Friday, 30 March 2012

Our Friday miscellany of the week's news and events

This time last week, the  corporate peer challenge,  which saw Boston Borough Council given the once over by professionals from four outside district councils and the Local Government Association to examine how efficiently it was working, had just ended. It was reportedly the final recommendation of the improvement board to look at the council’s best practice, partnership working, successes and failures – “warts and all." We asked at the time whether the findings of the visitors would be made known to us, the taxpayers – and as time goes by, we think we know the answer. Was it so very warty, then?
After questions to the police the other week, next Wednesday’s Task and Finish Group looking at the social impact of population change on Boston - a long-winded way of saying the issues raised by inward migration – will be hearing from employers, and relevant representatives. Because the borough council only releases agenda details five working days ahead of a meeting, it is again impossible for the public to ask questions, because there is insufficient time left to pose one under the rules. However, if it’s any help, the next but one meeting – which will see questions about education – is on 26th April, so there is plenty of time. You’ll find more details by clicking here
Last week’s item on the “vegetable bowling” championship planned for Boston Borough Council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations prompted a letter to the Boston Standard from Independent Councillor Carol Taylor.

Sadly, the newspaper was swamped by four letters, and therefore unable to find any space. But in the interests of openness, here’s what Councillor Taylor had to say: “I drove to work today along the A52 past the fields which were very busy with workers picking various produce from the land. This is so that we can have the privilege of being able to enjoy fresh vegetables on our dinner plates whenever we choose. To see this produce thrown around a field for the sake of enjoyment is wasteful and insensitive. We still have families who are unable to feed themselves to a standard that most of us enjoy every day, and there is still a third world famine. Whilst people of the Third World may not eat the western world’s food, this display of wastefulness is just not acceptable. I wonder what our Sovereign Queen Elizabeth would think - and even more so, what would Sir Bob Geldof think? The Jubilee celebrations in the Park will be a great success, so do they really have to do this? ‘These cabbages are only going to rot anyway,’ I hear you say - but if they are, then why not give them to those who can ill afford such fresh pickings from our land. I am not being a killjoy, but please remember if you are one of those throwing these vegetables around THINK! - is this really why the land workers work so hard for us to do this? THINK! - about those less fortunate who are unable to enjoy such fresh food. If you can do this with little thought to others and the sheer wastefulness then you can enjoy your bowling match.”Talking of the Jubilee celebrations, we wonder whether Boston Borough Council is being a little over-enthusiastic in its hyping of the event. “YOU... by royal appointment” screeched one recent headline, and another story promised “a right royal knees-up.” We are also told that the organisers hope there will be a “Last Night of the Proms type of atmosphere” - but having been to that event  some years ago, we think that their hopes may be over optomistic. The organisers are the Boston Town Area Committee, who have persuaded themselves that this is a “town only” event to justify hurling £5,000 at it from their budget. They have also allocated a further £10,000 to the Victorian garden fountain that is to be turned on to mark an Elizabethan jubilee. The fountain is being switched on by Boston’s Mayor – we assume the next one - and the council's portfolio holder for leisure services, parks, open spaces and cemeteries, Councillor Yvonne Gunter. Does it really need two? We can understand the Mayor doing the honours – that’s what Mayors are for. But although not one penny appears to have come from the borough’s leisure services budget, we have to ask why the portfolio holder is tagging along when, if anything, the job should belong to the Chairman of BTAC.
Can you blame us if we seem confused by Boston Borough Council’s approach to car parking? First there was the uproar over charging disabled blue badge holders. Now we read that plans are afoot to introduce residents’ parking schemes in congested streets that would see people paying to park outside their houses - having previously done so free of charge. Introducing such schemes could cost between £30,000 and £50,000 a time – but this “would be offset by income from selling residents permits.” And where do the drivers park who have been evicted from these congested areas? Presumably in whatever nearby car parks are available – at season ticket rates. And again, what about disabled people? The whole idea of the recent parking shake-up was to raise money. Now we hear that it could cost almost as much to set up one residents’ parking scheme as will be raised from chargeing blue badge holders. Not only that, but there is also talk of bringing all car parks up to a similar standard – at a cost of £400,000. None of this makes any sense at all. But one thing seems certain – that we will see ever spiralling charges, and increasing number of residents’ schemes.
Talking of spending … we hear that graffiti in Boston is being removed, thanks to a new machine. It has been paid for by Lincolnshire Police (why?) and will be operated by Boston Borough Council’s

Community Safety Team. There is also a “cut price” service available for owners of private property which has been daubed. So far, so good. But visitors to the Boston Business Improvement District website have been aware for some time that: “Boston BID has purchased equipment to enable us to remove some of the graffiti that is adorning buildings in the BID area. Whilst the council do not have a formal schedule as to when they will remove graffiti,  they are not responsible for removing graffiti on private property. Therefore if any BID member would like us to attempt to remove graffiti on their premises please contact the BID manager for more details.” So now we apparently have two graffiti removal machines. And even though there is a lot of graffiti around the place, we wonder whether that is one machine too much. Which reminds us … whatever happened to the £7,000 chewing gum removal machine that the council bought four years ago? After being trotted out for a couple of photocalls at the time it seems since to have disappeared without trace.
Still on issues relating to value for money, we wonder how cost effective the latest borough council scheme to get us fit and keep us active is likely to prove. The council has blagged £65,000 from NHS Lincolnshire for the provision of two "trim trails" – whatever they might be – new outdoor gym
equipment at Central Park and Woodville Road Playing Field and a financial contribution towards buying land  at Boston Woods to extend the joint path/cycleway. Equipment available now includes a cross-trainer, a rower, sit-up benches, balance beams, monkey bars and hurdles. Call us cynical if you will, but we can’t really see much of this stuff having any real health benefits. And we also thought that the NHS was supposed to be hard up.
Despite local protests by 19 residents and a petition from the Main Ridge East Steering Group, plans by Mayflower Housing to convert a house in the neighbourhood into a women’s refuge, are being recommended for approval. The steering group was particularly concerned at the possible impact of a refuge on a neighbourhood play area on which it has spent a lot of time and money improving – as they fear that there may be incidents involving the seven children it’s reckoned might  be housed there if their absent fathers try to contact them. But not to worry. The recommendation to councillors says: “In the absence of any evidence to substantiate local residents’ fears of undesirable incidents or behaviour that may or may not arise as a result of this use, the proposal to change the use to hostel accommodation can be similar in nature and characteristics to a residential dwelling. The proposed use is unlikely to substantially harm the amenities of other nearby land users or residents, or the general character of the area and therefore should be permitted.” So there!
Meanwhile, as part of Boston’s unceasing drive onwards and upwards, another plan being recommended for approval is one to turn offices behind the borough’s West Street offices into a centre for the treatment and rehabilitation of users of drugs and alcohol - despite a petition signed by 31 people. This time, the reasons are that the proposal can be an acceptable use and that it is really little different from a doctors’ surgery in the area. Looking at this and the item above, we wonder how many people are required to object to such proposals in their neighbourhood before someone sits up and takes notice.

