, ,

Tension in St Pauls is nothing new, but the issues causing it are constantly developing. These developments often result from new forms of harassment by the police and council regarding what they view as an undesirable area or problem within ‘their’ city. To actively counter their oppressive actions and reclaim some autonomy, it is important to understand what is going on in the neighborhood of St Pauls.

In  April  this year, after meetings with the police and Bristol City Council, the St Pauls Carnival Committee (SPCC) announced that the annual Afro-Caribbean street party would be cancelled. The cause of the decision was publicised as a funding shortage; supposedly the result of a lack of donations received from carnival attendees in previous years. However this was largely scapegoating, since the festival draws in well over £150,000 each year even before donations and private funding.

On the carnival website the SPCC released a statement concerning the cancellation, within which they disclose motivations other than funding: “7th July, presented health and safety risks, which would be extremely difficult to anticipate”. This concern was likely due to the outsourcing of 404 officers of the Avon and Somerset constabulary to London for Olympic events over this period. Lack of policing jeopardised many local events during the course of the Olympics.Security culture evidently makes it ever more difficult to simply have fun without state control.

The fallacy of the excuses became fully apparent when the policing of the fascist EDL march held in July in Bristol (an event that was as much a concern for health and safety), received the national contribution of 1000 officers, and a budget of £500,000.

If policing and funding are such an issue why is it that fascist marches are authorised whilst celebrations in St Pauls are cancelled?

St Pauls is an area perceived as problematic by the council as it has a tradition of high crime rates and anti-police undercurrents,  whilst also positioned geographically  at the city centre’s north-eastern gateway between Bristol’s newly developed centre of commerce, Cabot circus; the middle class area, Montpelier, and its up and coming bohemian ‘cultural quarter’, Stokes Croft.

The fear of a return to last summers riots (demonstrated by media headline’s such as “Why looters can’t wait for the Olympics to begin”) adds to council concerns about St Pauls. St Pauls is renowned for its inner city rioting, particularly in protest against police prejudice, as in the 1980’s and again in response to police repression after the Tesco and August riots of 2011. Racially biased Police ‘stop and searches’ have plagued minority ethnic communities in St Pauls for decades, and so the anti-police reputation of St Pauls is founded not just as ephemeral (short-term) reactions to the riots.

Considering past altercations with authority in the area, the criminal reputation of St Pauls, as well as the intensified redevelopment of the area, it is more than likely that motivations to cancel the carnival  are  actually attributed to the wish to enforce a long- term social and cultural transformation of St Pauls.

Over the years, the SPCC has become dramatically less representative of the St Pauls community and more of the wishes of local government. Currently the SPCC board has only six members, one of which is Carl Saunders, a Community Liason Officer for the Avon and Somerset Police. It is the second time in six years that the festival has been cancelled, and earlier this year the Evening Post reported that proposals had been made to move the festival from the St. Paul’s area altogether. Clearly these are not the decisions of the St Pauls community but of representitives of economic and state control.

It is the protection of commercial interests that requires the the dissemination of the current prevailing culture toward a more marketable and economically viable culture. Hence motivations to inhibit the festivals occurrence  lie beyond the current conditions of the summer of 2012, and reside in a long term process of the councils interest in the ‘redevelopment’ of St Pauls.

“It cant be seen simply as a racial issue, it is about a certain police authority, it is about developing a style and technique of public order that is quasi military and that is not prepared to accept a degree of community autonomy, that is not prepared to accept community lifestyle, that is about quashing dissent” – On the riots of the 1980’s St Pauls. From the documentary ‘Culture Clash- on the Front Line.’

A CLASS AND CULTURAL DISPLACEMENT OF ST PAULS IS ALREADY UNDERWAY. It materializes in forms such as St. Paul’s carnival being cancelled, but also in other initiatives such as the ‘Neighborhood Renewal Program’, which is already at work in St. Pauls and is a guise for gentrification – a practice of enticing wealth to an area, and in turn displacing the poorer classes.

The premise of the St Pauls Neighborhood Renewal Program is to tackle socioeconomic deprivation by the introduction of a variety of housing types, with a wider variety of occupants, in order to create market confidence and encourage reinvestment. Bristol City Council planning favors larger family homes and high quality design in order to “address the negative perception of St Pauls” – a council planning document. A prime example of the direction of this program and its impact on St Pauls is the Dove Lane Development.

Bristol City Council employed architectural design consultants to produce a land use and development strategy for the Dove Lane area as  for the purpose of “attracting and sustaining appropriate investment”. The intention is to build a skyscraper ‘Gherkin’ style building encompassing luxury flats, alongside affordable homes, offices, shops and a school to replace the deteriorating Cabot Primary School. It would be placed at the gateway to Bristol, and compliment the commercial Cabot Circus development.

The actual final agreement with the developers (the PG Group) reduced the mandatory 40% of affordable homes stipulated by the neighborhood renewal program to 10%, and repealed the 5 million pound contribution to community schemes that the council had guaranteed in development contracts.

The promises made to the Cabot Primary school were not  kept, students are still waiting in a building that is currently “filled with asbestos, classrooms that smell of urine due to a lack of ventilation from the toilets, and a kitchen closed by the health authority” – Maryan Kampf – St Pauls Unlimited chair. All elements of the development that could have benefited the immediate community of St Pauls were dropped.

These realities again demonstrate the Councils ‘commitment’ to community involvement in decision making, and regeneration that would be genuinely beneficial to the current residents of St Pauls. It demonstrates a lack of care in providing a place for the poor in centres of commerce (other than as a cargo of workers to be transported in and out as capital requires). It makes clear their interest is not in sustaining the culture of St Pauls as it exists, but in stimulating  commercial investment and middle class consumerism – nothing more.

The regeneration process and transformation of St Pauls is likely to accelerate as local housing allowance, awarded to private tenants, is soon to be cut, whilst landlords remain entitled to charge whatever they choose. In addition to this there is soon to be a 10% cut in housing benefit implemented for those unemployed for one year. It is a punitive policy that implies unemployment is due to laziness not a poor employment market, disability, mental health or simply a choice not to submit to an insulting routine of daily exploitation. Ultimately the poor will struggle harder and find residence in the city less plausible.

Class transformation and cultural erosion, married with harsh austerity cuts and high unemployment  provides the necessary conditions to displace working class individuals living in St Pauls today.  Displacement is more than the misfortune of not having trendy wine bars at your doorstep. It causes a longer working day as travel time increases, higher travel costs, detachment from communities, and ultimately robs those it affects of quality of life. It is obvious through the governance of St Pauls that these effects are of little concern to the authorities as they are in fact facilitating them. We should be aware there are no benign decisions made, they all further the cause of their ‘regeneration’.

Whether it be the cancellation of the carnival, policing of St Pauls, regeneration, evictions, or benefit cuts,  THESE REPRESSIVE MEASURES ARE ALL PARTS OF A COMPLEX NEXUS OF CAPITALIST DICTATORSHIP THAT WE EXPERIENCE IN BRISTOL. THEY MUST BE FOUGHT AND DESTROYED.

It is now that these power relations are being etched onto the urban and social landscape. It is now, before further progress is made, that it will be easier to stop them. In whatever form it appears gentrification must be attacked as a project of capital. Under the guise of redevelopment the fists of the powerful continually beat us -the excluded- from our homes, neighborhoods and social communities whilst repressing any attempt to defend our lives as we choose to live them – without intrusion or external control.