Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 19th June 2019

Since the 2008 global crash it has become popular to talk about the ‘young’ being hard done-by. I don’t disagree the UK’s younger adult population has seen the services their parents received for free being cut back, house prices mean for many house-sharing is the norm until well into their thirties, job security is gone and even thinking about a pension is on hold while they struggle to make ends, but the idea of inter-generational conflict is mistaken.

While the wealthy were certainly living it up, much of our older adult population never benefited from the ‘good times’ as much as the media claims. Today, the elderly are the most dependent upon healthcare at a time when our NHS has been run down to the point of collapse and are forced to give up whatever they have managed to save to pay for the social care our Conservative Government refuses to provide.

Once again, in the fifth richest economy, we find pensioner poverty on the rise, with one in six of our elderly destitute. At the same time, all the support the last Labour government offered to help end pensioner poverty is being stripped back. In our area, the free bus pass alone is even at threat as Conservative-run West Sussex County Council keeps decreasing the hours it covers. That’s the environment in which we now find the over 75s losing their free TV licenses, something Age UK shows will push 50,000 pensioners below the poverty line.

In Crawley, around 4,280 households are set to lose their free TV license, something the last Labour Government introduced to successfully help to tackle the feelings of loneliness and social isolation overwhelmingly found amongst the elderly. It was accepted that this was something the Government would pay for, the Conservatives even ran on a manifesto promising to maintain them, but then in 2015 they shifted the cost onto the BBC without the funding they knew was necessary to sustain it.

Our generations aren’t in conflict, but from TV licenses to house prices, our Conservative government is getting away with taking away things which matter to each generation.

Press Release: Willmott Dixon invests in Sussex growth

Willmott Dixon is following up its successful completion of L3 Technologies’ new flight simulator production and training facility on Gatwick Road in Crawley with a pledge to stimulate more growth in Sussex.

The company, which built the world-leading Nexus facility for L3 Technologies adjacent to another project it delivered, South East Coast Ambulance Service’s new home at Gatwick Diamond, is plotting more opportunity by opening an office at the Regus in Manor Royal Business Park, Crawley.

The new office will provide a base for Willmott Dixon’s Sussex team, expanding the company’s presence as it looks to deliver more projects that play a key role in the county’s future. Another recently completed project, Littlehampton Wave leisure centre, opened its doors to the public in March.

Russell Miller, Willmott Dixon director for delivery in Sussex, explained: “Willmott Dixon has been well established in the county since 1930 when we built Bailiffscourt at Climping near Littlehampton for Lord Moyne. Since then we’ve grown across Sussex and opening our new Gatwick hub, close to where many of our people live, is a natural evolution.

Gatwick is a thriving area and has, along with Sussex, a really bright future with many bold and imaginative initiatives to encourage growth and investment. We want to be part of shaping that by basing ourselves in an area that is close to our partners and customers.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Borough Council, said: “Crawley Borough Council recognises that for our residents to thrive we need our economy to thrive. We’re working hard, in partnership with private sector and public sector organisations, to ensure Crawley not only remains one of the best places in the region to do business, but keeps improving on that status. Willmott Dixon’s decision to open an office in the town is a great testament to the impact of those efforts and their confidence in the future of Crawley’s economy.”

Willmott Dixon is one of the UK’s largest privately-owned construction firms, and this year won its third Queen’s Award for Enterprise, this time in the category of Sustainable Development.

The prestigious award recognised the company’s ethos to protect and nurture the environment alongside strengthening the wellbeing of communities through skills training, mentoring and volunteering work on community projects, something it aims to increase in Sussex.

Willmott Dixon has a significant track record in the region. Projects delivered by the company include the University of Sussex Medical School and Medical Research building, University of Chichester Academic and Music buildings, Bohunt School in Worthing and Adur Civic Centre.

The new office in Gatwick has been designed to promote an agile, collaborative, project-led working approach. It will accommodate both preconstruction and operations staff, with partners and customers also encouraged to utilise the space.

Russell added: “We’re proud of our legacy in Sussex and are looking forward to being part of its future growth, as well as provide opportunities to help attract and retain the next generation of workers in the county.”

Open letter to Henry Smith on his support for Boris Johnson

Dear Mr Smith,

I noticed with surprise your announcement that you believe Boris Johnson is the best candidate to be our next Prime Minister. In your announcement you explain that you believe he will deliver Brexit, prosperity, an enhanced environment, and global British confidence.