We had to smile at the neat way Lincolnshire County Council has tried to cover up its tardiness in mending the roads in our part of the world. As any fule kno, potholes appear during the winter when prolonged periods of snow and ice cause the surface to break up. Now, County Hall has submitted a joint application to the Department for Transport requesting millions of pounds to repair “drought damaged” roads. According to Highways Portfolio holder Councillor William Webb, “the persistent drought means that soils shrinks under the roads from lack of moisture … and road surfaces become uneven as cracks appear.” Surely, there’s no possibility that some of this “drought” damage is in fact unrepaired “winter” potholes that have simply not yet been fixed? Is there?
We were taken to task by one of the members of the new South East Lincolnshire Planning Authority for suggesting on Wednesday that trying to second guess what we will need in twenty years time is something of a pointless exercise. South Holland District Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones wrote to say: “My, my, aren't we the positive upbeat community activists these days! People often like to accuse me of being a glass half empty AND broken kind of guy, but this piece makes me look like the CEO of Think Positive Inc. Having torn up the three council approach of using the old guard of existing politicians, I would very much like to hear what you would do? Having compared your approach of, don't bother to plan because it all changes anyway, with the original draft of the recently published National Planning Policy Framework, I wonder if the author might not be a developer, or at least somebody with some potential housing land to off-load. Whether we do it together, with the involvement of LCC, or separately, with LCC making comment on our individual draft plans, a local plan is going to happen and it's going to happen soon. You can get involved and make a contribution, or you can sit on the sidelines sniping and criticising - the choice is yours.” The e-mail closed with a quotation - "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Proverbs 15:1 together with the exhortation, “Speak nicely to people. Life is better that way.” Hmmm. We prefer: “Speak softly and carry a big stick".
Finally, if - as Boston’s MP Mark Simmonds suggests in this week’s Boston Target – the National Health Service is a national religion, could this explain why is seems to be in constant decline? We’re not sure that we approve of his cunning plan to ensure its survival - which is to give it our “whole-hearted support.” Is he suggesting that we break a limb or develop an illness or two to give the service a bit of a boost? We do hope not.

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Thursday, 29 March 2012

They have been driven to the brink of madness by thoughtless migrant neighbours and their landlords: Will no-one help this retired couple?

As the impressively-named Social Impact of Population Change on Boston - Task and Finish Group grinds slowly through its business, and as our police and anti-social behaviour officers burn the midnight oil cutting out life-sized photos of themselves to intimidate ne’er-do-wells without leaving the office, we urge you to read the following distressing story …
It may be an exception and not a rule, but put yourself in the place of this retired Boston couple and consider how you might feel in the same circumstances.
Boston Eye is not naming them, nor disclosing their address - although we are willing to put anyone in authority who offers help in touch with them.
All we would say is that their home is not really what might be termed a “tougher” tougher part of town, but in the borough’s Witham Ward.
The letter speaks for itself …

“Those of us who are affected by immigration in Boston would like to see a reduction in numbers.
"There are far too many migrants here now.
“My wife and I are both retired and live in a three bedroomed semi-detached house. Five years ago the house adjoining ours was bought by a landlord and filled with EU migrants - and since then our lives have been made hell with loud music, all night parties and all night barbecues.
“These people have no regards and no consideration for anyone.
"To them we do not exist.
"It has been a constant battle for us to preserve our sanity. We have very often been on the edge of a mental break-down.
“We are forever having to ‘phone the landlord's staff and the council environmental health officer to report loud music, but when we do we are seen as the bad guys for spoiling their fun. I have to keep reminding the landlord’s man that we live in a house, and not a night-club.
“In the past we have been threatened by migrants and the landlord’s staff, we have also had migrants shouting, "f… off English b……s!" through the adjoining wall.
“My wife is worried that harm will come to us, the dog or the car, and we do not feel safe any more.
I blame Boston Borough Council for the mess that the town is in.
"They have sat back and watched while greedy landlords have bought numerous houses to rent out to migrants with no regard for who lived next door.
“Quite frankly, we have had enough now. Both of us feel that we cannot take any more, and we feel that we are being driven away from our house. So we are hoping to sell up and buy ourselves a bungalow this year in order to get some peace and quiet.
“But who will want to buy our house other than a landlord? They would fit nine people in here easily - nine more for Boston.
“Since the last general election I have written to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith, and our local MP, Mark Simmonds, to express my concerns about the number of migrants who have come to Boston.
"I have put the same question to each one: ‘When we have three million people who are unemployed and a million youngsters who have never worked, why do you allow thousands of migrants to come here and take the work that is available?’
“I told the PM that there are so many migrants in Boston that there is no work or houses for local people, and that the town is like a ghetto of Eastern Europe.
“I suggested to the local MP that if we were not going to have a referendum to get us out of the EU, could we have a change of EU rules to allow each country to put the needs of its own people first?
“They do this in France and Germany. You cannot have a job in France unless it has been offered to a French person first. If the French can do it why can’t we?
“I have relatives in France and Germany, so I know what goes on there, and I know that we are the only EU country that gives benefits and free health care to migrants.
“If this country stopped giving benefits to migrants, it would solve the problem because most of them would go home.
“As it is, some get more in benefits than they would ever earn, which is why we see so many drunken migrant vagrants blighting our town. They don’t come here to work, but to bleed our benefit system. Some receive more money than British pensioners who have paid into the system.
“Any racism in Boston now is against the English. They do not get offered jobs, they do not get houses because the rents are too high, and they cannot get the benefits to supplement the high rents.
“Many cannot get an appointment with their doctor when they want one. Migrants demand to see a doctor and get seen on the day.”

Reading the above letter makes a mockery of the boast that “no-one need suffer anti-social behaviour in Boston” – as is so often claimed by the authorities.
The problems endured by this couple have gone on for years – apparently with nothing much by way of help - and we just hope that the great and the good take this on board the next time they plan some shabby publicity stunt to claim that they care.

