Crawley’s 11 council-run neighbourhood parades will come under scrutiny to see if there are ways of improving how they are run and used.
In 2004, the borough council adopted a policy to make sure the parades it owned were managed well, keeping them maintained while bringing in money to pay for public services.
Sixteen years on and members of the overview & scrutiny commission agreed with Bob Lanzer (Con, Pound Hill South & Worth) that everything from rents to public usage to supporting the businesses on the parades needed to be looked at again.
There was an outcry last year when traders on Tilgate Parade said a rent rise had put the futures of some businesses at risk.
Officers were less than happy with some of the ‘misnomers’ being bandied about on social media about the situation and said it could be ‘explained better in a more public forum’.
The rent was not the only area Mr Lanzer felt needed exploring.
He spoke about the need to balance the types of businesses on each parade, ensuring maintenance and repairs were carried out properly, and the need to encourage more people to shop on their parades rather than going further afield.
Tina Belben (Con, Pound Hill North & Forge Wood) agreed, adding: “These parades are the centre of our neighbourhoods. It’s what Crawley was built on.
“If we really want to get people using their local shops and local facilities, we need to look at this urgently.”
Mr Lanzer also asked what could be done to support new businesses hoping set up shop on the parades.
Citing the ‘substantial’ failure rates for businesses in their first few years, he said: “Can we increase the business success rate through the level of preparedness we give our potential tenants, through disciplines such as accountancy and how to run a business?”
Peter Smith, cabinet member for planning & economic development, supported Mr Lanzer’s suggestions but asked for comparisons to be made with the privately owned parades, such as Broadfield Barton.
He said: “It’s the same laws that apply to rent setting in the private and public sector. I think it’s important that we understand what we’re doing as a council may or may not be different to what happens in the general marketplace.”
Mr Smith also warned the rents collected from the parades had ‘a significant impact on our ability to provide services that our taxpayers expect us to provide’.
The council collects just over £3m per year from the 142 properties on the parades. This is made up of £2,302,605 from the shops and £733,425 from flats above them.
It was recommended that a report be presented to the next commission meeting in June. But Richard Burrett (Con, Pound Hill North & Forge Wood) said forming a scrutiny panel would be a better idea, allowing issues to be looked at over a number of months to ‘actually do the thing properly and fully’.
Suggesting Mr Lanzer should chair the panel, he added: “This is clearly an issue of very great public concern.
“Part of the role of scrutiny is to reflect those issues of public concern, take them on board and run with them and look at what can be done.”