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The Big Interview: Hove MP Mike Weatherley
Every week The Argus will be grilling someone who has appeared in the news in our Big Interview feature.
This week we asked Hove MP Mike Weatherley about the new squatting law which he helped introduce and whether he feared criminalising squatters would add to the city's homelessness crisis.
The Argus: How did the new squatting law come about?
Mike Weatherley: The squatting situation first came to my attention following a story featured in The Argus. I contacted the landlords association about the issue and they said I should see the damage squatters can do. They put me in touch with various people who had been affected. The more I looked into it the more I found it to a problem in Brighton and Hove. I was approached by various people who said 'please help'. But no one seemed to be doing anything about the problem.
TA: Is the law really needed?
MW: The law as it was before meant that if someone went into your house you could ask them to leave and if they didn't then under the law they were committing an offence. But in two years the police never once entered a property without a court order. That could take anything from 12 hours to six weeks. In the case of one lady who died going through probate it took 13 weeks getting the squatters out. Now the law says that if someone is in your house and it is a residential property they know that they can be removed or arrested.
Mike WeatherleyI don't think anyone would want to encourage squatters or any vulnerable people living in derelict buildings.
It's a victory for common sense. No one could sensibly argue that someone's residential property should be taken by others.
TA: What about claims homeless people are making use of otherwise empty buildings?
MW: I don't think anyone would want to encourage squatters or any vulnerable people living in derelict buildings.
If homeless charities are encouraging people to enter properties then they are putting them at risk. Very few charities do advocate that. Of course I have concerns about the levels of homeless people in the city. In a caring society we should be helping vulnerable people. But many people squatting are more affluent or doing it for political motives.
By moving in to empty council properties they cause damage and move people who need these properties further down the list. The council has a refurbishment programme and squatting can disrupt that process. The council and government already have power to make use of empty properties. If a property has been left empty for a number of years we should be increasing rates or forcing them to bring it back into use.
TA: Will the new law just make squatters criminals and waste police resources?
MW: People say it is using up police resources, but the idea is the new law will stop people doing it. If people stop squatting because of the law then it won't take up any more police time.
A lot of council, court and police time was wasted seeking eviction orders for squatters under the old system. I don't want to see any squatters in jail. I want them to stop squatting.
TA: When the new law was put to the test for the first time last week, squatters occupied both a residential property and a shop - not covered by the new rules. Did they demonstrate the flaws in the new law?
MW: By squatting both a commercial and residential parts of the building all they have done is highlighted the fact that the law needs to be extended. They have done our job of advertising the issue for us.
TA: What sort of response can we expect from the police to reports of squatting?
MW: In London we have had squats reported that the police didn't have the resources to get to because of the Olympics . Hopefully now the Olympics are over they will have the resources to deal with them. If someone sees a squat they should report it immediately to the police using the 101 number. It's not a 999 emergency - but it is something the police should act on.
I was glad to see them act quickly on the situation in London Road.
What do you think about the new squatting law?
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