Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Local Issues - 1. Hospital

Right. The Hospital. This is a big issue, and has been for years. Longer than people realise, I think - the original Hospital campaign was set up to get one built, which it eventually was in 1961. In the wrong place. That's where the trouble really started.

West Green is not a bad place for the hospital, but it is far from perfect. Because the site was small, they built up. There were always rumours of expansion, either over Ifield Road or on the old Primary School site. However, in the mid-80's the last time that more investment was put into the Health infrastructure, Crawley lost out. Big time.

Redhill got its old hospital replaced by East Surrey. That wouldn't be a problem on its own, but the real kicker was the building of the Princess Royal to the south of Haywards Heath. At the time, it would have been better to replace Crawley with a major hospital to the south of the town, Pease Pottage would be (and still is perfect). However, political pressure from local notables (you'll see who they are, they have parts of PRH named after them) led the Tory government to build in their areas.

Ten years later, the NHS under the Major Government was talking seriously about closing Crawley down altogether. That was the first time the recent Hospital Campaign got active. Luckily, the threat was withdrawn and the Trust merged with East Surrey. Unfortunately the new trust seems to have been dogged by management and financial problems ever since.

By 1999, when the changes that everyone is complaining about were first officially suggested, things had changed for Health. Whereas a General Hospital serving 100,000 to 250,000 people used to be suitable, providing enough opportunities for training doctors and consultants, nowadays the Royal Colleges are saying that 400,000 to 500,000 people is the right catchment area. This presents a problem for the area between Croydon and Brighton - three Hospitals cater for an area which is too small - if they want to be training hospitals (and they do - or they won't attract any decent young practitioners). The PRH was moving towards Brighton, and Crawley and East Surrey shared the same Trust. And that Trust got to the state where it had to concentrate services on one site, or face losing training status for both.

Without a new build, it is (unfortunately) obvious that East Surrey has better scope for improvement than Crawley. And with East Surrey and PRH so close by, it is very hard to justify a brand new hospital at Pease Pottage. That doesn't mean that it doesn't make sense to do it, but it makes it very hard to convince the bureaucrats in the NHS that this is a good idea. They have far more weight than a local MP ever will (which is just as well, as the problems caused by politically motivated hospital building got us where we are now...). It was essentially the Trust, the regional NHS (and then the Strategic Health Authority) that made the decisions. The Health Secretaries and Ministers of the time were simply acting on advice.

When the local SHA looked at the Bagnall Review, they duplicated the financial work, so reducing the attractiveness of a new build. They then said any new build would have to be financed by the local Primary Care Trusts. The Surrey PCTs voted against any such help, as did the Horsham PCT, while Crawley PCT stood out alone, and so even though they wanted to help, they couldn't act alone.

So, the Hospital Trust carried on with its plan. To make matters worse, they didn't put it into practice very well. Something that had apparently been planned for 5 years (the transfer of A&E) happened as if it was planned on a Sunday evening on the back of a fag-packet. Lack of communication with the local Ambulance service meant that too many minor injuries were sent to East Surrey, resulting in queues. There have been a few changes at the top, but the problems of managment and finances just won't go away.

So, who do people blame?

The Council. Well, this is completely silly. First of all the Borough Council has almost zero responsibility for Health, and so by law is actually not supposed to provide a hospital. What it has done, as long as I can remember, is to support the building of a new Hospital (to the point of offering a site), oppose cuts at Crawley, organise at least one of the demonstrations held in the town. Several councillors (including myself, the current Leader Chris Redmayne and two who lost their seats in 2000 - Chris Mullins and Bill Ward) were actually involved in the Hospital Campaign, until we were forced out because of the ideological intransigence of the SWP-inspired organisers. So, no. The Council is NOT to blame.

The local MP. Laura only really made one mistake. In 1999, instead of instantly and unequivacolly (sic) coming out against changes, which would have been universally popular, she decided to look at things in detail. In the end, she did come out against the changes, but by then the rumour-mill (fed by the trots again) had it that Laura was in favour. Despite the fact that she was instrumental in getting the Bagnall Review, people think that she did nothing. I know exactly what Laura has done, the lobbying on our behalf, and unfortunately it was never going to be enough. The decisions were effectively made already, and no MP could have made much difference. In fact, our previous MP, Nicholas Soames, did virtually nothing when the complete closure was mooted in the mid-90's. Perhaps because he knew he was going to stand in Mid-Sussex by then.

The Government. There is some responsibility here, after all, they hold the purse strings for the NHS, they approve or deny changes like moving A&E or building a hospital. Certainly Alan Milburn did nothing to assist, apparently ignoring letters from locals (well, not replying anyway). However, nationally I think that they have done a lot for the NHS. At least they are building new hospitals, at least waiting lists are falling, at least Cancer survival rates are improving. While they didn't do what we wanted and give us a new hospital, they did put extra money in to improve Crawley and East Surrey.

