Bloomberg News

London’s Protesters Occupy Vacant Office Building Owned by UBS

November 20, 2011

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Anti-capitalist protesters in London who are camped outside St. Paul’s Cathedral and in Finsbury Square have also taken up residence in a vacant office building belonging to a unit of UBS AG.

“We have squatters’ rights,” said Pete Phoenix, a 41- year-old environmental consultant at the protest site. “If a building is disused and empty, we’re allowed to shelter there.”

About 28 protesters took over the building last night, aware it belonged to UBS, he said. The office block, owned by UBS subsidiary Sun Street Properties Ltd., comprises four multistory buildings and is a minute’s walk from Finsbury Square and across the street from another UBS office.

The Occupy London group, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in Manhattan, received notice from the authority that oversees the U.K.’s main financial district yesterday that it must clear tents and equipment around the church by 6 p.m. today or face eviction. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for next week. The group has had more than 200 tents clustered around St. Paul’s Cathedral for a month, after being denied access to land nearer the London Stock Exchange.

Phoenix said the non-residential building, without a shower or electricity at present, will be used to house anyone who needs shelter or has been affected by the government budget cuts. Two UBS employees accompanied by police visited the building last night, he said.

“We are aware of the situation and are taking appropriate action,” a UBS spokeswoman, who declined to be named citing internal policy, said in an e-mailed statement.

Willing to Negotiate

The group is willing to negotiate with the company and the police, Phoenix said.

“We’d like to talk to UBS about the billions of pounds they owe pensioners,” he said. Protesters, who hung banners outside the building that said “Public Repossession,” yelled from the windows as two policemen patrolled the area.

Demonstrators “gained access to the building and secured it” and have “legal claim to the space,” a post on the Occupy London website said today. Protesters secured the metal door used to access the building with screws and a large metal rod.

The office buildings, one of which housed the protest against the Group of 20 meetings in 2009, will be used as a community center and as a “Bank of Ideas.” It will hold exhibitions, debates and talks by protesters, Phoenix said.

“We are unhappy with the banking system” and “corporate greed,” Phoenix said. “We want to be talking about solutions for the future.”

The Occupy movement is looking at taking over more vacant office buildings in London, Phoenix said.

“Whilst over 9,000 families were kicked out of their homes in the last three months for failing to keep up mortgage payments -- mostly due to the recession caused by the banks -- UBS and other financial giants are sitting on massive abandoned properties,” Occupy London protester Jack Holborn said in the statement.

--Editors: Christopher Scinta, Andrew Atkinson

To contact the reporter on this story: Namitha Jagadeesh at njagadeesh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Colin Keatinge at ckeatinge@bloomberg.net


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