On your boat
By Emma-Kate Lidbury
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Protesters who have been squatting at an Oxford boatyard for more than
10 months could be evicted at any time from today.
The Castle Mill boatyard in Jericho has been occupied by boaters since last summer, when they began their campaign to keep the site for community use.
Their battle has rumbled on and at times they have seen glimmers of hope – but yesterday British Waterways, owners of the site, confirmed that from this morning they have the power to evict the protesters.
They are now in the final stages of deciding who to sell the site to and say they will hand over the deeds together with an empty boatyard.
But this morning, the protesters are going to Oxford County Court to ask for a stay of execution in the hope of delaying eviction.
Yesterday, they carried out repairs to boats at the site, using a crane to winch boats off the water and into the yard, in an attempt to demonstrate that the site is needed to undertake maintenance work.
Campaigner Conrad Williams said: “Oxford needs to have a place where repairs can be carried out and we have done this to prove we are not just a bunch of squatters. ( !!!! steady on Conrad…Ed) We need this yard.
“We have been told that from any time today until June 9 we could be evicted.”
The protesters say they will fight British Waterways ‘every step of the way’ and will ensure there are plenty of people at the site when the bailiffs call.
“We are not going to get heavy handed,” said another protester. “We will not fight hand to hand because this has been a civil campaign and we will leave peacefully – eventually.
“We are going before the judge today in the hope of getting a stay of execution and we will see what he has to say.”
The protesters say they have support from scores of Jericho residents following a leafleting campaign asking them to help patrol the boatyard day and night.
British Waterways spokesman Eugene Baston said there was no defence in law for the squatters to be at the site.
He said: “The sale of the land, following eviction of the occupiers is proceeding as we had planned.
“The illegal occupiers’ decision to raise boats onto the land yesterday is directly related to the lawful eviction of these occupiers and nothing to do with boat maintenance.
“Their contention that alternative facilities do not exist is incorrect.
“Alternative and equally accessible facilities do exist within three miles from Castle Mill and incorporate all services previously provided at this now derelict site.”
Six private companies have placed bids for the land plus Oxford City Council. The asking price was £4m and the deadline for tenders came at the end of April.