Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 20th January 2021

I had intended to write this week about the steps the Government needs to take to help schools and parents ensure every child receives a decent education through the lockdown, but that will need to wait for another column.

On Tuesday, many of us lost a friend and the town lost a dedicated servant. Cllr Raj Sharma, twice Mayor of Crawley, a fearless champion for community cohesion and a man whose decades of youth work proved his commitment to the town long before he first sought elected office, passed away aged 68. Since the news broke the council has been inundated with people expressing their sorrow at losing such a kind and generous man. It will be a long time before we see his like again. For those who would like to make their feelings known, there is a virtual book of condolences running on the Crawley Borough Council Facebook page and donations are being collected online to support his favourite charities.

Raj wasn’t in the at-risk age groups and he wasn’t infirm, but that didn’t mean he was safe from the pandemic. If there is to be any good from this tragedy, let it be that people wake up and realise that COVID-19 isn’t the flu, it isn’t just picking off the old and those with major pre-existing conditions, and that it is considerably safer for all of us to get a vaccination than it to catch the disease. This is the most deadly pandemic the country has faced in a century and we are months away from halting its spread.

Crawley’s Memorial Garden gates carry the names of the 111 local men who died in the four years of the First World War. The number of COVID-19 deaths in Crawley is already around that mark and with the vast increase in case numbers over recent weeks, we should be ready to see the fatalities grow substantially over the next month. We are in the most dangerous period of the pandemic. We need to be clear that bending or breaking the rules isn’t just ‘naughty’, it puts peoples lives at risk.

Apply for lockdown business grants now

Businesses that have had to close due to the current lockdown can now apply for new government grants.

This latest grants are called ‘Local Restriction Support Grant (Closed) Addendum: 5 January onwards’ (LRSG) and Closed Businesses Lockdown Payment (CBLP).

The grants cover the six-week period of lockdown from 5 January until 15 February.

Both grants are based on rateable value. The rate of payment for eligible businesses is:

  • For properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants are £2,001 (LRSG) and £4,000 (CBLP) – a total of £6,001
  • For properties with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £50,999, grants are £3,000 (LRSG) and £6,000 (CBLP) – a total of £9,000
  • For properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over, grants are £4,500 (LRSG) and £9,000 (CBLP) – a total of £13,500.

Crawley Borough Council is administering and distributing these grants on behalf of the government.

Businesses can check if they’re eligible by visiting gov.uk/guidance/check-if-youre-eligible-for-the-coronavirus-additional-restrictions-grant

Applications for these grants can be made at grantapproval.co.uk

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “We know many local businesses are struggling. While the council is doing everything it can to support and rebuild the local economy, it’s vital any organisation which does need support applies for every grant for which they are eligible.”

For more details on help available for businesses visit crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers

Supervised play to continue at two adventure playgrounds for 2021

Crawley Borough Council has announced that two of its adventure playgrounds will remain open for supervised play this year following a one-off grant from the government.

The government has given every local authority a Lower Tier Services Grant so the council has decided to use this to keep Cherry Lane and Millpond adventure playgrounds open as supervised, open access play sites until the end of October half-term 2021 (subject to Covid-19 restrictions).

Millpond and Cherry Lane will operate with an online registration and booking system to create a Covid-secure environment and ensure that the adventure playgrounds are being used by Crawley children.

However, this grant is for one year only so after October, Cherry Lane Adventure Playground will move to unsupervised play.

After October half-term, Millpond Adventure Playground in Bewbush will close permanently. Creasys Drive Adventure Playground in Broadfield is already closed and will not reopen. The council will be bringing forward new unsupervised play facilities in Broadfield and Bewbush in due course.

Waterlea Adventure Playground will be refurbished and then re-open as an unsupervised play site in 2022.

The council will also bring in its new model of outreach play, which will look to move play activities into neighbourhoods and increase participation. This model will also:

  • Increase the range of play opportunities for children away from more traditional building-based activities
  • Reach groups that may not usually access services
  • Make use of buildings across the town and work in partnership with other existing groups and organisations.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “While the long-term impact of COVID-19 on council funding means adventure playgrounds will have to move to unsupervised play by 2022, I’m glad that this one-off funding means we can continue to provide supervised play until next Winter, as we roll-out our new outreach model.”

Councillor Duncan Crow, Leader of the Opposition, said: “I welcome this additional government funding that has enabled us to extend supervised play at two Adventure Playgrounds for this year, while we also work to refurbish Waterlea for unsupervised play for next year.”

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 13th January 2021

Decades of research, across a range of fields, has repeatedly highlighted children’s early years are the most important of their lives. If you can ensure the right conditions for development in that crucial formative period, you set the ground for a lifetime of improved health and better economic opportunities.

