Residents ask about street sleepers, potholes and health

The panel
The panel

If one message was sent loud and clear from last week’s Crawley Question Time it was that not enough money is being injected into the town’s services.

From potholes and paving to education and the NHS, many of the issues raised by residents at the Civic Hall on Thursday (March 8) revolved around the need for more funds.

The Civic Hall

The Civic Hall

The panel was chaired by Ross Sturley, principal of the Chart Lane media company, and was made up of Councillor Peter Lamb, leader of Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Duncan Crow, leader of the opposition, Councillor Peter Smith, cabinet member for planning and economic development, Chief Inspector Rosie Ross, of Sussex Police, Olivia Jeffries, of Crawley Young Persons Council, Vicki Illingworth, principal of Crawley College, and Dr Laura Hill, of Crawley Clinical Commissioning Group.

The issue of potholes was one of the first to be raised, with concerns that some of the temporary fixes carried out by West Sussex County Council were crumbling within a couple of weeks.

Mr Crow, who has served as county councillor for Furnace Green and Tilgate since 2005, told the meeting that, since Christmas, the council had repaired 250 potholes.

He said: “There is a lot of resurfacing going on that is better than temporary pothole fixing. It’s not something that’s going to get solved over night.”

There was good news for one road in particular. The condition of Mitchells Road, in Three Bridges, has been highlighted by residents for a number of years.

Mr Crow confirmed the road would be resurfaced in the next few months.

Mr Lamb warned that a lack of investment would see the problem get worse over time.

He said: “If it’s bad now I wonder how bad it’s all going to be next year. I have some sympathy for the county council because we know its budget is bad and it’s only going to be worse over time.

“But this is simply the reality of living in a country where we choose not to put money into public services any more.”

Mr Lamb also questioned the wisdom of outsourcing services to private contractors, warning that “you might get it cheaper but you don’t usually get better”.

He added: “You do wonder if you would get a better deal bringing it back in-house.”

Mr Crow was quick to point out that the borough council had no such qualms when it came to outsourcing services such as the running of K2.

He added: “For me what works is what matters, rather than having a dogmatic view as to whether something should be a public or a private service.”

Mr Crow also told the meeting that a new provider would take on the highways contract this summer.

Questions were also asked about the condition of the town’s pavements, with some concerns about the safety of children and older people.

Mr Smith’s response was a simple “There’s not enough money”.

Describing the situation as “a disgrace”, he added: “I really get tired of people telling me about them because it’s right across my ward, particularly on the eastern side of town.

“It’s partly due to being a new town. All our infrastructure is getting old all at the same time, and there’s just not enough money.

“I have sympathy for the county council but they don’t seem to have a plan to fix the pavements. They prioritised the roads and it’s just wrong.”

Mr Crow disputed the claim that the county council had no plan, telling the meeting about the West Sussex Better Pavement programme, which had completed £8m of work in four years.

He added: “The task out there is huge. I accept there are a lot of pavements that are not how we would like them, but if they do reach the intervention level then they will be repaired – but ideally I would like to see more pavements renewed.”

The issue of street sleepers was one that concerned many residents. There were fears for the safety of homeless people, especially during the recent freezing weather.

One person asked why the council couldn’t open the town’s community centres at nights to provide somewhere warm to sleep. Another asked why building owners could not be given incentives to open and heat their properties for people in need.

Mr Lamb explained some of the work being carried out by the borough council, in conjunction with groups such as Crawley Open House, to support and engage with street sleepers to help “get themselves back on track”.

He pointed out that, unless some one had a link with Crawley, the council had no obligation to help them.

He said: “If people are moving into the town and don’t have that connection then there is a limit to the level of support we can provide.

“We cannot deal with the UK’s homelessness crisis on our own.”

Mr Lamb told the meeting that the council had recently bought three halfway houses on behalf of the Open House, to help people make the transition from the shelter to a long-term tenancy of their own.

But he warned that simply putting a roof over some one’s head was only part of the story.

Mr Crow agreed, describing the needs of rough sleepers as “very complex”.

He said: “The council does work very hard to try to help people who are sleeping rough. You do need people to engage with you to be able to help them and, sadly, there are some cases where people will not engage with the help that is offered to them. That can be very challenging when you want to help them.”

Chief Inspector Ross warned that life expectancy for some one sleeping rough was “very short”, adding: “They can be targeted by a lot of other individuals to facilitate crime and to exploit them.”

She said: “Quite a number of homeless individuals we don’t even know about because if they’re rough sleeping they’ll do it in such a way that they’ll try to find somewhere that’s the safest place to be, away from where they can be targeted.

“So it’s really important that if you see anyone it’s flagged up through the police or the council so we can check on those individuals as well.”

Dr Hill praised the council for “pulling out all the stops” to help a gentleman who was in danger of becoming homeless after suffering a stroke.

She also responded to a comment from the floor which linked immigration with some health issues, such as tuberculosis.

Dr Hill said the main issue actually lay with a complacency over vaccinations when it came to diseases such as TB and measles.

She added: “There is certainly a complacency felt in recent years around vaccinations and a tendency to believe a vaccination is in some way dangerous when it protects us from diseases.”

She shared a local case where an outbreak of measles in one family saw a teenager go to hospital and the infection spreading to the radiographer who was looking after them.

Park-and-ride idea ‘not viable’

Congestion and a lack of parking will be familiar problems to anyone who works at Manor Royal. One solution suggested during Crawley Question Time was the building of a park-and-ride facility.

While Councillor Peter Smith explained the idea was “not really viable”, he did speak about some of the work being carried out to ease the problem.

Describing the £60m Crawley growth programme, being run in conjunction with the county council and the Local Enterprise Partnership, he said: “We’re aware of the parking problems, the congestion problems, that are acute and chronic in Manor Royal and also pollution problems.

“The local growth fund is a £60m fund designed to support sustainable transport in Crawley. We’re past the time when we can build wider roads or bigger roads. We’re past the time when businesses can afford to build multi-storey car parks in Manor Royal – and in fact we’ve run out of space there.

“So we’re working in conjunction with businesses, with Metrobus, in partnership with the county council to invest £60m, which is going to include improvements to the highways, including a Fastway bus lane along Manor Royal itself.”

The scheme, which encompasses the regeneration of Three Bridges station, the Crawley station gateway project and the revamp of Queensway, is expected to run for three years.

Full details can be found at regeneratingcrawley.org.uk .

It was pointed out that a high proportion of the people driving to Manor Royal came from outside the town.

Vicki Illingworth, principal of Crawley College, told the meeting there was a shortage of people with the higher skills needed “to operate and function within those businesses”.

Ms Illingworth said: “As a college we’re already working with Manor Royal and we’ve got various initiatives focussed on apprenticeships, vocational courses, delivering things slightly differently to raise skill levels.

“This is a recognition that there are some people in the town who have studied to GCSE level and haven’t necessarily stretched themselves to go beyond.

“It’s really about creating the opportunities to look at how we can bolster that, to improve productivity and the local economy as well.”

l With the average age of those attending Question Time being rather high, it was asked what it would take to attract young people to such meetings.

Olivia Jeffries, of Crawley Young Persons Council, told the meeting that, while a lot of youngsters were feeling frustrated, their community engagement was improving.

But one of the few young people to join the meeting said they would attend: “When we start feeling that we’re being listened to.”