Eviction fails to deter London's eco-villagers

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The Independent Online
Protesters vowed yesterday to continue their environmental battle with the brewer Guinness over the future of a derelict site in London, after being evicted from the plot in a dawn raid.

About 50 protesters were removed from the "eco-village" in Wandsworth, south-west London, after 12 bailiffs broke down the barricades, pulled people off roof-tops and dragged them from trees as more than 100 police officers stood by. One woman was questioned over an alleged assault and another environmental campaigner was taken to hospital with a minor head injury sustained during his removal from a 15ft-high makeshift home.

Security guards hired by Guinness were last night guarding the site to ensure it was not reoccupied. Several trees were chopped down to restrict access.

But the campaign group in charge of the protest, The Land is Ours, said the battle to secure the 13-acre site beside the River Thames, nicknamed "Pure Genius" after the Guinness slogan, would continue, to save it for community use or low-cost housing.

George Monbiot, a group spokesman, said: "In many ways, we feel a sense of triumph, the campaign has been a great success. We never anticipated staying more than two weeks and it has been five-and-a-half months since we moved on to the land. We've also succeeded in pushing a lot of issues up the political agenda, such as the provision of affordable housing and the dereliction in our cities."

The campaigners resisted eviction for several hours after climbing on top of the main 20ft, make-shift structure in the centre of the camp, as well as on to a gantry leading to a disused jetty. The bailiffs, enforcing a High Court writ, used cranes and ladders to reach them.

The "eco-villagers" set up home in May to protest at Guinness's plans to develop the former distillery site into a Safeway supermarket, with houses and riverside walk, and to promote"employment generating uses".

The group said that planning permission should not be granted for the site, which has been lying unused for about seven years.

A Guinness spokeswoman said the "squatters" would not change the company's plans to develop the site if it was granted planning permission.

The result of a public inquiry into the planning dispute is expected by the end of the year. Wandsworth Borough Council said it welcomed today's eviction, though the council opposes Guinness's supermarket plan.

The local vicar, the Rev Michael Wimshurst, said the protesters had a fair deal of support from residents in the area.