Councillors defended £3m plans to renovate Queens Square at Crawley Question Time.
Residents raised concerns over empty shops, the cost of the revamp and lack of leisure facilities in the town centre at the panel event at the Hawth Theatre on Wednesday (February 4).
Under the plans, the square’s dip and bandstand would be removed. Water features and an open, modern space would be created.
The £3m cost would be split equally between Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council.
A member of the audience said she could renovate the square for less than £1.5m.
Cllr Peter Lamb, leader of the borough council, said the council had paid experts to create the plans. He said the dip in the square broke the flow of its footfall.
Cllr Duncan Crow, the leader of the opposition, defending the project, said: “I think it’s worth investing the money.”
Residents asked how councillors planned to reduce the number of empty units in the shopping area. A man asked about traders sharing units.
Cllr Lamb (Lab, Northgate) said: “The difficulty we have is that unlike a lot of towns we don’t own a lot of the buildings.”
He said the owners were typically pension companies that kept their rents high to artificially increase the value of their property. He added: “Where the council can take action is with the areas outside the public realm.”
Cllr Lamb said the council was to improve the shopping area’s footfall with “real housing” and leisure facilities. He was to look into the unit sharing.
Cllr Chris Oxlade, cabinet member for community engagement, said events such as proms, classical music concerts, would be held in the square.
Audience members said the town did not support small businesses.
Cllr Lamb said the council had put together an ‘economic development’ team to improve trade in the area and other projects.
He enthused about independent businesses but questioned their viability.
Sam Trumpeter, vice chairman of Crawley Young Persons Council, said young people wanted leisure activities in the square.