It was this awareness which led the last Labour Government to set-up Sure Start in 1998, providing young families with a range of support designed to give children the best start in life. Over the years, studies have increasingly highlighted just how successful Sure Start has been in achieving its aims, with research in 2019 identifying it had already saved the NHS millions of pounds of expenditure through improving the general health of children.

The bedrock of Sure Start were the children and family centres, first set-up in Crawley in Bewbush and Broadfield, before being rolled out across the whole of the town over the following ten years. As a flagship programme of the last Labour Government, central government ensured the funding went directly to the centres, guaranteeing they had the revenue they needed to function.

Unfortunately, all of this changed in 2010, with the new Conservative Government making West Sussex County Council responsible for funding them and they are now proposing the closure of children and family centres across the county, including almost all the centres in Crawley. Be in no doubt, this is effectively the end of Sure Start for families in Crawley.

Times are tough for councils, I know that better than most, but this is a false economy. Sure Start has proven that improving the health and opportunities of children not only gives them a better quality of life, it saves the public sector a small fortune in the long-term. For a town which already has the lowest social mobility in the South East, this is a cut we cannot afford.

Labour councillors have kicked off a petition to try to persuade West Sussex County Council that they are making the wrong choice and almost 10,000 local residents have already registered their opposition. To make your voice heard go to: http://www.change.org/p/west-sussex-county-council-halt-the-planned-cuts-to-west-sussex-children-and-family-centres

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 6th January 2021

It’s now 18 months since the Government, in the run-up to the General Election, promised voters in Crawley that they would invest £25m in the town. At the time I was criticised for saying I doubted Crawley would ever see any of the money and after a year and a half we still haven’t seen a penny, despite having to waste hundreds of hours of council officers’ time to jump through their bureaucratic hoops.

In normal times, the Government defaulting on this pre-election promise would be disappointing and further evidence of the worthlessness of a commitment from the Johnson Administration, but these are not normal times. Crawley, whose economy had grown by a quarter during my time as council leader, has been hit harder by the economic impact of the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions than any other in the country is now facing mass-unemployment.

Had we received the investment we needed in time, how many more local businesses could we have helped, how much further would we be along the road to attracting new industries to the town? Even if the money does come now, it will arrive after much of the damage has already been done, meaning thousands of households having to wait longer to access employment again.

To be clear, this isn’t even money which has been committed in response to the current emergency, it was funding promised to 100 towns in England before a single case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed. The council is working hard to try to safeguard local jobs, attract new employers into the town and ensure the town centre remains viable, but having lost 56% of our funding to cuts over the years we can’t do this without Government support. The bare minimum residents have a right to expect is what was already promised.

The UK is the only major economy to have failed to protect their aviation sector and the Government’s approach decision-making, filled with u-turns and last minute changes, means our country has suffered a bigger economic hit than almost any other. Families are struggling, we need the Government to keep their promise.

Major gas leak at Milton Mount flats

Emergency services have been responding to a major gas leak next to Milton Mount Flats in Pound Hill this morning.

The leak was reported at 12.21am today (Wednesday 6 January) and declared as a major incident. A cordon was set up that included Milton Mount Community Centre and Ridleys Court.

Residents were evacuated and have been placed in temporary accommodation around the town until the scene is made safe. No injuries have been reported. The leak has now been fixed and checks are ongoing to ensure that the building is safe.

People are advised to stay away from the area for the time being.

A multi-agency response saw Crawley Borough Council working with Sussex Police, West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service, South East Coast Ambulance Service, West Sussex County Council and Southern Gas Network to resolve the incident as quickly and safely as possible.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “The council declared a local authority major incident, supported by all partners, in the early hours of this morning.

“Staff worked together to manage the safe evacuation of residents and to transport them into the temporary accommodation, which was arranged around the town.

“This is an unsettling time for Milton Mount residents and their families. They will be able to return to their homes as soon as it safe for them to do so.”

If you have any concerns about anyone who lives in Milton Mount Flats please call 01293 438000.

Apply for tier 4 business grants now

Businesses that have had to close due to tier 4 restrictions can now apply for government grants.

This latest grant, called Local Restriction Support Grants (closed businesses), are for the period 26 December 2020 until 8 January 2021.

The grants are based on rateable value and the rate of payment for eligible businesses is:

  • For properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants are £667
  • For properties with a rateable value of between £15,001 and £50,999, grants are £1,000
  • For properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over, grants are £1,500.

Three other grants are currently available but the number of applications remains low. The grants are:

  • Additional Restrictions Grant
  • Local Restrictions Support Grant (closed businesses during the second national lockdown)
  • Christmas grants for ‘wet-led’ pubs.

