Author: pkl204

One rule for Tories and another for the rest of us?

After each set of local elections, we hold a few training sessions we ask all new councillors to attend. I jokingly refer to these sessions as ‘Introduction to not getting us sued’, it’s not the snappiest title, but it’s accurate because the biggest focus of the training is on what we’re not legally allowed to do.

Of all the council’s committees, Planning has the most rules because it is supposed to act ‘quasi-judicially’, essentially following the same process for ruling on applications as courts are required to do ruling on defendants’ innocence. Just as everyone expects to have a fair trial, every application is supposed to be assessed fairly, with decisions being taken based solely upon the evidence and arguments presented at the meeting, there’s no making your mind up before.

So, why am I writing about this now? Well, Robert Jenrick–the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the man who sets these rules, overruled the decision of a council and his own planning inspector, to enable a Conservative donor to massively increase his profits at the community’s expense, something even he admitted is unlawful.

And what did he decide? When new houses are built developers have to contribute to the cost of improving local facilities, like schools and GPs, so new residents don’t preventing existing residents from accessing them. The council had already given planning permission, Jenrick’s decision was to allow the Conservative donor to avoid paying the £150m local public services need to deal with the impact of the unaffordable housing he is planning to build.

New ‘cash for favours’ stories are emerging daily, but even now the Prime Minister refuses to fire Jenrick. Aside from the corruption just think of the hypocrisy. Jenrick sets the rules making it clear every decision has to be fair and based on evidence, he appoints inspectors to ensure that happens, that process is followed, then Jenrick overrules it. What evidence was that based on exactly? Or is it yet another case of this Government saying it’s one rule for them and one for the rest of us?


This piece was prepared as the Labour column for the Wednesday 1st July 2020 edition of the Crawley Observer. Unfortunately, due to an editorial disagreement over its wording, the column was not printed but is instead published here in its entirety.

Government running out of time to save Crawley’s jobs

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, has warned that the Government is running out of time to save the town from mass-unemployment.

It is over two months since the Centre for Cities’ analysis showed that the lockdown had put 57% of employment in Crawley at risk, a far larger proportion of jobs than anywhere else in the UK.

Universal Credit claims in Crawley have increased by almost 500% since the lockdown, with large local employers such as British Airways, Easyjet and Virgin Atlantic, and Swissport all announcing major redundancies.

At the same time, Crawley has been named the ‘the furlough capital of England’ with over a third of the town’s workforce either furloughed or claiming the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme. With furloughing being wound down from August and Government restrictions continuing to prevent the town’s major industries from generating a profit, we have less than two months before Crawley experiences mass-unemployment on a scale the town has never seen before.

Yet, despite letters and direct discussion with the Government on the crisis facing the town, so far Crawley has received no commitments of support for avoiding economic disaster.

With the Government reportedly postponing its next full budget until the autumn, the concern now is that the too-little, too-late approach taken to preventing COVID-19 deaths, will now be seen in a too-little, too-late approach to saving Crawley’s jobs.

Speaking about the crisis, Cllr Lamb said::

“Crawley can’t wait till autumn for action, we have less than two months to save people’s jobs. I’ve grown tired of letters from ministers telling us they understand the problems we face, while promising nothing. Crawley will not forget if they fail to act to now to avoid years of suffering. The clock is ticking.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 24th June 2020

This Saturday is Armed Forces Day. In any normal year, we would be holding a big event in the town centre to mark the day which, along with all the pomp and circumstance, would give people the chance to express their gratitude to all those who have served and highlight local support available for both veterans and those currently in the forces.

As with so many things, the restrictions necessary to control the spread of COVID-19 prevents a physical event this year, other than a brief flag raising attended by the Mayor and representatives of the services. Yet, at its core Armed Forces Day isn’t about really about bunting and marching, it’s about all of us taking the time to think about those either currently in service or who have previously served, and we don’t need a physical event to do that.

The truth is that, for all the warm words offered by Number 10, our veterans are being let down. Half of veterans are now aged over 75, falling into the age group hit hardest by the Government’s decision to discharge COVID-19 patients into care homes without appropriate safeguards, a decision which has cost over 16,000 lives, more than double all the British armed forces deaths in every conflict since the Second World War.

For younger veterans, the struggle to access housing, and physical and mental health support in a system hollowed out by a decade of cuts is leaving many desperate with nowhere to go. It should be a source of national shame that over 6,000 former service men and women are homeless, and 10,000 have ended up in the prison system.

Even for those still serving the future looks bleak, with the military already reduced to a record low size and a £13bn shortfall in its 10 year equipment budget, drawing a line under the UK’s time on the world stage.

As a country we often talk about how proud we are of our armed forces and the importance of standing by them, but how far do we really mean it when we allow our Government to continuously let them down so badly.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 17th June 2020

It’s now twelve weeks since the UK went into lockdown, following the path taken by countries around the world. This situation is historically unique, never before have so many faced such great restrictions on their day-to-day activities. As a result, it has not only forced people to adopt new ways of living, but also given researchers the chance to investigate the impact such changes on people and the planet.

