Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Boston Eye is back
On Monday
16th January
(unless anything big happens
between now and then)
Meanwhile, you can keep in touch by e-mail.

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Friday, 23 December 2011

Our final day ... with twice the fun! Make sure that you scroll all the way down the page to see Boston Eye's Christmas card ...

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Thursday, 22 December 2011

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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

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Tuesday, 20 December 2011

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Monday, 19 December 2011

MP Simmonds tells Commons of Boston's struggle to cope with immigration

As we mentioned on Friday, local MP Mark Simmonds brought Boston to the fore in last week’s parliamentary debate on immigration.
He told fellow MPs that he intended to talk “unashamedly and unapologetically” about the  the impact that immigration from within the EU and, in particular, from the A8 countries (Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) had had on Boston.
He said that those who had come from within the EU and were here legally and legitimately, paying taxes and making a contribution, should be welcomed and their contribution recognised.
But he went on to say that no-one must underestimate the pressures and strains on communities and those responsible for trying to deliver our public services.
Here are some of the key points that Mr Simmonds made.
• “When a country’s needs are assessed, the fundamental tenet must be the population of a particular area. I have long argued that public sector funding formulas do not reflect the population of my community ….
• “In its recent report the Office for National Statistics acknowledges that the previous basis for calculating migration numbers — the labour force survey — was not good at capturing migration trends. The ONS uses a much more accurate assessment, even though I believe that it too is an underestimate. Its report confirms that between 2005 and 2010, the figure for Boston’s cumulative immigration was revised upwards to 218%, and that figure, which is the highest in the country, is not reflected in any funding formula …
• “Boston is the only local authority outside London that has featured in the figures for the top 20 increases in immigration in each of the last five years. That is not reflected in any funding formula …
• “The published projected population increase in the borough of Boston was 0.4% but, according to the latest ONS report, the actual figure is 8.7%. … That raises serious questions about the capacity of infrastructure to cope and the efficient provision of public services. There is a significant mismatch between the population and the funding that is supposed to cope, which leads to stress and tension in communities …
• “Complex policing issues and additional costs are not reflected in the funding formula: community tensions; significant crime and disorder issues, although it must be said that the vast majority of crime in Boston and Lincolnshire is still committed by UK citizens; additional costs for interpreter services—6,500 hours’ worth in Lincolnshire in the 2010-11 financial year; and significant road policing issues, such as a lack of insurance and people not understanding our drink-driving laws. That is all in the context of Lincolnshire having the lowest number of police officers per head in the country and the lowest funding of any police force ...
• “The proportion of births to non-UK mothers has more than doubled in Boston since 2001. That trend suggests that an increasing number of migrants are not transient and are choosing to settle in Boston and in Lincolnshire with their families. In 2001, 5% of babies in Boston were born to non-UK mothers, whereas the figure is now 35%—significantly above the national average—and 81% of those are from EU accession countries. That trend is accelerating, not decelerating. Last year, the borough of Boston had its largest number of national insurance registrations — nearly 2,500 — with Lithuania and Latvia topping the nationality poll. That creates pressures: migrant populations finding it difficult to access health services and mental health services, with all the subsequent, associated challenges; enormous strain on the sexual and reproductive health services; greater pressure on community services; language barriers; major causes of morbidity and mortality, which are especially driven by lifestyle choices; and severe pressure of local health service utilisation, especially at general practitioner surgeries and at accident and emergency attendances when migrant populations do not know how to access primary care.
• “The third and final example … relates to the pressures on Boston Borough Council, which estimates that at least 10,000 more migrants are living in the borough than the official statistics state —the Times guide to the House of Commons estimates that there are 17,500 more. Considerable issues arise as a result, some of which relate to licensing, because operators from central and Eastern Europe are now opening their own shops. They are of course welcome and perfectly entitled to do that, but they must operate within the law and they do not necessarily understand the law relating to the sale of alcohol. Several stores have had to be closed, and hon. Members will remember the tragedy that took place just before the summer recess when five migrants were killed in my constituency when an illegal still exploded. Other issues that have to be addressed relate to unlicensed taxis; environmental health — those issues are too numerous to mention, but they include the safety, origin, preparation and storage of food; a significant increase in noise complaints; antisocial behaviour; and illegal campers — single male foreign nationals of no fixed abode ...
• “The houses in multiple occupation are a significant problem, particularly in the small streets with terraced housing that occupy the centre of the historic town in Boston. The council is hopelessly insufficiently resourced to deal with it and with the associated car parking and van parking problems.
• “ … there are two or three primary schools in the centre of Boston where 50% of the pupils have English as a second language, and that causes intense educational issues. To be fair, the schools have had some support from Lincolnshire county council, but they require more ...
• “ … ministers must focus both on reducing net migration and on providing resources and support to communities with large EU-migrant populations—that is not regularly discussed. Ministers must adjust public sector funding formulae, insisting on accurate and fair funding that reflects the populations that are actually in a geographical area … We need to acknowledge that there must be a balance between populations and funding formulae and in the borough of Boston the imbalance is acute because there are insufficient resources to deal with the much-needed economic migration to drive economic growth in rural Lincolnshire.”
Your can read all of  Mark Simmonds's contriibution to the Immigration debate by clicking here and following the links provided.

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Friday, 16 December 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events

Our piece on last weekend’s Christmas Market may have damned with faint praise – but most people seemed to understand where we were coming from. Independent Boston Borough Councillor Carol Taylor wrote to say: “Thank you for your very positive article. Whilst I recognise your positivism, it is clear that there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm from retail outlets, and I think it is important that this area of what I perceive as general malaise must be addressed as soon as possible. I have requested a meeting with members of Boston Borough Council involved with the event in the hope that we can reflect on the weekend’s events. It is always advisable to have these meetings as soon as possible so that our discussions are based on the event still being fresh in our minds. Here's hoping!”

