Politicians at loggerheads over ‘mini Holland’ scheme for Crawley

A multi-million pound project to increase the amount of Crawley’s road space given over to cyclists and pedestrians has placed the town’s Conservative and Labour groups at loggerheads.

Temporary cycle lanes were introduced in Crawley last year
Temporary cycle lanes were introduced in Crawley last year

The government is inviting expressions of interest and wants to invest significantly in 12 pilot local authority areas outside of London after the success of three ‘mini Holland’ schemes in the capital.

These aimed to make cycling more pleasant, safer and convenient alongside improving the environment for pedestrians through a variety of measures.

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Labour-led Crawley Borough Council (CBC) has submitted an expression of interest, but support has not been forthcoming from either West Sussex County Council or Crawley MP Henry Smith.

Cycling is a much more common mode of transport in the Netherlands (Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile Duncan Crow, leader of the Conservative group at CBC, has argued the scheme would create ‘misery and traffic chaos’ and compared the measures in the bid to last year’s temporary cycle lanes in Three Bridges.

The borough council believes if successful the bid would relieve congestion, improve health and air quality as well as ‘transforming neighbourhoods for the better’.

With letters of support from Gatwick Airport, Manor Royal Business Improvement District, Crawley Town Centre Business Improvement District, Metrobus and Crawley Cycle Forum, it was ‘hugely disappointing’ not to receive backing from both the county council and the town’s MP.

The borough council argued that Crawley is the ideal place to implement a ‘mini Holland’ programme to revitalise the town with healthy, people-oriented streetscapes, improving residents’ living environment, active travel options and health outcomes.

Peter Smith, cabinet member for planning and economic development at CBC, said: “This opportunity for a significant £45m investment in Crawley’s infrastructure, much of which is over 50 years old now and shows it, is too good to miss.

“The investment would be transformational for the town and improve many of our residents’ top issues – things like potholes, pavements and general street scene – while improving air quality, helping us to meet our carbon reduction targets and creating jobs.

“We want to work with the government and county council to make this a reality. If the county council and MP don’t back this bid, Crawley could be forever deprived of these improvements. Why should Crawley miss out?”

One the priorities in the county council’s reset plan is to rebuild Crawley’s economy post-pandemic, with other desired outcomes including sustainable prosperous economies based on climate change, the local economy, road network and shared spaces.

CBC said it believed a mini-Holland bid is the most fitting project to underpin WSCC’s priorities, while the Crawley Economic Recovery Plan, currently out to consultation, advocates the green transformation of the town’s economy and infrastructure.

But Paul Marshall, Conservative leader of West Sussex County Council, said he was ‘disappointed’ that CBC had issued such a statement when his authority ‘has been doing everything it can’ to help the town’s economic regeneration as this was one of their priorities.

He added: “The borough council itself was aware there was insufficient time for county councillors and other stakeholders to be consulted and fully consider the ‘mini Holland’ bid. The Government made it clear that high-level political support was a pre-requisite for a bid to succeed.

“For a scheme of this magnitude to be feasible, the local community has to be behind it, especially considering the highway restructuring and restrictions it would involve and changes for all road users.

“The borough needs to demonstrate to the county council and the local MP that all stakeholders have been fully consulted and engaged with and until then it will not be possible to support the bid.”

He added: “Be of no doubt: as I have said, Crawley’s economic regeneration is a very important priority – as shown through the ongoing, multi-million-pound Crawley Growth Programme , with the £8.85million Eastern Gateway scheme, currently under construction, being one example of how we are working with our partners to make improvements a reality.

“We believe there is every possibility of funding being available for future bids similar to the Mini Holland one and would welcome the opportunity of working with the borough council and all other stakeholders and partners in a constructive way for the benefit of Crawley’s residents and its economy.

“We take sustainable transport very seriously and one of our priorities is to improve or introduce cycling infrastructure across the county. In 2019/2020, the county council completed a new, 1.2km shared cycleway/footway in Ifield Avenue, Crawley, and we continue to work with our partners on Crawley Growth Programme schemes which include provision for cyclists

“Over the last three years, the county council has been working in partnership with a number of district and borough councils, including Crawley Borough Council, to develop Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans. These plans will help to direct investment and will support future bids for Government funding to progress priority schemes that align with new national cycling design guidance published last year.”

Meanwhile the town’s Conservative politicians criticised the speed at which the application had been put together.

Mr Smith, the town’s MP, said: “Crawley Borough Council’s cycle lanes proposals were very hastily put together but their poorly conceived consequences would’ve caused disruption for townsfolk over many years to come.

“Information about these plans was only sent to me on Friday ahead of a decision deadline the following Monday. I was simply not prepared to risk taxpayers money on a dodgy, eleventh hour scheme with scant detail. The Borough Council Leader didn’t even bother to contact me about them but the authority he runs now calls foul.

At best this is shabby political opportunism, but I suspect worse, shoddy administration. Crawley deserves better.”

Meanwhile Mr Crow, who leads the 18-strong group of Conservative councillors at CBC, praised both Mr Marshall and Mr Smith for not supporting what he described as a ‘sneaky application’ to replicate the Three Bridges temporary cycle lanes across every Crawley neighbourhood.

He suggested these were hugely unpopular, saw hardly any cyclists using it, resulted in motorists becoming stuck in endless queues caused by it and led to more pollution and CO2 emissions.

For him this was further evidence the Labour administration at CBC ‘has gone off the rails’ and went on to criticise a lack of consultation with residents and the majority of Crawley’s councillors.

Mr Crow added: “They are falsely badging this as investment for Crawley but all it would do is create misery and traffic chaos for our residents going about their business, and drive other people away.

“The leadership of Crawley’s Labour Council wrongly believe the only way to increase cycling is to make daily life a misery for motorists. This is deeply flawed and the best thing for Crawley that both the council leader and cabinet member for planning could do is get on their bikes and ride off into the sunset.”