On Wednesday 23 February, activists demonstrated outside Brighton and Hove County Court in defence of the squatters.
The group, who have called themselves SaboTAJ, are protesting against a proposal by Sainsbury’s to take over the 3,000 sq ft site. Sainsbury’s officially applied for planning permission to take over the site on 21 February. SaboTAJ occupied the empty building on 13 February and has vowed to turn it into a community centre.
The owners of the site, administrators BDO, began legal proceedings to have the squatters removed on 17 February and at 11am on 23 February, the squatters were issued an ‘Interim Possession Order’ by District Judge Elaine Thompson. The squatters were given 24 hours to vacate the premises or face prosecution.
The bailiffs were expected to arrive at 11am on Thursday 24 February but by 1pm no bailiffs or administrators had arrived at the site. Pressure is now mounting on Brighton and Hove City Council to refuse planning permission for a new supermarket on a road which already includes three other large UK supermarket outlets: Co-op, Tesco and Morrisons. However, a Planning Committee meeting on Wednesday 23 February granted Sainsbury’s provisional planning permission for the development.
A press release by SaboTAJ detailed their objections with the planned development: “Another supermarket owned by a big corporation will put even more pressure on the local independent businesses in these already harsh economic times. After all, Taj itself closed down because of the recession.
“We have decided to take direct action to try and stop these plans going ahead by occupying the building to make it available, for free, to everyone.
“By occupying the building, we are reclaiming a private commercial space as a community one. Somewhere where we can find one another, make it our own, use it, and even organise collectively against cuts and corporatisation and for our communities.”
SaboTAJ has created an online petition against the supermarket and so far have collected over 1000 signatures.
Ben Duncan, the Green Party Councillor for Queen’s Park, is attacking the proposal based on the increase in alcohol sales the new Sainsbury’s would create.
In a letter to the Health and Safety department of Brighton and Hove City Council, Duncan said: “Granting a licence would provide a further source of alcohol within an area already so heavily populated with licensed premises that crime, disorder and public nuisance have already reached problem levels for the local police.
“Residents in this area already suffer noise nuisance and antisocial behaviour at all hours of the day and night. They have endured this inconvenience since 2003 when the licensing legislation was first amended, and it is totally unacceptable to expect them to continue to do so.”
A Sussex Police spokesperson said: “We have been in contact with the owners, who have confirmed they will take legal action to remove the squatters. It is up to them to take the necessary steps.”
Camilla Lamont, who was representing BDO administrators in court, commented: “They [SaboTAJ] definitely entered without consent and they remain there without consent.”
Last year, a similar campaign to prevent the development of a supermarket on the site of the Lewes Road Community Garden was successful. The campaign, which was supported by local MP Caroline Lucas, prevented the building of a Tesco and a Ladbrokes on the community site.