News

Last week, the Planning Committee approved plans for redeveloping the Town Hall. Understandably, the story attracted lots of comments, with some wondering why the decision was taken at a time the council's budget is under pressure. The answer is: it's being done precisely because the council's budget is under pressure.

Local government funding isn't the easiest thing to get your head around, but one basic rule is there are two types of funding: the General Fund, which mostly pays for services, and capital, which can only be spent on assets. Most council's reserves are capital, spending them on services would be illegal and, of course, reserves eventually run out.

To get around this, for years the council invested capital reserves in financial products and used the interest to fund services. Unfortunately, after the crash the return on these investments nose-dived which, combined with Government cuts to council incomes, has forced greater creativity in how we invest capital.

The Town Hall project is the latest and largest part of this strategy. The old Town Hall was great for its time, but that time has passed and much of the building's plant has reached the end of its life. Simply keeping things as they are would cost taxpayers almost £20m, retaining a half-empty building we're paying full business rates on, and which is inefficient to both heat and cool.

The new Town Hall's design will make it far more energy efficient in terms of lighting, heating and cooling, and cheaper to maintain and operate. Above the Town Hall, floors of commercial A Grade office space will provide the council with a major new income stream for services, as will the new combined heat and power plant being built on the site, which will massively reduce carbon emissions across the town centre. Finally, the redevelopment will provide a new public square and many new homes, 40% affordable.

So, we have the chance to generate new money for services, reduce carbon emissions, improve the town centre's appearance and house hundreds of local people in a single project. To me, that sounds like a good deal.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

A good deal for the Town

Last week, the Planning Committee approved plans for redeveloping the Town Hall. Understandably, the story attracted lots of comments, with some wondering why the decision was taken at a time...

Jeremy Hunt recently became the longest-running Secretary of State for Health in UK history. Given that when Theresa May tried to remove him in January he not only hung on but emerged with new responsibility for social care, his talent for survival really is impressive, it's a pity his impact upon the survival of the NHS doesn't look quite so rosy.

Back in Summer 2017, Crawley's Clinical Commissioning Group, the body responsible for paying for all local residents' NHS treatment, fell into Special Measures as they were no longer able to afford the treatments people needed within the budget the Government had allocated them. At the time we were told that there was 'no clear plan', a phrase we hear far too often about the Government, as to how they would close the funding gap with suggestions that Crawley patients would face a rationing of treatment. Unfortunately, almost a year later we seem no closer to a solution.

The idea of a loved one going without life-saving treatment because the Government has decided Crawley's has already had its share of healthcare is heartbreaking, beyond that it's just morally wrong. This week, Labour announced its plans for reversing the Conservatives' slow privatisation of our NHS, bringing the service back into public ownership and its financial resources fully-focused on delivering healthcare for those who need it. The NHS can be saved, you just need a Government which believes it's worth saving.

It's often claimed that Nye Bevan, the founder of the NHS, said it would survive for so long as there were those left with the faith to fight for it. We believe that healthcare isn't an optional extra, it's what makes us a decent society. We're going to go on fighting for it, and with your support we're going to win.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Special Measures

Jeremy Hunt recently became the longest-running Secretary of State for Health in UK history. Given that when Theresa May tried to remove him in January he not only hung on...

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On Saturday June 16th parents and teachers from Thomas Bennett school were joined by Labour party members, supporters and Councillors in a march organised by the Save Thomas Bennett campaign and the teachers' National Education Union.  The large group formed up at the Town Hall and marched to Queens Square on Saturday where they were addressed by speakers.  The march was accompanied by support from members of the public in the street and car drivers tooting their horns.

Speakers were compered by Glen Kelly from the NEU and included parent Emma Ford and Faye who read a moving piece written by her son Jake (who is a member of the Base at TBCC).  From TBCC teacher Alex Ramiz and college's drama teacher spoke. Graham Robson the Head of Manor Green school in Ifield gave a detailed account of the problems caused by the continuing budget cuts inflicted on local schools and Kerry Flynn from the campaign group called on parents to lobby Crawley MP Henry Smith. Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council and Labour's Parliamentary Candidate, highlighted the appalling consequences of what could happen to other schools and the town as a whole if the cuts were allowed to go through, calling upon residents to join the fight to save education in Crawley.

