Green group seizes prime land by Thames

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The Independent Online
The Land Is Ours, a new direct action group, yesterday seized 13 prime Thameside acres near the heart of London and set about creating a village to demonstrate green urban living.

Several hundred squatters arrived by chartered coach and invaded the site of a demolished gin distillery and oil depot in the Conservative flagship borough of Wandsworth. The site has been left flattened and derelict, awaiting the end of the property slump, for seven years.

"The land owner and the developers have had their chance and they've blown it," declared author and campaigner George Monbiot, one of the leaders of the action group. "Now it's our turn. The market isn't delivering the sort of development people need."

Within a few hours of sawing through the big metal gates of the site, benders and tents had sprung up, permaculture gardens were being dug and paths had been laid out through the rubble, weeds and eight-foot tall buddleia shrubs.

A prefabricated toilet block which will drain directly into the soil had been put up near the almost-finished luxury flats bordering one side of the site. Prices there start at pounds 190,000 for a two bedroom apartment.

"We want to highlight the desperate need to make good use of the derelict sites in Britain's cities," says the campaign's leaflet, distributed to bemused local residents, many of whom are council tenants. But landowners Guinness are more interested in the kind of development which fulfils the multi-million potential of this site with its 300 yards of river frontage.

Wandsworth Borough Council's planning brief for the site opposes offices and workshops, luxury flats and some housing for low income families. A supermarket chain has twice applied to build a superstore on the site and been turned down.

Most of the mainly young and hugely idealistic squatters plan to stay for a week at most, but some hope to stay indefinitely. Yesterday the police quickly decided it was a civil matter, leaving it to Guinness to evict the urban villagers.

One of the largest new buildings put up on the site yesterday was a geodesic dome made of plastic barriers taken from roadworks. That seemed appropriate, given that cars are banned and several of the squatters are veteran road protesters. One of the lead organisers of the occupation is a civil engineer with Wandsworth Borough; he did not want his name mentioned.

Today several tons of compost will be arriving by lorry to supplement the weedy rubble in which crops will be planted. The public will be welcomed in to listen to bands (acoustic only) and to attend workshops on subjects including the healing arts, squatting and being a claimant.

The Land Is Ours say self-help, DIY and community involvement can serve the people much better than council planners and profit-seeking landowners and developers. "Within a week this can be a beautiful place," one of them said.