Crawley Borough Council is administering and distributing all four grants on behalf of the government.

Additional Restrictions Grants are for businesses that were affected by the lockdown but are not legally required to close. This funding lasts until March 2022.

The previous round ended with the council receiving just 367 applications, including 342 from taxi drivers.

Applications have reopened and must be submitted before 10 January 2021.

Eligible businesses are those who:

  • Are not entitled to Local Restriction Support Grants (were not mandated to close), and
  • Were open and trading the day before national restrictions were imposed (Wednesday 4 November), and
  • Can prove that they were severely impacted by the restrictions.

Businesses can check if they’re eligible for the Additional Restrictions Grant by visiting gov.uk/guidance/check-if-youre-eligible-for-the-coronavirus-additional-restrictions-grant

Local Restrictions Support Grants (closed) are for businesses that pay business rates and had to close during the second lockdown from 5 November to 2 December. Only 181 businesses have received this grant to date.

The rate of payment for eligible businesses is:

  • For properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, grants are £1,334
  • For properties with a rateable value of more than £15,000 and below £51,000, grants are £2,000
  • For properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over, grants are £3,000.

Christmas grants of £1,000 for ‘wet-led’ pubs are for pubs that had to close due to regional restrictions. Six pubs have benefited from this so far.

To apply, your pub must be based in Crawley, earn less than 50 per cent of income from food and had to close due to regional restrictions introduced on 2 December. Only the business rates payer can apply.

Applications for all four grants can be made at grantapproval.co.uk

There is further guidance and a copy of the West Sussex countywide policy on the council’s website at crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of the Council, said: “Crawley’s economy has been hit harder than any other in the country by the Government’s COVID-19 restrictions. While we continue to lobby for more comprehensive support for the town, it is important businesses claim any support which is made available through this period.”

For more details on help available for businesses visit crawley.gov.uk/emergency/coronavirus-information/businesses-and-employers

Crawley moves to Tier 4 – Council Services Update

With Crawley being placed under tier 4 restrictions from Boxing Day, several Crawley Borough Council buildings and services will close or operate differently.

The Town Hall, which is now closed for the Christmas and New Year holiday, will remain closed from Monday 4 January until further notice.

Despite this, our services will continue to operate and we will be providing additional services for our most vulnerable residents and distributing the latest round of grants to local businesses once we have received guidance from the government.

With the Town Hall closed, there are several ways to continue to access council services. Visit crawley.gov.uk for service information and my.crawley.gov.uk for access to rubbish and recycling updates for your home, your Council Tax account and our extensive library of forms.

To pay by debit or credit card you can do so online at crawley.gov.uk/payments, over the phone by calling our automated payments line on 01293 438312 or at your bank.

The full list of changes is:

  • The Town Hall closed to the public at 4pm on Wednesday 23 December
  • K2 Crawley and the Broadfield 3G pitch will close at 4pm on Christmas Eve
  • The Bewbush Centre Gym will close at 2pm on Christmas Eve
  • Tilgate Nature Centre will close on Christmas Eve
  • Community centres will be closed and only open for pre-schools and crèches if schools are closed
  • The Hawth will close on Christmas Eve after the performances of the pantomime and A Christmas Carol. The pantomime has been filmed and will be available to watch on The Hawth’s website at hawth.co.uk
  • The Employ Crawley Youth Hub will continue to operate with virtual appointments from 4 January. To arrange an appointment call 07814 903871 / 07909 730956 or email employcrawley@crawley.gov.uk
  • All public toilets will close except the toilets next to the car park at Tilgate Park. All toilets will remain accessible to people with a Radar Key
  • Tennis courts and multi-use games area will only remain open for use with others within your household, support bubble, or with one person from another household.

Waste, recycling and garden waste collections will continue, although these will be on different dates due to Christmas and New Year. To find your dates and to download your 2021 calendar visit crawley.gov.uk/waste-and-recycling/household-collections/collection-days

Pest control and housing repairs will continue as they have over the past few months. All council play areas and outdoor gyms will remain open although as resources for cleaning them are limited they are to be used at people’s own risk.

Applications for tier 4 business grants will open shortly. More details about how to apply will be published when the council receives guidance from the government.

Councillor Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “We all must do everything we can to help reduce transmission, the sooner we can get rates back under control the sooner we can return to normal, and that includes local authorities. While all council workers will continue to work hard for the town through this period, some facilities will have to close and the way we deliver others will have to change in order to help stop the pandemic spreading.”

For up-to-date information visit crawley.gov.uk/coronavirus and follow Crawley Borough Council on Twitter (@crawleybc) and Facebook (@crawleycouncil).