Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 15th January 2020

Last Thursday marked 73 years since Crawley New Town was founded. In 1947, the post-war Labour Government which created our NHS decided Crawley would form part of their plan to end the UK’s housing crisis by becoming a New Town.

It was an ambitious project, they wouldn’t just seek to create housing but to do it in a way which would avoid the slums cities had been allowed to become, where employment would be plentiful, and leisure space built into every neighbourhood. For all those who choose to talk our town down, the reality is that national league tables of cities and large towns show that they succeeded by almost every measure, so much so that every major party for at least the last decade has paid lip service to New Towns in their housing policies.

At the time the New Town was built, what was to become Crawley was a collection of farms, private estates and three villages: Crawley, Ifield, and Three Bridges. To enable construction, Crawley Development Corporation bought up large amounts of land in and around the villages and got to work. 73 years on Homes England exists as the great-grandchild of Crawley Development Corporation and the land they bought is now our home. That is, except for a piece which sits West of Ifield, the second largest piece of land Homes England owns.

Last year, Homes England, whose Chairman at the time was Conservative politician Sir Edward Lister–now Boris Johnson’s Chief Adviser, announced a plan to build 10,000 houses on this land, that’s almost a quarter of the size of our current town. Clearly, that size of development will impact upon the town as a whole. The question is, if they get permission from Horsham District Council, will Homes England make the cost worthwhile?

Will Homes England make the housing affordable, so local young people have the chance of a home? Will they build decent facilities, so residents don’t see current services suffer? Will they provide a relief road, so our roads aren’t locked up permanently? They have an amazing legacy to live up to, will they do it?

Crawley Borough Council and Westrock begin major town centre regeneration

Crawley Borough Council and property investment and development firm Westrock have started a major mixed-use scheme that will help regenerate the town centre and provide much-needed new housing and office space.

The public private partnership between Crawley Borough Council and Westrock will ultimately see the current Town Hall replaced.

Once finished, the redevelopment at the eastern end of The Boulevard in Crawley will include:

·     A new, nine-storey building housing a new Town Hall and office space

·     273 new apartments, including 109 affordable homes

·     A new public square with public artwork

·     New commercial units.

Work is well underway to build 91 apartments over nine storeys on the site of the former two-storey car park next to the current Town Hall. These are scheduled for completion in November 2020.

The eastern end of the Town Hall complex has been decommissioned, with demolition starting this month.

The nine-storey building, which will house the new 41,000 sq. ft. Town Hall and 77,000 sq. ft. commercial offices across 5.5 floors, will start to be constructed by Kier in spring 2020. This building is scheduled for completion in late 2021.

A new public square with artwork will also be created outside the new building.

Once the new building is open, the remainder of the current Town Hall will be demolished to make way for the final phase of redevelopment – a 10-storey block featuring 182 apartments with ground floor commercial space opening on to the new square.

Through its rental brand PLATFORM_, Westrock has already delivered 185 purpose-built rented homes in Crawley, which benefit from professional on-site management and a range of amenities including gym, residents’ lounge, roof terrace and a yoga studio.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “This is a hugely important step in this major project because this investment will save money for taxpayers and generate income for the council, which will help us maintain services. This is a very good deal for Crawley.

Matt Willcock, Development Director of Westrock, said: “Our joint venture with Crawley Borough Council shows the benefits of public-private partnerships. Working closely with Crawley, we will deliver much-needed new housing, workspace and public realm as well as an upgraded Town Hall.”

For more details on these plans visit

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th January 2020

Not a day goes by without at least one headline raising the issue of climate change. With increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters taking place around the world, from flooding in the UK to fires in Australia, it’s not hard to see why.

The public seem roughly divided into four camps on this. There are of course those who feel it is the most pressing issue facing us today and that addressing it takes priority over everything else, and there are the tiny number who don’t believe it is real at all. Yet, most people either seem to feel it is a priority, but not at the cost of other things they want, or are so depressed by the way the world is going they don’t want to think about it.
In other words, most people expect politicians to avert a climate disaster, but not if it impacts upon them.
A few weeks back I was sent photos of rubbish piled up against a black bin with claims that the bin was too small. Was it too small? The recyclables pouring out of the bags seemed to indicate the red bin wasn’t used at all. Recycling was apparently too much effort.
Alternatively, every canvasser knows the biggest issue on the doorstep is parking. Better bus routes or safer cycle paths don’t make the top 30. Yet, if everyone who wants a car has one levels of CO2 emissions will increase substantially.
Unfortunately, you simply cannot have the levels of energy and resource consumption most of us have in our lives and reduce carbon to the levels we need.
Maybe we want Government to get tough, to fine people who don’t recycle, to impose limits on car numbers, to ban flights for nonessential purposes? Some might claim so, but I suspect any such Government’s time in office would be very short.
The honest truth is this. No one is coming to save us. If we want things to be better then we are the only people with the power do it. We don’t have to, but the consequences will be severe.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st January 2020

A Happy New Year to all readers.

