the high Contempt and Scandal of the Dignity, Power, and Authority of this House: All which Offences, by the peremptory Refusal of the said John Lilburne to answer or make any Defence to the said Articles, stand confessed by the said Lilburne as they are in the said Articles charged:

“It is, therefore, the said Day and Year last abovementioned, further Ordered and Adjudged, by the Lords assembled in Parliament, upon the whole Matter in the said Articles contained,

“1. That the said John Lilburne be sined to the King’s Majesty in the Sum of Two Thousand Pounds.

“2. And, That he stand and be imprisoned in The Tower of London, by the Space of Seven Years next ensuing.

“3. And further, That he, the said John Lilburne, from henceforth stand and be uncapable to bear any Office or Place, in Military or in Civil Government, in Church or Commonwealth, during his Life.”

This passage, taken from the ‘House of Lords Journal Volume 8: 17 September 1646’, and subsequently published in the Journal of the House of Lords: volume 8: 1645-1647 (1802), pp. 493-494, presents the reader with a number of interesting legal anomalies: which may well explain the attitude of the defendant. The first of which is that the entire trial appears to have been conducted in the King’s Name, much as modern day criminal trials still are, by members of the English Civil War Parliamentary faction at a time when they themselves were engaged in armed struggle with the self same monarch in whose name Lilburne had been brought to trial.

The other interesting anomaly involves the fact that at no point in the trial transcript is there any mention whatsoever of the affair for which Lilburne was originally arrested. Namely, the accusations he is reported to have made against the Earl of Manchester. Indeed, this entire tract is suggestive of the fact that Lilburne was in reality on trial first and foremost for his ideas. And in particular those ideas which he himself had previously committed to writing. His’England’s Birthright Justified‘, published in October 1645, at about the same time as he had previously been released from prison, for example, defends the rule of law against arbitrary power. In it Lilburne argues that Parliament’s own power must be limited by law to protect the rights of the individual. The author also attacks the monopolies of preaching, in the form of the Established Church and its Ministers, the Merchant Adventurers who dominated the Wool Trade, and the Stationers’ Company who controlled the printing of all published books.

The subsequent campaign to free Lilburne from prison was to lead to the establishment of the entire Leveller Movement, including the political party of the same name. Following the spreading of false rumours that the Levellers, who wanted a complete end to the Monarchy and the House of Lords, were conspiring with the Royalists to overthrow the new republican government, which had come to be dominated by the landed classes, Lilburne himself was accused of incitement. On 26 October 1649 he was brought to trial yet again. This time at the Guildhall in London, where he was charged with high treason and with inciting the Leveller mutinies within the Army.

At his trial Lilburne spoke eloquently in his own defence: ‘Sir, will it please you to hear me? and if so, by your favour thus. All the privilege for my part that I shall crave this day at your hands, is no more but that which is properly and singly the liberty of every free-born Englishman, viz. The benefit of the Laws and Liberties thereof, which by my birthright and inheritance is due unto me; the which I have fought for as well as others have done, with a single and upright heart; and if I cannot have and enjoy this, I shall leave this Testimony behind me, That I died for the Laws and Liberies of this nation; and upon this score I stand, and if I perish I perish.’

Once again his was released from prison just as he had been on 14th October, 1645, this time after being acquitted by a jury. Of further interest is the fact that during his previous trial before the Lords it had been ruled that ‘the said John Lilburne be sined to the King’s Majesty in the Sum of Two Thousand Pounds’. This refers to a fine of £2000 that he had been ordered to pay on being found guilty.

The particular point of relevance here is that following his previous release from prison in October 1645, John Bradshaw, who would himself rise to prominence as President of the High Court of Justice for the trial of King Charles I and as the first Lord President of the Council of State of the English Commonwealth, had brought a case before the Star Chamber on Lilburne’s behalf in the matter of a large sum of back pay that he should have received while serving as a Colonel in the Parliamentary Army. The sum that  Lilburne was awarded as a result of this case, which amounted to some £2,000 in compensation for his sufferings, was never paid by Parliament and appears to have been at the heart of the later decision to arrest him in the affair of the Earl of Manchester. It is interesting to note then that the money he had been owed, and the sum he would later be fined, amount to precisely the same amount.