Meanwhile, another more cynical commentator picked us up on remarks about the sombre looking reindeer on Bargate Green. “Did you look directly opposite on the other side of the Green?” our correspondent asked. “If you did you would have seen the Fen Farm Venison stall selling venison burgers. I cannot blame them looking glum when bambi was being chargrilled a few feet away!”
Whilst it was a shame that Boston’s Market Place was in such a mess for this year’s Christmas Market, we wonder whether anyone is yet thinking ahead to next March-ish, when – if we’re lucky - the  renvoation works will be complete. As events can be held at any time of the year these days, why don’t we plan something really memorable to mark the end of the restoration, and the re-opening of our latest attraction?
It beggars belief that our local celebration of the UK's biggest women-only charity fundraising event -  in which almost 1,500 Boston women took part this year and raised £80,000 for charity - has been dumped because the charity concerned doesn’t think that it is cost effective. Cancer Research UK – which has organised Race for Life in the town since 2005 – says it has to raise as much money as possible in the most “cost-efficient” way possible, and the Boston event has been cancelled because of the costs of staging it. Outrageous! This was an excellent community event which brought people from all walks of life together in a good cause. Cancer Research will not disclose how much it cost, but if an event that raised so much money is not deemed cost effective, then something is badly wrong somewhere. Not only that, but the charity is now hoping that previous participants will trek to Lincoln to take part in next year’s event. Let us hope that somewhere in the borough there is someone who will organise an alternative event – perhaps not quite as lavish as the previous Race for Life  - but which can raise enough to shame the bureaucrats at Cancer Research. We wonder whether the decision is in any way connected with the decision by Tesco to end its support for the event, whilst instead deciding to be a headline sponsor of Pride London - Britain’s largest gay festival.
Boston’s position in the county was not looking good this week with the issue of figures showing business statistics for 2010 in Lincolnshire. The borough was bottom of the list of the number of "active" enterprises, with just 1,900 – well below our neighbours South Holland and East Lindsey on 2,865 and 4,805 respectively. Presumably, the fact that we have fewer such businesses is why we enjoy the lowest number of “deaths of enterprises” at 200. But again, we are bottom of the table of the number of new enterprises, at 160, compared with our nearest neighbours on 240 and 345, and again lowest on the list of two and three year survival rates for new businesses. A different set of figures for average full time annual earnings this year sees us bottom once again on £20,840, compared with £23,537 in South Holland and £22,362 in East Lindsey. Perhaps it’s time for some serious New Year resolutions in the borough’s Economic Development Department.
 We note with some satisfaction the pledge by Lincolnshire County Council to bring superfast broadband to at least 90% of homes and businesses in the county by 2015. The council is to add £10m to a central government grant of £14.3m to upgrade the county's broadband network with fibre optic cables, plus improved equipment and exchanges. Although our internet will then move at the speed of light, the county is taking it more easily – with no plans to appoint a contractor for the project until “the end of 2012.” Meanwhile, BT has already announced that it is extending its roll out of superfast broadband to Grantham, Spalding, Gainsborough and Bourne. Gainsborough? BourneBourne?  Yet again, Boston is left at the bottom of the list as usual.
Having said that, what is the point of all this technology if it is not made use of?  We note that almost without exception our local and county councillors who run websites or blogs have not published anything on them for ages – in some cases as long as six months... or more. We were happy to praise those members who were bold enough to engage with the new technology – but if they do not plan to make continued use of it, then they should close their sites, resume using quill pens and ignoring their electorate.
Although it’s a depressing subject at any time, more attention seems to be paid to road deaths around this time of year than any other. Using official data recorded by the police between 1999 and 2010, the BBC has plotted a map showing every road accident in which someone died – a total of 36,371 fatalities. You can find out what the situation is in Boston by entering your postcode. You can access the page by clicking here
Issues surrounding immigration have emerged in the past few days. Firstly came news that the government e-petition 'No to 70 million' recently reached 126,156 signatures - and the government has notified the Backbench Business Committee in the House of Commons.  Whether it will result is a debate is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, in an update on the petition, which was signed by many people here in Boston, the government says the response "shows that the public feel strongly that immigration is too high and that it should continue its work to bring numbers under control.”
Not only that, but our local MP Mark Simmonds raised his head above the parapet in a House of Commons debate on immigration earlier this week. He took the opportunity to put Boston under the national spotlight – and you can read more about that on this coming Monday’s blog.

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Stumped at every turn -
how our
local "state"
ignores the church

We wrote last week about Boston Stump and sponsoring the lighting there. Sadly the Stump was dark over the Christmas Market weekend, although it would only have cost £50 to remedy that fact.
Interestingly,  a letter has also appeared in our local papers from Boston District Independent Councillor Richard Austin, in which he reminds us that the Stump is the most iconic building in the Boston area, and second only to Lincoln Cathedral in  the county.  He rightly calls it a building of national importance - the presence of which enhances the district and plays an important commercial role as well.
“Unfortunately,” he goes on, “few of us care to bear in mind that the daily running costs are huge, that the cost of maintenance is massive and that the cost of repairing damage is very large.
“It is my opinion that these costs are far beyond the capability of the small regular congregation of the Stump to meet.
“It is also my opinion that the safeguarding of the Stump is far more than a religious issue – it is a matter of civic pride.
“I think therefore that everyone, regardless of religious persuasion, should be encouraged to give generous financial support to help maintain this great building.”
And we would think that Boston Borough Council might perhaps be setting an example in this respect
But that is definitely not the case.
Almost three years ago, as the Stump prepared to mark the septicentennial – some prefer septuacentennial  - anniversary of work starting on the building in 1309, the church asked Boston Borough Council for  a grant of £12,000 to enhance its tourism work during that special year.
To try to smooth the way for this application, the withdrew an ongoing appeal for £11,000 towards its insurance cover for that year.
The council accepted this with open arms – and as far as we know has not contributed to the insurance since.
But it then went on to turn down the application for the tourism grant.
Talk about a kick up the cassock!
Recently, the Parish of Boston applied for outline planning permission to demolish the former Conway School in the Tunnard Street conservation area ..  and building housing on the site.
Among the reasons for turning the plan down was that it would cause “significant harm” to the Boston Conservation Area.
We said at the time that – whilst we are fully in favour of conserving the town’s heritage – the Conway is not an outstanding example of it. The school building is neither particularly old, nor particularly attractive – and we wondered what would be the harm if it were removed and replaced with a sympathetic development - perhaps incorporating some of the original building?
However, the council remained intractable.
Not only that – since then the council has hit the parish for thousand of pounds in business rates on the empty property.
There are even tensions over the borough council’s legal role in protection of the Stump.
The council is the “lay rector” of St Botolph’s  and thus obliged to contribute towards the upkeep of the Chancel,  although the most recent tranche of  financing - £28,000 a year for five years – was depicted as an act of kindness rather than compulsion, with “care and concerns by councillors” apparently prompting the approval of the money.
We are told that because of rising insurance costs, the church has cut back on cover. This means that the chancel is no longer protected as it is the responsibility of the council, but apparently the borough is not taking out insurance to cover any mishaps.
Councillor Austin – during whose leadership of the borough the 2009 decisions were taken – concludes his letter by saying: “I would like to think Boston Borough Council could do more, but am the first to acknowledge that is not possible given the stringent government cuts that are hitting Boston particularly hard.”
It seems to us that that - far from wishing to do more - the council seems actively to be pursuing an opposite course of action – doing less and hampering the church at almost every opportunity.
At the same time, it still appears to be able to offer subsidies to the Boston Sports Initiative to fund that great asset the Princess Royal Sports Arena.
We mentioned yesterday the monies being handed out left, right, and centre by Boston Town Area Committee.
To many people, the Stump is the town - and we think that if no one else is prepared to help then BTAC should at least help out in some way.

