The movement spreads north: Leekensians Occupy Roundabout
The wider occupy movement has gained force across England despite the end of its most high profile demonstration, at St Paul’s Cathedral in October last year. Occupy London occupied key sites across the city in an attempt to call an end to the corporate greed of bankers and to promote equality and justice for all. Together, they formed an emerging cycle of struggles. The last remaining Occupy London encampment based in Finsbury Square was removed last Thursday following a court order.
Occupy London is not the only movement that has reclaimed space to call for change. Local groups have also occupied key public places across England in a bid to highlight their concerns. Like Occupy London, local groups are concerned that high powered institutions are controlling their towns by silencing inhabitants and undermining democracy.
Leek, a small market town in Staffordshire, is the latest town to join the national occupy movement. After a bitter dispute with Staffordshire County Council regarding their plan to remove the only roundabout in Leek, Leekensians’ set up an encampment on the roundabout on Monday 11 June 2012. The Council intend to remove the roundabout to make way for a new road system costing £5 million that can cope with the extra traffic caused by a Sainsbury’s supermarket due to be built in Leek.
Leekensians’ argue that removing the roundabout is not proportionate to the problems that need to be addressed. Removing the roundabout will have a detrimental impact upon their cultural heritage, businesses and tourism and cause further congestion. Leek’s roundabout has been a central feature of the small market town since 1930. The roundabout which is otherwise known as the Nicholson War Memorial Island has been given iconic status by the UK Roundabout Appreciation Society based in Dorset. Its flower display and heritage value led the protestors to rename the roundabout “Floral Island”.
The residents of Leek have shown great unity. Last month the people of Leek gathered together at a minute’s notice to stop the Council from removing the roundabout in the early hours of the morning. Such sneaky tricks are symptomatic of a Council that works against Leekensians rather than with them. To ensure the publics’ voices are heard, the people of Leek, including a 70 year old grandmother, pitched tents on the roundabout in the face of police opposition. Roger Warrillow, Leekensian business man, said “shine on the heroes of Leek and democracy. If we lose this little battle we have lost and the council have won all the way”.
11,000 Leekensians, over half of Leek’s residents, apparently signed a petition opposing the Council’s plans. The petition was presented to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. With strong public feeling, a referendum costing over £10,000 was held on this issue in February 2011 and an overwhelming 4.5 to 1 agreed that the roundabout should remain. Fearing the result of the referendum, the Council made their decision to remove the roundabout one week before the outcome of the referendum. The Council made an undemocratic decision in the face of vocal opposition. Liberal Democrat MEP Phil Bennion has warned that “there is an overwhelming sense of disconnect between public opinion and councils responsible for controversial plans to bulldoze a key roundabout in Leek”.
One obvious and clear message of the protests is that the Council in no way represents the people of Leek: What is good for the Council is certainly not good for Leekensians. A more significant failure of representation must be attributed to the Councillors charged with representing Leekensian’s interests. Barry Mather, owner of Past and Present, antique and interior shop in Leek, said, “there should be a public inquiry into the incompetence of the Councillors and the running of the Council as they are not listening to the people”. Before Leekensians lose all hope in democracy, the Council has an opportunity to listen to the people and restore the roundabout to its former glory.
The protest in Leek is a new form of public expression that is sweeping through the country and even the world. Protestors in pursuit of democracy are occupying public spaces in protest against the perceived crisis of representative politics. The occupy movement is symptomatic of wider concerns that the Establishment are setting the agenda without listening to the public voice. Confronting the crisis and seeing how it is being managed by the current political system has led the public to pose a challenging question: If democracy is powerless to assert the will and interests of the public, then is now the moment to consider that form of democracy obsolete?Tagged in: bankers, Leek, Leek roudabout, Occupy London, Phil Bennion, protest, Sainsbury’s
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