Image credit: original Civil War pamphlet scanned by Tony Gosling

The Autonomous City by Alexander Vasudevan review – in praise of squatting

This international history makes the case for squatting as a radical alternative to neoliberal urbanisation and a shared vision of the city

Thursday 16 March 2017

In February this year squatters moved into a £14m mansion near Buckingham Palace. It was the third such luxury property occupied in a matter of weeks by members of the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians, or Anal for short, part of a campaign to highlight the scandal of empty properties at a time when homelessness and inequality are soaring. The number of people sleeping rough in England has risen steadily for the last six years.

Alexander Vasudevan’s study is the first comprehensive attempt to reconstruct the history of squatting as “the expression of an autonomous understanding of shared city life”. Each of his eight chapters takes a specific city and charts the evolution of squatting since the radical social movements of the 1960s, showing how the occupation of buildings became a way of reimagining the city “as a space of necessity and refuge, experimentation and resistance”. As well as providing an instant solution to the need for housing, squatting was also a way to reclaim the city in the face of gentrification and urban renewal schemes that were stripping it of public spaces and displacing working-class populations.

But Vasudevan goes further, claiming that squatters were also urban pioneers who explored a new kind of lifestyle, reclaimed spaces and asserted, to use Henri Lefebvre’s phrase, a universal “right to the city”. Squats became laboratories in which people experimented with new identities and collective living. In cities across Europe and the US, squats were places “where one could build an alternative world”.

Vasudevan sees his book not merely as a dry contribution to urban history, but as celebration of the vital ideas and achievements of those squatters who dared to imagine an alternative vision of life, an alternative to the neoliberal city and the urbanisation that is still engulfing the world. His highly original argument is that the history of squatting reveals “the potential reorganisation of our cities along more collective, socially just and ecologically sustainable lines”. Using archives created by squatters themselves, documenting their evanescent experiments, Vasudevan demonstrates that “the squat was a place of collective world-making: a place to express anger and solidarity, to explore new identities and different intimacies, to experience and share new feelings, and to defy authority and live autonomously”.

His opening chapter on New York City explores how a squatting movement emerged out of tenant activism. By 1960, 30% of New York’s non-white population were living in dilapidated housing and a series of rent strikes helped to draw the community together, giving tenants the confidence to fight for improved standards. In spring 1970 a squatter movement appeared called Operation Move-In. By the summer it had placed 150 working-class families, mostly of African American or Latino background, in abandoned apartments scheduled for demolition as part of a plan to build housing for middle- and upper-income families. One parent told a reporter: “We’ve been living in horrible places with horrible people for a year. This is … a nice community.”

Initially the city responded by destroying the plumbing and fixtures in all its empty properties. But eventually Operation Move-In forced the authorities to back down and allow the squatters – who had repaired and renovated their homes – to stay. Nearly a thousand housing units were also added to the urban redevelopment plan on the Upper West Side. Operation Move-In was a success, not only winning more housing but raising the issue’s profile through publicity stunts such as a “Housing Crimes Trial” attended by 1,500 people. The movement encouraged “new ways of thinking about and inhabiting the city as a space of political action and self-organisation”.

In London, the roots of squatting go back to the immediate postwar period when war veterans and Communist party activists occupied empty properties in 1946. For a time squatters even moved into luxury flats in Duchess of Bedford House, Kensington. But it was not until the 1960s and 70s that squatting became a more widespread phenomenon. At one point, a group living in a row of derelict GLC properties on Freston Road, west London, declared independence from the UK. The Free Independent Republic of Frestonia even wrote to the UN requesting a detachment of peacekeepers to prevent their imminent eviction. The UN didn’t respond, but the publicity generated by the squatters led to negotiations with the GLC and eventually the site was given to the Notting Hill housing trust.

Vasudevan’s argument is compelling and supported by impressive research. His account takes in the “alternative self-organised community” of Christiania, established in an abandoned barracks in Copenhagen in 1971, and the Berlin pensioners who occupied their community centre which was threatened with redevelopment, as well as the vibrant scene in Amsterdam where as many as 70,000 people were squatting between 1964 and 1999. Vasudevan shows how the occupation of vacant properties became “a radical urban social movement”, shaping the recent development of many cities. By occupying and renovating derelict houses, and – as happened in Berlin’s tenement buildings – creating a whole alternative social infrastructure with cafes, day care centres, workshops, concert venues, clinics, cycle repair shops and even a children’s petting zoo, squatters provided their cities with examples of collective living and social transformation.

