Runnymede Eco-Village in Epic Court Battle – Sept 2015
Runnymede Eco-Village – a stone’s throw from the place where the Magna Carta was signed in 1215 – may be creating in its legal defence against eviction in the High Court a historic legal precedent which, in invoking within the legal challenge to fight eviction the “Charter of the Forest”, an accompanying document to the Magna Carta 800 years ago, could establish legal precedent to the recognition of a new-use class of sustainable land management within planning law and establish “rights of use” even if the existing land title would be confirmed. The ‘land use right’ could be legally upheld in this court-case between the developer and the squatters, who include amongst their number women and children and young families.
Established in 2012, Runnymede ecovillage has held its ground, stopping the development of the site. In Runnymede Digger’s own words: “Runnymede Eco-Village was founded in 2012 by a group of land activists known as the Diggers. They modelled themselves after Gerald Winstanley and the 1649 Diggers who had attempted to settle open, free, self-sustaining communities on the common lands of Britain during the English Civil War […]After squatting and being moved on from several pieces of land (more detail below), the group came upon and settled the disused former Brunel University campus, creating Runnymede Eco-Village. […] Despite eviction threats and an on going legal process to remove the community from the land, the village has remained and will soon mark its third year anniversary on the 11th of June, 2015.”
Now, having celebrated its Third Year with a summer festival, Runnymede is in court, making a constitutional case for why they should remain in occupation. Like all possession cases, the law is rigged in favour of the title holders (in this case an offshore developer), acting in the interests of that sacred cow, private property. However, the legal team for Runnymede are putting together a bold case, that references a whole gamut of law (common, European and Constitutional), that goes to the heart of ancient land rights during this period of modern enclosure. On their website, you can find the following regarding their case:
Press Release – “Historic Appeal Case Could Set Precedent for Right to Low-Impact Living”
Skeleton Legal Argument (6 pages) – Scribd
Fuller Legal Argument with Case Law and Precedents
This write-up adapted from article courtesy of SQUASH campaign – opposing anti-squatting legislation. Ref: http://www.squashcampaign.org
More on the Diggers of Runnymede:
The weekend after the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, on June 9th 2012, a group of people met at Syon Lane allotments and walked along the Grand Union Canal out of London to Windsor, travelling overnight on route to Windsor Great Park having already identified disused land on crown estate land. [See original report here: http://london.indymedia.org/articles/12379 ]. The intention was to grow food, live sustainably and restore and build structures in a responsible way, rather like a re-intepretation of the origin of the word Jubilee – returning land to it’s orginal inhabitants. Pre-emptive injunctions were served on them before they had even set off. They had planned to set up an ecovillage camp on what had been identified as a disused farm (confirmed by a local in a days prior to the occupation), but when they settled on the site, the crown estate legal team produced a “farmer” who said it was a hay meadow which was soon to be cropped for sileage (a comment made was that there will be a lot of nettles in that sileage for sure)!
After a game of cat and mouse with Thames Valley Police who followed the intrepid diggers where-ever they walked (they attempted to settle on another site close by, but police were already waiting for them there and stopped them), the group spent the night on a site near Runnymede.
By Monday 11th, the group found a spot of woodland within Coopers Hill Woods adjacent to National Trust land at Runnymede where they settled down. The site is owned by Royal Holloway University. The woodland site is earmarked for housing owned by a property company Orchid who have plans to build a large housing development on the site. The occupation of the site has ensured the development plans for the site have been delayed – continued action which has overwhelming support from local people opposed to the proposed development which would be highly controversial being as the site is green-belt land.
But as well as effectively ‘digging in’ to resist this proposed development to protect an area of semi-natural woodland from monstrous development in green-belt land by continuing to contest eviction proceedings by the developer/site owner which are now being challenged in the High-Court, these modern-day diggers are also asserting a right-to-livelihood, with mothers and their small children amongst the permanent residents there.
In the Magna Carta Lecture which took place in 2012 at Royal
Holloway University, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, defined law as ”as all those protocols that stop society being run exclusively in the interests of whatever group happens to be dominant at any moment, and that thus guarantee fairness and redress independently of status or power.” In the Runnymede Diggers own words (written in 2012): “Here in Runnymede, where the notion of modern law, justice and equality are said to have sprung from, you could be forgiven for thinking that the law may reflect Rowan William’s definition. And yet the reverse appears to be true. Instead we find a minority of land owning elites hold almost total power of over access to the thing whose life we all depend on: the land. Those of us here at Runnymede Eco-Village have become quite used to breaking the laws as a by-product of simply trying to live on disused land in a low impact and harmless way. We will carry on doing what we think is just as the primary guide over and above these laws.”