Occupy Bristol turn College Green 'College Brown'
THESE exclusive pictures show the horrendous state of Bristol's College Green more than three-and-a-half months after Occupy Bristol protesters first moved in.
Although the camp, which was set up on October 15, has dwindled to a fraction of the size it was at its peak, the scars left by the many tents that have been removed are still visible. The few remaining structures sit amid piles of debris including old chairs, oil drums and wheelie bins. Mud covers the whole surface of the main camp.
Protesters say they are sticking to their promise to clear up the camp before they leave, but our pictures show the full extent of the challenge that faces them.
And the cost of restoring College Green seems destined to fall on the pocket of the taxpayer after protesters said they had "a few hundred pounds" between them to go towards the work.
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Protester Luther Blissett said: "We are looking forward to having a conversation with the council about the next steps. We feel that there are large areas that can be re-seeded and we are quite keen to get on with that. Clearly we don't want to just go and do it off our own bat without talking to them about it.
"We want it to be something we have both agreed to do.
"We have a lot of labour and some financial resources that we can bring to the table, but if the council comes back and says the work has to be through a specific contract and costs £13,500, we haven't got £13,500, that much is clear.
"We have some hundreds of pounds that we can contribute to the re-seeding. If they are insistent on resurfacing quite a lot of it we can't afford to pay for that, but in our view that doesn't need to happen."
Mr Blissett said protesters have now dismantled nearly all of the camp and are taking down the last few structures.
He said: "We are clearing the site as much as we can. There are a few areas of poor drainage, and we have been doing work to aerate them so the water flows away."
But he said the plans for what happens next have been stalled by the council.
Mr Blissett said: "We have been saying since before Christmas that we want to have a sensible conversation about what parts we can do and what the council wants to do.
"But they won't talk to us until everything has gone from College Green. We have asked the council on several occasions but we have not heard from them, so the ball is in their court."
The squalid state of College Green has infuriated many people in Bristol who are angry that the camp was allowed to flourish for so long.
Peter Abraham, leader of the council's Tory party, called the view of College Green "appalling" after seeing our pictures.
He accused the council's leaders of "sitting on their hands and doing nothing", adding that the camp should have been clamped down on as soon as it was set up.
He said: "It is appalling, isn't it. We should have taken action within 24 hours, but we have let it go on and we have been mealy-mouthed about it.
"It was pretty obvious that the church would have been in difficulties because of the moral situation. Surely that should not have been in our thinking in the city council. We should have acted on behalf of the city and the people of Bristol.
"That meant acting very quickly when there were relatively few people there and certainly no damage to the ground like there is now, and the appalling smell and sanitary conditions that have been allowed to go on for months. The situation is out of control. We have the court with us, but why aren't we taking action and getting them out?
"The protesters are treating us as fools and are having a laugh.
"This is costing us, the ratepayers, a lot of money and we are going to have to clear it up.
"The worse the weather gets and the more everything is trampled in, the harder and more expensive it is to return the ground to what it is meant to be – a very nice place in Bristol outside our five-star hotel, the cathedral and the town hall.
"What sort of image is that for our city?"
The ruling Liberal Democrats on Bristol City Council have consistently said that they want the protesters to leave, but as the cathedral is the landowner, it has been up to church authorities to start any action to evict the campaigners.
A judge at Bristol County Court granted the order to evict the protestors on January 13.