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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Give grants because
they need them
 - not just because
they ask

It must be a happy state of affairs in these times of recession and hardship to know just how well off you are likely to be in five years’ time – and that appears to be the fortunate state that Boston Borough Council’s Town Area Committee appears to be in.
The BTAC committee meets today to discuss two main items – the first is its budget estimates for the period 2012/13 until 2016/17, and the second is to consider applications for five community grants.
In terms of the future budget, BTAC seems to be very well placed - being likely to carry forward reserves of £9,600 from the current financial year rising by 2016-17 to more than £30,000.
For those who wonder what BTAC is, it acts as a kind for “parish council” for the town area, and part of its brief includes the provision and maintenance of urban open spaces, play areas, allotments and seats as well as other facilities and services mainly intended for the use and benefit of residents for the “non-parished” Boston town area.
And as we heard earlier, it makes community development grants to town-based organisations and events.
Five such applications totalling £4,450 are on tonight’s agenda.
Whilst all of them are deserving in their own way, we do wonder about whether the committee should rubber stamp them all – as they most probably will.
We used to be involved in the operation of a county wide charity appeal, and noticed the regularity with which some organisations tapped up our money pot year in, year out – and also a number that were perfectly capable of finding money themselves but could not resist the appeal of something more for nothing.
We were reminded of this last month, when BTAC handed over £5,000 to our old friends the South Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service towards the £15,000 needed to run next year’s Boston Community Showcase.
SLCVS is an organisation that is awash with money - on top of which it receives generous extra amounts each year from Boston Borough Council.
In fairness, BTAC did raise an eyebrow at the application, but eventually approved it with the idea that it would effectively underwrite the event and hope to recoup some of it from the borough council. Some hopes there! SLCVS also undertook to continue to seek funding from other sources which would further reduce the BTAC contribution – but again, we don’t think that we will be buying tickets for that particular event.
Two applications to this evening’s meeting caught our eye.
The first was for £1,000 to stage a 30-week ceramic workshop at Fydell House, which we feel is scarcely a town-only project.
The second is an application for £900 from the Witham East Placecheck Group which is creating an “organic” bike track – and after allocating funding has been told by Boston Borough Council to have it professionally landscaped.
Placecheck areas – which again employ the SLCVS - receive £10,000 to spend on local projects (with another £10,000 being spent on administration) and it seems wrong after having been given so much money that a group should come back and ask for even more.
Particularly so when we learn that among the other projects funded from the £10,000 kitty was £1,680 for eight additional litter bins supplied by Boston Borough Council. If they are that essential, should the council not be providing them as part of its civic responsibility?
As we said at the outset – it’s nice to be awash with wealth - but that makes it all the more important to spend wisely and well.

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Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Boston's carolling councillors (above).
The  performer at back row (centre) was feeling a little off-key!
Softly, softly,
Boston is getting the idea!

Looking back over our reviews of Boston's  Christmas Market in previous years, it is heartening to detect a slow but steady improvement.
In the past there have been problems regarding shop opening hours - which ones would open and which would not bother - lack of pre-publicity and organisation – and of course, last year’s disastrous switch-on of what were apparently some of the oldest civic illuminations in the country.
This year’s switch-one was a big improvement, and happily, our old lights have now found their way into the Science Museum.
But sadly, the new ones have proved  a disappointment. Although they may seem better next year when the Market Place is restored, we shall remain eternally disappointed at how little we seem to have received for such a huge financial outlay. It seems that £35,000 a year doesn’t buy very much these days.
But back to last weekend.
Certainly, the event was well attended, and to judge by the reaction of people we met on the street, was deemed to be good entertainment.
Although we missed the Scunthorpe and District Pipe Band, we heard much praise for their performance.
But we were there in time to catch the performance by Boston’s “carolling councillors.”
It was interesting – having heard the radio report of their rehearsal earlier in the week – just how much their performance had improved.
And, as we told one of the participants - silly as it may sound,something like that does the council's image lot more good than a sheaf of press releases.
It shows a sense of community and a sense of humour - and does much to overcome the perceived remoteness of "the council" to the citizens.
And we were pleased to see that one or two councillors had joined the group at the last minute.
Perhaps next year there will be even more.
Their performance made events more local – as did the appearance of the Boston Grammar School Schuhplattler Gruppe – although we noted that ...  presumably for Health and Safety reasons ... the vigorous slapping of hands on lederhosen-clad thighs that we would have expected is sadly no more!
And again, localness was enhanced by the involvement of Endeavour Radio – taking on what we would once have expected from BBC Radio Lincolnshire.
We were less enthused by the craft market – which by early on Sunday afternoon had many empty stalls.
If it was a "hired in" attraction, then for future years, it may be a good idea to insist that stall holders go the distance … rather than taking the money and running at the halfway mark.
The regular stall market adds as well as detracts.
It adds substance – but detracts in terms of atmosphere as it exudes no sense of Christmas.
Overall, we were pushed to get a seasonal feeling from events – despite the presence of two glum reindeer who looked as though they would rather be anywhere else than Bargate Green.
We also felt that better signposting - with clearly visible timetables at both ends of town detailing what was on, where … and when - would have kept visitors moving between the Market Place and Bargate Green.
The real question here is: Who actually organised the event?
Boston BID - the Business Improvement District -  is supposed to have had something to do with it – but exactly what is unclear.
What is clear, though, is that things would have been far less entertaining if local businessman Darron Abbott had not involved himself in events.
It was his idea to assemble the choir of councillors, and the display of stalls in the Market Place, for which we are sure that beleaguered traders in that part of town were grateful. It was also Mr Abbott who brought the pipe band to town and paid for it from his own pocket.
Take those three aspects away from the weekend’s attractions,  and the event would have been considerably diminished.
And let’s not overlook the willingness of Dave Edwards, owner of Edwards Emporium in Dolphin Lane, to donate 1,000 free lollipops for Santa to give away at the lights ceremony.
Before next year, we need a coalition of organisations involved, together with interested individuals, so that – like the carolling councillors – everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet.

