Socialist Party placard in York. Photo: Yorkshire Socialist Party

Socialist Party placard in York. Photo: Yorkshire Socialist Party   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Maurice Cooper York Socialist Party and Iain Dalton Socialist Party Yorkshire

70 people gathered to protest the violent eviction of a group of squatters on 26 June. The group was trying to reclaim deserted land near the Barbican Centre in central York as a community space.

The land has been empty since the swimming baths and car park were demolished in 2004. Replacement swimming baths were consulted on, but never developed.

Instead, the land was sold to housebuilding company Persimmon Homes. Rather than building on the site, which Persimmon has twice got planning permission to do, 17 years later it still remains derelict.

It has become part of Persimmon’s ‘land bank’ – holding onto the land while its value gets higher and higher. A Guardian report in 2015 showed that developers were hoarding 600,000 plots of land. The biggest four housebuilding companies, including Persimmon, sit on three-quarters of those.

Around ten years ago, with no progress being made to develop the land, local residents made a request to use it as a community allotment. This was denied. The reason Persimmon Homes gave was that it planned to build student housing there “in the immediate future”.

This was the story until June 2021, when a group of locals occupied the land, calling it ‘the Barbican Community centre’. They cleared 15 bags of rubbish, erected raised beds, and sought a dialogue with local residents about what the plot of land should be.

In the early hours of 25 June, bailiffs hired by Persimmon stormed the site, putting one of the squatters in A&E with a neck injury after dragging him out of the site. The bailiffs illegally covered the licence plates of their vehicles to avoid being traced.

Our protest sent a very important message – this is our land. One occupier said: “It’s amazing to see so many people out here today.

“Today has shown that the people of York want and need this centre. We care about each other, we want to unite, we want our community to thrive, whereas Persimmon Homes cares about nothing but profit.”

The protesters demand the council compulsorily purchase the land for the token sum of £1. Although several councillors, including the council’s Green Party deputy leader, attended the protest, they did not respond to this demand.

At the demo, the Socialist Party raised that to end land banking requires bringing the big housebuilders, banks, and the land into public ownership, so local working-class communities and construction workers can decide democratically the best use to put such land to.