An open letter to Persimmon Homes Ltd

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To the members of the Board of Persimmon Homes: Mr Roger Devlin; Mr Dean Finch; Mr Mike Killoran; Mr Nigel Mills; Ms Rachel Kentleton; Mr Simon Litherland; Ms Joanna Place; Ms Annemarie Durbin; Mr Andrew Wyllie; and Ms Shirine Khoury-Haq,

This letter is to express our dismay and outrage at your recent actions and to demand that you meet with representatives of the communities of York to discuss the future of the site of the Barbican Community Centre.

The land at the Barbican site has been left neglected for 17 years. Prior to this, it hosted a public swimming pool and a bowling green, which were removed on the false promise of improvement and replacement of community facilities including a new pool. Though the site is now allocated for housing, this is clearly a poor result for the People of York as – however many houses are needed – community facilities cannot be lost without replacement.

Moreover, according to the Council website, the latest planning permission (approved 2017) has expired and there are no records of further proposals having been submitted for approval. No imminent development, therefore, is due to take place. The derelict and dangerous state of the site, unsightly fences and waste accumulation were clearly not a concern of Persimmon Homes until, on the 17th of June, our community reclaimed the land, cleaned it and transformed it into a space to serve local people.

In the week that we were on the site we engaged with each other’s needs, providing community-based relief and support, such as housing five homeless people, beginning to grow food, creating a safe space to discuss mental health, providing access to a community library, offering various creative workshops, and linking vastly different communities together for a reinforced support system. The amount of support we received from our local community in York from this project is staggering.

Yet, despite the beautiful and useful space that we created in the Barbican Community Centre, we were violently and likely illegally evicted by militia-like agents acting on your behalf at 6:30am on 25 June. This eviction was brutal and traumatic for the people involved, with one person sustaining injuries to his neck and hand after being physically thrown out of his home from a height. There were no written warnings, no opportunities to leave the site peacefully, and there was no Covid-safety. Your cars were unmarked, your agents had no badges nor letters of mandate, they were dressed in riot gear, and were openly aggressive in their use of dogs. The extremities of verbal and physical abuse that were used in this eviction were completely unacceptable and could potentially amount to assault.

Subsequent to the events of the 25th of June, the company has removed vegetation and trees, without any apparent landscape and biodiversity survey, and clearly without any approved landscape plan.

What makes the eviction more horrific is that the sudden interest on the part of Persimmon Homes follows years of neglect and, as mentioned, there are no in-date plans for development, meaning that the site will now remain empty for years even if plans for development are being created and planning permission is granted. We see this for what it is: fear, flagrant land-banking, and making a priority of profit when we live in a city where many suffer from homelessness and hunger. That a public company of national reputation can behave in this manner is absolutely disgraceful, and completely at odds with claims on your website to be ‘supporting your communities’ and investing in Community Champions programmes.

No amount of money thrown at legal teams will erase the barbarity of Persimmon Homes’ behaviour. We demand that whatever development should take place on site, that it contains a suitable replacement community use for what has been lost with the demolition of the pool and removal of the bowling green in line with the requirements for sustainable development. We also demand that, pending the development of proposals and their approval, you grant us meanwhile use of the land for the purpose of establishing a suitable temporary community use in an agreed and amicable manner. This would be a positive outcome from what started ugly, aggressive and frankly legally questionable.

All evictees have expressed some forms of shock and post-traumatic stress. We have responsibilities to the wellbeing of our community and so we will be raising money to provide the people involved in the eviction with therapeutic support. Regardless of your views on where these people chose to live that particular night, their role in highlighting the need for the community of York to look at its disused spaces and community needs should not come at the cost of their wellbeing as they move onwards with their lives. Therefore, we also ask that you contribute financially to the provision of this service.

We have opened a discussion about this specific space and we invite you to meet us formally to discuss the demands we have outlined here and the future of the site of the Barbican Community Centre.

The People of York

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