Since I started writing this column, I have typically used the New Year’s edition to take a look back over the past year to sum up the key moments of the year in the town and at the council. Much as I would like to do so again, the reality is that my overriding memory of 2019 was of one never ending election cycle.

In May we had Crawley’s first all-out council elections in fifteen years, delivering essentially no changes in the overall composition of the council, followed straight after by European Parliamentary Elections. Due to the sad death of Cllr Petts, in September we then had by-elections in his county council and borough council seats, before rounding off the year with a General Election a fortnight before Christmas. If there’s one wish I have for the coming year it is that we have fewer elections and more actual governing in 2020.

Certainly there’s a lot which needs to be done. Brexit is now essentially guaranteed and the Withdrawal Agreement should at least give us some reasonable continuity on the ground as the UK goes into the next of many further rounds of negotiations with the EU.

Meanwhile decisions to be taken this year around the proposed development of 10,000 houses in Horsham District on border of Crawley and the planned expansion of Gatwick clearly have major implications for the future of our community.

Longer-term, we need to continue to prepare the town for the changes set to come, one in which our economy will run fundamentally differently. That means upskilling and reskilling workers to adapt as many of our current jobs automate, all the while converting our local economy over to zero-carbon running. We’re taking big steps on the ground to get things moving in the right direction, particularly in rolling-out the digital infrastructure, but it remains to be seen if we will get the support we require to deliver the changes we need at the necessary speed, or whether after a decade of cuts we are again asked to do even more with less.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 25th December 2019

Nature is highly competitive. Species and civilisations have been shaped by the competition for limited resources. While we now live in a world far less harsh than that of our ancestors, where the rule of law, welfare state, and various social contracts ensure our lives aren’t nasty, brutish and short, competition remains.

While we perhaps think of it most in the context of sport, competition in some way plays a role in all of our interactions with others, this is no less true of politics.

We’ve all seen the way in which our society has become increasingly divided over recent years and while it has become cliché to claim that these divisions began with Brexit, it definitely helped bring the splits to the surface and subsequently it’s certainly politics where behaviour has sunk the lowest.

In some ways this should be expected. The level of competition in politics is far greater than in almost any other area of social activity, we operate in a winner-takes-all system where the stakes are incredibly high. Yet, despite that, should we not expect more from those who lead and seek to lead our society? Should those of us in politics not expect more from ourselves?

It is a fortnight since the General Election and while elections are a divisive time, again and again on the campaign trail came questions of how we heal the rifts which have spit our country. I don’t claim to have a complete answer, but it seems to me any solution must involve those of us in politics acting to build unity, not division.

Consequently, I have an apology to make. A week ago at Full Council I accused the Conservatives of being bad people. While I made the remark in the heat of a debate filled with accusations, it was wrong. Bad policies don’t make bad people and no party has a monopoly on morality.

People hold different political opinions and we are going to disagree, but that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable. Let us all use our own behaviour to help our country heal. Merry Christmas.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 18th December 2019

Geraint Thomas was one of the kindest, most dedicated men I’ve ever met. He was committed to his principles, to his town, but most of all to his family.

The grief expressed across the community since his passing is testament to the void he leaves in Crawley, the town he lived in his entire life.

Geraint spent over three decades teaching at local schools and former students always remarked on that time fondly. Retiring from teaching he dedicated his time to the local community, representing patients on NHS panels, serving as a school governor, and leading campaigns to protect Ifield Brook Meadows.

I first met Geraint in 2009, spending considerable time with him during his campaign to become a county councillor. While that campaign was unsuccessful, just six months later he joined Crawley Borough Council following a by-election in Northgate, the first Labour councillor for the neighbourhood in decades.

It was in that role I knew him best, after his election he encouraged me to run for council and we spent nine years as ward colleagues in Northgate. He was the most hands-on councillor I’ve ever seen, no problem raised with him was too big or too small.

