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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