It is, of course, deeply ironic that this “makeshift urbanism” – the radical repurposing of defunct urban spaces to create alternative communities – has now made cities such as Berlin highly attractive to businesses and gentrifiers: revolutionary ideas reduced to urban “branding assets”. As the moneyed classes and developers move into an area, the authorities begin clearing squatters. Indeed most of the spaces Vasudevan discusses have long since been redeveloped and the occupants evicted. In part, therefore, his project is an attempt “to reconstruct and reanimate these spaces”, preserving their “alternative vision of collective city life”.

The role of squatting has changed – it’s less about the wider housing movement, more to do with diverse protest cultures
In recent years the role of squatting has changed, becoming less about the wider housing movement and more to do with diverse protest cultures, such as the anti-globalisation campaign. Vasudevan points out that in the wake of the financial crisis “a sustained and systematic attack on alternative forms of living and working has taken place in cities across Europe and North America”. As rents and house prices soar, homes have become commodities and cities have been turned into “sites of intense displacement and inequality, exploitation and poverty”. Many people have been left without adequate housing, and radical housing movements have re-emerged in Berlin, New York and Paris, as well as in Greece, Italy and Spain, where 20% of the country’s housing stock now lies empty. In London, too, the age of austerity has prompted a revival of squatting, embodied in groups such as Focus E15 in Newham and Sisters Uncut in Hackney. However, on 1 September 2012 it became for the first time a criminal offence to squat a residential building in the UK.

The implications of the legislation are poignantly illustrated by the fate of Daniel Gauntlett, who was charged under the new anti-squatting laws. He froze to death outside an empty bungalow in Aylesford in 2013. As Vasudevan’s scholarly and illuminating study shows, for today’s squatters as for their predecessors, the urgent issue of housing is part of a broader concern. For squatting – in its radical incarnation – is about the future of our cities and about how all of us, as citizens, have a right to remake them into fairer, more humane places in which to live.

• PD Smith’s most recent book, City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age, is published by Bloomsbury. The Autonomous City: A History of Urban Squatting by Alexander Vasudevan is published by Verso. To order a copy for £16.99 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of £1.99.

Sweden has just listed the entire country to stay at for free on Airbnb

From a London Eye capsule suspended 443 feet in the sky to a luxury indoor forest, you may have seen some unique listings on Airbnb over the years. Now, there’s an entire country up for grabs.

Sweden has turned its entire country into a listing on the holiday rental website.

A collaboration between Airbnb and Visit Sweden, the listing is an effort to promote the country’s “freedom to roam” principle, or “allemansrätten,” which gives people the right to freely explore all public spaces across the country.

The idea, protected by Swedish law, is that people don’t need to book accomodation to visit the country — they can just grab a tent and freely access any of the publicly owned land. Private gardens and lands under cultivation are the only exceptions, although a “do not disturb, do not destroy” rule applies.

“It’s a home with all the necessities and amenities that any great home should have,” the listing reads. “It’s a place where you can eat berries from the ground, sleep under the stars, swim in the lakes and roam freely.”

There are a number of specific locations suggested on the site, including a “Rustic Forest Retreat in Vintage Style” located in a “historic and mysterious forest in western Värmland” which “offers high quality accommodation and a memorable stay.”

“Go to bed with the midnight sky above your head and if you can’t fall asleep, try counting the stars. It usually helps!” the listing reads. “In the fall there are wild mushrooms that you’ll enjoy foraging – from August to November you’ll find a lot of delicious chanterelles on the ground.”

It adds that it is available 365 days a year, accomodates everyone, has unlimited beds, and check-in of “whenever.”

A statement from Airbnb said: “Every lake is your infinity pool, every mountaintop your granite terrace, every meadow becomes a garden and every forest a pantry filled with mushrooms and berries. Feel free to take a morning jog or bike ride across open fields or trek through challenging mountain terrain. Should you want an upgrade, you do not need to ask anyone, just find the best location that suits you and your mood.”