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What is the point of planning almost 20 years ahead?
Not for the first time, we are being invited to have our say on some of the major issues affecting our future here in Boston – oh! and South Holland as well.
This is because of a new partnership which lumps together Boston Borough, South Holland District and Lincolnshire County Councils into a joint planning authority called – wait for it – the South East Lincolnshire Joint Strategic Planning Committee, with a logo which looks as though someone has spilt a blob of ice cream on a map of the county.
A dedicated website  has been created for us to visit and make our comments and offer up our vision for this super district between now and 2031 – nineteen years from now.
Why 2031? Apparently so that targets can be set for things such as land availability for housing and employment needs and - a great catch-all, this – “what the expected population at that date might need.”
How long is a piece of string?
Our “vision” can be “anything to do with our communities, settlements and the environment, but particularly if it has a local focus and, especially, if the means to achieving the vision are within “our” capabilities.”
The vision “should therefore be informed by an analysis of the characteristics of the area and its constituent parts, the key opportunities and challenges facing them. Everyone will have their own knowledge, experience and opinions, and this exercise is your opportunity to express them.”
The new website has links to enough documents to choke an elephant – with some of the reading material dating back more than five years, and therefore most probably out of date.
But to cut an exceptionally long story short, the main aims will be to identify land that will be need to be developed for housing, shops, or employment uses, and land which must be protected from development – perhaps because of historic or environmental importance; co-ordinating the provision of infrastructure and local facilities; deciding the appropriate response to the big issues facing the area, such as flood risk; and setting out policies against which planning applications can be judged.
The committee of the great and the good who will undertake this exercise comprises nine councillors, purportedly comprising three each from Boston, South Holland and County Hall – although closer examination indicates a subtle imbalance.
Our “local” contingent is Councillor Peter Bedford, - who is also a county councillor - Councillor Colin Brotherton and Councillor Richard Leggott.
South Holland is represented by Councillor Howard Johnson, Councillor Bryan Alcock and Councillor Roger Gambba-Jones, whilst the County Council representatives are Councillor Michael Brookes – who is also a Boston borough councillor - Councillor Graham Dark, who also sits on South Holland District Council, and Councillor Eddy Poll, another South Holland Councillor who is also the Deputy Leader of Lincolnshire County Council.
This, of course, gives the majority on the committee a South Holland District Council flavour. We’ll say no more about that.
What we would say, though is that the membership comprises old-school, long serving councillors – and given that they are supposed to be helping to shape the future of our districts we would have hoped that there might have been a younger member or two on board.
It also seems rather pointless planning almost twenty years ahead.
As recently as ten years ago, who could have foreseen the dramatic population changes in Boston which threw all the best laid plans of committees such as this into complete chaos?
Who could have foreseen the economic disaster that befell the country, and which has led to vast cuts in local government finance that has meant a complete reappraisal of all the local plans made in the last two or three years?
And to be honest – whilst public consultation is something of a buzzword these days – does anyone seriously believe that the public will set aside a week to wade through hundreds of thousands of words of councilspeak and submit their suggestions?

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Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Cut-out cops are not the answer

Our chuckle of the weekend came as we entered Boston’s ASDA supermarket to be confronted by a pasty-looking cardboard cut-out of one of our local Police Community Support Officers and a notice telling us that both plain-clothed and uniformed officers were operating in the store.
They probably weren’t.
Whilst the idea is nothing new, a senior local police officer tells us that they will help reduce crime.
And Boston Borough Council’s principal community safety officer said: “We take anti-social behaviour in our town centre very seriously and  ... the cut-outs will be placed in prominent positions ... to reassure the public that ASB won’t be tolerated ..."
This is getting to be a habit. Last year our narcissistic anti-social behaviour team pasted a giant poster of themselves on a hoarding near the Liquorpond Street roundabout to remind us that no one need suffer from the scourge of ASB.
To quote John McEnroe: “You cannot be serious!”
Surely no-one can genuinely believe that a life-sized photograph will reduce crime.
What is does show is the level of desperation that has been reached to try to reassure local people that the police and the council are doing something.
In its description of the role of a PCSO, Lincolnshire Police tells would-be applicants: “You are likely to spend most of your time out on patrol mostly working with your community. You will often be asked to patrol areas that have been experiencing particular problems, such as estates where there have been a spate of car thefts or burglaries, or where there have been complaints about nuisance youths on the streets.”
We remember the early days in Boston which saw – whenever a new PCSO was appointed – a well publicised promise to get out on the streets and deal with the issues of concern to local people.
We remember a much-hyped “clampdown” on cycling through pedestrian areas – of which nothing ever came.
We remember the celebrations when a couple of PCSOs were loaned a car by a local company – which they claimed would help them patrol even more efficiently.
And we remember the gradual retrenchment of some PCSOs to weekly “surgeries” in local supermarkets where the punters could visit them to raise issues of concern.
Anything, it seems, rather than walk the streets.
One incident that came to our attention a while ago concerned a couple whose outbuildings were broken into by burglars who had a little time to spare whilst breaking into a neighbouring house.
They returned from holiday to find two doors flapping in the breeze, but nothing taken and little real damage - so decided to put it down to experience.
A couple of weeks later a letter arrived from Lincolnshire Police saying that, unasked, they had  allocated a crime number to the incident – what a shame they hadn’t taken the trouble to shut the doors behind them at the time!
A promise was made that an officer would be in touch, but after another couple of weeks a letter came saying that as the victim’s phone number wasn’t in the book, contact could not be made. You can ring us, was the suggestion.
The recipients stuck with the view  suxch a minor that a crime not worth reporting and unnecessarily bumping up the local statistics.
But Boston Police were relentless in their pursuit – and after a third letter, an officer turned up unannounced on the doorstep.
The only real point to emerge from the conversation which followed was that the occupants of the house could not recall a time when they had seen PCSOs – or the real thing for that matter – patrolling the area.
They were assured that this would change.
But of course, it didn't.
Now, our invisible police have been replaced by a tangible presence – designed to cut crime by presumably paralysing any ne’er do wells with laughter as they make their light fingered way to the bacon counter.
We appreciate that Lincolnshire Police officer numbers have reached an all time low after losing over 70 staff through cuts.
This was used as an excuse for a 3.96% rise in the policing element of our council tax in return for which we have been promised a force that by next month “will have 97% of its officers on the front line.”
Perhaps they will be cut  out from heavy duty cardboard and made to link hands in a cordon.

