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The Crawley Highwaymen?

January 7th, 2006 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

Our new bus system, Fastway, has been a hot topic in Crawley for a long time now, and there is a discussion over here which has attracted a couple of worrying anonymous comments.

A bit of background: Fastway is a guided bus system. Its a good theory. When I first joined the borough council we had some presentations about it and it all looked very efficient. A couple of years later I sat through some presentations at a planning summer school which supported the idea that buses are the future for all but the largest cities.

However, the reality has fallen somewhat short of what was on the drawing board. The implementation has been going on for years and caused enormous traffic congestion which is extremely unpopular. What we have got does not seem to be as good as what we were told to expect either in a couple of respects. To add insult to injury, the Fastway contractors vacated their temporary base in Broadfield last year and did not secure the site properly. Instead of their departure being followed by other workmen fixing the park up and putting in new football pitches it was followed by the arrival of at least 50 caravans full of travellers who stayed there for months – in the run-up to elections and the Labour party always get the blame for any travellers.

When the service started running it was plagued by having all its shelters vandalised and the new buses are huge things which intimidate everyone else on the roads. With such negative public feeling the local papers are keen to jump on every little problem, and then they get presented with big problems – like a bus leaving the road and parking in someone’s living room, a barrier at the Broadfield stadium getting broken and allowing normal traffic to cut through, or news emerging that the £23 million project has overspent by about £6 million.

This last thing is what is causing some concern in the Labour party. The overspend was announced in July, just two months after the elections, and we have a bit of a suspicion that the details may have been known before the elections but supressed in case they affected them. Bear in mind that the leader of the county council was standing for parliament here in the very town most affected by the Fastway bus project. Maybe the political leader of the county council were totally unaware that a project which had been running for 4 or 5 years was overspending but I for one would need proof of that before believing it.

Anyway, the county council had an independent investigation carried out (by the neighbouring county, which has the same political control and whose officers must work with ours, but never mind) which more or less said that there was a huge cock-up but nobody was to blame. They recommended some improvements in project management – always a good thing. Early on in my time at the borough I managed to get project management training for senior officers incorporated into recommendations from a scrutiny committee.

The report from this investigation is being discussed by the county’s Policy & Resources committee on Friday 13th and they are holding the meeting in Crawley instead of in County Hall in far-away Chichester.

One anonymous comment referred to above says:

A group calling themselves ‘The Crawley Highwaymen’ are planning to attend West Sussex County Council’s ‘Farceway’ Meeting at County Hall (Friday the 13th, January, 10.30) – to demand the resignation of either Henry Smith (Leader of West Sussex County Council) or Colonel Pemberton (Cabinet Member for Transport and Highways).

This is followed up by

A ‘spokeswoman’ for the Group said last night : ‘If the demand is not met next Friday, action will be taken, from w/b 16 January, to reduce the gridlock( & highlight the dangers), caused by the ‘Farceway’ bus lanes in Crawley.

The question I have is, do these people really exist?

The chances are that there is just a frustrated person posting anonymous comments about what he would like to see, but the way tempers are with Fastway it is always possible that there is something organised. At first glance it looks like some Fathers 4 Justice sort of thing, but the second comment is a bit ominous. “Action will be taken to reduce the gridlock”. What does that mean?

What is worrying for me is the suspicion that these comments are motivated by a frustration at roadworks rather than the financial mis-management of £30 million of our taxes. I just hope it is a single frustrated person rather than any real organised protest. Lest face it, how do you “highlight the dangers” without doing something dangerous?

For the record, I have used the new buses quite a bit and they are OK. My biggest problem with them is that they don’t come all the way up my my road, but I was led to expect something a bit better. I thought there would be large sections of guided busway and not just the odd few metres of it here and there. I expected the buses to get a lot more priority over the cars as well.

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