We often hear politicians say that they will ‘speak up for’ residents, business, their Town etc. In fact we in Crawley Labour party say it and include these words in our promises to Crawley people at election time. But what does it mean?
As an example in 2015 we had complaints from Crawley business groups when the Tory Government introduced ‘permitted development’ to allow developers to convert office buildings into residential buildings without any need for planning permission. This was part of their ‘removal of red tape’ policy approach. But in Crawley it meant that we now have residential accommodation in Manor Royal Business District and other unsuitable areas like Sutherland house by the squareabout. And to make matters worse once converted to residential use the building or site cannot be returned to office use which is a real problem for Crawley as we do not have enough sites to create employment opportunities for Crawley people. So we end up with the double whammy of less employment sites and more people needing jobs. As well as that the bedrooms are frequently extremely sub-standard – the National standard used in Crawley for planning applications is 50 square metres for a one-person flat whereas we are seeing many units of 15 square metres in permitted development sites. These are just the main problems caused by this unwanted change of use – there are others.
So how did we ‘speak up’ for Crawley? Well firstly and probably most importantly we have been building Council houses for Crawley people as fast as we can, as well as encouraging private developers to bring forward residential schemes, for example in the Town Centre. These all comply to space standards and deliver decent accommodation for Crawley people. Secondly, council leader Cllr Peter Lamb and I visited the government minister with responsibility for this policy (Brandon Lewis at the time) to explain the problems that this policy was, and still is, causing for Crawley and asking for some action to stop it happening. Thirdly we enacted an ‘Article 4 direction’ which is a technical planning rule that protects our business areas from these unwanted conversions. Since then we have enacted further directions in other areas and further directions as the Government have extended the permitted development to further building uses. And fourthly we supported office conversions in the Town centre in order to use the often empty space above retails units. Mostly these have been converted into good accommodation, that would very likely have received planning permission had there have been an application, although we still miss out on social contributions that are paid for most developments.
So we have ‘spoken up’ for Crawley residents and businesses by listening to their needs and taking action at every turn to try to deliver what is needed by our Town, Crawley.
And this week, we now learn that the Government wish to tear up the existing planning approach leaving our Town to have its planning decisions made by building owners and property developers!
I was asked by the BBC to be interviewed by Mark Easton. I made it clear, as did several other people in his piece, that this change was not desirable in Crawley, for all of the reasons listed above, and more. We don’t want planning decisions in our Town to be made by land-owners and property developers without any democratic involvement and we are ‘Speaking up for Crawley‘ to tell the Government so!
Cllr Peter Smith
Cabinet member for Planning and Economic Development