Sunday, 25 December 2016

Have a Happy and Peaceful Christmas

This week in my Crawley Observer column, I have written about Christmas.
I was struck by the recent passing of Greg Lake, who sadly died on the 7th of December, just a couple of weeks before Christmas. I wasn’t familiar with his other music but I did know his famous Christmas hit of 1975, I Believe in Father Christmas.  Although this song is often categorised as a Christmas song, this was not his intention. He said that he wrote the song in protest at the commercialisation of Christmas. This was 41 years ago and nowadays I barely hear anyone mention Christmas being too commercialised because it now just seems to be accepted. If anything, the media’s measure of the success of any Christmas seems based on how busy the shops are and how much they sell.

The Christmas build-up is of course a very important time for retailers for which many jobs rely on, but it isn’t the true meaning of Christmas. I was curious to see what the internet makes of Christmas so I did a Google search of the word “Christmas”. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first entry was Wikipedia which gives the following explanation: “ Christmas or Christmas Day (Old English: Crīstesmæsse, meaning "Christ's Mass") is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 25 as a religious and cultural celebration”.

That sums it up brilliantly and while recognising that cultural and secular themes and traditions have crept into how we celebrate Christmas; I believe that we should never lose sight of what Christmas is really about. Once we think about how Jesus lived his life, the Christmas themes such as giving, sharing, caring, and spreading joy become obvious.

I find myself becoming increasingly grateful each Christmas, because I’m in a warm home in a safe environment, with enough to eat and no major worries. Compared to millions across our world, most of us here are very fortunate so as well as thinking of those less fortunate, I see Christmas as a time to be grateful. I wish all readers of the Crawley Observer a very happy and peaceful Christmas.         

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Make Thursday Our Independence Day - VOTE LEAVE

This week is my final Crawley Observer column before the referendum. As I post this in the final minutes of the 22nd of June, I would be very surprised if Tilgate and Furnace Green did not vote for Leave. I've had a great reception as I have been going around campaigning for Leave. I also think Crawley and West Sussex will vote for Leave. But will the UK as a whole? The next 48 hours will not be forgotten in a hurry. 

 As I write this column on Sunday evening while watching Switzerland (non-EU) v France (EU) in the European Championships, I am wondering what this week will bring and how exactly the EU referendum is going to pan out. As I see it, from this week onwards there will be four parts to the referendum and the outcomes resulting from it.

The first part will be the media frenzy approaching polling day. There will be claim and counter-claim from both sides and while I support the Leave campaign, I do not agree with everything they have said. However, the ‘Project Fear’ tactics from the Remain campaign have been deplorable. This will reach fever pitch this week and goodness knows what they will trott out in the final days before the vote.
The second part is the vote itself. I think it more likely than not that Crawley will return a Leave vote, but if it doesn’t, then I can’t see Leave winning nationally if Crawley votes for Remain. I can however see either Leave or Remain winning nationally if Crawley votes for Leave. Nationally, it feels very close so I hope the turnout is high to give this election the biggest possible mandate.

The third part will be the immediate aftermath after the result. I think it very likely that whatever the result, there will be no status quo. We will be in a whole new political world and what this will look like will be anyone’s guess. As I wrote last week, when voting we should take a long-term view and not decide our vote based on the possible immediate aftermath of the vote.
Finally there will the long-term outcomes. This is where it really matters and I am confident the UK will have a better global future outside of the EU while still working with our European and EU neighbours. However, if we vote to stay, we will be trapped in an increasingly undemocratic political organisation that bullies and threatens those who dare to disagree with it. This is our only chance to leave and we should seize it.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

This Thursday - Vote LEAVE

Last week in my Crawley Observer column I wrote about this week's historic EU Referendum, a manifesto commitment that David Cameron and the Conservative Government have delivered on.
Next week, our historic vote takes place on whether to either remain in or leave the EU. This will be it folks, our only opportunity to leave and we won’t be getting another vote. I urge everyone to use their vote and to make a choice that is best for our long-term future and democracy, not to vote on short-term uncertainties. That means voting for Leave.
Both sides in the referendum have come out with daft statements but the scare-mongering and the inaccuracies from the Remain side have been truly appalling. If we leave, we are not going to stop trading with Europe, we are not going to see the economy crash and the ridiculous claim that it will be harder to buy a home couldn’t be further from the truth.

The reality is that the UK’s inability to have any control over high levels of net EU migration is the largest contributing factor to the demand side of the supply and demand equation for housing. Only by leaving the EU and taking back control with a manageable and sustainable level of population growth can we start to get to grips with the housing crisis. The alternative is to see housing become ever more unaffordable for our young people and future generations.
There may be some short-term issues to resolve if we leave the EU, but when voting I say think about getting this right for the long term. The EU is of course is famous for making terrible short-term political decisions over sensible long-term economics. For example, the EU fudged the criteria for Greece to join the Euro in 2002 and then didn’t allow it to leave, creating economic chaos across the entire Eurozone.

