Continued protests whilst heavy handed policing and private security prevent disruption to public housing auction.
Matthew 21:13 – “It is written ‘my house will be called a house of prayer’ but you are making it a den of robbers” Spoke Jesus following his discovery of merchants in the temple.
Though the custodian of the church may have forgotten Jesus’s return to Jerusalem, last night estate agents Hollis and Morgan were seemingly prepared for disruption at the controversial auction of council houses. Protected by at least eight private security guards and ten uniformed police officers, even Jesus may have struggled to do something about the dodgy dealings in All Saints Church, Clifton.
70-100 protesters gathered in the front yard of the church to demonstrate against the sale of 14 council houses and one of the longest occupied squats in the country. Following the unexplained detention by police of one protester, tensions rose and the police presence increased accordingly. As the detainee was frogmarched from the site, protesters tried to intervene and the police were assisted by private security. Police formed a barrier between the protest, insulating private security and effectively doing their job. Several people were refused entry to the auction house at the orders of Oliver Hollis, emissary of the estate agent, following advice from the Police.
The other half of the Hollis Morgan company, Andrew Morgan (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire ) had previously said “It won’t be the first time we have had protests outside, but we are following instructions from our clients, Bristol City Council.”
As the auction concluded with all lots sold, rumours circulated that several of the auction lots had been occupied in protest. One in Avonmouth occupied by an ex serviceman and his infant son, and another round the corner in Clifton occupied by a handful of activists. Upon visiting the lot at 5a Cotham Lawn it became apparent that at least this property did not seem to be in a state of disrepair as repeatedly claimed by Mayor Ferguson.
One of the occupiers, Rich, told the Cable:
“we are disappointed with the council for selling perfectly suitable homes in a time of crisis”.
Responding to the council claim that the homes are poor quality and require extensive renovation, Rich said,
“that is just rubbish. The reality of the situation is that the house is worth a lot of money and they are selling it off without a democratic mandate”. He went on to say that “council house sales are unpopular with the people of Bristol….but they’ve gone ahead and done it anyway.”
The events of last night are disturbing in the context of the wider housing crisis. According to a report from Bristol city council, families facing homelessness rose threefold in the year to April 2015. Yet many feel that the council is supporting those contributing and profiting from the increase in private rents rather than those facing life on the streets and insecure housing.
George Ferguson has asserted that the sale revenues will be invested in to new council homes. A number of mayoral candidates have said that council should increase the stock of council homes rather than palming properties off to the highest bidder for a quick buck. Whoever becomes Mayor this May will be watched closely by a growing housing justice movement.