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Monday, 12 December 2011

Snap, crackle and pop ... welcome to LCC-TV!

Last Friday saw the final Lincolnshire County Council meeting of the year, and, in our unending pursuit of democracy, we visited the LCC website to watch proceedings live via the county hall webcam.
Readers even more senior than ourselves might well have strolled down Memory Lane in response to the programme which greeted them, to the days of the People’s Palace – better known as “Ally Pally” - which in 1936 became the headquarters of the world's first regular public "high-definition” television service, operated by the BBC.
Documentaries of those bygone days depict the jerky camera movements,  the crackling soundtrack, and the unexpected blackouts in transmission as the flickering, delicate valves frequently gave up the ghost.
Those days were reprised in all their dubious glory on Friday.
At the last meeting in September, faults with the soundtrack made it all but impossible to follow the agenda item where rank and file councillors ask questions of the Chairman, Leader, executive councillors, and committee chairmen – which is the bit we tune in for … to see what sort of interest our local councillors are showing at county level.
Friday not only still had occasional sound problems which saw members resorting the use of a hand held radio microphone, but numerous breakdowns of both sound and vision – often at crucial moments in our viewing.
For instance, the first local questioner was Boston South Conservative Councillor Paul Skinner, who wanted information from Councillor Sue Woolley, the portfolio holder for health, housing and community.
Due to a technical failure, we missed the question and half the answer – but gathered from what we did hear that it concerned the Councillors'  Big Society Fund, which sees cash saved by a members' pay freeze spent on community projects.
Boston West’s Councillor Ramonde Newell -  who is listed as an Independent; was elected as a Boston Bypass Independent, and who has avoided any further association since the BBI  rebranded itself as the BDI (Boston District Independents)  - was next to ask a question.
Whilst he was fortunate in that his query survived intact, he was less so in that the person to whom it was directed was not around.
The question concerned last Thursday's incident when a car "plunged" into the "fast flowing, wide and deep" River Haven.
Although the driver was rescued by firepeople, Councillor Newell wanted to know “Was the fast water rescue boat and team available from Boston’s fire station, and was it used?”
This is something that Councillor Newell  -  a long standing critic of the decision to relocate the boat from Boston to Spalding - has raised before ...  last time at the May 20th meeting.
Then, Councillor Peter Robinson, who is responsible for Community Safety, told him that after Exercise Watermark, the government promised extra funding for up to ten water rescue units  - and he hoped that one could eventually be based in Boston.
Asked and answered, as they say in court.
The third and last local member to ask a question was Boston East’s Mike Gilbert, who raised the vexed issue of the Punchbowl Lane/Ingelow Avenue fiasco facing the Boston Town Area Committee
Regular readers will recall that some residents’ lives are being ruined by anti-social behaviour, but the council seems unable to address the problem (see our most recent story by clicking here.)
“One possible solution is what’s called a gating order, which effectively cuts off access to the area associated with the anti-social behaviour,” said Councillor Gilbert.
“Without prejudging the merits of the particular case for a gating order in the area, could the Portfolio Holder for Highways confirm whether or not the County Council is currently considering a policy for gating orders and whether there will be a timetable for its likely completion in case it is required at some time in the future?”
Portfolio holder Councillor William Webb was in an area of the chamber where the sound appeared not to be working, and was handed a radio microphone - which he then held within an inch of his lips and bellowed  into like a fairground barker, which did little for the audibility of his reply.
On top of that, the screen went blank for the umpteenth time during the broadcast, but he was still replying when normal service resumed – and the drift of his answer was not, we suspect, what Councillor Gilbert wanted to hear.
“We don’t want to close thoroughfares. It’s always a last resort and if we put a gate across we are denying access …”
He did, however, add that the county council was considering gating orders, but stressed “our chief aim is to make sure that all thoroughfares are open and are safe to use.”
At one point during the meeting we heard that no fewer than five members of staff were in the chamber dealing with the communications side of the event – which seemed hard to believe given the problems that we witnessed as interested viewers.
Lincolnshire County Council meetings are always dreary, poorly run affairs – and Friday’s was not helped by Chairman Neil Cooper flinging his weight around by frequently and rudely hectoring questioners for taking too long to make their point – thus delaying events still further.
Still, at least Boston’s voice was heard in Lincoln – which is never a bad thing – although Fishtoft’s Councillor Raymond Singleton-McGuire sent apologies for the second consecutive meeting.
His last appearance at a full council meeting was on May 20th, which means that – if he attends the next one on February 17th – it will be almost eight months since last he has shown his face.