Victory for Tent City homeless as judge slams Bristol City council

Judge criticises Bristol City Council as Tent City homeless people celebrate victory in banning case

By Tristan_Cork | Friday August 26, 2016

Bristol City Council solicitor Shazia Daya’s signature on court papers
A senior judge has criticised Bristol City Council for attempting to effectively banish a group of homeless people from the entire city, after the group won a major victory in court to stop the ban.
Council chiefs backed down in their attempt to impose a court injunction on the so-called ‘Tent City’ group of around 10 homeless people who have been camping for months in a park in Easton, and agreed a deal with them.

The council had tried to evict the 10 from the park and pass an injunction which would have meant they would be committing a crime if they slept rough of camped on council-owner public spaces anywhere else in Bristol effectively banning them from the city.
The original injunction made it a crime for them to sleep rough anywhere in Bristol
But just minutes before the case at the Bristol Civil Courts, council legal chiefs backed down. Instead, the out-of-court deal they agreed with the homeless people was that they would be evicted from the Peel Street Park in Pennywell Road in 28 days, and that the injunction would only apply to that park, not the whole city, and only for six months.
Judge Roderick Denyer QC welcomed the climbdown, criticised the council and praised the homeless people, who included an injured ex-serviceman, for challenging it.
“The injunction as sought initially was far too wide, that was the view I had two weeks ago,” he told the court. “I take on board fully that the ex-serviceman, for instance, served his time in the armed forces, was badly injured and spent a long time in hospital.
“I’m pleased it’s been able to be resolved. There’s a limit to what I can do in this situation. I don’t have any magic powers to deal with Bristol’s homelessness crisis and I would like to thank all the homeless people and the supporters for coming today. It’s an emotional area but I am very, very grateful, and I am pleased that this injunction is now in a much, much more sensible form,” he added.
The group of people living in the park had been supported by Bristol Housing Action Movement (BHAM), and an online crowd-funding appeal raised enough money to hire Derek McConnell, from South West Law, to represent them in court.
He slammed the council too, for the way officers had treated the homeless people. “There are other issues not covered, including the extent to which the authorities advise people if they don’t have local connections that is quite wrong legally, and the sooner the authority get away from this gate-keeping mentality to people presenting themselves as homeless the better,” he told the court.
The ex-serviceman, who asked not to be named in reports, said he was hopeful now that a home could be found for him. “I’ve gone from being told to get out of the city entirely, to now being told I’m an urgent priority, which is a good thing,” he said.
“They tried to put me in one of the ‘crash pads’ for homeless, but they are a hell-hole. We have people coming from those crash pads to stay at the tent city for a bit of peace and quiet. I’ve felt a lot safer there, and I’m going to stay with the lads until I’m sorted we’ve got a good community down there,” he added.