Finally, we should never forget that many of those desperate for the EU to govern us are the same people saying the UK would become an economic disaster by not joining the Euro. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. Voting to leave is a positive vote that recognises we are better making decisions for ourselves as a country. Let’s take back control.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Crawley's Pétanque Shambles

The first time I had ever heard of Pétanque was when all Crawley councillors received an email telling us that a Pétanque Court was to be installed in Crawley's Memorial Gardens. There was no explanation as to what it is was, so I had to look it up online. Apparently, it is a French pastime similar to Boules. This appears to be the whim of one councillor who holidays in France, Labour's Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Councillor Chris Mullins.
Given that any proposed change for the Memorial Gardens should be dealt with sensitively, I just can't believe how badly this has been handled and Chris dismissing the concerns of the entire Conservative Group at Crawley Borough Council as "just a few Tories" has rubbed me up the wrong way. We are 18 councillors out if Crawley's 37 (48.65%) and have been elected to represent Crawley. We should not be dismissed so arrogantly.
This proposal has been widely ridiculed in the national press and Crawley's Conservative councillors discussed the Memorial Gardens at our meeting on Tuesday evening. We unanimously agreed to call on Cllr Mullins to reconsider and put his plan on hold, pending a review of both the demand to play pétanque and of potential alternative sites. We issued this press release:       
The entire Conservative opposition at Crawley Borough Council have called on the Council’s Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Cllr Chris Mullins, to immediately put on hold plans to install a Pétanque Court in Crawley’s Memorial Gardens.
At a meeting of the Council’s Conservative group on Tuesday evening, a motion was unanimously passed calling for Cllr Mullins to immediately halt his controversial plans for pétanque in the Memorial Gardens, pending a review of both the demand for such a facility in the town and of potential alternative sites.
The Conservative’s Shadow Cabinet Member for Wellbeing, Cllr Beryl MeCrow, said “We are not opposed to this pastime but we have not been shown any evidence that there is a demand for pétanque in Crawley. All we know is that Cllr Mullins likes to play the game and is hoping other people will take it up. This could be a white elephant that would spoil the beautiful and tranquil Memorial Gardens.”

Councillor Brenda Burgess (Three Bridges) who has led the concerns added, “The whole way this has been handled has been shambolic and is part of a wider problem of a ‘closed-shop town hall’. We were just told it was happening and that there would be no discussion about it. We want this put on hold before the Memorial Gardens are dug up and spoiled. We want to see if there are more suitable locations such as Goffs Park or Southgate Playing Fields. Why won’t Cllr Mullins consider this?”

Update: the Crawley News has received a response from Cllr Mullins saying that he "couldn't give a f*** what the Tories think."

Friday, 4 March 2016

Our Pledge To Support Crawley's Natural Environment

This week in my Crawley Observer column, I have written about the visit of Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP to Tilgate Golf Course, as well as the commitment from Crawley's Conservative Councillors that a newly elected Conservative-run Crawley Borough Council in May's elections will be a friend to our natural environment and to our rich and varied wildlife.

 My photo of Tilgate Golf Course on a warm October day in 2015

I was very pleased to receive unanimous support for my Motion at last week’s Full Council meeting at Crawley Borough Council, which reflected the public concerns about the woodland management at Tilgate Golf Course. While sadly, some things cannot be undone, I am now expecting improvements going forward and I hope that public confidence can return.

It is regrettable that the Council was having to play catch-up, but now that the Council has caught up with public concern, I am keen that everyone works constructively with the golf course operator to ensure future works are carried out sympathetically.             
Last weekend, I and Crawley’s MP Henry Smith brought Liz Truss MP, the Secretary of State for the Environment, to visit the woodland at the golf course to see for herself what has caused so much upset locally. While we were viewing an area that had been completely cleared of trees, a couple of passing cyclists called out to us saying that the area had been ruined. What was welcome was Liz telling me about the Conservative Government’s commitment to plant 11 million trees during this Parliament up to 2020. This follows on from another 11 million trees than have been planted since 2010 under the Coalition Government.

Liz Truss launched a scheme in December to provide one million trees to be planted in a community programme with schools across the country. Working together with The Woodland Trust the project will initially be open to 7,000 primary schools in England, which will receive native trees including cherry, silver birch, hawthorn and hazel. I think this is an excellent way to involve children in caring for their environment and to appreciate the beauty of trees. 
Locally, Crawley’s Conservative Councillors are committed to looking after our precious natural environment. This includes our woodland and green spaces as well as wetland environments such as lakes, ponds and streams. A new Conservative-run Crawley Council will look for ways to be friendly towards our local wildlife and seek to enhance areas in and around the town that provide a valuable habitat for Crawley’s rich and varied wildlife.             

Thursday, 25 February 2016

An EU Referendum on June 23rd

This week in my Crawley Observer column below, I have written about the EU Referendum that we Conservatives are delivering, as we promised. The picture is one we used before the general election, when Labour and the LibDems were denying the British people their say. Whatever they say now, don't forget the fact that Labour and the LibDems didn't want you to have this vote at all.