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Friday, 9 December 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
It was only at the beginning of October that we heard reassuring noises from Boston Borough Council leader Peter Bedford after claims that the town was not a safe place to venture out in after dark. “That depends on your outlook,” he said in a radio interview. “I walked through town with my wife on Saturday night after a concert in Boston Stump and everybody was well behaved. We never saw an issue at all. So it’s how you want to look at things.”  It would appear that the borough looks at things rather differently to its head honcho. Statistics for the quarter to the end of September report a 4.8% increase in ‘assault with less serious injury’ – an increase of nine more offences – and a 4.5% increase in ‘violence against the person’ – where there were 20 more offences. And it adds: “Increases in alcohol related anti-social behaviour and violence and abuse have been experienced in Boston town centre relating to the night-time economy.” As we remarked at the time – an early evening concert chucks out no later than 10pm – so to find the town relatively quiet is not much of a surprise. But come back a couple of hours later ...
As the council pursues its citizens for every last penny it can wring from them to shore up its tottering finances, would it be unfair to suggest that at little more prudence is paid to retrieving what it’s owed before moving on to shooting fish in a barrel – such as racking up parking charges?
Council tax debts totalling £62,388.67 and “sundry” debts totalling £2,592.94 have been approved for write off between July and September.  And even worse, unpaid business rates totalling more than £143,000 have also been written off. Obviously, if a firm goes bust, there’s little that can be done about it – but what excuse is there for the government’s countryside department DEFRA getting away with £13,881 due to “errors on various accounts, time barred."
Car parks and money are much in the news this week. Hot on the heels of the borough council’s attack on drivers and the disabled who may be ordered to pay more, comes news that the Pilgrim Hospital made £420,000 from its car parking charges in the first ten months of the year – which works out at a cool half a million for the full twelvemonth period. A long time ago, we think we heard an excuse for the introduction of charges along the lines that the monies made would help fund patient amenities. Now the story is that: "We cannot justify using money intended for patient care to pay for car parking, and so we seek to recover the costs incurred in providing car parking facilities from those that use them." All well and good – and probably true in part. But do the costs really total half a million quid a year? If they do, then a few questions need to be asked. If they don’t, then the Pilgrim is ripping off visitors. We’re with the Taxpayers’ Alliance on this one: "The Pilgrim's car park appears to be raking it in," said a spokesman. "NHS parking charges shouldn't be used as a revenue raiser. Taxpayers have already paid for the car park's construction, they shouldn't have to fork out when they're ill or visiting a loved one. The NHS wouldn't need to charge patients and visitors so much to park their cars if they weren't wasting huge amounts of cash on wasteful spending."
A reader tells us that the government’s Planning Inspectorate opened a hearing on Tuesday into a planning application involving West Skirbeck House, Boston. He points out that it was quite a controversial application, which was resubmitted a number of times and raised quite a number of questions, and adds: “I think it should have been reported, or at least been mentioned on the council website. If I have not found it on the web I am not sure how the public would have got to know about it.” Are there are those who don’t want us to know, we wonder? Who can say?
On a personal note, today marks the Ruby wedding anniversary of Boston and Mrs Eye, and if we can’t claim a little space on our own blog to mention the fact, then something is seriously wrong somewhere.
As a gesture both to the occasion - and also one that indirectly benefits the town in a small way for a few hours, we have sponsored the lights at Boston Stump for today. They will go on this afternoon at around 4pm and off again at around midnight. It costs just £25 to do this, and you can mark any event that you like. A notice is posted on the south door of the Stump - the entrance from the Market Place - saying why the lights are being turned on. As good luck would have it, a couple of sponsors have ensured that the Stump will be lit over Christmas – but the scheme needs much more by way of support. The rates are £25 per day, £100 a week, £300 a month and £3,000 a year, and they were once sponsored  annually by Oldrids.
By all accounts the performance by Boston’s carolling councillors at this weekend’s Christmas Market will be one to remember – and a sneak preview of what to expect at Sunday’s 2-30pm appearance in the Market Place ... recorded at rehearsals ... was broadcast on yesterday’s Breakfast Show on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. You can hear it again by clicking here and moving the timer to the 2.22 mark. And you can hear more on today’s Nicola Gilroy show on BBC Radio Lincolnshire between 2pm and 4pm.
Talking of Boston’s Christmas celebrations, in the Saint Nick of time, Boston Business Improvement District, which is supposed to be playing a major role in the organisation of this weekend’s festivities, has finally got around to mentioning them on its website – although not with any great enthusiasm. Nor does it mention the Carolling Councillors. But one news item did catch our eye. “Don't forget to enter the Christmas Treasure hunt. There are several reindeers (sic) hidden in various shop windows in the town and the winner will get a hamper of goodies.” They shouldn’t be too hard to find – just follow your nose would be our advice.
Among the items of spending over £500 for October listed by Boston Borough Council appears an apparent dramatic reduction in charges by the borough’s Chief Executive – whose contract was recently extended until September 2013 and with a three and a half per-cent pay cut. The figure for June was £9,000, but thereafter July, August and September have all been below £2,000. What this might mean, we couldn’t say – but something appears to have changed. The only other items of note are “various gym equipment” costing £62,999.96, and a series of training courses including “X5 day training” at £3,000, a one-day “Equality and Diversity workshop” for £2,329.57, and “Supporting and managing the stressed employee” – a snip at just £600. X5? We’ve Googled it, and think that it is a bus service in Oxford.
We sincerely hope that before too long the Boston Standard will consider reintroducing more news into its pages. After last week’s issue, which included four-pages of local promotions and a 12 page supplement on a business awards event, this week has three pages devoted to the paper’s sports awards, one on its “Community Chest” donation, three on its “Terrific Tots” competition and two on its “Local Business accelerator.” Of course community support is part of a local newspaper’s job – but surely, it should not dominate the content to such a degree. And talking of the paper’s baby show, we wonder how fair it is to invite people to vote via text for a 50p charge per vote, but to award two votes if entries are submitted on a coupon. It may sell a few more papers, but it doesn’t seem cricket to us.
Finally, just so that the Boston Target doesn’t escape our gaze this week, we offer the headline below for your delectation and delight

We’re not quite sure which part of our anatomy constitutes the brunt, but baring it at this time of year runs a risk of frostbite at worst, or chilblains at the very least!

