|Queens Square in February 2017|
Nothing says more about a town than its centre. It is the place that brings people together from across all its neighbourhoods, as well as from nearby towns and villages. The centre is a town’s heart and will be the part of town that most residents and visitors will know, and rightly or wrongly, it will be the place that determines the view of many people of the town in its entirety. Put simply, town centres matter.
It is well documented how town centres have changed in recent years, most noticeably because of the huge increase in online shopping, which has seen many towns with shop vacancies at over 10%, with the need to diversify to leisure uses and housing as well as retail, in order to keep town centres vibrant and successful. This is something that we have done very well in Crawley as well as being able to attract new retailers to our town centre.
The Conservative Government’s changes to planning laws have enabled town centre office blocks that were empty for many years and would have remained so, to be transformed into new flats. We’re seeing much of this in Crawley and having people living in the town centre is helping to support both the shops and leisure facilities we have.
I have seen Crawley town centre change much over the last 25 years. Much of that change has been positive although not all of it has. I can appreciate that on a cold dreary day in February with all the building work going on in Queens Square, that our town centre will not be looking its best. However, we won’t look back once the months of improvement works are completed later this year.
The town centre also has the new Crawley Museum opening this summer and I am looking forward to the station gateway scheme that will transform the area around Crawley Train Station, including the ugly Overline House building being demolished and replaced with much needed housing. We still have challenges but I am very confident that Crawley town centre has a bright future ahead.