Many of you will have seen photographs of cities around the world showing clear skies where once was smog, the effect of massive cuts in pollution brought on by the lockdown. At peak restrictions, countries have experienced a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of over a quarter.

This has been great for the planet, but the breathing space is remarkably brief as emissions rebounding sharply following the easing of lockdown measures, most noticeably from road transport. That’s not only bad environment but also our health, with new evidence emerging every year of the long-term damage caused by poor air quality, the greatest source of which in the UK being people’s cars.

Pollution in Crawley may not be visible, but our air quality is significantly worse than most of the UK, with increasing amounts of the town below minimum standards. No one has found a way to solve this yet other than having fewer petrol and diesel engines on our roads, but to achieve that we need to build a greener travel infrastructure.

Next week Crawley BC’s cabinet will vote on two proposals. The first involves working with neighbouring authorities to create a new county-wide network of charging points, enabling greater numbers to switch to electric vehicles. The second is a costed plan for delivering a town-wide cycle network and walking zones, making it easier for people to ditch their cars. Ultimately, tackling pollution means each of us doing what we can to cut our emissions. While we can’t do that for you, by building a greener infrastructure the council is working to make it as easy as possible for people to do what they can to save lives and the planet.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 10th June 2020

Since global travel began to slump early in the year we’ve known aviation’s central role in Crawley’s economy would mean the town would suffer the impact of Covid-19 more than most, with Centre for Cities later confirming Crawley would not only be the hardest hit part of the UK, but by a considerable margin.

For all the many warnings, I suspect most people still do not believe just how bad the situation is, and while the first jobs to go will be in aviation Gatwick’s economic footprint is so big no local industry can avoid feeling the pain. Over recent weeks British Airways has announced 12,000 redundancies, with a further 4,500 to go at Easyjet, and 3,000 at Virgin Atlantic. All large local employers and each announcement is on its own a huge source of concern.

Given that aviation is only struggling due to Government interventions in the form of the lockdown, social distancing and quarantining, there is undoubtedly a case for state support to help sustain these businesses until they can get back on their feet. However, at this time neither the sector, nor Crawley as the hardest hit part of the UK, has received any commitment of substantial support from the Government to help keep people in work.

Appalling as that is, it does not forgive employers their own responsibilities. The efforts of BA workers have enabled the company to pay out £3.6bn to shareholders over recent years and Richard Branson has pocketed profits from Virgin Atlantic without paying British income tax for fourteen years.

There is a moral duty on those who have benefited most from their workforce to do what they can to support those people now, but instead of trying to find solutions to retain staff we see companies using the crisis as an opportunity to not only reduce staffing levels but also introduce poorer pay and working conditions for the long-term. Such behaviour is unacceptable and just as it is important for the Government to step in and help these companies through, there must be serious consequences for those who exploit a national emergency for monetary gain.

Crawley Borough Council stands in solidarity with protesters in America and around the world

Crawley Borough Council is standing shoulder to shoulder with the town’s BAME community and supporting the peaceful Black Lives Matter protests.

Councillors have been participating in events to show solidarity with protesters in the US and around the world, including the UK.

The Mayor of Crawley, Councillor Raj Sharma, and Leader of the Council, Councillor Peter Lamb, both ‘took the knee’ at 6pm on Wednesday and will observe the minute’s silence at 8pm today in solidarity with people of colour.

Black Lives Matter is a global campaign against violence and systemic racism towards black and ethnic minority people. It has been the driving force behind protests taking place across the world following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.There has been worldwide outrage after a video showing the officer kneeling on Mr Floyd’s neck went viral. For the past week, protests have been held in several cities across the globe.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Last month, we commemorated the end of the Second World War in Europe, a war this country entered to defend other nations from unjust aggression. Then as now, injustice could only thrive so long as good people chose to do nothing.

“Tonight, we aren’t being asked to fight a war or face down a hail of plastic bullets and tear gas. We’re being asked to take a minute to remember those who face violence on a daily basis due to their race and make it clear that they don’t stand alone.”

Marilyn Le Feuvre, Chair of Diverse Crawley and committee member of Crawley Campaign Against Racism, said: “This is our Rosa Parks moment and we need to use this for change. This has been happening for centuries but this is now being seen by everyone.

“We’ve had so much support locally, nationally and globally from people of all backgrounds and ages. Taking a knee and a minute’s silence are small things but they make a big difference.”

To find out more about Black Lives Matter, visit blacklivesmatter.com

To find out more about Diverse Crawley, visit diversecrawley.org.uk

To find out more about Crawley Campaign Against Racism, search ‘CrawleyCAR’ on Facebook.

Crawley Live Column, Summer 2020

This is the first digital-only edition of Crawley Live the council has ever produced and it serves as a reminder of the unprecedented times in which we live.