When he was first elected Barnfield Road Off-License was a derelict with overgrown grounds and he was determined to do something about it. For years he pressured the leaseholder to give up the lease and then pushed the council to convert the land to affordable housing. Today, what was a blot on the landscape is now home for five families.

On the council, Geraint was often responsible for Labour’s most principled acts, the adoption of an ethical investment policy and declaration of a climate emergency stand out as particular achievements amongst many attempts to make his hometown a better, greener, kinder place. Yet despite everything, there was always humility.

There’s too little space to sum up the life of our friend: his love of rugby and cricket, his passion for classical music, his quiet faith. All we can do is be thankful for the time this favourite son of Crawley spent amongst us.

Labour pledges to pull NHS back from the brink in first 100 days

With MRI scanners unfit for purpose, hospitals unable to afford maintenance of priority medical equipment, theatres with unclean air – NHS boards warn of “extreme” risks across South East hospitals Labour pledges a relentless focus on the NHS in its first 100 days in government as new research reveals hundreds of “extreme” risks to patient and staff safety in hospitals across England.

The long-term impact that Tory and Liberal Democrat underfunding is having on our health service is exposed in official NHS Trust documents.

Analysis of more than 120 Trust board papers shows NHS Trusts are faced with hundreds of risks to patient safety classed as “catastrophic” or “extreme”, with the majority linked to lack of spending, staffing shortages or the failures of privatisation.

In government, Labour will immediately undertake a full audit of risks revealed by the research and prioritise capital spending – which Labour has already allocated – ensuring people and buildings are made safe.

Surrey And Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust’s board reports extreme risks due to two ultra clean air (“laminar flow”) theatres which have had to be shut down after their  ventilation systems and fire dampers failed standards, a third has failed tests and so can no longer be used as an ultra-clean air theatre. Consequently, the hospital has been unable to operate on a large range of orthopaedic procedures and its overall capacity has been significantly reduced.

Last year (2018/19), across the NHS, there were 15,844 patient incidents “directly” related to estates and facilities services (an average of 70 incidents per acute, mental health and ambulance Trust) and 4,810 clinical incidents caused by estate and infrastructure failure. In 2018/19 there were also 1,541 fires recorded by NHS Trusts, with 34 people injured as a result. The cost of eliminating the maintenance repairs backlog in NHS Trusts is now £6.5 billion. £1.1 billion of this is high-risk maintenance and repairs.

NHS leaders have already warned this year that lack of investment in facilities was impacting patient safety. And last month GPs warned that winter pressures were likely to have an impact on patient safety, and 9 out of 10 hospital bosses felt staffing pressures were putting patient’s health at risk.

Earlier this year the Chief Inspector of Hospitals at the CQC warned that the NHS had made little progress in improving patient safety over the past 20 years, and NHS Providers published research that showed 8 out of 10 trust leaders felt that reduced investment in NHS facilities was compromising patient safety.

Peter Lamb, Labour Leader at Crawley: Council and Parliamentary Candidate has said:

“There can be few who now doubt that our NHS is in crisis and on the brink of collapse.

“If clinicians know what needs fixing but there is no money then clearly things have to change. The Tories have had nine years, we need a Labour government that will crack on and do it.

“The choice at this election is clear: we simply cannot afford five more years of the Tories running our health service into the ground. I’ve heard that time and again from local doctors here in Crawley during this campaign, they have been out on the streets supporting us. They see people in Crawley waiting longer for cancer treatment and operations, and more young people are unable to access the mental health care they need. It cannot go on and only a Labour government on the side of patients and staff, with a real rescue plan for our NHS can turn things around.

“So I welcome this pledge to address the issue within the first 100 days of a Labour government – because
people’s health and saving our NHS has to be an absolute priority.”

Sir Keir Starmer visits Crawley to launch Labour’s Manifesto for the South East

Following Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer’s visit to Crawley to launch Labour’s Manifesto for the South East, Leader of Crawley Council and Labour’s Candidate for Crawley, Peter Lamb has welcomed Labour’s focus on individual regions across the UK and on the plan for our region specifically.

Speaking about the South East Manifesto, Peter said: “This region by region focus is exactly what Britain needs to rebuild after years of Conservative austerity.

“The poor levels of growth, low pay, and in-work poverty here in the South East are simply unacceptable. When work is no longer a certain route out of poverty and public services are at breaking point it is clearly time for real change.

“This manifesto sets out Labour’s priorities for the South East. They will kick start a Green Industrial Revolution to tackle the climate crisis while creating 110,000 good jobs for local people.

