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‘We need help!’ Crawley town centre in crisis from thieves

Small business on the brink of closure. Large national chains losing thousands every day and a park full of thieves selling their wares. Something must be done, not tomorrow but NOW!

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Paul Ashby from P & J Sweets Delight

Paul Ashby is very downhearted.

Having taken over the sweet shop on The Pavement in the centre of Crawley three years ago, he is now having to consider the unthinkable, closing the business.

P & J Sweets Delight has had a lot of thefts and cannot continue with the losses.

P & J Sweets Delight are a well known sweet shop in the centre of Crawley, a shop that has built up a great reputation and yet they are suffering along with most of their neighbours with the rampant thefts that are occurring, for some, on a daily basis.

“We average about £500 of thefts every 3 months,” says Mr Ashby, “which is a lot of money for a small business. But what can you do? We have cameras but you cant look at them 24/7.

It’s mainly adults doing the thefts. You get individuals and groups. You can contact the police and but they don’t want to know unless a knife or gun is drawn.

Normally the police do walk past and we have even pulled one in and showed him the CCTV footage but they put it down to petty theft and left it at that.

The trouble is what will or can the police even do. If you ask them to do something, obviously it’s resources that causes a lack of action.

Something needs to be done. I know man power is very short for the police and we do see some walking around but that’s mainly in the summer, we hardly see any in the winter.

We even had a recent survey from the council and they asked what would we like to happen and we said definitely more CCTV cameras but will that happen?

Looking at the way things are going I really can’t see us staying here. We need help. At the end of the day it all comes down to costs. We’re not making enough. We’re only taking £500 a month home and that’s for the wife and I. That’s nothing to live on.”

And it is not just the small independents that are suffering.

M&S is suffering on an hourly one! An insider said that in the last 6 months they had lost 1000 coats. That’s almost £100k.

So where are all the security you ask? The exact same thing the staff would like to know as well.

According to one source they say the head office feel it is not worth the money to pay for full time security, but if a store is losing almost a quarter of a million pounds a year then just how much do they think a security guard actually costs?

Sainsbury’s suffers daily as well. One minute new food is put out and the next it is ripped off the shelves and, and this is the icing on this awful cake, it is sold in Memorial gardens.

Shops along Queensway are being targeted every day.

What’s more, another shop owner who asked to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted said that Memorial Gardens has turned into a thriving den of drug use and dealing along with the selling of stolen goods.

“Where are the police? I know of one town near the coast that has had Sheriffs put in by the council, why can’t that happen here. Even I wont walk through the park anymore and it’s certainly putting off our customers.” he said.

What is going on? Has our town really turned into a lawless society?

Mr Ashby is almost at the point of begging for help from the police and the council but very little seems to actually being done.

Five days have passed since P & J Sweets Delight were last robbed. The thieves all captured on the shops CCTV and yet even though the police have been told they have still to come and view the footage.

Back over the road one staff member at M&S told us that even when they spot someone stealing and they confront them the thieves know they can just walk out because staff have been told not to stop anyone for fear of being attacked.

In TK Maxx the situation is no better. Staff there have to deal with thefts every day and just accept it as part and parcel of the working day.

These national companies can cope though. Their huge takings mean they are able to survive even when thousands are being stolen.

But the independents cannot.

Crawley has seen its town centre transform over the past few years. Smaller businesses disappearing and now even some of the nationals closing due to a change in shoppers buying habits.

No-one denies that the internet has affected the high street and business owners are having to learn to adapt. But in an already difficult market place, when business rates are not being cut anywhere near enough for small businesses, the last thing they need to worry about is thieves.

At the recent Crawley Question Time residents barraged the police about not being able to get through on 101 as well as asking where all the PCSO’s were in their neighbourhoods.

But it seems there is much more going on right under our noses in the very heart of the town and drastic action needs to be taken, but not just by the police or the council.

The big chains need to help as well. They need to invest in security. They need to show a defiant stance that will do several things.

It will show thieves that enough is enough, that they cannot continue like this, that Crawley is not open for their type of business.

It will also give both staff and honest customers confidence that they are safe. That they know that by entering their premises they don’t have to look over their shoulders all the time.

And finally it will actually help the independents, because as the thieves are given less and less places to go they will start to move away from the big stores where they get the most expensive items allowing more of the towns resources to be spent protecting the independents.

Crawley town centre is under a huge regeneration project at the moment but with no stores left for shoppers to explore it will all be in vain if nothing is done right now.

M&S, Sainsbury’s, TK Maxx and the council have all been contacted for a response.

Business

Did Crawley Council Leader really tell worried business owners ‘we’ll let the court decide’ over rent hikes?

It has become one of the hot topics of the year, the 30% rent increase for businesses on Tilgate Parade. But has an open letter from a councillor revealed more than just a heated debate.

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Take a walk through any part of Crawley where there are shops. How many of them are the same ones that were there just a few years ago?

In-fact if you walk through the town centre then you are almost going on a walk of memory as you pass empty units or one of the too-many-to-count coffee shops.

Parades so far have faired a little better with most retaining their stores but for how much longer?

Rules set out that rents for businesses must be set at a certain percentage of the value of the property, we will gloss over the fact that councils do have options in which they can reduce this as this has been spoken about at length before.

So a 30% rent hike, whilst shocking, is not surprising as prices increase over the years.

Tilgate Parade where rents are to increase by 30%.

But now an open letter by Tilgate Councillor Francis Guidera has potentially revealed just how much tension there really is between the business owners and the council.

In the letter (which you can read here) Mr Guidera talks about a discussion held after a recent Full Council meeting where eight Tilgate Parade business owners were ‘confronted’ by the Council Leader.

According to Mr Guidera’s letter, Council Leader Peter Lamb ‘demanded’ to know why the council should ‘subsidise’ profit making businesses.

Now heated words between disgruntled residents, business owners and opposing councillors are nothing new but according to Mr Guidera the parting words from the Council Leader appear to show that tensions are at breaking point.

“We’ll let the court decide” – these are the final words, according to Mr Guidera, that Peter Lamb used to the Crawley business owners as the conversation/debate/argument (use what you will because it is not clear what it was) came to a conclusion.

The whole country is on a political see-saw with every party taking any opportunity it can to score points from the other so letters like this can be seen to be just that, another point scoring opportunity – BUT – ‘if’ what Mr Guidera saying is right then it does beg the question of whether the council is really understanding the true concerns of the very people it represents.

CN24 approached Mr Lamb for comment but at time of publishing had not received a response.

There are rules, regulations, legislation to follow but there are also opportunities open to councils to make a difference and to help those it works hard to convince it wants to help. So why such defiance?

The see-saw has dropped on one side now, let’s see what comes out to make it tip the other way?

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