Update: Occupy Bath group hope for numbers boost as council issues warning
A group of protesters who have set up camp in Bath’s Queen Square as part of a worldwide anti-capitalism movement are hoping to have their ranks swelled this weekend.
The Occupy Bath group – who are engaged in a 12-day occupation of part of the historic open space at the centre of the Georgian square – have been warned by council officials that they have no permission to be there.
The protest started just after 5pm on Sunday when a group of around 30 people met at Green Park Station before deciding the best location for their demonstration.
During the day, the camp, which is made up of 11 tents, has been quiet, with many of the occupants being students who are at university lectures.
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The group is keen to be democratic, with suggestions such as Orange Grove and the Royal Crescent discussed before the majority opted for Queen Square, which is passed by thousands of people every day and which is administered by B&NES Council.
One of the participants, Michel Loubet, said more people were expected to join them throughout the week, with a potential turn-out of 200 occupying the square
He said there was likely to be a surge in numbers this weekend.
The group’s Facebook page says the occupation will end next Friday – Remembrance Day or Armistice Day.
Members may decide to extend the protest – which aims to question the way the capitalist system operates and point out its alleged unfairness and inconsistencies – but at the moment their thinking is to stick to the deadline.
It is understood that council chiefs will be happy as long as the tents are gone by the time people gather at the nearby war memorial at Royal Victoria Park on Remembrance Sunday on November 13.
University of Bath student Tom Ware, said: “I don’t think a lot of people know a lot about it so the idea is to create a platform where everyone can come together, meet, talk and move ideas on.”
The 20-year-old chemistry student is combining his studies with the protest.
Jason Crockett, 22, from Bath, said he was taking part in Occupy Bath because he was unemployed and wanted better prospects for everyone.
“The issue is wealth distribution and we want to be able to share the wealth around to charities and in employment which would make this country a lot better.”
The computer scientist said he had been unable to get a job despite endless applications.
One camper, who would only give his name as TJ, said he was taking part as he was fed up with the increasing gap between rich and poor.
The 19-year-old said: “The gap between rich and poor is getting bigger all the time, which I don’t believe is right.
“The wealth should be shared more equally, it would make this country a much better place to live in.”
His friend Darren, 19, who did not want to give his surname, agreed, saying: “Money is a big factor, and is why I am taking part.
“More needs to be spent on employment, and helping all the people who are unemployed find a job.”
Campers brought rugs, tents, sleeping bags and an accordion for the launch of the protest, while food was later donated by well-wishers. They have been lighting a small fire at night to keep warm.
Conservative councillors have urged the council to ensure the group stick to their planned departure time.
A statement from the council said: “Council officers visited the group and informed representatives that they do not have permission to be there. At this stage the council is monitoring the situation and will take advice from the police should it become necessary to implement any further action.”
Deputy leader of the council’s Conservative group Councillor Tony Clarke (Con, Lansdown) said that the right to protest must be respected and protected but that he hoped the protesters will move on within a short period of time after making their feelings clear.
He said: “It is important that we, as elected politicians, listen carefully to the genuine concerns and views being expressed by these protesters and don’t just brush them aside.
“However, it would not be right if this protest camp in Queen Square continues for many days and weeks or causes disruption to other people, as we have seen at St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
“The right to protest is an extremely important one which must be protected, but I do not believe this right extends to creating a campsite in a public space for an extended period of time.
“In other places, like London and at College Green in Bristol this is what has happened, and the worry would be that it could start having an effect on visitors to Bath.
“The council should keep a close watch on the situation and not be afraid to act if necessary.
“In other places where the Occupy protesters have set up camp, they have not left after the time they originally stated, and so this is clearly a concern in Bath.
“The camp should definitely be gone by Remembrance Day, or sooner if the camp is seen to be causing damage to the grass in the Square, or causing undue disruption to others wishing to use the public space.”
Police kept a watchful eye on events on Sunday night before leaving.
The camp is overlooked by the Francis Hotel, but staff said they had no objection to its presence.
The event mirrors hundreds of protests taking place around the world, as concern about the banking crisis and the impact of capitalism mounts.
The movement began in America’s Wall Street and has spread to various places around the world, including St Paul’s in London and Bristol, where protesters are camping on College Green.
The Bath group are using a Facebook page – Occupy Bath – to keep people informed, with 220 people pledging to attend by today.