Save Thomas Bennett March

On Saturday June 16th parents and teachers from Thomas Bennett school were joined by Labour party members, supporters and Councillors in a march organised by the Save Thomas Bennett campaign...

On Saturday 16th June, parents, teachers and concerned members of the community will be meeting in the town centre in opposition to the severe threat to education in Crawley posed by the cuts planned at Thomas Bennett Community College.

I don't think there are many people left who are unaware that Crawley's schools are critically underfunded. Despite the commitments of our Conservative MP, they continue to struggle while the Conservative Government gambled away millions on their failed Free School experiment and recently announcement of £50m for new Grammar Schools, even though every study shows they don't add anything to overall levels of education.

Even so, the cuts planned at Thomas Bennett go beyond that of other local schools. While the academy chain has blamed the school's bad PFI deal for draining their resources, a deal negotiated by our Conservative MP when he ran West Sussex County Council, Thomas Bennett is not the only school in Crawley with such a bad deal and other schools are not proposing cuts of this scale.

Why? Clearly most schools are making different choices about what they do to tackle their funding deficit. Unfortunately, as an academy we can't scrutinise Thomas Bennett's budget in the way we can with local authority run schools, we don't get consulted in the same way and local representatives can't intervene to protect the interests of local kids. No, academisation has allowed closed groups to set up empires of schools paid for out of taxes and yet unaccountable to taxpayers.

For Crawley these cuts could be the tip of the iceberg. TKAT, the academy chain running Thomas Bennett, operate seven of Crawley's schools. If we allow the cuts to occur at one school we're leaving the door open for similar cuts across the board.

That's why we need residents to join with us on the 16th June to make it clear what the town expects from its schools and for its children, not just because it's the right thing to do for them but because without a well-educated population to deliver the future prosperity of our country, everyone will suffer.

CllrPeterLamb_1.jpgCllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

 

Severe threat to Education

On Saturday 16th June, parents, teachers and concerned members of the community will be meeting in the town centre in opposition to the severe threat to education in Crawley posed...

Public exhibitions are taking place covering the next stage of town centre redevelopment. It's an exciting time and it comes at the end of a long road for Crawley. When our town centre was built it was cutting edge, unfortunately while the world has moved on, many of those units remain in the same condition as when they were first built, no longer as attractive to retailers as they once were and yet too expensive to knock down.

Delivering regeneration has been tough. The council owns very little property in the town centre, and consequently depends upon the cooperation private owners, and several economic downturns came right at the point schemes were set to launch.

Nonetheless, the site-by-site approach we first advocated for in opposition is delivering results where big schemes never began. Already we've seen the Upper High Street transformed by re-development of the site where Morrisons now stands, the Northern Boulevard has gone from empty office blocks to new housing and the once derelict Southern Counties site is now providing housing for local people, 40% of which affordable.

Meanwhile public areas in the town centre are gradually being enhanced, particularly with the Queens Square and Queensway schemes. The council is similarly bringing forward its own sites. Hundreds of new homes, again 40% affordable, will soon be built on the derelict Telford Place site. The redevelopment of the Town Hall site will provide the same percentage of affordable housing, a more efficient Town Hall, and high grade office space and low carbon energy generation for the town centre, providing new income sources for council services.

The exhibitions next week will show how Station Way and College Road will be transformed, with an impressive new station, new housing replacing the hideous Overline House and much enhanced public areas and pedestrian connectivity throughout these portions of the town centre.

Ultimately retail is changing and town centres in the future will no longer simply be about shopping, but even as these things change the council is working to ensure Crawley's town centre remains an attractive heart at the centre of our community.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Exhibitions are being held at:

  • Crawley College, College Road, 9:30am to 1.30pm, 6 June;
  • Crawley Town Hall, The Boulevard, 1pm to 5pm, 12 June;
  • County Mall, Crawley, 2pm to 8pm, 14 June.
  • Crawley Library, Southgate Avenue,11am to 2pm, 16 June

Details on how to have your say on the proposals will be available online at:  https://haveyoursay.westsussex.gov.uk/

Transformation events

Public exhibitions are taking place covering the next stage of town centre redevelopment. It's an exciting time and it comes at the end of a long road for Crawley. When...

