The Arts Lodge in Victoria Park – and its noisy, loyal following – may well have been a thorn in the side of Portsmouth City Council for a while, holding several protests and organising petitions and demos.
But that doesn’t excuse the utterly inept approach that the local authority took while trying to evict Art & Soul Traders from its base yesterday.
Firstly, it is astonishing that on Monday the council could give the organisation permission to hold an event this coming weekend – and then yesterday go in and change the locks.
Either the council’s left hand did not know what the right hand was doing, or it decided to go ahead with a sham licensing meeting on the basis that, even with the lease expiring three days ago, nobody would expect the locks to be changed.
But whether incompetent or underhand, the heavy-handed nature of the eviction is shocking.
The council has alleged that Mr Lewis has ignored several letters and emails about the lease, but that does not excuse creating such a situation that meant dozens of police officers were called in. It would have been obvious that this was an inflammatory act; and one that could have been avoided had the council been more public about its timetable and intent. From the council’s point of view, it’s a huge PR own goal.
And incidentally, along the way a petition launched by the lodge attracted 4,815 signatures begging for it to be allowed to stay. If we’re talking about representing public priorities and views – something that is allegedly held dear by our civic leaders – that’s significantly fewer than the 404 people in Portsmouth who responded to a consultation in favour of the now-aborted Solent Combined Authority devolution bid. Yet that latter project was pushed hard by our elected representatives.
In summary, this episode leaves a nasty taste. Of course, as the landlord, the council had the right to evict its tenants. Of course, some of those at the lodge were going to protest.
But honestly, should we see police called to an arts and community centre? Really?