“Only Labour will rebuild our public services so that once again they are the best and most extensive in the world.

“Like Labour’s national manifesto these plans are all costed. They will be paid for by creating a fairer taxation system in which those with the broadest shoulders pay a little more and everyone pays what they owe. We need a South East for the many, not the few. This is the plan to make that happen.”

During the launch, Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer said: “The South East has been held back by Tory and Lib Dem cuts for ten years.

“Since 2010, the South East has grown 40 per cent slower than London, and weekly wages are now £120 less than in the capital.

“Lib Dem and Tory cuts are why so many of us, or the people we love, have had to wait weeks in pain and worry for cancer treatment. They are why every Christmas, more and more people are sleeping on the pavements in the cold.

“They are why we are still not combatting the climate emergency. They’re even part of why our trains are crowded and late.

“This has to end. The South East, and the whole country, needs real change.”

Crawley’s Labour Council to deliver Ultrafast Gigabit Fibre technology to Crawley

There is an ever-increasing demand for high speed internet connectivity from both business and residents as additional demands are placed on our existing networks by improvements and changes in technology. Changes in working practices and increased use of technology produces particularly demanding requirements from Businesses for both high speed and high capacity networks. Gigabit Fibre technology can deliver this capability but is expensive to install and difficult to cost justify for individuals and businesses.

However, a solution is in hand as Crawley’s Labour run council propose to sign up for the installation of a gigabit fibre ‘backbone’ across the Town and Manor Royal providing both residents and businesses of all sizes the opportunity to keep up with the changing demands of their technology and delivering high speed networks to their door. This multi-million pound project will be managed and delivered by Crawley Borough Council working with a private sector partner and will attract both public and private investment. Once installed businesses and individuals will be able to sign-up for state-of-the-art fibre connections to the internet.

If all goes to plan the work to install the cabling will commence next year after completion of final contract negotiations.

Peter Lamb, Crawley Council Leader and Labour’s Candidate in Crawley, said: “The Council is determined to make sure that Crawley’s world class businesses are supported by the technology infrastructure they need to maintain their leading position in the region and globally. Public sector investment in the Ultrafast Gigabit Fibre backbone will deliver the underlying capacity to Crawley ahead of many other locations, giving our local companies a competitive advantage allowing them to prosper and continue providing high-quality well-paid employment for Crawley people. Residents will also benefit from the investment allowing them to have Ultrafast internet speeds directly into their home – whether for watching the latest movies or working from home – everyone will be a winner.”

Labour will boost Sussex Police’s gang unit to tackle surge in violence since Tory and Lib Dem cuts began

Diane Abbott, Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary and Richard Burgon, Shadow Justice Secretary, have announced plans to expand Sussex Police’s Violence Reduction Unit. Sussex Police, which has seen a 76% rise in violent crime since 2014/5, will be given the extra staff to tackle its high rates of gang related violent crime.

In April 2018, Labour announced its support for Violence Reduction Units modelled on the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) in Glasgow, which is responsible for implementing the successful crime reduction initiative. Their approach of treating violence as a public health crisis has been widely credited for reducing violent crimes by around 40% over the last decade and murders reduced to their lowest level since 1976.

The expansion of Violence Reduction Units will be complemented by investment to tackle reoffending rates. Labour will fund innovative crime-busting pilot schemes with a £20m annual Justice Innovation Fund for Police and Crime Commissioners and local criminal justice boards. These schemes will develop and trial best practice in reducing re-offending.

Re-offending costs are estimated at £18bn per year with re-offending rates at 65% for those released following a short prison sentence.

Labour’s manifesto also commits to match in full the additional government resources announced for policing, after the Tories took 21,000 police off our streets.

Peter Lamb, Council Leader and Labour’s candidate in Crawley, said:  “We’ve all seen the impact of the Conservatives’ cuts in unleashing a wave of crime and antisocial behaviour in Crawley’s town centre and neighbourhoods.

“The Conservatives and the Lib Dems have spent a decade supporting brutal cuts to Sussex Police. There’s no way we can trust them to support our police officers in the future. It’s only by getting real officers back on the beat that we can tackle the problems residents are raising daily in our town.

Richard Burgon, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, said: “Under the Tories reoffending rates are far too high, meaning more victims of crimes and less safe communities. Labour will prioritise reducing the number of victims of crime and tackling the huge social and economic costs of offending.

“Our Criminal Justice Innovation Fund will help local experts invest in schemes that work best to tackle reoffending in their areas.”