Necessity Still Breeds Ingenuity - Archive of SQUALL MAGAZINE 1992-2006

The Last Press Release

Eviction of Artillery Mansions

Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 30.

On Friday April 22nd, bailiffs and police finally came to evict the 10 or so remaining occupants of Artillery Mansions in Westminster, so putting a lid on a project of both protest and positive housing initiative that had run for six weeks.

On April 12th, 1994 at 11am in courtroom 14 of the High Court on the Strand, Great Bear NV will seek possession of Artillery Mansions, 75 Victoria Street, SW1 from the present occupants. Their plan for the building is to build 36 luxury flats in the listed part of the front block and to leave the other 375 flats until the property market for office development improves, at which time they will demolish the building to construct offices.

All efforts to negotiate a use for these flats for short-term housing for the homeless by both the Empty Homes Agency and on behalf of the present occupants by SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes), has produced no constructive response from Great Bear NV.

Great Bear are a £multi-million company registered in the Dutch Antilles. All efforts to speak with them directly, by parties including the present occupants and by sections of the media, have progressed no further than a 'no comment' from their legal representatives.

New DoE figures on the number of empty homes in Britain were released at a press conference by the Empty Homes Agency today, Monday, April 11th. There are 864,000 empty homes in Britain, 411 of them are at Artillery Mansions.

Most of the flats at the Mansions have been empty for 18 years. On February 18th, the building was occupied by 50 squatters for two main reasons:

Firstly as a protest against part five of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill which places criminal sanctions on squatters, travellers, some tenants, festivals and land protests.

Secondly to establish an Alternative Rough Sleepers Initiative in order to provide a shelter for street sleepers during the remaining months of winter.

At the height of its operation there were over 100 rough sleepers sheltering in the building, some of whom had been on the streets for as long as 18 years.

During this time the occupiers of the Mansions have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the Artillery Mansions Tenants Association, comprised of the five sitting pensioner tenants still living in the back block and still waiting to be rehoused by Great Bear NV, after 11 years of promises. The Chairperson of the Tenants Association, Patricia Koenraads, has both sworn an affidavit and made a statement on BBC2 television to this effect.

A petition on the door of Artillery Mansions has attracted over 4,000 signatures of support from locals and passers by, including three local policemen and many workers from the Departments of Environment and of Transport (just around the comer in Marsham St.) and Westminster City Hail (100 yards down Victoria St.).

Two parliamentary questions have been tabled to the Secretary of State for the Environment about the occupation at Artillery' Mansions (Hansard Written Questions 4/3/94 Cols 887-888).

After conversations with the London Fire Brigade Fire and Safety Team, and after failing to attract any material resource backup for necessary fire precautions, the current occupants have decided to vacate the building without contesting the rights of possession. The occupants will, however, speak in court to answer the false aspersions made by Great Bear NV’s solicitors and Agents, that the current occupants have disturbed the neighbourhood, created a mess in the locality, frightened the tenants and are involved in criminal activity.

Related Articles
Heavy Artillery - squatters take Artillery Mansions - an 'in yer face' protest about homelessness in the heart of Westminster - Squall 6, Spring 1994
Rough Street Initiative 2 - two personal accounts of street-level attempts to help street homelessness - 2: Jim Carey on Artillery Mansions - Squall 11, Autumn 1995
Rutlander's Last Stand - eviction of the biggest squat in Britain, Rutland Park Mansions - Squall 6, Spring 1994