It seems as though railways are never really out of the news. In the same week as we're faced with radical timetable changes, the Government has decided to temporarily nationalise the East Coast Mainline. Railways have a big impact upon Crawley. Increasing numbers of residents commute to London daily, two-thirds of Crawley's own workforce lives outside of town and millions of passengers pass through Gatwick monthly. When railways fail the local impact is huge.

The Government's decision to takeover the East Coast franchise was prompted by poor performance, although they say they intend to hand it back to the private sector in due course. We've been round this circle before: companies are brought in and fail, franchises are then taken over by the Government and recover, before being re-privatised. The irony that many of the companies running the franchises are owned by foreign Governments appears lost on them, but the reality is UK passengers are subsidising other countries' networks with their high ticket prices.

This has to stop. Since 2002, the physical rail network has been back in public hands and working well again, it's time to do likewise with the rail companies. It doesn't even have to cost anything, all we have to do is to wait for the franchises to run out and they automatically revert to public ownership.

As a council, we've worked hard to try to improve local rail services, helping to secure the investment for major improvements to both Three Bridges and Crawley, pushing for a solution to ongoing poor performance by GTR and standing up for customers over the gradual reductions in service standards. Unfortunately, at the end of the day so long as the railways are accountable to these companies and not to the British public, the likelihood of things changing course is low.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Stop this commuter suffering

It seems as though railways are never really out of the news. In the same week as we're faced with radical timetable changes, the Government has decided to temporarily nationalise...

Last week, British tradition and ceremony received more than their usual level of coverage, indeed global recognition, in the run up to the Royal Wedding. I think we all wish the happy couple well, as we do with any two young people beginning their lives together.

At Crawley Borough Council, we had our own town traditions to follow, as we began the process of kicking off the new council year with our Annual Council Meeting. This meeting is essentially a ceremonial one: it recognises the result from the last set of local elections, re-appoints members to committees and, most notably, selects the Mayor and Deputy Mayor for the coming year.

I've never been much for standing on ceremony. When I first got on the council I was even reprimanded by a Conservative councillor for pointing out that a Mayor's ruling on a matter of process at a meeting was in breach of the Standing Orders. However, the position is a symbolic representation of the town and should be treated with a level of decorum.

That decorum was sadly lacking amongst Conservative members last week. To put up alternative candidates for the roles is their right, even if it is fairly pointless when you're in opposition. However, to make personal attacks on candidates for a non-political role, whether they be in the Council Chamber or on social media is fairly low, such behaviour alongside shunning major events in the council's civic calendar do the Conservatives no great favour.

Instead, we got the usual complaint that everything was unfair because they didn't get the committee chairmanships they wanted, ignoring that no such arrangement was in place when they were in control and at the county council Labour are left entirely without positions. In the past, they even refused to join a panel investigating how we could make Crawley a fairer place on the grounds they viewed it as unfair they didn't get the positions they wanted. I guess that's the difference really: when we talk about fairness, we're talking about fairness for everybody and not just us personally getting what we want.

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

A sense of Decorum

Last week, British tradition and ceremony received more than their usual level of coverage, indeed global recognition, in the run up to the Royal Wedding. I think we all wish...

Running from danger is a natural part of our survival instinct. Yet, for those dangers to be overcome, some men and women must run into the flames. Literally. The men and women of our Fire and Rescue Service are the reason we know when the worst comes to pass and we find ourselves and our property engulfed in flame, or we or a loved one is involved in a car accident, we know help is on the way.

Several years ago, West Sussex County Council cut Crawley's third fire engine and all its retained fire fighters as part of reductions to the service across the county. Labour country councillors warned that even with increasing fire prevention, cuts would increase response times and put lives at risk. Despite what local Conservatives said at the time, that's exactly what happened. However much you try to limit the need for the fire engines, they remain a vital part of our emergency services and seconds can be the matter between life and death.

So, it's with alarm that I notice the county council are consulting on a new 'West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Integrated Risk Management Plan', plotting out how the service will change over coming years. While no one at the council would be foolish enough to spell out exactly what this means in terms of numbers of fire engines and firefighters, reading between the lines further cuts seem inevitable and the submission made by the county's front-line firefighters through their union the FBU raises real cause for concern.