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Monday, 26 March 2012

Town should "go Dutch" to solve our traffic problems

It’s often said that a good way to appreciate a problem is to look at it from a distance – which is why we are particularly grateful to a reader who sent us a link to a blog entitled A view from the Cyclepath   - which discusses Boston's relationship with cars, buses and cyclists.
The writer pulls no punches in his criticisms - and given the borough council’s obsession with our health and encouraging residents to take more exercise and leave their cars at home for short journeys -  tells a few home truths that we are sure many of the great and the good would rather not hear.
Cycling enthusiast David Hembrow used to live in Cambridge, and now lives in Assen in the Netherlands. Before and after his move, he was a two-wheeled visitor to Boston, and in his blog writes about the town’s “strange ‘pedestrian’ zone.”
In a visit to the town at the end of last year he commented: “In Assen there are many bikes and cycling is encouraged.
“However, there is one big difference. In Boston you are banned from cycling through these (pedestrianised) streets, while in Assen you are encouraged to do so.
“Of course, any place which bans motor vehicles has the potential to be a quieter place for people to enjoy.
“But Boston actually runs scheduled bus services through the ‘pedestrianised’ area every few minutes, and when they come through they generate a remarkably irritating warning sound …
 “This ‘pedestrian’ zone seems a  misunderstanding of what a pedestrian zone is. It also is a missed opportunity to make cycling more attractive.
“Of course, the centre isn't the only difference these days between Assen and Boston. Boston still looks in other ways like a typical British town with, despite its small population, quite remarkable amounts of motor traffic using roads which are surprisingly large, surprisingly busy, and which direct this traffic right through the centre of the town.
“Cycling to the centre of Boston requires using the same roads. Pedestrians walk behind barriers and have to cross those roads using multi-stage crossings with huge delays.
“I've cycled along this road and I can tell you that it's no more pleasant than it looks. While people who live in the suburbs of Assen cycle with very small children on their own bikes to the centre of the city, that's not what people do in Boston.
“People who cycle in Boston do so despite the conditions, not because of them. In Boston …. cycling resembles an extreme sport. Roads ... do not encourage mass cycling.
“Overwhelmingly, what Bostonians do to get about is to drive their cars. It's an easy choice to make. People may get stuck in traffic jams … they may have to pay to park … as well as for petrol and the upkeep of their cars, and they may well complain about these costs.
“However, when the infrastructure looks as it does in towns like Boston, and good alternatives are not provided, then people will carry on driving anyway, almost regardless of the cost, as this is still seen as the least bad option.
“The huge amount of car parking provided -  even very close to the start of the "pedestrian" zone - also means that anyone who tries to cycle here will have to take on a large number of motor vehicles.”
Later on he adds: “Boston encourages driving, as well as some public transport usage. The town makes walking and cycling relatively unpleasant. The result is that people overwhelmingly drive. On the other hand, Assen encourages cycling, due to offering direct and pleasant routes for cycling. The result is that people cycle for 40% of their journeys.
“For Boston to reduce its car dependency and be more welcoming to cyclists, requires the same kind of transformation as was made in the Netherlands. It is time that British streets started to look like modern Dutch streets. Boston people could cycle just as Dutch people can. In fact, archive footage shows that before the roads … were dominated by cars … Boston's population cycled in huge numbers.”
It’s ironic that it takes someone living miles away in another country to tell us some obvious solutions to one of the town’s big problems.
By the sound of it, it could be relatively easy to introduce improvements.
Let’s not forget that – ahead of last year’s elections – party representatives … aside from the BBI … united in condemning the decision to allow frequent bus services through Strait Bargate.
This is what they said at the time:
Conservative: “The option for the buses to go through the town centre itself was not put out to open debate or even to other councillors. It was a decision made in private behind closed doors by the leader of which we knew nothing. It was actually implemented and I think it’s disgusting.”
Labour: “The issue … is going through Strait Bargate. Thousands of people when I talk to them are horrified by this and it seems to me that it was a decision that was not good for Boston… Thousands of pounds of damage is being done to the pavements … but more importantly, older people and disabled people are being terrorised by the buses going through.
Independent: “Taking it through the centre of town is causing damage, it’s also quite unnecessary. There are routes which could have been looked at without going through the pedestrian area.”
Interestingly, since the Tories took over the running of Boston Borough Council, they have often been asked to put their money where their mouth was on the issue of buses using the precinct – and all they have done is come up with excuses not to.
The reader who spotted Mr Hembrow’s blog sent it to town centre portfolio holder Councillor Derek Richmond some days ago – but has not received a response.

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Friday, 23 March 2012

Our Friday miscellany of the week's news and events
We appreciate that politicians have a duty to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear at every opportunity – but sometimes these things can be carried to extremes. The council’s portfolio holder for Boston town centre, Councillor Derek Richmond, is already famous for his suggestion that disabled
blue badge holders would feel discriminated against unless they were force to pay to park – and that was  something he was sure that they would most definitely not want. Now he’s applying the same quirky logic to a report for the BBC by Experian, which says Boston was the worst place for business growth in the East Midlands.  Stand by for Councillor Richmond’s argument in rebuttal. The data does not distinguish between big companies and one-man operations. At 10%, the number of self-employed people in Boston is well above the national average – and many of the 117 businesses which went bust in the past two years may well be in this category. In Richmond-speak, according to the local papers, this means that far from being the worst area in the East Midlands for business  ... "this higher than average entrepreneurial spirit demonstrated that Boston is a good place for business, with many brave people prepared to take the plunge to test their own business ideas.”  It sounds great, until you realise that Boston is such a good place for business, that 117 of them have gone bust.
On the basis of the above argument, we suppose that the next line we will hear from Boston Borough Council's spinning wheel is how lucky we are where car parking charges are concerned following publication of the rates charged by NHS hospitals. More than a quarter of hospital trusts in England increased car parking charges for patients and visitors in the year to last April – and while some cut prices, others more than doubled them. The fees at United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust - which includes the Pilgrim Hospital in Boston - jumped 112%, from an average of 67p an hour to £1.42. A patients' group branded the fees a "tax on the sick" and called for NHS parking to be free, as it is in most of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - , but the government says that free parking would take £100 million from the care budget. It seems wrong to us that the cost of parking should contribute to care. What next, a hire charge for bedside chairs used by visitors? We may live to regret making such a suggestion!
Car parking brings us to the matter of the former Kwik Save site off Rosegarth Street, which has apparently been closed by the owners Tesco Holdings - sparking rumours that a new business might be moving in. Boston Borough Council ran the car park for Kwik Save while it was open, and presumably has continued to do so since the supermarket closed down. But is there any truth in the story doing the rounds that Tesco has asked the borough council for the return around £175,000 which has been collected over time?
Tesco has come in for some stick from Councillor Richmond over its lack of communication regarding the Kwik Save site - claiming that its attitude runs counter to the spirit of the Portas Report which wants businesses, landlords and partners all singing from the same hymn sheet. To us it seems remarkable that when the council wants to keep something quiet, it is called commercial confidentiality, but when a company adopts the same procedure it gets hauled over the coals.
Speaking of the Portas project, there’s been still more tweaking to the submission during the week, with a redistribution of the £100,000 “prize money” should Boston be awarded it. The biggest spend would still be £40,000 - up from £30,000 -  for trail markers, audio guides and signage, followed by £20,000 to establish a “coach driver facility.” After that, sums of £10,000 each are proposed for a part time project manager, farmers’ markets, street entertainment and static displays, a subsidy for empty shop usage and provision of activity equipment for a “youth area.” And if that didn’t prove enough, any additional funding would be sourced from local businesses and organisations that have “a vested interest in seeing the pilot succeed and Boston brought to the fore.” They will need to sell it well – since these sources are already paying business tax, and in many cases a levy to  the useless Boston BID.
Never let it be said that Boston Borough councillors are short of  good ideas when it comes to  entertainment. The Boston Standard website tells us that one of the events planned for Central Park on Bank Holiday Monday to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee will be the first World Bowling Greens Competition - devised by Councillor Mark Baker, which will be loosely based around a

