A bid to reintroduce free winter admission to Tilgate Nature Centre has been defeated.
The move by Conservatives at Crawley Borough Council would have been funded by a reduction in planned trade union facility time along with the use of some reserves.
Councillor Duncan Crow (Con, Furnace Green), leader of the council’s Tory group, argued that bringing back free entry in the quieter winter months would benefit struggling families and children.
At last night’s meeting (Wendesday February 22), he said: “Funding their mates in the trade unions matters more to them [Labour] than the people of Crawley. I find that shocking.”
He described the decision as the ‘Corbynisation of Crawley Town Hall’.
But Councillor Chris Mullins (Lab, Gossopos Green), cabinet member for wellbeing, labelled the Tory amendment to the budget ‘a load of bloody nonsense’.
He explained that the facility was ‘expensive to run’ and ‘had changed so much from what it was’.
Free entry on Wednesdays had been retained and he invited opposition members to the upcoming opening of the new Madagascar section of the nature centre.
Cllr Crow suggested he and other Conservatives had not been informed of the decision to scrap free winter admission, but Cllr Mullins described being ‘baffled’ by this, adding: “That’s your fault, not ours.”
Councillor Peter Lamb (Lab, Northgate), leader of the council, said it had been discussed in 2015 after changes at the nature centre were reserved for debate by Tory councillors.
Councillor Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill North) pointed out that when the previous Tory administration first discussed the possibility of introducing charges at the nature centre ‘many Labour members fought tooth and nail against it’.
He said there was ‘no justification’ presented for increasing union facility time and found it counter-intuitive with fewer council staff to represent.
Councillor Stephen Joyce (Lab, Langley Green), cabinet member for housing, said he was ‘really pleased’ they had a balanced budget ‘without cutting any frontline services’.
He claimed the Labour administration inherited a ‘disgruntled’ workforce in 2014 because the Tories ‘did not talk to them very much’.
Cllr Lamb said the opportunity to engage with unions and staff was important at a time when the council was ‘undergoing ongoing change’.
He explained that charges were ‘going to put the park on a sustainable footing for the future’.
In the budget, CBC’s element of council tax was increased by 2.52 per cent, the equivalent of an extra £4.77 a year for a Band D property.
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