Grant Shapps to shut door on squatters

By Jennifer Lipman, July 14, 2011
Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps

Homeowners may breathe a sigh of relief after the government announced it would make good on a pledge by Housing Minister Grant Shapps to demolish the rights of squatters.

Under the new plan, published by Justice Minister Crispin Blunt, moving into empty properties would be a crime and persistent offenders could be sent to jail.

The consultation paper was heavily praised by Mr Shapps, who said he hoped it would represent an end to "the misery" caused by squatters.

Mr Shapps said he wanted to slam the door on the so-called 'rights' of squatters and tip "the scales of justice in favour of the law-abiding homeowner once and for all".

The former BBYO member, who represents the constituency of Welwyn Hatfield, added: "There is no excuse for anyone to bring disruption and destruction to property owners' lives by squatting.

"That's why it's vital we look to take steps to tackle this problem.'

But Avi Heineman, a student who spent a year living in the "midnight blue collective" squat in South London, said the plans were not a good idea.

The 24-year-old, who now lives in Canterbury, helped transform a derelict art gallery set for demolition into a space for art exhibitions. The project later won funding from the Arts Council at a different location.

He said it had helped him save money and provided a place to display artwork which would not otherwise have been shown publicly.

"There are three types of squats, the ongoing community ones that aim to be self sufficient, ones for art and the dirty ones. But I never came across the third and the negative stories are just a couple of cases. Most squats aren't small houses but big empty warehouses.

He added: "Politicians have no appreciation of what they are talking about – they should spend 24 hours at a squat."

In recent years squatters have made headlines for holing up in buildings in expensive areas such as Hampstead Garden Suburb. They have occupied the building of a former pub which the Stamford Hill Jewish community hoped to convert into a centre for social and religious activities, and left an Israeli artist homeless and penniless.

The construction of a new Jewish Community Centre in Finchley Road also ran into difficulties because of gangs of squatters.

Last updated: 5:23pm, July 14 2011