METAL fences are in place around Hamilton House in Chester this morning as the council begins the process of evicting around 30 squatters.

The group of homeless people moved into the empty office block on Monday in protest at a perceived lack of housing support from Cheshire West and Chester Council (CWaC) and its contractor forfutures.

They said there is no reason why they should endure nights on the cold, wet streets when there are empty buildings available.

But the council says the building is unsafe. There is no running water or sanitation and people have been observed smoking and using candles inside the barricaded building.

Several of the group have admitted that the building poses a fire risk.

Chester and District Standard:

CWaC presented the group with an open letter yesterday announcing its decision to proceed with an eviction order but stressing it wanted to help and support those involved.

The Standard has seen security guards in place at the main entrance with gates around the building to ensure there is only one way in and out.

Those squatters who leave the building will be offered immediate support at the forfutures hub on the basement level but will not be allowed back inside the main office block.

Our reporter has already seen several of the group outside the gates but it is not known how many remain inside at present.

New banners have been draped from windows stating ‘we all need housing’, ‘we are all the same’ and ‘support please help’.

Chester and District Standard:

The council’s letter, presented to the group by cabinet member for housing Richard Beacham yesterday, states: “You have made it clear that you have concerns with the support and accommodation available to you and that this is one of the reasons you have occupied the unused areas of Hamilton House. We have heard these concerns and will continue to listen.

“Our immediate concern is for the safety of people in the building. There is no running water, no sanitation arrangements and the electrical points and lights have not been used for many years. Whilst we recognise your right to occupy the building under the legislation you have identified, we need to make it clear to you that we feel this is not safe.

“At the front access point of the building, we will shortly be setting up a welfare area. The welfare area will have toilets and it will be a place for us to provide you with basic provisions, including clean drinking water. Please use this area to discuss any concerns you have with our staff or health workers if appropriate. We would also encourage people to smoke in this area rather than in the building.

“There will be security guards on the doors to the building shortly and we will not be allowing any new people to enter the areas of the building you are occupying from this point onwards. Whilst we recognise your legal right to protest, we also have a duty of care as a council and a legal right as a landlord to restrict entry to the premises. For that reason, if you leave the building and go beyond the welfare area, you will not be allowed to re-enter the building for the safety reasons outlined above.

Chester and District Standard:

“These measures are also in response to the concerns of residents and businesses in the surrounding area.

“If you decide to leave the building then please come to the homeless hub on the ground floor where food, showers, toilets and other services are available to support you.

“We are concerned that people have been using the toilets without being able to flush them, we would like to enter the building to clean them and to bring a nurse in to do basic health checks.

“Our primary concern is for your welfare and to be clear, this building is not fit for people to live in. For that reason, the council has to move forward with the legal processes that will ultimately result in eviction. We want to be honest with you about this and this means people will be coming to issue you with an official notice over the next few days.

“We would encourage you to come and talk to us in the welfare area if you need help to understand any of the information in this letter.”

For more on how the saga began see our story here:

Chester and District Standard: