On Saturday we officially re-opened Queens Square with a public celebration. It may seem like it has taken a while to complete, but if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. Afterall, it took ten years from Crawley’s designation as a New Town for the original square to be completed.
The new design was chosen by residents from four options put together by the architects responsible for Leicester Square and while there was some scepticism at the beginning, the public response to the final product has been overwhelmingly positive. While we need to persuade owners of the surrounding buildings to invest in improving their properties, something we’re working on, the council is certainly doing its part towards modernising the Town Centre.
Queens Square is just the start, with works set to improve Queensway, the redevelopment of the Town Hall and Station sites, the Telford Place housing development and new businesses moving into the Town Centre. In fact, over the next few years a quarter of a billion pounds is set to be invested in the Town Centre, almost all from the private sector, to deliver more employment space, housing and better public facilities. It has taken a long time, but we’re finally managing to deliver regeneration at a time schemes across the country are failing.
We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a vibrant town centre. At the time of the last census, retail remained the largest single source of employment for local residents and while we’re working to develop the opportunities for people to re-train, we must do what we can to preserve existing jobs. Beyond that though, town centres provide a heart to the local community, an area of common ground for the whole community. You have only to research those American cities which have abandoned their town centres for strip malls and urban sprawl to see the way community bonds quickly break down without the physical areas for interaction.
No, we’ll keep the heart of our community beating, no longer as simply a place to shop but also as a destination where we work, live and play.