Conservatives believe in democracy and deliver on our promises  
Last weekend was historic in modern political times. The cynics have been proved wrong and as we promised, David Cameron has delivered an In/Out EU referendum which will take place on June 23rd. We wanted to deliver this referendum in the last Parliament but were repeatedly blocked by Labour and LibDem MPs who outnumbered Conservative MPs. It took a majority Conservative government to finally give the British people their say on whether we should remain in or leave the European Union.

It was January 1975 when there was a referendum on EEC membership and you would now have to be aged 59 or over to have been able to vote back then. We have a once in a generation EU referendum and I urge everyone that is eligible in Crawley (British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens) to vote and have your say on Britain’s future.
All of Crawley’s political leaders should publicly state their positions. If there was no deal at all, I would vote for Leave. The deal looks like good progress and until I study it, I will remain undecided. I will examine all the facts carefully before announcing at the Crawley Debate taking place on March 8th at the Hawth, which way I intend to vote.

Labour have been found very much wanting on the EU. Not only did Labour pull out all the stops to try and deny the British people a vote on EU membership in the first place, their Crawley councillors and candidates in the upcoming local elections would dogmatically vote to stay in the EU on the existing terms, without the deal that David Cameron achieved. I am certain that Labour councillors and candidates would happily vote for ever-closer political union, no toughening up on migrant benefits and no controls on immigration.
Whichever way the referendum goes, Britain will now stop ever-closer union and will toughen up on immigration and migrant benefits. That makes me already see the EU referendum as a victory, having wanted to see improvements in these areas and having campaigned for years for the British people to have their say.              

Friday, 12 February 2016

Crawley Council Meeting To Debate Golf Course Tree Felling

Councillors Carol Eade, Duncan Crow & Francis Guidera at Tilgate Golf Course
This evening I have issued a press release (below) about Tilgate Golf Course and the Motion I have tabled at Crawley Borough Council. I love walking on the golf course and even have a scenic photo I took there as the background on my phone. I stress that this course of action is not about criticising anyone or playing political games - it is about trying to achieve the best possible outcome all round as quickly as possible.

Concerns over the amount of tree felling and the way the work is being undertaken at Tilgate Golf Course, has led to the two councillors for Furnace Green tabling a notice of motion for the Full Council meeting of Crawley Borough Council being held at Crawley Town Hall on Wednesday 24th February at 7.30pm.
The motion, tabled by Conservative councillors Duncan Crow and Carol Eade calls for greater Council oversight of the woodland management plan and for the Council’s Cabinet Member responsible to seek sound assurances that the second phase of the works will be carried out in a “much more sympathetic way to the natural environment than the first phase”.
Cllr Duncan Crow said “What matters now is the Council getting a grip of the situation as soon as possible. That is why I have taken the unusual step of informing the Cabinet Member for Wellbeing of the motion long before the meeting takes place, because we want to work with him before the Full Council meeting to address the concerns being raised. I have proposed the motion as a driver for action and as an ‘insurance policy’ should enough progress not be made before the meeting.”
Cllr Carol Eade added “While we understand the need for the management of the woodland, residents tell us it is the way it is being carried out and the sheer scale of the felling that is upsetting. We were shocked when we visited the golf course and saw it for ourselves.”
Supporting the motion is Tilgate Councillor Francis Guidera who said “The golf course is in Furnace Green but it is popular with walkers from both Tilgate and Maidenbower too. We must protect the mature trees, trees that help to make the golf course the visually stunning place that it is.”
The Notice of Motion reads:
Tilgate Golf Course is a premier golf course and, as a popular leisure facility in Crawley, is a great asset for the town. Due to its woodland and heathland habitat, the golf course is also an important habitat for wildlife and is a popular area for walking on its footpaths and public rights of way.
On the 8th of February 2016, local councillors from Furnace Green and Tilgate visited the golf course for the first time in 2016 and were shocked at the sheer volume of tree felling. This has left behind an unsightly mess and has damaged footpaths and public rights of ways. This has taken place under the woodland management plan of the golf course operator.

Local councillors welcome that the operator has agreed to a site visit with a group of local residents who regularly walk on the paths through the golf course, to identify any areas of concern for the second phase of the work in the southern half of the golf course and any remedial work needed to reinstate access to existing damaged areas, but feel that as the landowner, Crawley Borough Council should have a greater oversight of the work and its impact.

Therefore, the Council instructs the Cabinet Member for Wellbeing to meet with the golf course operator with a view to;

1.     Seeking sound assurances that the second phase of the woodland management plan is implemented in a much more sympathetic way to the natural environment than the first phase.
2.     Ensuring that the damaged footpaths are returned to a usable condition as soon as is reasonably possible and the adjacent areas cleared, 10 metres either side; of any hazards, such as damaged overhanging branches and sharp broken stumps, as these pose a significant health and safety risk to users and their animals.

3.     Identifying and protecting healthy mature trees from being felled in locations that do not have a detrimental effect on the playing of golf or do not have any negative impact on the management of the woodland.
The Council further requests that the Cabinet Member for Wellbeing maintains a dialogue with the golf course operator throughout the duration of the works and keeps members updated, as appropriate, with the implementation of the woodland management plan.