traditional game of bowls, but with jacks and bowls replaced by Lincolnshire vegetables! The idea was tested by Councillor Yvonne Gunter and you can see it on video by clicking here .  The only comment that we would be prepared to make was that we thought the Standard headline to be a little harsh! Others -  less generous than Boston Eye - may suggest that a combination of Lincolnshire vegetables, and selected Boston borough councillors might prompt calls for a return of the once popular town stocks!
There’s been yet another bright idea from Boston Labour group councillors with a call for Boston to adopt a similar scheme to the council in Kirklees – where individuals publish an “annual” report on their activities. Labour says such a scheme would focus the minds of councillors and on  the way the borough runs its services. We agree. Certainly, we think such a report would make interesting reading, as it would be possible to compare the promises of some candidates when they sought election, and the reality! It would certainly be a useful guide as to how to cast our votes next time around.
We learned this week that 17 torchbearers will run with the Olympic flame in Wrangle and Boston on Wednesday, June 27 – but that sadly only four will be from the borough. Does this mean that the council’s appeal for local Olympic champions fell on deaf ears? After all the hoo-hah, the first stage of the torch journey will last just 15 minutes. And the second one, through the town, will take only 37. Each of the 8,000 runners taking part nationally will cover an average of 300m, and a torch security team of 28 unarmed Metropolitan Police officers will guard the Olympic flame. After all the recent talk of unhealthy policemen, they’ll surely be as fit as the Olympic athletes themselves once it’s all over!
Next Wednesday’s Licensing Committee meeting of Boston Borough Council has a job on its hands by the looks of it,  as it discusses an application for yet another off licence/food store – this time in Fydell Street. Objections range from problems of anti-social behaviour, litter and parking, to warnings from an unnamed councillor of the possibility of illegal alcohol and cigarette sales. What is the answer to all of this? It would be interesting if someone  would tell us how many alcohol outlets there are in Boston now, compared with – say – three years ago. Then we could gauge the true level of the situation.
Boston is pigeonholed for many things. Over the years we’ve seen immigration, obesity, ill health and poverty – to name just a few. But if we’re not careful, we’re going to be branded by a self-inflicted title of the litter capital of Lincolnshire. If you’ll forgive the pun, Boston Borough Council’s website is littered with such stuff. We’re told that Boston's Operation Fly Swat team is just a couple of loads away from collecting more than 100 tonnes of illegally-dumped rubbish from more than 550 fly-tip sites. Then there’s the 5th annual Big Boston Clean Up - which over the last four years has seen 2,366 volunteers armed with litter pickers and bin bags have collect  57 tonnes of litter and fly tipping. Finally a gruesome report tells us more than we need to know about needles, human faeces, soiled mattresses and broken glass being cleared by a team which tidied up a rough-sleeping site off Spalding Road in Boston this time last week.  As far as the latter is concerned, we are sure that things might not have been so bad had the authorities intervened earlier – and it sounds as though it could have been done. But it  seems  that almost every recent reference we come across depicts Boston as a haven for rubbish. Are we really as bad as all that?
As we predicted,  there is no great enthusiasm for Boston Borough Council’s poorly cobbled together idea for collecting garden waste. Already, there are complaints that charging £20 for a third green waste bin takes no account of whether people can afford it or not. The suggestion that the less well off - or those with very small gardens -  should share the cost is all well and good ... but we see it creating friction. Worse still is the scenario where people neither pay nor share – but simply hijack bins owned by others to dump their waste. Boston Eye was once unfairly accused of possibly inciting people to riot – but we think that the garden waste issue is far more likely to achieve such a thing.
Finally, we note with amusement a report that informed us: “A market in Boston was first recorded between 1125 and 1135.” It seems a lot of trouble to go to for just ten minutes!

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Thursday, 22 March 2012

No ... it's true ... we all can have our say about immigration ...

Is it the first real meeting, or isn’t it?
Today sees a gathering of members of the Task and Finish Group entitled Social Impact of Population Change on Boston - which to  the riff raff like us means the group that is considering the pressures on Boston caused by immigration.
By all accounts a meeting last month set out the framework, and involved members of the Boston Protest March Group presenting issues that they wanted addressing.
The session was said to have gone well, despite being a bit fiery at times .
After that meeting, we asked Boston Borough Council for a comment, together with details of the group’s membership.
But as often seems to be the case, we received no reply.
We now know, though, that the Chairman is Labour Group leader Councillor Paul Kenny, and that  his deputy, Paul Gleeson is Vice-Chairman. Other members are former BBI leader Richard Austin, English Democrat councillor Elliott Fountain, Tory portfolio holder for community development Mike Gilbert, Independent Richard Leggott, and Conservatives Paul Mould, Gurdip Samra and Judith Skinner.
It’s a broad-based group, and for once the pudding is not over-egged with Tories, so it will be entertaining to see what they come up with over the next six months or so – but we predict that “fiery” will not be the word to describe the atmosphere at some future debates.
Tonight’s meeting will see the police giving evidence and answering questions.
Next month,  there will be meetings on the 4th involving employers, and the 26th which will address education and schools.
Councillor Kenny has said that  an implementation stage  will follow in late April/May, with recommendations aimed at creating harmony" being monitored closely until  the  2015 elections.
It’s fair to say that at the moment, the general impression is that this group is some sort of club  - whose members attend by invitation only.
Certainly, regular readers of the protest marchers’ Facebook page are given the feeling that their members alone submit ideas and comment.
But this is definitely not the case.
The agenda for tonight’s meeting says the public are welcome to attend and ask questions.
But they must be  submitted in advance “in accordance with the group's procedures.”
It is interesting to note that the rules for public questions have been drafted specifically for meetings of this particular Task and Finish Group.
Normally, the public will be allowed 20 minutes for questions … but they must be submitted in writing or by e-mail no later than 5 pm two clear working days before the day of the meeting – so if a meeting is on a Wednesday, the question must be received by 5 pm on the previous Friday, and if the meeting is on a Thursday, it must be received by 5 pm on the previous Monday.
Got that?
It means that lateness of notice precludes anything happening this evening.
No individual or organisation may submit more than one question at any one meeting – but one supplementary question is allowed.
We note with a wry smile that Clause 9 of the rules warns: “In the event of a general disturbance making orderly business impossible, the Chairman can stop the meeting for as long as he thinks necessary.
“If a member of the public interrupts proceedings, the Chairman will warn the person concerned. If they continue to interrupt, the Chairman will order their removal from the meeting room.”
It sounds as though the council is expecting fun and games ahead.
Hopefully they won’t occur at the special meeting  - to which our beloved leader Councillor Peter Bedford  ... now that he appears to have acknowledged that Boston has a problem ...  has invited council leaders and chief executives from all of the county's district councils to attend!