Perhaps it is his intention to deliver Brexit, for good or for ill. Yet, there is no consensus on any of the options in Parliament and without finding common ground there can be no end to the current stalemate. Mr Johnson’s behaviour proves him singularly ill-equipped to find such common ground. Worse, the fact that before the referendum he drafted a column outlining the case for Remain, and once he did opt to campaign for Leave made the now infamously untrue pledge that there would be an extra £350m for the NHS if we left the EU, means it can certainly be questioned whether he has any genuine intentions other than promoting his own career.

As for the other qualities you highlight. I am uncertain whether anyone who has dismissed the concerns of whole industries with the comment “F**k business”, who has written columns disputing the evidence-basis for climate change and whose period as Foreign Secretary resulted in the New York Times writing a piece entitled ‘Boris Johnson Has Ruined Britain’, is really cut out to deliver on any of the things you claim.

Nevertheless, you wish to stand with Mr Johnson, in the same way as your last election address said you were ‘Standing with Theresa May’. Perhaps you can tell me then whether you stand by him when he refers to black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’.

Do you stand by him when his careless remarks lead to innocent British journalists being arrested by foreign governments?

Do you stand by him when he blames victims for the Hillsborough disaster?

Do you stand by him when he refers to Muslim women as looking like ‘letterboxes’?

Do you stand by him now as he is calling for a tax break for the wealthy at a time almost a third of the children in your constituency are living in poverty and while local public services teeter on the brink of collapse?

Do you really wish for such a man to be our Prime Minister, a man so prone to mistakes that we now hear his actual Leadership Election strategy involves deliberately avoiding contact with the media for fear of what he might say. Yes, at this stage Mr Johnson looks like the front-runner and loyalty to him now might serve your own career in the long-run, but the people you first and foremost owe your loyalty to are the people you were elected to serve. We are ill-served by this decision. It is one you should reconsider.

Yours sincerely,



Cllr Peter Lamb
Leader, Crawley Borough Council

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 12th June 2019

The UK’s GDP, the most common measure for assessing a country’s wealth, is the fifth highest in the world. For our country, one of the 2.5% wealthiest on the planet, to fail so comprehensively in the war against domestic poverty is a clear sign of the failure of our political system to select a Government which cares about its people.

As the UN’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Professor Philip Alston, said: “the bottom line is that much of the glue that has held British society together since the Second World War has been deliberately removed and replaced with a harsh and uncaring ethos.”

The public services and social security which was our inheritance passed down from the generation which fought to stop the Far Right in WWII are being demolished by ministers either too ignorant to realise the consequences of their actions or who simply don’t care about ordinary people. That’s how we’ve ended up with over 30% of Crawley’s children living in poverty.

For Boris Johnson to propose the UK’s wealthiest citizens should now be given a £9.6bn tax cut is simply grotesque. That is money that should have gone towards our NHS, to local schools, to more police officers, to council services, not to mention doing something about rising child poverty. Of course, Boris is running to be the Conservative Party’s new Leader, meaning everything he is currently saying is designed to appeal to Conservative Party members and not the public. Although, doesn’t that say everything you need to know about Conservative Party members.

None of us outside of the Conservative Party will get a vote on who the next Prime Minister will be, that’s the nature of party politics, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get a say. Conservative MPs will decide which two candidates go through to party members and one of those MPs is Crawley’s. So, if you feel Crawley’s interests are poorly served by MPs putting tax cuts for the rich ahead of public services and tackling poverty, why not let him know and see if he listens when he chooses our next Prime Minister?

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 5th June 2019

We’re regularly told not to ignore symptoms, that catching something early gives treatment its best chance of success, and we have probably all lost someone who left it too late. That’s why the NHS regularly runs public awareness campaigns to ensure we know the warnings signs of life-threatening conditions and can act while there’s still time. Yet, when it comes to the health of our own NHS, we all too readily ignore the warning signs.

One of the problems in politics is issues tend to be complex yet as people have so many other things on their minds it tends to be tough to get the key points across to the public. As a result, where problems exist campaigners play them up to get the public’s attention. Yet, after a while, people numb to the warnings. We can’t all operate in panic mode all the time and if the consequences take time to make themselves apparent, it’s easy to relax even while problems continue to get worse.

A classic case of this is Climate Change, pretty much everyone accepts it, acknowledges the consequences couldn’t be more serious, but since extinction still seems a long way off and cars are really convenient, few people change their lifestyle much because of it.