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Think twice before diving in and hiking car park charges

Some recent figures from Boston Borough Council call into question the wisdom of increasing parking charges to shore up the borough’s ailing economy.
Price rise suggestions include 10p across all tariffs, evening parking charges, abolishing most 60p for 30 minute rates and – most controversially – charging disabled blue badge holders.
Whilst there is no doubt that this would raise oodles of much needed cash, the benefits may be questionable when considered in relation to the borough’s Governance and Performance Monitoring figures for the quarter ended in September, which went into some detail about income from borough car parks.
The trend shows that council income from parking fees has fallen steadily since 2005-06, apart from a brief and small reversal in 2009-10.
The main reason has been increased competition from private car park providers, which has reduced the council’s share of the kitty, and the impact of the recession.
Pescod Square, which has 370 spaces, opened in September 2004, and by the following year was attracting 20,000 vehicles a month.
The Boston Shopping Park had a similar figure early in 2007
In 2008-09, the council cut some car park charges which regained some market share, and resulted in an increase in income in 2009-10 over the previous year.
But apart from that, the story has been all downhill … even though the number of vehicles parking in Boston increased between 2005 and 2010
The report says that Boston was not too affected by the recession until this year, when a growing number of shops have fallen vacant - including big name stores like Burtons and Thorntons -  whilst other smaller independent retailers are also reporting that their businesses are struggling.
Aside from increased competition for parking spaces, the report on the figures blames
extensive roadworks in the town between July and September which restricted access for vehicles.
The Market Place works which began in July meant that there was no income from that car park, whilst the introduction of new 60p half hour tariffs in Custom House Quay, Bargate Green and Wide Bargate in June saw more vehicles using these car parks – but the average cost of the tickets bought went down.
Council season ticket sales have also declined.
Among the reasons for this, the report suggests that competitors have introduced similar schemes - with the option to pay monthly - and that drivers cannot afford to pay up front for three months parking … which is the minimum period for which the council sells tickets.
The report also suggests that “some” of the 25,000 people a month that use the Into Town bus service would previously have driven in and parked in council car parks – although we cannot imagine that this figure would amount to much.
What we think that these figures are telling us is that aside from the obvious fact that the council is courting massive unpopularity if it increases charges, that there seems little reason to doubt that the downward spiral of custom will do anything other than continue.
Car parking is the lifeblood of most towns – plenty of spaces, reasonably priced, make a place a magnet for visitors, with all the benefits to local businesses that this brings.
If you will forgive the mixed metaphors, the idea that car parking is a cash cow that the borough can use as a piggy bank, shows a lack of imagination by those whose job it is to enhance the borough’s funding.
Time for a rethink – before it is too late.

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

listeria bacteria
Food hygiene
leaves a
nasty taste!

A couple of hundred years ago, a cockroach in your mulligatawny might have been seen as something of a bonus – but those days are now long gone.
Instead, we have seen apparently stringent checks on what we eat, and how it is stored, prepared and served – but that could be set to change if a report to today’s Environment and Performance committee of Boston Borough Council is accepted.
Apparently, Boston has the most diverse range of food businesses of all local authorities in Lincolnshire - with a significant number of specialist food operations which require regular monitoring as well as enforcement of port health legislation, including the inspection of ships and imported foods.
But it seems that after all these years, we’ve been putting the cart before the horse in some cases - in that the council has focussed on the number of inspections - rather than driving the ‘purpose’ of food safety - which is to ensure that hygiene standards improve.
Sometimes this has meant that follow-up action was overlooked - with the result that standards in some cases deteriorated rather than improved. It was also noted that an increasing number of businesses, for one reason or another, change food business operator on a frequent basis.
The bottom line is that when businesses were prosecuted or cautioned they were more likely to toe the line than if they got a pat on the wrist – which against seems something of a statement of the obvious.
One thing that we are pleased to see is a review of the borough’s food safety award schemes which appears on its website here.
These are purportedly “backed” by the Boston Standard – although we doubt whether they know that at the paper.
The scheme offers three awards – gold, silver and bronze – with fewer than twenty food outlets getting a gold award.
But according to the list, some of the places inspected received their award two years ago which makes the whole exercise rather pointless.
Not only that, but there is also a fourth category, which gives no award at all because of “unacceptable standards of hygiene and management.”
This then begs the question of why those nine nominees are still operating, and the only explanation seems to be that the borough judges them at two separate levels – a local one where the unacceptable is acceptable, and a national one where such premises are closed down.
It was found that the three tier award scheme did not encourage businesses to improve. Most were rated as bronze, and feedback revealed that it wasn’t worth trying to achieve a higher level, as it was felt that no increase in trade would result.
Another rather pointless feature of a list designed to tell the public where they can eat safely is the inclusion of a number of care homes, where one is scarcely likely to pop in for a snack – and even the Department of Psychiatry at Pilgrim Hospital, which gets a silver award. And certainly not Ingelow Manor – which has been closed.
Under new plans, the newly-launched Food Standards Agency national food hygiene rating scheme which has six levels of compliance from “good” to “urgent improvement necessary” may be adopted instead.
Clearly the need for a shake-up is long overdue.
The report says that due to pressures on resources, food sampling has only been carried out three times this year – whereas in previous years it was done fortnightly.
The Food Standards Authority has said that sampling of imported foods should be a priority and they are obviously right, as it has revealed some very worrying trends including the identification of low level listeria monocytogenes in cooked meats.
“Given that nationally the number of cases of listeria has doubled in recent years and the fact that one in three vulnerable people who contract the infection die, the council’s approach to food sampling should be reinforced as per the recommendations,” says the report.
It also adds that some Eastern European businesses in Boston appear not to understand UK food and health and safety laws - despite robust legislation being in place throughout Europe. As a result, officers have had to resort to prosecutions and formal cautions.
Historically, officers served around five formal food and health and safety notices a year - but so far this year more than 40 have been served.
If it’s true that “you are what you eat” – then be afraid, be very afraid*.

*appropriately, a line from the 1986 horror film The Fly.

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Tuesday, 6 December 2011

A bin for all seasons - or unpopular bags for green waste future collections?