More has been asked of our community than ever before and the responsible action of the vast majority in the town has literally saved the lives of thousands of our friends, family, colleagues and neighbours.

Throughout the lockdown we have seen some of the best of our society, with so many volunteering to help support those who were struggling, and the incredible efforts made by key workers to protect our NHS and keep essential services running. Including the amazing work undertaken by Crawley Borough Council staff who restructured almost every part of the council to play a role meeting the needs of the community throughout the crisis. We must not forget those who did their bit when this outbreak is over.

Unfortunately, Crawley’s road to recovery will be longer than most, with so many of our major employers belonging to industries hit hard by the lockdown, and at the same time the council’s income has taken a hammering leaving us far weaker as we start to rebuild the local economy.

I cannot claim that the next few years will be easy, but over recent months the people of this town have shown that they are capable of doing great good throughout hardship, and with so much going for our community, I am confident that Crawley’s best days are still ahead of us.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 3rd June 2020

After weeks of columns on Covid-19, I’m giving people a break and changing topics.

This year is the first year in decades Crawley has not had to go through local elections. While the pressure of not having to run a campaign has been good for my mental health, particularly after the four sets of elections held in 2019, I’ve always supported annual elections as a means of preserving democratic control over the council and keeping councillors out knocking doors, addressing the issues coming up in their neighbourhoods, year-round.

With normal engagement impossible for now we’re having to explore new ways of connecting. My weekly Facebook Live Q&A sessions have proven surprisingly successful in encouraging residents to raise questions and have their say on the issues affecting the town. Videoconferencing committee meetings is giving us the chance to provide residents with a permanent online record of decision-making, something I believe should continue when things go back to normal. We’re even producing our first digital edition of Crawley Live.

Having this chance to explore new forms of engagement is important, partly because it enables democracy to continue throughout this period, but even more so because the issues the town now faces will require far better engagement to resolve.

The reality is that recent months have undermined the industry our local economy is built on for years to come and the way we work to rebuild it will have a major impact upon the future of life in Crawley. The decline in the economy has totally undermined the council’s finances, meaning that balancing the budget will involve big changes to the way we provide services. The climate emergency we face and our commitment to address it will also require major adaptions to the town’s infrastructure and the way we go about our lives.

These are huge issues and a cross in a box at election time won’t provide residents with enough of a say as to how we answer the major questions affecting our future. To do that we are going to need public engagement on a scale this council has never attempted before.

LGA First Magazine Article

With greater access to information than ever before, increasingly the problem we face is not a lack of information but finding the ‘right’ information and avoiding misinformation. In daily life this is a big enough problem, with phrases like ‘fake news’ becoming common parlance, but in a crisis the information gap costs lives.

As the pandemic hit it became clear that for all the briefings, the gap between government guidelines and what they meant on the ground was vast, and that for the lockdown to be effective locally residents needed a simple way to get answers to any questions they might have.

Our solution: give people a single place to get their questions answered in real-time, with a weekly Q&A hour on Facebook Live with myself as council leader

To be honest, I had my doubts anyone would bother to tune in, after all we live in cynical times, but the combined live and catch-up viewings have received between 3,000 and 8,000 unique views, reaching around 15% of the borough’s population. While I’ve only committed to running Q&A sessions for the duration of the lockdown, the response has been uniformly positive and various residents have asked we consider running them, on a less frequent basis, once the outbreak ends.

Several things help explain this surprise success. At a basic level, residents clearly have more time on their hands and are more likely to have questions they need to raise. Yet, beyond that, by giving the public the chance to ask questions directly of a leader, by answering every question–even if it’s insulting or tongue-in-cheek, and by ensuring that answers are honest, unspun and as human as possible, we can re-empower citizens to hold local decision-makers to account and in the process help rebuild the trust which has been lost over the years.

Residents urged to use quieter green spaces

Crawley Borough Council is urging residents to visit green spaces other than Tilgate Park in a bid to ensure social distancing.

During this period of warm weather, Tilgate Park has been extremely busy, making it difficult for visitors to socially distance.

Crawley is blessed with a wide range of green spaces across the town so the council is encouraging residents to explore somewhere different and reduce the burden on Tilgate Park and the residential streets nearby, while the car parks remain closed.

The biggest green spaces are Broadfield Park, Goffs Park, Memorial Gardens, the Mill Pond and Bewbush Water Gardens, Southgate Park, West Green Park and Worth Park. Several of these have free parking if you’re travelling by car.

In addition there are smaller parks and playing fields across the whole town. For more details on Crawley’s gardens and park visit crawley.gov.uk/culture/parks-and-open-spaces/gardens-and-parks

All of these parks offer something different, from wildfowl on lakes, Victorian architecture and large expanses of grass.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “Preventing a second outbreak of Covid-19 means practicing social distancing at all times when away from home. Current visitor numbers at Tilgate Park make enforcing social distancing impossible, which is why we are actively asking residents not to visit the park at this time.”