On Thursday 29th January, Crawley Council hosted its third State of the Borough debate at the Hawth. The title was taken from the American State of the Union address and then implemented with slightly less grandeur. On the panel taking questions, I was joined by Councillors Duncan Crow (Deputy Leader of the Council), Brenda Smith (Leader of the Labour Group) and Gordon Seekings (Leader of the Liberal Democrats). For anyone not able to attend Question Time the previous week, I hope that this event provided a worthwhile alternative. We will be placing the transcript on the internet and people will then be able to make their own judgements.
The event provided an opportunity to meet a range of people including a number of invited stakeholders such as the police and tenant representatives. It also saw the council’s three elected political parties working together in a public forum although this is not as rare as some of our comments in the media might imply.
The evening started with a presentation reviewing the year 2008 that highlighted both progress and areas for improvement. These elements were followed by a summary of objectives and challenges including the recession and council finances; delivering the Decent Homes Standard, regeneration schemes, community engagement, health and well-being.
In the public question time, there was a mixture of new and recurring themes, all of which the council will take on board together with partner organisations. There was support for a university presence as it would help raise aspirations and support our commerce and industry. This was good news as a number of individuals and organisations are working towards this goal.
The questions raised were topical and varied. Why were there so many potholes inCrawley’s roads? WouldCrawleyget a new major general hospital? What could be done about the small room sizes in some new-build properties? How couldCrawleyexpand while avoiding very high housing densities? Why were some shop rents going up by so much? What could be done about anti-social behaviour?
The panel offered answers to all of the points raised. Some issues were not entirely within the council’s control. This was illustrated by the questioning around expansion and housing densities. Crawleymust provide a certain amount of new housing up to the year 2026 in accordance with the South-East Plan. At the same time, there is a government directive restraining new development in the North-East Sector because of airport capacity studies. So we are not entirely our own masters for housing numbers, location or density.
Being in control of our own destiny is sometimes referred to as localism – the principle of having decisions made at the lowest practical level, nearest to the people. If we achieved that vision, State of the Borough would have even more meaning. I doubt that any London-based government will allow much progress in this direction. Central government often shows a controlling tendency because they do not trust local government with large sums of money. It is then more difficult for all tiers of government to embrace the worthy political principle of trusting the people.
Councillor Bob Lanzer, Leader of Crawley Borough Council
4th February 2009