I can understand why people blame the local Council or MP. It is easy. So easy to point at a politician because they are there to represent you. It is far harder to point the finger at a quango, a team of bureaucrats, a Royal College, or whoever.

Oh, and half the people that complain now were nowhere near the campaign when it really needed support, back in 1999-2001. To those that were, you will remember the work that was put in, and the disappointment we felt each time a decision went the wrong way. To those that weren't - perhaps you are complaining so much to offset your own guilt?

By the way - Henry Smith didn't get involved with the Campaign until he had already been selected as candidate for the 2001 election. While some Tories were around, or did give support (Richard Burrett and Robert Lanzer), his 'intervertion' stunk of opportunism. And if he had become our MP, he'd have had the same weight as Laura - virtually none - while annoying the established Tory MPs in Reigate and Redhill, who are happy that East Surrey was not downgraded in favour of Crawley.

(ooh, controversial, huh?).

Monday, June 20, 2005

Reasons not to moan

I just took a look at Crawley News and his latest post just sums up why Crawley is a great place to be sometimes: link

Quote: "The greenery stretches out in all directions, with canopies of trees obscuring most of the buildings." That's about the view from the top of a multistory car park!!!

Reasons to moan

Well, I can think of some negative aspects of Crawley.

Firstly, I went for a night out last Friday. Only, because I wanted to go somewhere fairly relaxed with good music (preferably live) and which didn't close at 11pm, there was very little choice locally. So I went to Brighton and had a great time, ended up at the Walkabout where there was a covers band doing everything from AC/DC to Outkast, no idiots around, good bar service comfy chairs...

What does Crawley have? Ikon/Diva, Brannigans and Bar Med if you want to listen to the same old music (ok, nothing wrong with house, rap, etc. but not everybody's cup of tea). A variety of pubs, but very few with live music and a good atmosphere combined. It seems that any attempt to widen the cultural sphere of Crawley is doused by our collective lack of ambition. Yeah, there's a Blues Club. But does anybody know where it is (I do, by the way)? This weekend is the Folk Festival, which is pretty good, but what happens the other weekends?

Secondly, I hate to say it, but there is a certain mentality in the town. A kind of inverted snobbery which seems to mean that people snipe at anyone with any originality or vision. A lack of ambition for the town (and so for ourselves). We can't have a second runway at Gatwick, oh no! Apparently the employment base is too skewed in that direction anyway. But if an alternative crops up - like the proposed extensions to shopping areas (and we already attract shoppers from miles around), it's like a red-rag to a bull for some. Can we have a successful football team? Sure, we do. But for some it's simply a parking problem. And public art? Oh no!! the equivalent of halfpenny each is spent on a work of art and it's the main gripe in the local papers for weeks...

So, yeah, I can whinge like the best of them myself.

But, really, Crawley is not too bad a place. Firstly, we don't have major problems with unemployment and poverty. There are deprived areas, and I don't want to belittle the problems of people caught up in difficult circumstances, but the vast majority of the town is comfortable. Crime is low (and falling). The town is very pleasant to look at. Perhaps people don't agree, or they think it has deteriorated, but perhaps we should look around. Find a town of similar size to Crawley - such as Northampton. How green is it? does it have trees in almost every street? Walk around the town centre - how much of it looks run down? Crawley certainly isn't perfect, but there are far worse places to be.

Crawley is thriving. As a result, it is growing. This seems to be one of the main gripes of the locals. There aways has been a tension between the generations in society, and with more people moving here for work, the older ones, who move here from London in the post-war period, have a warm memory of the old New Town. Unfortunately, that memory cannot be preserved in reality forever, the place will change. The alternative to growth is stagnation. The young will leave, the economy will be affected, the town will fall into decline, inhabited by the old and those who can't get away. (shudder).

I'm not saying that unfettered growth is good. But, if we are to house the people who live here now, we need to expand, before we even think about those who are attracted to the place. There are hundreds of people in my generation around the town still living at home. I'm 30!! I'm lucky enough to have been in a position to buy, but I know that I am lucky. Many others are not so fortunate and they need help. Avoiding the issue, as many people would seem to want to do, will mean two things - major, controlled development won't happen, so we don't get the kind of housing we need, in the right place and for the right price; minor, uncontrolled development (such as knocking down a house or two and replacing them with flats, infill, etc) will happen, prices will stay high and the town will become cluttered.

Friday, June 17, 2005


The real reason is that when I have been on the PC, I've been looking for work on the company intrant, checkin my emails and playing strategy games. Mainly this one: Warring Factions It's a real-time (ie: things happen while you are logged off) Multiplayer space war game with resources and alliances and lots of planets to explore. It takes up about half an hour just checking up on my colonies and keeping my people happy, and I haven't even started on building up a fleet to fight people with...