Whilst no-one would claim that Boston Borough Council’s green waste collection pilot has been anything other than a great success, the question now seems to be – “where do we go from here…?”
Certainly, the need for action was long overdue, as recently published figures for 2010 put the borough at the bottom of the compost heap with a meagre 29% of recycling - almost half that of the top recyclers West Lindsey, with 56% .
A report to tomorrow’s Environment and Performance Committee summarises the outcome of the three month pilot which was carried out at a cross section of roughly a third of Boston’s 26,000 households.
The total green waste collected exceeded expectation at 851 tons, and based on the pilot results it’s thought that a borough wide full year scheme could reduce
residual waste by some 3,000 tonnes.
This would generate huge savings in disposal costs - current landfill costs per ton £88.02 a ton compared to bio green waste composting at £23.36 per ton – and landfill charges are set to increase by at least £8.00 a ton next April and again in 2013, whilst the composting cost is fixed for two years.
So far so good – but the scheme has not been without its problems.
To cart the garden waste away, the blue recycling bins were used, and items for recycling had to be put into plastic bags instead.
This did not go down well with a lot of people, and numerous letters appeared in our local “newspapers” as a result.
An alternative would be to make a £20 one-off payment for a separate bin, and 43% said of those taking part in the pilot said they were happy to do this. But within that group 56% of those that said no said they would not be happy to use bags as the option for containment of dry recyclables.
If a green waste collection goes borough wide – which it is almost bound to do - the collection of recyclable material in bags could be a big stumbling block.
Not only that, but the borough refuse vehicle fleet is having a tottering time and needs replacing.
The pilot has shown that there are problems which would make the use of split bodied vehicles on several rounds impractical – although some smaller rounds could be remodelled to allow co-collection.
A study has identified efficiency savings, which - coupled with the maintenance reductions once replacement vehicles arrive – means the fleet replacement can be paid for from existing budgets over a seven year operational period.
But … the operation of ‘additional’ vehicles to collect green waste from the kerbside would have to be funded from contributions from the County Council via landfill savings “or perhaps income from residents themselves.”
We wait and we see – and an outside team of experts is looking at what might be done with the promise of reporting before Christmas so that the committee can offer ideas to the cabinet early next year.
Clearly, the biggest obstacle is the use of plastic bags to replace the blue recycling bin – and we suspect that quite a large number of people have the same problems that we do here in Boston Eye Street.
It’s very simple, really, we fill a bin with recyclables once a fortnight, and to put all of this into bags would create storage problems and difficulty getting the bags to their collection points.
Then there is the problem of rain getting into the bags, or the bags splitting – or worse still attracting the attention of some of neighbourhood humorist overnight.
The outcome for us, at any rate, will be not to recycle as much as we have previously– to be able to keep the bags manageable. This will result in a robbing-Peter-to- pay-Paul solution where we send recyclables to land fill, as a trade off for the green waste that goes for composting.
To our untutored eye, there is really just one simple answer – which is a third wheelie bin.
But strangely enough, although the borough’s survey suggests that many people agree, an e-petition on the borough’s website started at the end of May has so far only attracted 82 signatures – and it closes at the end of the month.
Somehow, we suspect that we will end up with bags for our recycling.

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Monday, 5 December 2011

Hearing - but are they really listening?

Yet another “have your say” questionnaire on has appeared on Boston Borough Council’s website.
It asks contributors to rate services as good, average, or poor, and covers just about every council service under the sun, from affordable housing to visitor attractions.
Between the A and V of the list are a number of regularly raised topics – including allotments, parking, street cleanliness and the overall satisfaction with the local area as a place to live.
Ironically, the new questionnaire comes just a couple of months after the appearance on the borough website of an item entitled “You had your say,” which listed issues raised in a previous survey and the council’s comments.
Again, the usual suspects were raised – the Market Place, parking, Central Park, garden waste, public toilets, recycling …. you get the picture.
But in many cases the answers were less than helpful, to say the least.
Comments” were often simply statements of the status quo, and lacked a human touch.
For instance, a question alleging a lack of community support, advice and information got the response … "Recent changes have been made to update the information available on the internet …” There follows a link to the web page, and then the information that “community information is available each month in the Boston Bulletin. This is mainly available electronically, but there are a few copies available from reception for those without internet access.” Hmmmm.
Or how about: “The Tourist Information Centre is not open for long enough and
regularly enough. More often than not, when I take the trouble to walk all the way down there, it is closed, usually late afternoon. A Tourist Information Centre is badly needed in centre of town, open daily and with local, experienced staff.”
We feel that few people would disagree with those sentiments – but the borough’s “comment” is that “the Tourist Information Centre, situated in the Guildhall, is now open 10-30 am to 3-30pm Wednesday to Saturday. All staff who work at the TIC have extensive local knowledge, experience and training.”
That’s put the questioner in his or her place.
Things like this make us wonder what point there is in asking people for comments if the council brushes them aside so disinterestedly.
On top of all this we have also learned via the borough bulletin … under the headline “You say, we listen – we really do” … that “a year has passed all too quickly since an innovative new group comprised of borough residents and council officers first met.”
Yes, it’s the first anniversary of the Residents’ Sounding Board - set up to try to plug perceived gaps between residents’ expectations and what the council delivers.
Apparently, initial meetings showed that while gaps did exist, both officers of the council and residents were very similar hopes for the borough.
According to the borough, residents’ input has led to action on refuse collection, fly tipping, littering and graffiti.
Problems with cyclists in pedestrian-only areas, speeding, and anti-social behaviour have also been highlighted.
And “Communication by the council has improved.”
Objectives for the future include improvements in Boston’s image and identity; planning to take better account of the town’s heritage; a review of street drinking: reductions in traffic congestion; more enforcement on littering; emphasis on education and integration; and more action to curb anti-social behaviour.
If all of this sounds as if you've heard all this before, then that’s because you have - more than once!
Time and again over the years, we have heard complaints about the quality of key services.
As a result, there’s been a lot of talking the talk – but very little walking the walk.
The time is long overdue for the council seriously to address issues that concern its residents – and not adopting a tokenistic approach that achieves little – if anything.
There’s one piece of good news, though.
For the first time in ages, the latest questionnaire does not devote more space than the subject under discussion to questions about religion, disability, sexuality et al. Perhaps the message that they are intrusive and unnecessary has finally been heard.

