FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LEEDS RESIDENTS RECLAIM DISUSED CITY BUILDING FOR WEEK OF COMMUNITY-LED EVENTS.
Today, in the early hours of the morning, a group of Leeds residents occupied 10 Templar Street, part of the Eastgate and Harewood Quarter development, which they hope to hold for a week1. The group have announced a timetable of events and activities orientated around protest over planned welfare cuts and city-centre gentrification2.
The area’s planned regeneration has been attracting controversy for almost a decade3. The redevelopment by property giant Hammerson hopes to see the area completely rebuilt to cater for key tenants Marks and Spencers and John Lewis but local businesses have criticised actions of the Council and the developers4. After receiving compulsory purchase orders in 2008, local RMUK Hair Beauty Salon stated, “It is common sense that local businesses like RMUK will suffer with such a large development… Local businesses are rapidly disappearing as larger retailers increasingly dominate almost every sector of the economy.”5
Speaking from inside the building, Julia Coomber, a local printer, said:
“We decided to reclaim this building because we’re furious with the current plans to further privatise and gentrify our city while cutting essential welfare services. Yet again, national and local politicians are acting in the interests of big business and not ordinary people. Politicians aren’t listening, so we decided to take matters into our own hands.”
James Fleetwood, a Leeds Met student, added:
“As we’ve seen in the past, these schemes undermine existing businesses and Kirkgate Market and favour big companies who just take our money out of the area. The proposed shopping centre will only bring in low-paid temporary jobs that don’t make up for all the layoffs caused.”
The occupation follows dozens of similar events throughout the country in response to the implication of the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review. In the run-up to the vote on tuition fees, a total of 49 universities and schools were occupied by students6. Analysts are suggesting that occupations of this sort will become more common as the effects of the proposed cuts begin to be felt7.
Another participant, George Holton, 36, stated:
“The cuts are an attack on the most vulnerable and we’re here to defend ourselves, but we’re not fighting for the same old past. We’re ordinary people coming together to start taking control of our lives and our communities.”
On the group’s website they have a series of events including discussions on issues such as housing, NHS privatisation and welfare cuts, as well as evening entertainment8. They also plan to have a vegetarian cafe with free tea and coffee.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
1 Details of how to get to the location can be found at cutscafeleeds.wordpress.com/location
2 Hammersons have been targeted for their role both in gentrification and support of the cuts. Hammerson’s Chairman John Nelson, on £225,000 a year, was a signatory to a letter last October that stated “Osborne’s cuts will strengthen Britain’s economy by allowing the private sector to generate more jobs”.
3 Plans for Eastgate redevelopment were initially announced in 2004, with planning permission granted in 2007. However, the scheme has been on hold ever since.
4 For more details of how the development has hit local businesses, see:
5 They continue “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the demise of local businesses is not the inevitable result of market forces and consumer choices. Public policy at all levels of local government has played a major role in fueling the growth of large retailers at the expense of Leeds independent small businesses.” More at http://www.blog.rm-uk.com/2008/07/cpo-leeds-eastgate/
8 A full timetable of events is listed on cutscafeleeds.wordpress.com/timetable