City council issues ‘move on’ ultimatum to Hay Hill Occupy Norwich protesters
An ultimatum has been issued to the protesters who have set up tents on Norwich's Hay Hill to move on by tomorrow (Friday) or risk legal action.
Norwich City Council enforcement officers yesterday served a notice on a single protester who was sleeping in the tents, telling him the council will no longer tolerate the occupation of the city centre spot.
The Occupy Norwich protesters have been in Hay Hill since October as part of the same protest which saw campaigners camped outside St Paul's Cathedral in London.
The group pitched tents on the square, close to McDonald's and Next, and have put up posters and placards protesting against bankers, capitalism and the unfairness that so much of the country's wealth is in the hands of a small percentage of people.
But the city council has given them until Friday to pack up and go, saying the time has come when the protest needs to end.
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Police accompanied council enforcement officers to the site at 9.40am yesterday, where the notice was served on the only protester who could be found in the tents.
The notice states that the city council owns the land which the protesters have been occupying and, because they do not have permission to be there, they are trespassing.
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The notice, copies of which were left at the site, said: 'The council recognises the right to peaceful protest and acknowledges that this has very much been the spirit of this process.
'However, it is not acceptable for you to remain in occupation indefinitely. Hay Hill is for everybody's use and the council cannot allow it to be occupied by one group in a way which is inconsistent with its wider general use and excludes others.
'It is unfair if that use should continue to be compromised by occupations such as yours.'
The council said it had delayed enforcing its right to claim back possession of the land in the hope that the protesters would move on at the end of 2011.
The protesters have been told to remove the structures and tents and vacate the land by 5pm on Friday .
The council has warned them that if they stay put, then it reserves the right to take 'necessary action' to gain possession of the land and clear the site.
That 'necessary action' could, the notice, states, include instructing its solicitors to start court proceedings without further notice.
The notice adds that if the protesters are in any doubt about their rights and obligations, then they should seek legal advice urgently.
Last night Occupy Norwich held one of its regular General Assemblies where the council's ultimatum was discussed for more than two hours.
But the group, which makes all decisions based on a consensus, could not agree on a way to move forward.
Chris Keene, a supporter of Occupy Norwich who attended the meeting, said: 'Everybody has to agree. We couldn't agree on anything other than we will move from the camp if the council gives us a building.'
But he said some protesters had been in favour of packing up. 'It's tough being out here on the street,' he said.
According to the Occupy Norwich website, the campaigners had planned to host an Occupy Norwich Festival starting on Friday and running until Sunday, but the city council said that was not what had prompted the ultimatum.
Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: 'Norwich has always been a radical city, which is why we respect peoples' right to protest.
'Hay Hill is a public space and is there to be used and enjoyed by everyone. We're happy to talk to Occupy Norwich protesters about how they can make their views known in a way which is consistent with making that area available for everyone's use.'
The news that the protesters had been told to move was welcomed by Stefan Gurney, the manager of Norwich City Centre Partnership.
He said: 'From a business perspective we would welcome the structures being removed as it is having a detrimental effect on the economy of the city.'