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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

After what seems like an age of inaction, several things are now going on at once in Boston. Yesterday we mentioned the Portas Pilot bid, and other things on the boil include Boston in Bloom and the completion of the Market Place renovation.
Today’s borough council cabinet meeting has on the agenda a lengthy report to cover the latter – and in some ways is more notable for what it doesn’t say than for what it does.
We know that the bulk of the job will be finished by Good Friday 6th April – just in time for Boston Borough Council to wish us a happy Easter by reintroducing parking charges. And if previous years are anything to go by, don’t expect to park for nothing because it’s a bank holiday – we’ve seen tickets handed out at Easter before.
A couple of late arrivals on the street scene will be the Five Lamps replica of the original, but which sadly is being let down by being incorporated into a bus stop for the Into Town service – and the smashing of a hole in the listed perimeter wall of Boston Stump … to save pedestrians walking any farther  than is absolutely necessary.
We would hope that once the full vista of the new Market Place can be properly viewed, there might be a rethink on the latter plan – but somehow we doubt it.
Parking availability in the Market Place has been reduced from 110 spaces to 40, “historic routes" have been picked out within the design, and new car parking bays will be defined with white granite setts instead of painted lines.
Parking bays, ticket machines and other furniture are yet to be introduced.
How well all of this is handled is critical to the success of the project.
Although there is less parking, pedestrians will still have to contend with cars and delivery vehicles as before, and we would hope that someone has had a bright idea to see them kept as separate as possible.
Street furniture – the look of it – will be important as well.
And what is to be done about areas where parking is not allowed?
Whilst all of the above sound to be issues of fine tuning, getting them right will be crucial – and the wrong look here -  or fifty yards of double yellow lines there-  could see the hopes for an attractive, distinctive historic area completely dashed.
And wouldn’t it be marvellous if the Into Town buses could be re-routed so that they no longer travel through Strait Bargate into the Market Place.
Without question, they were one of the biggest disasters that the town’s shoppers have seen, and the
re-opening of a newly restored Market Place would present an ideal opportunity to create a genuinely pedestrian-friendly  area by sending the buses packing.
Discussions are also going on with stallholders about the return of the Wednesday and Saturday markets – and we suspect that many of them would prefer to retain the way it has been running these past few months.
The first big visitor to the new Market Place will be the Boston May Fair – not the Mayfair as it is still wrongly referred to in borough council papers.
But what happens after that?
Avenues being explored include working with a local café owner to establish an expanded open air street café, working with specialist craft market sellers to potentially introduce a small fortnightly craft market into Market Place on Thursday and Friday’s, whilst further market ideas, including farmers’ markets and other types of continental markets are also being explored.
The council is also seeking to establish a series of summer events in the Market Place that could involve local groups such as performing arts, musicians, choral groups and the like. Discussions and feasibility remain in their early stages, but the declared aim is to encourage good quality and attractive street entertainment, subject to the management resources being available.
As we said yesterday, we are concerned about the lack of imagination shown in the Portas Pilot bid.
Little has been heard about the Boston in Bloom project, but what has emerged is much as we would expect.
The Market Place should be the main focus of our attentions now.
Such a vast area for potential use should attract equally big ideas.
Let’s have less use of words like “potentially,” “small,” “explore,” “seeking,” “feasibility,”  and “subject to.”
We exploit potential  ...
We don't think in possibilities ...
We think big - not small ...
We find, rather than seek ...
We want realities not feasibilities ...
Anything else  implies  narrowness, lack of imagination, and the whiff of failure before we have even started.
And we've had far too much of that in recent years.

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Tuesday, 20 March 2012

BID proposes £30,000 on signage
Time of the signs -
how run-down
Boston might
spend £100,000 award ...

Hot on the heels of our look yesterday at the Task and Finish Group report on Boston BID – and its so-called achievements – a survey has named Boston as the worst performing area in the East Midlands for business … after the borough suffered a net loss of 117 companies over the past two years.
The study, by Experian – the global information services group – counted the number of new companies and firms made insolvent in local authority districts across England.
Boston was ranked 298th out of 324 after its total number of companies fell from 3,020 to 2,903 in the last two years.
Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce told the BBC that various factors were to blame.
Members had identified a lack of investment in road and rail infrastructure as a potential contributory factor, as well as Boston's classification as a high-risk flood area.
They had also reported a brain drain  - with large numbers of bright young people leaving to attend university but very few returning to live in the area.
Chief executive Simon Beardsley said: "There has been some reduction in the total as a consequence of take-overs and mergers, particularly in the legal and financial sectors.
"Also, there is simply less product on the move and fewer people travelling - small hauliers and small bus companies are less evident.
"Overall, I would say it is a picture of fewer companies fighting for a share of a shrinking market while costs continue to rise."
In summary, it’s accurate, but vague and not really helpful.
Given that Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce plays a significant role in Boston BID  - in that it controls the so-called “golden share” which takes all major decisions affecting the BID, we feel that the reaction should be more proactive and less supine.
So where do we go from here?
There seems a peculiar irony in having a business “improvement” district that has been in existence for three years – when the last two have seen local businesses toppling like ninepins.
It is not rocket science to “identify” underinvestment in road and rail as a potential contributory factor in the town’s decline. You may as well blame the weather.
The flood risk issue is well known – but whilst the great and the good maunder on about it ad nauseam – that's all they seem to do.
And as far as the brain drain is concerned – we are sorry to say that it will continue whilst our local "leaders" and the borough’s MP cling to the idea that the career path for our young people is a seamless journey from the classroom to the packhouse.
A separate Experian survey underlines another problem facing Boston.
It rates the borough 76th out of 327 local authorities ranked by poverty.
Meanwhile, Boston is pressing ahead with its bid to be a Portas Pilot – which would earn it  £100,000 to transform 12 "unloved and unused" high streets across the UK.
But its suggestions on how to spend it lack imagination, and we don’t really see them as winners.
Topping the list is £10,000 to appoint a part time project manager. More jobs for the boys.
But the highest allocation - £30,000 - is for signage … so be careful where you walk!
The list of “challenges” facing the town is daunting …
It includes a  "poor appearance" and a high proportion of “bargain basement” stores such as Poundland – without seeming to realise that in an area of high poverty, these are the very shops that make life affordable for many people.
It says that there are too many similar businesses such as hairdressers -  together with large numbers of charity shops – yet fails to note the burgeoning number of off licences and mobile phone shops.
Access and parking is mentioned along with “economic challenges,” graffiti and anti-social behaviour, an “undeserved” bad reputation, poor planning policy, lack of enforcement by council, ethnic tensions and red tape.
Significantly, the bid by the BID notes without any sense of irony that “There is a desire to see improvements which is stronger that the desire to lead these projects” – which pretty well sums sit up!
We believe that the descriptor is “all mouth and no trousers!”

