One of my photos

Council’s help

January 15th, 2009 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · 6 Comments · Politics

The Crawley News has a piece about the council’s measures to help the town’s economy and try to protect residents from the worst effects as the global economy melts down.  Its a very laudable ambition and I’m sure some of the measures are very sensible, which makes me feel a bit churlish to snipe away and make snide comments about it – but I’ve got a few free moments so lets have a go anyway…

What are these suggested measures?

Pursue economic development objectives… blah blah…  university… blah blah

Fine. But that is just carrying on with what is already being done isn’t it?  Nothing of interest here. Move on.

Ensure council building projects are completed on time.

Suppose so.  Some workers involved might prefer it if the work lasted longer if there was nothing else on the horizon for them, but you can’t really argue with this, except its another thing you should do anyway if you can.

Mortgage rescue scheme

Sounds good. They saw a government scheme, decided it could benefit residents so they signed up to it. Nothing wrong there. Shame they don’t do that with all government schemes that would benefit residents, like the free swimming scheme.

Free car parking to encourage shoppers

Fascinating. No -really.  It leads to an extremely topical analogy.  We are supposed to be encouraging greener behaviours and less car-dependency.  As we saw when petrol prices were recently 35% higher than they are now price is about the only thing that affects our behaviour.

The council are weighing up green policies on one side and economic effects on the other and deciding that the economy wins.  Sounds very much like the decision on Heathrow’s third runway but on a much smaller scale doesn’t it?  The Tories are happy to talk about green issues in opposition, but where they are in power they find a responsibility to the economy.  bear that in mind.  Should they win a general election they may have to stop plans for Heathrow because they have said they would so uncategorically, but they will decide that that they have to expand somewhere else instead. Stanstead? Gatwick?

Free parking means something else though.  Less revenue. How much would it cost?  Back to the free swimming, the council said they didn’t want to take part because there was a risk of it costing £40k or something like that.  So how much are they willing to incur in a guaranteed cost rather than a mere risk?   Remember that even if free parking schemes attract some more shoppers to the benefit of the town’s economy, there are many more who would have been parking here anyway whose parking charges have been taken out of the council’s coffers.

Reduce the time taken to decide planning decisions

Suppose so.  A difficult one though.  As I found out, one sure way to do that is to delegate as much as possible to officers but that is anathema to many councillors and so difficult to achieve. You can also speed it all up by being less diligent.

Help for local shopping parades (e.g. web sites)

Yes. A good website for Somerfield in Bewbush is really going to persuade me to go there instead of to the Broadfield one (which is going to become a Morrisons in April!)   Local shops could get a bit more business by being better promoted, although probably more through getting listed on the various directories than through their own web sites.  Sometimes the biggest benefit from a web site is through the effect that there is something to appear on Google search results.

Not sure that any benefits will be in relation to the costs.

The one thing most obviously missing from this list is the thing that local parade shopkeepers have been asking for since long before the economy started playing up: cheaper rents.  In fact they were not even asking for cheaper rents – just smaller increases.  Given a choice, I am sure most independent shops would prefer to not have their rent increased by 50% or 100% than to have some Internet consultancy.  I haven’t carried out any sort of research; that is just a guess.

Claire Denman says “it’s important we, as a council, do everything within our powers to minimise the effects of the recession”.  Everything?   So how about rents in shopping parades?


6 Comments so far ↓

  • peter

    In reference to somerfield.It amazes me how much floor space is given up to fresh veg,in comparisome to alchohol.What are thay trying to make us healthy(not).More like alchoholics

  • Danivon

    Or what about using some of the £100M in reserve to buy up housing developments that have stalled (at as good a discount as possible) and then complete them and rent out the houses to make money.

    They rejected that last month, but could they reconsider?

    • Skuds

      Good idea. It can’t be a bad investment either in the long term. Buying property when prices are low is sensible. Could probably get some good discounts.

      The loss of current income from deposits would be more than re-couped later when prices climb again.

      I was thinking about all this earlier today, on the parking charges aspect, and wondering why there was no suggestion of helping out with free bus fares into town? I do get a bit wound up by wingeing about parking charges.

      I’m sympathetic to those who have had to scrape together enough for an old banger, but if somebody has spent £15k on a car then can’t afford to run the thing it just says to me that they should have bought one for £12k instead.

      I know that the counter-argument is that to stimulate the local economy you want to attract those who will spend lots of cash in the shops and that those who are driving here from either within or outside town will have more cash than somebody who has to take the bus – but sombody who can be swayed by the couple of quid it takes to park doesn’t sound like somebody who is going to be throwing money around.

      Why aren’t bus users deemed to be as worthy of help as car drivers?

  • skud's sister

    Consider as well those shopping centres that are virtually impossible to visit by bus. When I lived in Durham there was no direct bus or train link to the Gateshead Metro Centre despite it being the regional shopping centre. Our nearest big retail/leisure park in Birstall is in a similar position and, once you are there, there are vitually no safe crossing points to get between the two main retail areas or from them to the area (across about 6 lanes of traffic and a very busy roundabout) where the cinema and restaurants are. You are expected to drive the 400 yards from Ikea to Toys R Us (and I saw someone today doing just that….). Still, at last all the shops sell low energy bulbs and offer recycled plastic bags. Ggrrrr.

    • Skuds

      Indeed. Comparewith the Cite Europe shopping centre at Calais. Very handy, and cheap, bus from the mall into the town centre, via the old out-of-town supermarkets.

      With a place the size of the Metro you would have thought that just providing a way for staff to get to work would go a long way towards making a bus route or two viable.

      Birstall sounds a bit like Martin Amis’s description of being a pedestrian in LA in Money – “the only way to get to the other side of the road is to be born there.”