Well, once I get back to work, that will stop, and I can get back to real-world affairs.

Like, why are people in Crawley such a bunch of whinging moaners?

Oh, sorry by the way

To my regular reader (if you still bother). With being sat at home all day, the last thing I want to do is write at my PC about how little is happening.

I painted a wall this week.

See - how tedious is that? Besides, I'm not going to talk about Fulham during the 'off season' (or should that be the 'offload season'. Losing Edwin van der Sar has sent me into a depression.

The book meme

Apparently having been tagged, I have to do this....

1 Total number of books I've owned

Pass. I have 2 and a half full 'billy' shelves from Ikea, which are all starting to double up, plus a row of computing books in the office. Most I bought myslef, but I 'inherited' about 50-100 non-fiction books from a couple who left Crawley, mostly political and social commentary, some of it religious. I think I read half of one of them...

2 The last book I bought

I bought a few books about six weeks ago (I tend to splurge):

The Scar by China Mieville (I'd read King Rat and Perdido Street Station and was hungry for more of his weird dark fantasies)
What a Carve Up! by Jonathan Coe (Never read him before, and it looked like a good social satire)
The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson (Strangely, I picked this only because the local Ottakars Book Club was featuring it)
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Hey Nostradamus! by David Coupland
Martin Cruz Smith omnibus: Red Square and Gypsy in Amber (Haven't read his stuff for ages, having been hooked by Gorky Park - and only 50p)
Mammoth Book of Best New SF 17 edited by Gardner Duzois (29 short stories from 2003).

3 The last book I read

I am about halfway through Best New SF 17, so maybe that doesn't count. As it's a collection of short stories anyway, I will discount it. Before that I finished The Scar. This is set in the same world as Perdido Street Station, but in a different city. Mieville obviously loves cities, and this one, Armarda, is like no other. Constructed from stolen and salvaged ships, it sails the oceans, surviving and growing through piracy. As this world is subject to strange magic and bizarre human hybrids, the city is hardly a normal place. Told from several points of view, with each character trying to out-plot the others and with their own dark secrets, this is an intriguing read. And Mieville can write incredible descriptive prose. Loved it.

4 Five books that mean a lot to me

a) Sideshow by Sherri S Tepper. Tepper is an American writer, often tagged as a 'feminist', which I suppose would put a lot of people off. Certainly the main protagonists of her novels are mainly female, and often find themselves up against a male-dominated society which perpetrates fairly awful abuses. Sideshow is set on a world which has become a haven for 'pure' humanity, after the rest of the inhabited galaxy has been assimilated by the Hobbes Land Gods. These 'refugees' are in various societies, each seperate and each brutal in the way it behaves. The 'uniqueness' of each society is policed by 'Enforcers' who ensure that they are not interfered with, despite their nastiness. My pseudomyn comes from one of the characters, Danivon Luze, a boy rescued from child sacrifice who becomes an enforcer and then... well, you have to read it.

b) White Teeth by Zadie Smith. A second woman writer, this time English and about my age. Some of the main characters are my contemporaries, and there is enough familiarity for me to identify with some of the characters. Not that anything like the actual plot happened to me, but the timing, growing up in the eighties, having friends with strong views on Salman Rushdie etc. certainly does resonate. The writing style was very easy for me to get into, and evoked a lot of memories. The TV miniseries was ok, but nothing like the book for style.

c) The Crow Road by Iain (M) Banks. I could have put almost any of his books on this list (and easily filled it with five: Consider Phlebas; Use of Weapons; Dead Air; Complicity; and Against a Dark Background. In fact, the only ones I don't really love are Walking on Glass (too poncey) and Canal Dreams (reads like a screenplay for a mundane American action movie). Crow Road, however is just about my favourite. It starts off like a murder mystery, and it seems like that it mainly what it is, but really there is a whole lot more to it, as the protagonist finds out more about his strange family and, in doing so, about himself.

d) A Scanner Darkly by Philip K Dick. Better than Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (filmed as Blade Runner), with more character emphasis than the excellent Man in the High Castle and less off his head completely than The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. This is an exellent book about the effects of a psychotic, addictive drug on a society, and in particular on one man.

e) Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. The stupidity of War. As much as I think that fighting the Nazis was most definitely the right thing to do, this (and Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut), brilliantly captures the basic inhumanity of a system which is set up to kill people. The sheer insanity of most of the characters and their situations is so well described that it is entirely believeable. Which is the scariest thought of all.

What did I have to reject coming up with that list? Lord of the Rings, of course, as the definitive fantasy with elves and dwarves (in other words, everything else since basically sucks). Altered Carbon and Broken Angels by Richard Morgan (cyber-noir I suppose).

I'm not sure who I can tag for this. I'll think on it.