BUSINESS leaders and politicians today demanded that protesters at the Occupy Edinburgh camp go now to avoid the costly eviction process.
The anti-capitalist demonstrators were urged to leave the St Andrew Square site they have occupied for nearly three months over claims their presence has impacted on local businesses and footfall in the area.
The call came after the Evening News learned that protesters have told the city council they would leave the square in return for being allowed to settle in an empty building.
Retailers in the area said police had been called to the square almost every day in recent weeks but were told by officers that in many cases their “hands are tied”.
They also claimed the movement had been “hijacked” by “homeless alcoholics” and that many of the students originally involved have left the camp.
Authorities in Bristol and Sheffield are taking legal action to evict protesters outside cathedrals in both cities.
Members of the Edinburgh camp insisted that much of the trouble had come from outside and that they had a legitimate protest against Scottish banks which pay bonuses to staff following bail-outs from Westminster.
They said they would negotiate with Essential Edinburgh, the city centre business group which manages the square, but had no intention of leaving. One protester said occupants would go when “hell freezes over”.
Another, Glenn Ferguson, 41, who is originally from Los Angeles, settled in the camp after being left homeless when he was released from Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow. He said: “I joined the movement because the banks are destroying this country and a lot of the public would back what we’re standing up for.”
He said that the camp was a safe place and that incidents of troublemakers entering it were isolated.
He added: “It would take an eviction to get us to leave here.”
Pete Gavan, 63, added: “You look at the corporate greed in this country, the millions in bonuses handed out – how could you not be against that?”
St Andrew Square is owned by the businesses which face on to the square and is managed by Essential Edinburgh. It is understood that any eviction would have to be led by one of the firms with a stake in the site.
Last week, the Evening News told how camp resident Jamie McIlwraith, 25, told Sheriff Alisdair Noble that he didn’t accept the judge’s authority and refused to confirm his surname during a hearing over an assault charge at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
City centre councillor Joanna Mowat said incidents where police officers had to be called could not be played down.
She said: “I appreciate there are views that the protesters want to get across, but my view is ‘you’ve made your point’.
“There are people sleeping rough who have nowhere else to go, there are instances of drug dealing reported, there was a fire on Wednesday and I know youths have come up and started fights at night. There’s a potentially dangerous cocktail of people mixing there, and I would really rather this ended before there’s a tragedy.”
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce has called for the protesters to leave to allow the square – opened in 2008 after a £2.6 million revamp – to be used by the public again.
Graham Birse, deputy chief executive, said: “We did not spend all that public money for St Andrew Square to become a campsite for those with nowhere else to go. It seems to me that the protest unfortunately has been hijacked by other interests, and I think it’s time they were moved on.”
Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “They didn’t interfere with any of the Christmas celebrations and most of those events went off without any problems.
“We’re now passed that phase and now is the time to review what the next steps are.”