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Monday, 19 March 2012

Question: How do you rubber stamp a whitewash?

Whoever coined the adage the mills of the gods grind slow, has clearly never seen one of Boston Borough Council’s Task and Finish Groups at work.
A review which began in September 2010 made four recommendations to improve the working of Boston Business Improvement District, and then gave it a year from March 2011 to get its act together.
Despite concerns that nothing much was happening being raised at regular intervals in the meantime, the deadline was rigidly stuck to – but at last, on Wednesday, the borough’s Overview and Scrutiny committee will consider a report and a recommendation to “note and consider the comments and actions undertaken by Boston BID and offer any further recommendations for Boston BID.”
According to the report, the BID has implemented many improvements - especially in the way it communicates with its members and the public – and also made improvements to management and the way it uses volunteers.
The list of so-called “action” taken by the BID includes a failed attempt to appoint volunteers as member champions and the appointment of a local law firm as company secretary – one of whose first acts was to tell someone who requested more information about board meetings that there was no legal obligation to provide it. Mention is also made of a regular newsletter – although until recently only one had appeared … about ten months ago. There is now another on the BID website entitled Volume 1 issue 3 and dated this month – although issues one and two … the latter of which we somehow missed entirely … cannot be found.
Facebook and Twitter pages are mentioned, but we could find no links from the website.
An online search finds the Facebook page, which demands that you “like” it before you can access it, and which is duplicated on the Twitter page.
It is also claimed that Boston is promoted on YouTube, but it’s all pretty haphazard, and one video created by tourism students from the University of Lincoln describes Boston as a City. Visit YouTube and search for Boston, Lincolnshire, to see what’s on offer.
It is not impressive.
The BID claims to have recruited volunteers from Wormgate, Dolphin Lane and South Street to act as a voice for their areas – but we believe that the groundwork for at least one of these projects was done well before the BID became involved.
Similarly – we note the rejection of a suggestion to share the job of manager to save money – because “a full time manager was required to deliver the increasing number of projects being undertaken by the BID.
“Such projects include the Portas Pilot bid, Community Showcase, and Britain in Bloom.”  
Although the BID is involved in the Portas Pilot,  and is the lead partner in Britain in Bloom, it is by no means running these shows.
And whilst we are told it has recently taken to turning up at Boston Community Showcase meetings, the Showcase is an entirely independent organisation with its own constitution – and in no way a project being undertaken by Boston BID.
Another recommendation of the Task and Finish Group was that Board meetings were open to members, and time allocated for their questions or statements.
The BID response is to say that guests are "welcome" to attend board meetings if they give advance notice - purely to ensure there are enough seats, you understand.  "Extracts" of board meeting minutes are published on the website with a full set of minutes being available to members on request. No mention is made of the introduction of a “question time.”
A lengthy list of BID achievements over the past year boils down to little more than refurbishing a handful of information signs and producing a hard-to-follow 3d map which contains some doubtful entries and cost a small fortune.
And talking of money
Although times are hard, the BID has obtained scarcely any of the equal match funding that it was supposed to have done.
Whilst it sets great store by the Town Rangers, they swallow 45% of its annual £130,000 income. The manager’s salary takes up another 22%, “marketing, events, promotions and projects” absorb 13%, and “overheads” another 9%.
With almost 90% of income going on the above four items and no match funding, it is hard to imagine much being achieved in the remaaining 18 months or so of the BID’s current term.
The BID is supposed to be an independent company, whose mandate prohibits spending on tasks that should be provided by Boston Borough Council through payment of business rates, or, for example the police.
Yet the BID openly admits that, it was felt that there was a need for additional street cleaning and so  bought two litter carts for volunteers to provide extra street cleaning.
Why did it not instead ask Boston Borough Council to do the job its members were already paying for?
Not only that, we have been told that Town Rangers have been employed to repaint Boston Borough Council street furniture.
One thing is very clear throughout the reports of the past year and a half.
Boston BID and Boston Borough Council are far too snug.
Many projects listed are described as being in partnership  with the council - and of course the BID bailed the council out when it needed more cash for the Christmas lights - £10,000 for each of two years.
BID is collecting litter - which is the job of the council – and duplicating services which are the job of the police with projects such as the town rangers … who can normally be found chatting to their peers in Pescod Square and ensuring that shop windows don’t fall into the street by leaning against them.
Had the BID not received so many crumbs from the council’s table since its formation, it would find it hard to justify its existence.
And later this year it proposes to blow another £10,000 to part fund a “free” concert in Central Park - which will do nothing to boost local trade.
We understand that Boston’s Cabinet portfolio holder for the town centre, Councillor Derek Richmond, is taking over the BID director’s seat held by the council’s Economic Development Officer, Ian Martin.
If that is the case, Councillor Richmond will at least no longer be able to be as vague about BID as he has been to date.
Having said that, with rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle currently doing the rounds, who can say which councillor will be holding which job in the weeks ahead?
It almost goes without saying that Wednesday’s meeting will swallow the report hook, line, and sinker, believe everything it has been told without question, and allow Boston BID to stumble on, extorting hard-earned money from reluctant levy payers to spendmostly on staffing and office space whilst doing jobs that the council can no longer afford to.
Look in detail at the list of so-called achievements and improvements in the report, and you will see how little has really been done .
Not only that, but you will be left with the distinct impression that much of it was hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour.