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Friday, 2 December 2011

Our Friday miscellany
of the week's
news and events
Ever since the bicycle was invented, it has been a problem in Boston – principally because for some reason it seldom, if ever, occurs to the townsfolk to ride it on the road. Which is why we raised a wry smile when we saw a headline in the local paper -“Police vow to crackdown on dangerous cyclists…” How many cracksdown will this make, we wonder? –  as we can think of at least three in as many years. Time and again, our local police have promised action, but we have never seen any improvement in the situation as a result. Cycles are ridden at speed and with complete disregard for pedestrians on pavements, footpaths and in pedestrianised  areas - and, as the Pc commanding “Operation Cyclone” (wow, that's impressive)  has so presciently observed -  “sooner or later someone will be hurt.” Sadly, we think that will have to happen before the police really  take the issue seriously.
We now have eleven “carolling councillors” volunteering to entertain visitors to the town’s Christmas Market weekend on December 10th and 11th – and we applaud their sense of fun and community spirit. They will perform in the Market Place at 2.30pm on the Sunday. Eleven out of 32 ain’t bad – in fact it is starting to look a trifle embarrassing for those who haven’t yet signed up. All councillors have received an invitation to take part – so let’s hope that by this time next week, we will see a few more names on he list.
We know that there’s a crime for almost every action that you can think of these days – but we thought that this one took some beating …

What next, we wonder – a charge of pea mushing?
Boston’s irrepressibly hopeless Business Improvement District is  organising much of this year’s Christmas activities in the town – although you wouldn’t know it from looking at their website. To date, not a word has appeared about anything to do with Christmas – the last “news” entry on the BID site was dated November 14th, headed “Protest March Update” and announced: “Saturday 19th November will be a normal trading day.”
The latest issue of Boston Borough Council’s monthly bulletin was quick off the mark with a report that Wednesday’s cabinet meeting had approved  the borough’s budget plans for the financial year ahead. We’re told that the main proposals include a freeze on council tax - so long as the government’s bribe for not increasing the rate is accepted -  improved front line services ... whatever of those remain ...  and major spending to improve the council’s refuse fleet, the crematorium and car parks. Strangely, there is no mention of the plan to increase car parking fees – including the possibility of charging disabled drivers, which would bring in an extra £80,000 alone. A quote from a spokesman that Lincoln already makes such a charge is unconvincing. Therefore, we assume that the parking price plans are still on the agenda – but as they are bad news, have been swept beneath the carpet of what little good news there is to offer.
The link to the full draft budget document on the council’s website took us to an entertaining page indeed. It is the council’s “On Line Forms” area - which we are told is developing and will offer “a whole range of popular forms” soon. We’re none too sure about the choice of the word popular in connection with forms - but are sure that some of those on offer are much in demand. They may well include a form to transfer grave ownership, another entitled “Landscape Character Assessment consultation January 2007 - desktop study only” and yet a third “to report dead animals on the road or pavement.” By the time you have reported them, they've probably been cooked, served and eaten!
As we searched for photos showing Boston Market Place the other day, we came across a small but delightful collection from – of all places – the Imperial War Museum ...  and which forms part of the “Ministry of Information Second World War official collection."

click on photo to enlarge it
We particularly liked the picture on the right – in which a young boy excitedly runs in the wake of a farmer herding his cattle along Strait Bargate. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, as they say in Fishtoft. In 1945, it was animals – today it’s the townsfolk being herded by the Into Town Buses. If you would like to see the other pictures in the set, you will find them by clicking here
A  very nice Christmas present for the citizens of Lincoln comes in the shape of government approval of a £50 million contribution towards the city’s eastern by-pass. After initially approving a contribution of £14 million, Lincolnshire County Council then went considerably further, agreeing to act as “guarantor” and underwrite the £34 million "third party funded element." Now that the bid to Whitehall has succeeded, it means that construction could begin as soon as 2014 - because the authority won’t need to wait for details of developer contributions. On top of all that, the plans for the road were scaled back to single carriageway to get costs even lower.  So how different will that be from the much criticised A46, then? All of this sounds like a bit of a gamble – but again it underlines criticism that County Hall considers that nothing is too good for Lincoln – whilst the rest of us can go boil our heads.
Hands up if you try to keep your wheelie bin as clean and presentable as possible. Yes, quite a lot of are you showing that you do. Now, hands up if you’re less than happy to have a super sticky label slapped on your bin that takes a lot of scraping to remove – especially when all it’s telling you about is changes to Christmas collections that affect only one day of the week. Gosh – even more hands …
Our prize for the promotion of the week goes to the Boston Standard with this offer on Christmas footwear.

What a great way to sell boots. Just be careful when you order to avoid getting two left feet – unless you’re Long John Silver, of course!

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Thursday, 1 December 2011

the way the Market Place once looked - and could do again

Building grants need some sort of management

Gradually a sea of grey is emerging from the building site otherwise known as Boston Market Place, which makes it possible to see just what vast a space will emerge when the project is completed in March next year. We just hope that in due course it will not be defaced by double yellow line here, there and everywhere.
As from today an important complement to the renovation begins - a £650,000 scheme to help with the cost of restoration and repair to buildings in the area.
Most of the eligible buildings are either listed or “sensitive,” and Boston Borough Council says the availability of grants to renovate them and restore missing features, will be a huge benefit to the revitalisation of the area.
Owners of eligible properties need to be quick because the cash will be allocated on a first come-first served basis - and two levels of grant are available … a straight 50% of eligible costs for repairs and 90% for reinstatements.
Details of the scheme and advice on how to apply are available at the Guildhall from 4pm to 6pm today – and owners and tenants of eligible properties have also been invited to the official launch of the scheme at 6.30pm.
Investment will be made by English Heritage over five years, with matched funding from Boston Borough Council – and English Heritage has confirmed £120,000 for the first year of the scheme, which will initially target properties in the Market Place and Wormgate (at last!!) So with the matched funding, almost a quarter of a million is up for grabs.
We hope that a number of things will be taken into account with this scheme – the most important of which is to introduce some sort of broad management of applications.
It’s not enough to say “the money’s here – come and get it.”
Boston’s Market Place – pictured at the top of the page in its prime - is Georgian-ish which means that apart from the style of its architecture, certain colours would have predominated.
To maximise the benefit from the restoration scheme, and create an outstanding image, we think that colour should be considered an important part of any restoration of the buildings,  and people applying for grant aid should be asked to take this point on board.
The other thing is signage – note that the Market Place in its heyday had no signs hanging from buildings – all the information was presented flush to the shop frontage.
We need to see if shops can be persuaded to change their signage to something more sympathetic to the visual environment.
And despite the fact that the money is available on the “first come, first served” basis we hope that, again, some sort of management can ensure that big name chain stores with millions in the bank don’t cash in on improvements that they should be doing anyway at the expense of smaller, local, hard-pressed businesses.
As with the restoration of the Market Place, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity – and it is essential to get it right.
Just to announce a free for all when so much money is available for such important purposes imperils a unique opportunity.
Usually, people have a vision of the future that they wish to follow – but in this case a vision of the past is just as important.

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