We as citizens are faced with a choice: we can sit quietly by and allow the Conservatives to keep rolling the dice with our safety or we can stand alongside the men and women who so regularly put their own lives on the line for ours. We can save our fire service, but no one else will do it for us, if you want it you need to act to save it. A consultation is currently taking place on the draft plan, make sure to make your voice heard by going to: https://haveyoursay.westsussex.gov.uk/risk/west-sussex-fire-rescue-service-risk-management-pl/

Cllr Peter Lamb

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Sitting quietly

Running from danger is a natural part of our survival instinct. Yet, for those dangers to be overcome, some men and women must run into the flames. Literally. The men...

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Crawley Labour Councillors and members celebrate victory at the Election Count

On behalf of Crawley Labour, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted last week, those involved in running the election, and everyone who put themselves forward to run or campaign, ensuring our town's democratic process remains alive and kicking.

With all the votes counted, every seat contested remained in the same party's hands as before the contest with Labour winning eight of twelve wards, although almost every seat now has a smaller majority. The popular vote across the town was essentially a draw, with the Tories securing a lead of only 5 votes in a constituency they won by almost 2,500 last June. It seems in Crawley, as in the country, voters are fundamentally divided on the big political questions.

Over the last week I've been repeatedly asked what this result means for Labour and the next General Election. Frankly, I'm tired of the spin, the truth is no one really knows. What's sad is no one asked me what the result means for Crawley, the most important question. For Crawley, it means Labour has another year delivering our programme for office: making housing more affordable, securing better job opportunities, regenerating Crawley's infrastructure and maintaining local services despite national cuts.

In 2019, new electoral boundaries are being introduced for Crawley, meaning that every councillor will have to re-stand for election on the new boundaries and residents will have the opportunity to completely replace the council should they choose. Over the next year, all of Crawley's parties will have to clearly set-out their vision for the town and how they intend to deliver what they promise. It is dishonest to promise every road a parking improvement scheme when the borrowing cost would take most of the next century to pay off, particularly not when it's a West Sussex County Council responsibility and they already take the vast majority of Crawley's council tax.

For Crawley Labour though, there is no time to take a break. We are back in the Town Hall, working to deliver on the commitments we made to the public and keep building a better future for Crawley.

Cllr Peter Lamb,

Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Delivering on our Commitments

Crawley Labour Councillors and members celebrate victory at the Election Count On behalf of Crawley Labour, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who voted last week, those...

In the wake of Windrush, we’ve had cause to ask ourselves what sort of country we really are. Are we a country which values equality, celebrates diversity promotes community cohesion, and opposes racism and intolerance? Or are we going to become a country which judges people first by what they look like and not by who they are?

In Crawley we’ve always been proud of the strength of our community, as a New Town everyone here has come from somewhere else and yet rather than becoming a source of division that diversity has given us strength.

Some 20 years ago, I joined a fantastic group, known as ‘Crawley Campaign Against Racism’. This group was established in 1976, when a young man, dying from cancer in Crawley Hospital, wrote a letter to the Observer, opposing a surge of racism in the UK. Noticing the range of ethnicities amongst the doctors and nurses caring for him in the NHS, he called for us to: ’Leave the British race and join the human race.’

We see this effort to bridge the gap between cultures in the work of other local groups too, including Crawley Interfaith Network This organisation has brought together local religious leaders and believers from across the town’s faith groups: Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish and Buddhist, meeting regularly and sharing their ideas and beliefs to promote greater tolerance, understanding and harmony.

As Crawley’s first Hindu Mayor, I sought to build upon this work in promoting the message that though we may be of many faiths and creeds, we are ‘One Crawley, one community’. Projects supporting this message over recent years have included a multi-faith service on Remembrance Day, along with bringing community and religious leaders together for celebrations on Eid, Diwali, Christmas and Vaisakhi, which as Mayor I was proud to host in Crawley’s council chamber.

As a country we have a choice, we can create a future based upon the prejudices of the past or we can choose to build a better one. I know which one I’m fighting for and I hope I can count on your support.

CllrRajSharma.jpgCllr Raj Sharma,

Labour Southgate

British values

In the wake of Windrush, we’ve had cause to ask ourselves what sort of country we really are. Are we a country which values equality, celebrates diversity promotes community cohesion,...

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