Conservative Councillor Brenda Burgess claims to be ‘horrified’ by the installation of a petanque pitch in the Memorial Gardens. She says residents of Crawley are suffering Council Tax increases; I would remind her that Crawley’s Labour Borough Council is asking for an increase in Council Tax 0.77% in the new financial year compared to 3.98% for Conservative West Sussex County Council and 3.47% to the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner. The Labour Borough Council in the short time it has been in office has been building a better future for Crawley in terms of housing provision, passing a Local Plan, embarking on major town centre regeneration ,taking steps to upgrade local job skills and improvements in street scene and grass cutting – and all within a balanced budget.
I would remind Cllr Burgess that the petanque decision was made in response to a request by a group of Crawley residents. If the small nearby village of Handcross boasts a petanque facility, why not Crawley? She also knows that launching ‘consultations’ themselves incur expense in terms of officers’ time (which could well be spent on other things) and materials to be produced, distributed, returned and analysed – as well as delay. Does this small (and potentially reversible) initiative merit this ?
I concur with Cllr Burgess that the Memorial Gardens is not the place for commercial activities such as cafe’s, ice cream vans etc but would dispute whether the Gardens are purely a place for ‘tranquil contemplation’. I should not need to remind Cllr Burgess that the Crawley Festival culminates in a major event in the Memorial Gardens involving a large stage and sound system. Would Cllr Burgess suggest that the children’s playground be removed?!
As I have written before in relation to the bandstand move (which she also objected to), until the late 1950’s, the area was known as ‘The Rec’ and I (as a lifelong resident) dimly recall cricket and tennis being played there in the 1950’s before all the planting took place – not before the Great War as Cllr Burgess opines. The written records state that in 1920, Crawley residents – many of whom had suffered the privations and in many cases the personal loss or physical and/or mental injury of family members in the Great War – expressed a wish for a Recreation Ground for all to enjoy in memory of the Fallen. In 1920 the people of Crawley granted permission for organised games to be taught in ‘The Rec’.
What justification has Cllr Burgess for referring to petanque as an ‘elitist’ pastime? Any visitor to France will probably have noticed that it remains very popular, is played in the centre of towns and villages and provides not only an excellent form of gentle exercise but also a context for social interaction for many – especially, perhaps, older men. I also wonder if Cllr Burgess is blowing some sort of Anti-European Referendum ‘dogwhistle’. Need I remind Cllr Burgess that France was our ally in both the World Wars? The Memorials to Crawley people (men and women) who died in them are located close to the planned site of the petanque pitch – which I feel is appropriate.
What evidence does Cllr Burgess have to suggest that this was Cllr Mullins’ idea? What does she mean by ‘whose decision it was even though he (ie Cllr Mullins) delegated the decision’ ? I also do not understand her concern that this small facility will somehow inevitably detract from the beauty of the Memorial Gardens - although the sense of her writing is that she is concerned more about the ‘Britain in Bloom’ award than the reality routinely enjoyed by Crawley residents, employees and visitors. Then there is the curious statement about Maidenbower being on ‘ a certain side of town’ and so uncared for. If she means something other than that Maidenbower is the east of Crawley, perhaps she would like to explain?
Petanque in the Memorial Gardens is in my view a welcome small-scale innovation. As a form of recreation, it will contribute to improved health and positive social interaction amongst its participants. It is sustainable - in the sense that the site can easily be returned to its former state if it proves unsuccessful and it is in an accessible (by bus, rail as well as car) location for all Crawley residents being in the town centre.
I wish it every success as a welcome addition to the recreational diversity of Crawley.
Labour Borough Councillor for Northgate
(Letter to the local papers)