By Bertille Duthoit and Nicolle Okoren
Police were called to a Lewisham Council meeting last night after protestors from the Save Tidemill Save Reginald campaign forced councillors to suspend proceedings and close the public gallery.
Tensions between the council and the campaigners have continued since protestors occupying the gardens were evicted by bailiffs amid violent scenes on October 29. The council-owned gardens are scheduled for demolition to make way for a housing development and are currently being guarded by private security.
The Cabinet appeared to lose control of the Lewisham Council meeting when they abruptly cut-off a scheduled question time for the public, before clearing the chamber of protesters.
The agenda had allocated just 30 minutes for 68 questions, the majority from protesters campaigning against plans for regeneration including the Tidemill Gardens development.
Campaigners were only allowed into the meeting if they had submitted an online question and there were just 60 seats available to the public
Protesters spoke out about their struggle to secure the gardens as a community space.
Reporters were also refused admittance and were told they could attend the public meeting only after every member of the public had a seat. After negotiations, the press were allowed into the meeting to sit with the public.
When the council began replying to the questions, responses were interrupted by the public. The chair of the meeting, Councillor Jacqueline Paschoud, eventually stood up and shouted: “Stop it! Stop it!”
Paschoud declared: “I am standing up. When I am standing up, everybody sits down and shuts up!” Protesters from the gallery accused councillors of ignoring the rights of voters.
At one point, some in the gallery chanted: “Egan out! Egan out!” referring to Mayor Damien Egan, who slowly shook his head and looked down.
After security failed to control the public gallery, Paschoud announced the council would adjourn until the gallery was empty. Security officials then blocked the doors to the chamber and pleaded with the public to calm down before leaving the building.
People in the gallery were escorted out of the building as police outside waited on standby in case of disruptive behaviour. The meeting resumed once the public gallery was empty.
Lewisham Council tweeted after the meeting: “The council meeting was adjourned for a brief time tonight because of a small number of people who were intent on disrupting the meeting and preventing others from speaking. We have always welcomed questions from residents and we will continue to do so.”
The situation at the Tidemill site remains tense. The tree cutting company hired by the council to clear the gardens, Artemis Tree Services, pulled out of their contract on November 24, three days after a protester jumped the gardens’ fence to stop the felling; two people were arrested. The company refused to comment.
One of the security guards told Eastlondonlines: “The protestors haven’t received us very well. Last weekend an ambulance was called for a security guard where he was struck and two protestors were arrested. That was a quiet one. ‘Cos they’re chucking bricks and things at the tree cutters until they have to leave. They’ve left the site twice now because they can’t do their work because of them.”
The land is set to become a site for more than 100 social homes run by the Peabody Trust .The campaigners argue the housing will not be truly affordable and will cause even more displacement of local people.