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Cottage Collective Defend Building Occupation at Court Hearing

Jack Writer | 25.08.2006 18:15 | Free Spaces | Social Struggles | Birmingham

On the 24th August 2006, members of the Cottage of Content collective were summoned to Birmingham Priory Courts to defend their occupation of the disused Sparkbrook community centre at risk from developers.

Save the cottage community centre
Save the cottage community centre

Birmingham City Council - Don't sell us out
Birmingham City Council - Don't sell us out

In a hearing which lasted over the twenty minute allotted timeframe, Judge Savage reviewed the defendants and claimants evidence and submissions.

The claimants case – Birmingham City Council – was that as they own all of the land which is 147 Kyrwicks Lane, the occupation was therefore illegal and on these ground a possession order was sought.

The defence - the formally entered as ‘persons unknown’ – stated that the purpose of the occupation was to stop the building being sold to private developers, and to retain the property in the public domain and for inclusive public use.

Judge Savage seemed unsympathetic to the defendants’ cause, saying “If you were to enter my house and demand some other use for it, this would obviously be unacceptable. The same applies for the building in question.”

“Unless the occupiers have a tenancy agreement with the owners, then they have no right to occupy the building”.

Yet before the intentions and legal positions of the defendants and claimants could be set in place, there was some uncertainty on a variety of points. Judge Savage noted that the map on which the claimants highlighted what area they owned did not conform to the Land Registry map submitted by the defendants.

The discrepancy lies with the Birmingham council’s title to the land: the claimants do indeed own the land and property in question, but not in its entirety. The copy of an ordinance survey map submitted by Birmingham council claimed that the claimants were in ownership of the whole building, the rear hall, the gardens and part of a path adjacent to the property – a path which was thought to be public.

However according to the Land Registry submitted by the defence, Birmingham council own only a part of the building, a small portion of the rear hall and part of the garden. It is thought that after 1996 – the year the submitted Land Registry is dated – Birmingham council expanded the hall but failed to acquire or register the rest of the land as theirs.

Another point in the case of Birmingham City Council vs. Cottage of Content Campaign Group was that the occupiers – namely one "Alex M" – were known to the claimants; however they failed in formally naming any member of the defence.

CPR 55.3 (4) states that “issuing proceedings against ‘persons unknown’ applies only to defendants whose names are not known by the claimants”. In this case, the council admitted that at least one name was known, yet failed in informing the courts prior to the start of proceedings.

There was also vagueness as to who currently holds the tenancy to the building. The council seemed unaware who was in possession of it, and it is thought possible that the previous occupants – the Yemeni Cultural & Welfare Group – still in fact hold the tenancy agreement. In which case, Birmingham council would be unable to acquire the possession order.

The court case was adjourned until the 7th September 2006, with the deadline for evidence submissions set at 4th September 2006.

Jack Writer
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