Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Why Does The Council Keep Buildings Empty?

Few days ago I'm walking into town to go to a meeting  at the Arnolfini, and I go past Thomas Chatterton's Cottage. Thomas Chatterton is the dead guy in the dead famous painting by Millais, only he doesn't seem quite so romantic when you find out he grew up in Bristol, and died aged seventeen from an overdose of anti-venereal-disease medication. But still, rock and roll, hey.

Last summer, I tried, unsuccessfully, to get Bristol City Council to allow us to use Thomas Chatterton's House as writer's centre. It had been empty for years. The Museums dept did show us round and it seemed usuable, though damp and neglected. We even had a meeting with a nice man from the Museum's dept. The man from the museums he say what a good idea, but he was obviously nervous, in typical council fashion, that they might be found liable for something. So after a while he gets back to me and says, sorry, it's riddled with dry rot. So much for that idea.

Anyway, I look up and see that someone has put up yellow curtains in Thomas Chatterton's Cottage. I go round the front, and see that someone has, in a very orderly way, dug up a bit of the public park in front of the house, and planted some neat rows of beans. All looking a bit post-apocalyptic fairytale, really. Uh-oh, it's been squatted. And sure enough there's a neat little eviction notice tacked to the doorway.

Well, I have a brief conversation with one of the (very girly) squatters, and tell them about how I tried to get the house. And she tells me about how the man from the council came round, said they could stay, and then promptly went and got an eviction notice.

The crazy thing is that where I live, my house (privately rented) backs onto a house which is council property, a nice solid end of terrace with a bit of garden. Its been empty a year now, and I had to hassle them to clear rubbish out of the garden. It's so hard to find somewhere affordable to live, and its so hard to find cheap venues to do arts events - so why is the local authority, which is supposed to represent the people, sitting on all this property and stopping it from being used? That isn't their job or purpose. If they put half as much effort into letting people use these spaces as they did in keeping them out, we'd all be better off.

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