Town hall row over Crawley bank’s windows

Metro Bank's offical opening in November 2018
Metro Bank's offical opening in November 2018

A town hall row about the windows of a bank in Crawley has escalated into a back and forth between councillors calling for each other to resign.

First up was Duncan Crow, leader of the borough council’s Conservatives.

Metro Bank's offical opening in November 2018

Metro Bank's offical opening in November 2018

Mr Crow called for Labour’s Tom McAleney, vice-chairman of the planning committee to step down, claiming he had said the committee ‘treat planning applications from the council differently from those of multi-national corporations’.

Mr McAleney said this was a ‘strange outburst’ and suggested Mr Crow should quit ‘to allow a more calm and measured individual’ to take over.

It all started when Metro Bank decided to install huge windows while developing its new premises on the corner of Queens Square and The Martlets.

The design wasn’t what had originally been agreed.

Labour's Tom McAleney, vice-chairman of Crawley Borough Council's planning committee

Labour's Tom McAleney, vice-chairman of Crawley Borough Council's planning committee

Crawley Borough Council imposed a planning condition which said the windows needed to be altered, the bank asked for the condition to be removed, and the planning committee said no.

But not everyone agreed with the decision.

At a meeting of the full council, Mr Crow said he felt the committee had ‘got it wrong, big time’ and should have shown some ‘common sense’.

He and Three Bridges councillor Brenda Burgess drew parallels with a similar application for Crawley Museum, where the design of a link between its two buildings had been altered but the committee voted to let it pass.

Duncan Crow, leader of the Conservative group at Crawley Borough Council

Duncan Crow, leader of the Conservative group at Crawley Borough Council

The big difference was that the council owned the museum.

Mr McAleney told the meeting: “There is a huge difference between Metro Bank and Crawley Museum. The council owns Crawley Museum.

“I don’t fear a precedent of the council allowing its own buildings to have a slight degree more flexibility than multi-national corporations.”

It was this which prompted Mr Crow to call for Mr McAleney to be replaced – although his claim that the latter had said ‘of course we treat planning applications from the council differently from those of multi-national corporations’ was slightly askew from what was actually said.

Mr Crow said: “The Conservative Group view Cllr McAleney’s appalling public comment as extremely serious and his position as planning committee vice-chairman is now untenable. 

“He has to go because he has publicly stated that his judgement on planning applications is determined by who an applicant happens to be, rather than merits only on planning grounds.”

He added: “What needs to happen is that the council’s Labour leader, Cllr Peter Lamb, needs to show some leadership and remove Cllr McAleney from the planning committee but Cllr McAleney himself should still resign as vice-chairman by way of an apology.”

Mr Crow questioned whether Mr McAleney, who was elected to the council in May, had enough experience to be vice-chairman of such an important committee

He also accused Labour of ‘ignoring those better qualified and experienced councillors, just because they happen to be Conservatives’.

Mr McAleney responded: “Contrary to Cllr Crow’s claims, I did not state that I would favour applications from the council over others, which I feel is self-evident.”

Calling the parallels being drawn between the bank and the museum ‘bizarre’ he said his comment had been aimed at Mr Crow’s belief that ‘such a precedent was being set’.

He added: “Though I feel it is regrettable such a precedent would currently be unlawful, this opinion does not impair my ability to impartially uphold current regulations.

“This strange outburst from Cllr Crow brings into question his own position as leader of the Crawley Conservatives and I suggest he steps down to allow a more calm and measured individual such as Cllr Francis Guidera take over.”