Squatters turn oligarch’s empty London property into homeless shelter

Squatters turn oligarch’s empty London property into homeless shelter

Vast 15m home bought by Russian Andrey Goncharenko, who wants to add a pool and leisure centre, is housing about 25 people

A veteran group of squatters has occupied an empty 15m central London property purchased by a Russian oligarch in 2014 and opened it as a homeless shelter.

The extensive, five-storey Grade ll-listed Eaton Square property was bought by Andrey Goncharenko, a little-known oligarch who has bought a number of luxury properties in London in recent years.

The squatters Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians, known as ANAL said they entered the building through an open window on 23 January and have accommodated about 25 homeless people so far, many of whom had been sleeping rough around Victoria station.

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Members of ANAL in front of a fireplace at the mansion. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

Tom Fox, 23, one of the squatters, said: It is criminal that there are so many homeless people and at the same time so many empty buildings. Our occupation is highlighting this injustice.

New rough sleeper figures published this week have revealed an increase of 16% from last year, to more than 4,000.

More than 200,000 homes have been empty for more than six months, according to new government figures.

Fox said ANAL members had set up a projector so they could hold movie nights, are collecting portable cookers to provide food for homeless people and are planning to host talks about homelessness and other issues. They have also established a free shop offering clothing.

Squatters have taken over the property in one of Londons most expensive areas. Photograph: Frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

We have squatted many other high-profile buildings in central London in the past, said Fox. Admiralty Arch, Mayfair and Pall Mall. There are so many empty buildings like this one in central London.

The building dates back to the 1820s and has numerous listed features including many ornate, hand-carved fireplaces. Planning permission has been granted for a swimming pool in the basement and an extension.

One homeless mother and daughter who had been sleeping around Victoria station said they were delighted to have been offered shelter in the oligarchs home. Westminster council wants to send homeless people like us out of London and there isnt much provision around for homeless women, she said.

The group are offering shelter at the huge property. Photograph: frantzesco Kangaris for the Guardian

Goncharenkos representatives, MCA Shipping Ltd, based in Gibraltar, have sought a possession order in the central London county court and a hearing is scheduled for 31 January.

The 1,329 square metre property, which has polished parquet floors, tasteful uplighting and a grand, spiral staircase, is in the heart of Belgravia and a stones throw from Buckingham Palace.

A banner above the front door reads USA ANTI-GOVERNMENT IN EXILE, and a black flag displays the words Antifaschistische Aktion, a European anti-fascist network.

According to court documents seen by the Guardian, the freehold is owned by the Grosvenor estate. The property was built in around 1825 by the Grosvenor family and was until recently the home of the Spanish cultural centre Instituto Cervantes, which has moved to The Strand.

Planning permission submitted last June also proposed staff bedroom suites, a laundry, service kitchen, gym and a leisure suite in the basement. It also requested a change of use to a single family home.

The group pose on a staircase at the luxury home. Photograph: Diane Taylor for the Guardian

The house is one of four purchased by Goncharenko over a three-year period, including Hanover Lodge, in Regents Park, for which he paid 120m making it one of the UKs most expensive homes.

The businessman is obscure by the flamboyant standards of Russian oligarchs. He is described as the chief executive of a subsidiary of Gazprom, the countrys biggest and best-connected gas company. The firm Gazprom Invest Yug builds gas pipelines and other gas transport networks.

In 2011 a gossip columnist reported that he had hosted a lavish party in the south of France, a favourite summer destination for Moscows super-rich. The venue was Le Palm Beach, a casino in Cannes, and the guests were described as secretive and completely unknown billionaires.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/27/squatters-open-oligarchs-empty-london-property-as-homeless-shelter