Squatters descended on Town Hall and claimed they were “taking it over” by virtue a law from the 800-year-old Magna Carta.
The chief executive of Peterborough City Council, Gillian Beasley, personally intervened in the matter and even took a homeless man to meet council officers after more than a dozen protesters moved into the Bridge Street building and said they would not leave until homeless people were provided with accommodation.
Police officers kept a watchful eye on proceedings with one member of the force personally telling the squatters that they would not be seizing the building.
The situation quickly calmed down and the council workers who had been drawn to see what the commotion was all about soon moved away.
The stand-off began at 3pm today (Monday, June 15) and lasted for an hour.
The ‘occupation’ was prompted by comments apparently made by council cabinet member Councillor Wayne Fitzgerald in a radio interview last Friday.
The lead speaker for the Peterborough Squatters Autonomy, the group which has been occupying empty Peterborough buildings in the past month, called on Cllr Fitzgerald to come and meet them.
The speaker, who like the remaining members of the group wishes to remain anonymous, said: “He did an interview and said if people are in need of housing, they should come to reception at Town Hall and they’d be guided and assisted.”
In response, Cllr Fitzgerald said: “I gave some advice and that advice was followed and acted upon.
“Those who came to Town Hall were helpfully assisted by council officers. I’m pleased to say that on this occasion the system worked. We are always happy to help those who are homeless. There’s always room for improvement but I think we are doing it really well.”
On the same day that the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron were at Runnymede in Surrey to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which protected people’s rights and freedoms, the protester quoted article 61 of the charter as the basis of what she described as a “take over” of the building.
The article regards the right to lawful rebellion against the government.
The protester added: “People are not being homed. There are people still sleeping in doorways and it’s not acceptable any more, so something needs to happen. So we’ve chosen the path of direct action.
“If it takes a little bit of noise to wake a few people up to the issue that’s in front of our noses then that’s what we’ll be doing.”
The police stated that they were there to prevent a breach of the peace and make sure the protesters were not breaking any laws.
The squatters remained in the Town Hall reception with the stand-off only ending when Ms Beasley, who is paid £170,000 a year, offered to take homeless people to meet Belinda Child, the council’s head of housing and health improvement.
After making the offer for Ms Child and her team to meet with every homeless person that the squatters knew, Ms Beasley walked down to Bayard Place with a homeless man called Kevin who had last week come out of prison.
The pair spoke as they walked through the city centre before shaking hands on arrival at Bayard Place where Kevin was to be assessed and, to begin with, offered short-term accommodation.
Ms Child said: “There are always housing options. No one needs to sleep rough on Peterborough’s streets.”
The squatters were said to have left Town Hall before 5pm.