Bristol City Council leader to face questions on future of Occupy Bristol camp
CONSERVATIVE councillors are demanding answers from the city council on the future of a protest camp on College Green.
Questions were due to be put to council leader Barbara Janke at a meeting of the full council this afternoon by Alex Pearce, Tory ward councillor for St George East.
They echo questions and complaints made by Evening Post readers on our letters page and comments by visitors to the Post website since the Occupy Bristol camp was established more than five weeks ago.
Mr Pearce's questions include:
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â "Is the leader of council able to advise me when the unlawful occupation of College Green is likely to be brought to an end?
â "Can the Leader explain what action can or will be taken to remove these trespassers from land which is actually owned by the Cathedral?
â "How long before these 'protesters' begin to accrue legal rights to stay where they are – for example through so-called adverse possession?
â "Can the Leader tell me what steps she has taken to expedite the clearance of this unauthorised site?
â "Whilst I appreciate that public health considerations have motivated the authority to provide basic sanitation and cleansing for this camp, such support may in fact only serve to prolong this trespass. Could these grounds not have been used to justify the forced eviction of these people?"
Former Tory leader Richard Eddy is also due to ask Mrs Janke whether she welcomes new government plans to criminalise squatting of residential properties – and, tellingly, whether she would like to see this extend to other forms of trespass, such as the occupying of land without consent.
Mrs Janke's office refused to answer the questions ahead of today's meeting.
But Dr David Hoyle, the Dean of Bristol Cathedral, which owns College Green and leases it to the council, said talks were under way with the protesters to lead to a peaceful exit.
He said: "There is no specific date set, but we met with the members of the Occupy Bristol on Friday and we have begun what felt like a constructive conversation which might lead to a negotiated exit from College Green. The intention is to proceed with that negotiated exit. The reason for that is that it would be quicker than the alternative.
"A negotiated exit is just better for all concerned, as it is very unlikely to result in any violence, which is something we are all trying to avoid."
When asked about the possibility of the protesters having legal rights, Dr Hoyle said: "I understand that there is some precedent elsewhere, but we are only five weeks in so far, so we are some considerable way down the road yet to go." Regarding public safety and sanitation at the camp, he said: "We are reviewing the situation constantly.
"There are certain issues presented that we have had to respond to fairly quickly, such as dogs on site, the safety of children and some issues to do with public health and safety, and we have been attending to this day by day.
"The aim is a negotiated exit, and we have been trying to identify ways in which the members of Occupy Bristol might feel it is appropriate to move on."
No representatives of the cathedral were due to attend today's council meeting but members of the Occupy Bristol movement were expected to be present.
The College Green camp of about 60 tents and wooden shacks is one of the largest outside of London.
The public open space belongs to the Diocese of Bristol but is managed by the city council.
Leaders of the council and church have asked the protesters to leave, but the campaigners have said they will not leave, as they protest about the unfairness of society.
A second camp of about eight tents set up outside the KPMG building near the Temple Meads roundabout was scrapped at the weekend after two days following an attack by a group the protesters claim were "right-wing activists".
Campaigners say the camp has only been "temporarily disbanded".
Protester Tony Cripps said: "There are plans to do lots of things, but at the moment I'm not in a position to discuss that."
Businesses around the second camp, including KPMG, RBS, HSBC and Deloitte, refused to comment.