2 November 2018, Utrecht. As we speak, police is evicting five years of community organising and alternative living at ‘the Swamp’, a squatted field in Kanaleneiland, Utrecht. The squatters are resisting by locking themselves to their houses in order to protect the young forest. They say they fear illegal cutting of trees since necessary permits have not been applied for by owner Borghese Real Estate B.V.
Police came at 9:15 and is now taking out trees and fences with diggers to force their way into te terrain. The Bratra (a police unit specialized in evitions) has arrived half an hour ago. Outside of the fence a group people gathered in a spontaneous solidarity demonstration to protect the Swamp. “We won’t let them destroy this forest and we will resist as long as we can” said Penny, one of the inhabitants of the Swamp stated.
“In five years we’ve managed to turn this industrial wasteland into a home. We’ve learned to live together and with nature”, said Penny. The group autonomously organises their living community; recycling building materials and food. They produce compost out of organic waste and rely on solar energy.
The Swamp is a biodiverse green area with a young forest. Surrounded by industry and roads, a number of birds, rabbits, insects dwell and nest at the field. Also, beautiful orchids and other plants and trees grow. Unfortunately, as ecologist Rens de Boer states, from a legal perspective, diversity is not enough to ensure protection as environmental law only protects a small group of endangered species.
No permits for cutting down the trees
The squatters fear that Borghese will illegally cut down trees when preparing for the sanitation. “At the court case they said they want to start clearing the ground immediately but they haven’t even applied for the necessary permits” which take a minimum of 6 weeks to be issued. “They have asked for permits to cut 19 trees in the surrounding area, but have failed to even check if there are trees inside the Swamp that are in need of cutting permits.” The squatters have found at 15 trees in the Swamp already warned the municipality and the RUD, but have not heard from them.
The Swamp used be an oil depot, the terrain belonged to the ministry of Finance and was sold to Borghese Real Estate B.V. in 2015. In January 2019, the company wants to hand it over to the province of Utrecht once the ground is empty and sanitized in order to build a distribution centre and a bus depot. “Borghese will make great money out of this”, Penny stated.
“Of course we should promote public transport but there are alternative places for the bus depot. These don’t involve the destruction of one of the few green spaces of Utrecht.”, said Penny.
The bigger picture
Although The Netherlands might seem, at first, a progressive and green country, the government keeps on proving the opposite with decisions like the expansion of the A27, the eviction of the autonomous space of the Swamp and the upcoming eviction of the ADM in Amsterdam. “This phenomena is not unique to The Netherlands, look at the Hambacher forest in Germany, or the ZAD in France. Governments keep on placing profit making over people and nature”, declared Penny. “If they would really care about climate change they would value more communities like the Swamp”.