Another Tent City resident, a Polish man called Hubert, said he was pleased the council backed down. “I’ve been in England 12 years and worked and paid taxes for ten years, but ended up homeless after I lost my documents and can no longer work legally. When I get the documents again, I’ll be back on my feet,” he said.
“I’m really glad that the council aren’t doing this. I was feeling that they were going to force me out of the city, so I’m happy. I’m glad a lot of help and support from the local community, and from Richard and that can influence a judge and the council,” he added.
“It’s a definite victory,” said BHAM’s Richard Lloyd. “The residents of Tent City were going to be faced with a real problem in that they were going to have nowhere to live and nowhere to even be homeless in Bristol.
“It would’ve added a huge problem but now they can at least carry on trying to make a life for themselves here in Bristol. The judge said the original injunction was far too wide, and several times that a court can’t pass an injunction that it knows cannot be enforced. No one wants to jail homeless people.
“An injunction just for the park itself and just for six months is reasonable. The council lacks the resources to meet the need out there, but there needs to be a better dialogue between housing officers and the homeless people, and the likes of BHAM and Acorn Bristol on what homeless people’s rights are and what support they can get,” he added.
Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, said the council ‘always tries to avoid’ taking court action against homeless people. “We always try to avoid taking this sort of action and we have spent a great deal of time engaging with the people in Peel Street Park since we first made contact with the camp back in April,” he said.
“However, we do not permit camping or sleeping rough in tents within our parks and open spaces, as we have to protect these areas and make sure they are available to everyone. The council and its partners understand that sometimes tents or temporary shelters are erected by vulnerable people in need of help and support. Those camped on the land have all been offered the support of St Mungo’s Outreach Team which is commissioned by the Local Authority to provide support to people sleeping rough.
“St Mungo’s visited the camp more than 18 times and spoke to 15 different people. In addition the council’s Streetwise team, which deals with anti-social behaviour issues, has visited the camp five times.
“At least three members of the camp have been supported into accommodation, with one of them also finding employment. A number of people were found to have connections with other areas and they were offered help with travel to that area and information on how to access further support once there. This offer was not always taken up, with some people choosing to remain in the camp. Those with a local connection to Bristol or no local connection to any local authority area, were offered a bed in a night shelter. An action plan was also drawn up for each person.
“The council works closely with its partners to ensure that those that are homeless are supported to access help and accommodation in the city. This support is ongoing and we will continue to engage with the people still left at the camp.
“The Rough Sleeping Partnership and other agencies are working to address the issue of homelessness in the city, as we believe that no one should be forced to sleep rough in Bristol. A number of extra bed spaces have been made available thanks to the partnership, with another two guardianship properties set to open in the coming weeks. We will continue to look at how we can all work together to support people and help them off the street as quickly as possible, as this remains one of our key priorities,” he added.

Victory for Tent City homeless as judge slams council


Tent City triumph

Bristol 24/7 – Tilly Haines, August 26, 2016
The residents of the so-called ‘Tent City’ in Easton have been given a reprieve as a judge criticised the city council for effectively attempting to expel the group of homeless people to outside the city borders.
The group were praised by the judge at Bristol Civic Courts for standing up for themselves with the council backing down at the last minute from threatening to evict them from their encampment in Peel Street Park.
Previously, the council had issued the residents with an injunction forbidding the defendants from rough sleeping, camping or the parking of any caravan or vehicle within the park off Pennywell Road, or in any other public open space within Bristol.
Around £1,500 was raised to help with their legal fees so that those living in the park could contest the case, which only lasted around 15 minutes on Friday morning, with some 10 protesters outside the courts.
An out-of-court negotiation was reached between a council representative and the defendants’ lawyer Derek McConnell which gives the residents of the park 28 days to be able to find somewhere else to live and now only applies to Peel Street Park.
Judge Roderick Denyer QC agreed that the injunction was now “in a much more sensible form” and recognised the need for Bristol to help the homeless.
Judge Denyer told the court: “There’s a limit to what I can do in this situation. I don’t have any magical powers to deal with Bristol’s homelessness crisis and I would like to thank all of the homeless people and the supporters for coming today. It’s an emotional area but I am very very grateful.”

The defendants and their supporters who attended the hearing were all pleased with the result.
Richard Lloyd from the Bristol Housing Action Movement said: “We’re very very happy. The injunction the council originally applied for was draconian and unhelpful and there was no way that was going to get through court, whereas the revised injunction they just conceded a lot down to a level that is really quite reasonable.”
An ex-serviceman and resident of Tent City who asked to remain anonymous told Bristol24/7 that he was badly injured and spent a lot of time in hospital.
Another resident, a Polish man who gave his name only as Hubert, said that he has lived in Bristol for 12 years but added that he lost all forms of ID and can no longer work legally.
The residents now have 28 days to leave Peel Street Park and move elsewhere, whether this be to another spot in their tents or into accommodation provided by a housing association.
Bristol mayor Marvin Rees said that the city council tries to avoid taking court action against homeless people and has spent “a great deal of time” engaging with the people in Peel Street Park since first making contact with the camp in April.
“However, we do not permit camping or sleeping rough in tents within our parks and open spaces, as we have to protect these areas and make sure they are available to everyone,” Rees said.
“The council and its partners understand that sometimes tents or temporary shelters are erected by vulnerable people in need of help and support.
“Those camped on the land have all been offered the support of St Mungo’s Outreach Team which is commissioned by the local authority to provide support to people sleeping rough.”

a Landrights campaign for Britain

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