In the case of our NHS, we have received regular warnings that it is in crisis, but voters’ actions haven’t matched that seriousness. When GPs got harder to access people didn’t act, when GPs started refusing new patients and shutting surgeries people didn’t act, when the Winter Crisis on the wards became a year-round crisis people didn’t act, when treatments started to be restricted due to lack of fund people didn’t act. With medical professionals regularly stating the NHS is on the brink of collapse, what will it take? Yet, it gets worse.

Now we’re told that far from getting £350m a week for the NHS from Brexit, Trump wants the NHS be on table as part of any future trade deal with the US. Is that taking back control? Is that a crisis for our right to free healthcare?

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 29th May 2019

It’s hard to imagine how some people can argue poverty is okay in the Twenty-First Century and particularly in the United Kingdom, one of the wealthiest countries in the world. However, for all the many ways people manage to blame the poor for their suffering, the one form of poverty which should be inexcusable to any of us is child poverty.

No one chooses to be born, let alone to be born into a state of poverty. People once claimed it was all due to families having too many children, yet UK birth rates have been in almost continuous decline for over 50 years. People say it’s due to families not working, but over two-thirds of child poverty occurs in working families. None of the excuses hold water any longer.

The latest figures from the End Child Poverty Coalition last month show that in Crawley 8,832 children are living in poverty, that’s about a third of all our children. I write a column like this once a year and every year the figures keep getting worse. These aren’t children living overseas, they’re living in houses near to your own, they are going to the same schools as your children and grandchildren. Why are we as a town okay with this?

As a country we have the money to fix this problem. Great progress was made in the late nineties and early naughties in ending child poverty, so why did it stop? Because the things which voters chose to prioritise when they went to the vote changed. Even charities are now openly stating that the problem has been caused by changes to Government policy, changes which could easily be reversed if that was what voters wanted.

The result on Sunday showed that Brexit remains one of the strongest, if not the strongest, reason for people now selecting a party to vote for. Voters have the right to decide what matters the most for them, but I would ask that the next time an election rolls around people at least consider there might be other causes out there desperately crying out for their help.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 22nd May 2019

In 1991, following several high profile incidents of children being mauled by dogs, Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act. The law sought to regulate the availability of breeds of dogs which were deemed to be dangerous, in addition to creating a number of requirements for owners of such breeds to limit the risk their pets posed to members of the public.

While most people would agree that there is a need to have some legislative restrictions and requirements for keeping the public safe from more aggressive breeds of dog, the problem is that the Act was very poorly drafted. In the rush to respond to the wave of media and public pressure in the wake of dog attacks, Parliament lacked the time to ensure the wording of the Act accurately reflected what they were trying to achieve. The end result was a law filled with absurdities, my favourite being that it left it unclear whether it was the owner or the dog which needed to be fitted with a muzzle when they went for a walk.

Of course, even without the rush, things can be missed. Policies often have unintended side-effects and can be left open to misinterpretation, resulting in outcomes which need to be resolved. Government isn’t a perfect science, at the end of the day the people taking decisions are just members of the public and open to the same human mistakes as everyone else.

Over recent years, as the council’s grant has been cut to zero by the Conservative Government and considerable efforts have been made to make services self-funding, such as Tilgate Park. This has been very successful, avoiding the need to cut, privatise or raise council tax above inflation, but it has meant more things have had to be charged for, such as when people run events in the park.

Such policies were never designed to stop charity walks, they were designed to ensure the costs of cleaning up after events didn’t fall on taxpayers. Clearly the policy needs revising to make that clearer, which is what I kicked-off as soon as the problem became clear.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 8th May 2019

A huge thanks to those who turned out to do their democratic duty and vote, I’m particularly grateful to those who voted for their local Labour candidates and to my own residents in Northgate and West Green.

Going into this election, boundary changes had already affected the council’s composition. Northgate and West Green wards were merged, meaning the four Labour seats went down to three. Likewise, Broadfield’s two wards were merged meaning four seats Labour had held were cut to three. Meanwhile, Conservative-held Three Bridges went up from two seats to three. In 2018, Labour had 20 seats to the Conservatives’ 17, the new boundaries meant both parties notionally started the campaign with 18 seats each.

On Thursday, Labour won the Conservatives’ seats in Ifield and Southgate but lost our seat in Tilgate, meaning the final result of 19 to 17 represented a net Labour gain of one seat. On top of that, Labour won 47% of the popular vote to the Conservatives’ 41%, which in a General Election would mean Labour won the seat with a majority of over 3,000. Despite a surge in support for minor parties, helping the Conservatives to retain their seats in several areas, the council remains entirely Labour or Conservative.

