Last week one of Britain’s highest-profile and most politically significant squats was given its latest stay of execution. Residents at Grow Heathrow, a squat set up on derelict land in protest at plans for a third runway, were granted the right to appeal against a ruling by the royal courts of justice giving them 14 days to leave. The case has been rumbling on since the land was occupied in 2010; despite many eviction attempts, the squatters look set to fight another day.
In this, however, Grow Heathrow is bucking the trend. Almost exactly five years after the government introduced new laws criminalising squatting in residential properties, it is harder than ever to squat in Britain – even in non-residential ones. Near where I live in Brighton, a group of activists recently established a squatted community centre in property owned by the University of Brighton, with the aim of providing food, shelter and support to the city’s ever growing homeless population – a job that the authorities are signally failing to do. Local papers reported that the squatters were busily rehanging doors, sanding floors and planning workshops on subjects as diverse as plumbing, women’s issues and political theory. Within a couple of weeks, they were evicted and the place was shut down.