So, for a fifth election running Crawley Labour has been chosen to run the council, and while I am very grateful to residents for giving us the chance to continue working for you, this result was far closer than opinion polls had suggested.

All the political chatter, both before and after the Local Elections, has been about Brexit, how it is affecting political support and what should now be done. The problem is, in speaking with thousands of Crawley residents over the course of this campaign, behind every door there seems to be a different position on Brexit, with those saying that they weren’t voting for Labour because of Brexit fitting into both the Remain and Leave camps, making it far from clear exactly what people were trying to say to politicians.

Regardless, on the ground our concern is the town, and this result means Crawley Labour can go on delivering for Crawley.

Crawley Observer Column, Wednesday 1st May 2019

This Thursday is Election Day. By now you’re probably aware there have been boundary changes in Crawley, meaning every seat on the borough council is up for election and as a result you’ll have two or three votes you can cast, depending upon the number of councillors representing your area.

On the day you will be able to vote from 7am to 10pm, you won’t need your polling card to vote and if you have a postal vote you haven’t posted it can still be handed in at any Crawley polling station. Every year in Crawley we have seats which are won by less than 50 votes, at the 2005 General Election even the constituency came down to 37 votes, and when the Conservatives took control of Crawley in 2006 it was on the draw of lots as a seat was tied. In Crawley, your vote can always make the difference.

While Conservative-run West Sussex County Council is responsible for road maintenance and parking, schools, and adult social care and our Conservative Police Commissioner is responsible for preventing crime and antisocial behaviour, Labour-run Crawley Borough Council is responsible for delivering facilities like K2 and the Hawth, building new affordable housing, and maintaining services like the weekly bin collection.

What happens to these services and facilities is the question at this election. Do we want a council which will continue working to maintain and improve these services and facilities, which prioritises the things residents ask for and is building affordable homes for local people on a scale not seen in decades, or do we go back to the same programme of cuts we saw when the Conservatives last ran Crawley.

While Crawley Labour’s manifesto has been produced following careful consultation with the public and council officers to ensure we are not only committing to the things residents want but which can actually be delivered, the Conservatives’ ‘Plan’ for Crawley appears to be unfunded and the only thought on ‘delivery’ seems to be delivering more votes, rather than the things they are promising. Voters have seen this before and I’m sure they know what to do.

Press Release: Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Labour will scrap developer ‘get-out clause’ which has led to the loss of over 10,000 affordable homes

Shadow Housing Secretary, John Healey MP, will today announce that the next Labour Government will scrap ‘permitted development’ rules for new homes, ending a get-out clause which allows developers to dodge social housing obligations and build slum housing.

Permitted development rights introduced since 2013 allow developers to bypass the normal planning process by converting commercial spaces into housing without the consent of the council and local community. This gives developers a get-out from requirements to provide affordable housing and meet basic quality rules such as space standards creating ‘rabbit hutch’ flats.

These Conservative changes were introduced to boost house-building numbers, but the measures mean housing units just a few feet wide in former office blocks are now counted in official statistics as ‘new homes’. There are 42,000 new housing units that have been converted from offices since 2015.

Research by the Local Government Association has estimated that over 10,000 affordable homes have been lost as a result of permitted development in the last three years alone.

Research for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors found that permitted development has “allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed”, with only 30% of homes built through permitted development meeting national space standards.

John Healey MP, Labour’s Shadow Housing Secretary, said:

“Conservative permitted development rules have created a get-out clause for developers to dodge affordable homes requirements and build slum housing.

“To fix the housing crisis, we need more genuinely affordable, high-quality homes. This Conservative housing free-for-all gives developers a free hand to build what they want but ignore what local communities need.

“Labour will give local people control over the housing that gets built in their area and ensure developers build the low-cost, high-quality homes that the country needs.”

Cllr Peter Lamb, Leader of Crawley Council and Parliamentary candidate for Crawley, said:

“In Crawley, perhaps more than anywhere else, Permitted Development is creating havoc in local neighbourhoods and robbing public services of the money they need to adapt to new housing. When I met with the Conservatives’ Housing Minister to discuss the damage his policy was causing to Crawley he spent the meeting playing with his phone rather than listening to the concerns of residents. Labour have listened and are backing local Crawley residents, rather than helping developers to fill their pockets at the cost of our community like the Conservatives.”