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Friday, 16 March 2012

Our Friday miscellany of the week's news and events

If there’s an easy way and a hard way to do things, your can lay money on Boston Borough Council opting for the hard way. Now that the implications of the plan for an extra wheelie bin for green waste are becoming clearer, we can begin to glimpse the minefield that awaits. Residents will have the option to buy a bin for £20 - or not have their garden waste collected at all. That's because, if  they haven't forked out the twenty quid, they cannot put garden waste in their green bin as they used to. People with small gardens have been told that they can share the cost of a bin with a neighbour or two. The potential of that as a source of disputes is probably quite considerable. As always, the council is selective in its choice of words – saying that the idea of a third bin was widely supported by participants in last year’s green waste pilot - but failing to add was that these people did not approve of the plan to pay a charge for the bin. And yet again the word discrimination is being levelled at the leadership in cases where people need a bin but perhaps cannot afford it. With so much practice at messing ideas up, you would think that the BAGIBs (boys and girls in blue) might at last be able to organise a booze-up in a brewery. Think again!
Still talking rubbish – the council that is, not us – we note the impending arrival of the annual Big Boston Clean Up. Whilst this is a praiseworthy scheme, it does highlight how ineffective the council’s daily efforts to keep our streets looking clean and tidy are. It would not surprise us to learn that this year’s event collects more rubbish than ever -  as it is clear that there is a growing disregard by people of the need to put their litter in an appropriate receptacle. The partnership between Boston Borough Council and the Boston Standard to publish CCTV photographs of people seen dropping litter in the street seems to have produced little by way of results this time around, and certainly, once you leave the town centre, litter becomes the rule, rather than the exception. How long before the Big Boston Clean Up becomes twice yearly – or even more frequent, we wonder?
In the normal way of things, when we heard that Boston Borough Council is to undergo a “warts and all” peer review, we would order in extra supplies of Compound W. But somehow, we feel that the council wouldn’t be announcing such an exercise if it wasn’t fairly confident of the outcome.
The so-called peer challenge - which sounds more like a reality TV show involving the House of Lords - is the final recommendation of the Improvement Board which took the council in hand back in the days of the Boston Bypass Independents. Regular readers will recall that the board signed the council off shortly after last May’s elections,  and that the Tory leadership tried to fudge the announcement so that it appeared that the improvements were down to them – rather than the BBI, even though that clearly could not have been the case. The three day visit – between March 20th and 22nd  - will be a “broad brush” affair with a verbal report on the final day followed by an in-depth written report. Will we be told the outcome, we wonder? And will the leadership break with the long standing tradition of keeping opposition parties away from the action – as has been the case with some other outside visits?
We note from the local newspapers that Boston is to host an “immigration summit” after council leader Peter Bedford invited representatives from other Lincolnshire councils to a meeting in the series of Task and Finish Group discussions on the issue. It comes as the level of debate continues to increase. Chris Pain, the Boston and Skegness area chairman for UKIP, warned  at the party's spring conference in Skegness at the start of the month, that unlimited mass EU migration had severely affected the area. And he sought to dispel the suggestion made by Councillor Bedford and others - including our MP Mark Simmonds – that local people did not want the jobs being done by the migrant community. “It is often the case that a British person answers an advert, by telephone, for a menial job only to be told that the position has been filled. They can ring back five minutes later and adopt a fake foreign accent and get an interview or be offered the job straight away,” he says. “Local people will do these jobs, but they are not even being given a chance to work in their own country ... the wages are being kept artificially low, with the migrants getting paid a lot less money than the British people were getting paid 28 years ago for the same work.” Worryingly, he adds: “It is difficult for people to believe that in Boston, we have No Go Areas, where public houses and restaurants are owned by foreigners, and only their own countrymen are welcomed. Numerous complaints are received about this, and their actions have created frictions in the once friendly and quiet neighbourhoods.” If these claims are correct – then here are two issues that should definitely be on the agenda for the “summit.”
As Lincolnshire County Council presses the pause button on funding for the proposed Boston flood protection barrier, we note with no sense of irony the announcement of plans for new road through Lincoln city centre. The project is part of a masterplan to encourage growth in the city, along with improving traffic and transport links. Construction of the road is likely to start in 2014 and take two years. Perhaps that’s why County Hall is thinking again before spending any more money on Boston.
It’s soon going to become something of a game - called “spot the shops that are leaving Boston.” This week a reader noted the disappearance of the It must be stolen shop in the Market Place, whilst a local estate agent is advertising the lease of the Blockbuster video shop in West Street.

Let’s hope it doesn’t echo most of the properties that change hands  in the street and become another shop/off licence. The number of premises not for sale in Boston town centre beggars belief. Meanwhile a prominent local webpage is even suggesting that Marks and Spencer is planning on pulling out of town. Silly?That's what they thought in Skegness and Grantham.

A  number of readers responded to Monday’s report on the proposed women’s refuge in the Main Ridge East Neighbourhood Steering Group area. The details of Mayflower Housing's “consultation” with neighbours is still an issue. A spokesman for the group said that as far as the consultation with immediate neighbours was concerned,  there appeared to have been only two households canvassed -  one who objected and intended  to protest in writing to the council, and  another where the house was rented by foreign nationals with limited English skills. The spokesman added: “As to CCTV, under the Data Protection Act, CCTV can only cover the premises concerned and cannot film the public on the park or roadway.” Interestingly, whilst we agreed to a request by Mayflower to keep the location of the proposed hostel as vague as possible, several readers took no time at all to find it in the list of applications to the borough's  planning department. One wrote: “Surely Mayflower has a duty of care to these women? Allowing the location of such a refuge to come into the public domain has compromised the security of these women before they have set foot on the premises. Such incompetence does not bode well for the women who will be needing their services in future.”
At last, the year is up – and next week will see the long awaited report on how much Boston BID has achieved since the Task and Finish Group report recommended that it be more open with members. We won’t spoil your enjoyment,  as we will be reporting in detail next week, but we have to say that the BID’s so-called report reveals that nothing seems to have changed much – other than a bit of tweaking. There are also one or two claims that are worth a second look. As we say, more on that next week.
Something that the BID might like to take a look at is a website called Totally Locally.

The people who produce it say: “Totally Locally is a multi-award winning campaign that makes our towns that little bit better by celebrating local shops, businesses and people. Totally Locally is free to any town that wants it. We work alongside shop and business owners, or people who just want to improve their towns.” The story so far? If you visit the site and search for Boston – you won’t find it!
Earlier in the week we mentioned the problems encountered using the new Boston Borough website and how so called transparency sections had proved anything but. Initially, we were told that the fault lay at our own doorstep - because we had apparently been remiss in updating the latest Adobe software which would have made these pages accessible. When we pointed out that this was not the case, it emerged that the borough's IT department was working on the assumption that the world and his wife still depended on Microsoft Explorer as their browser of choice. The fact is that Explorer is favoured  by around 20%  of internet users, according to some statisticians. The problem is now solved to all intents and purposes. But there is still the worry that in language terms, the borough is writing in Latin, whilst the rest of us are using English!
We love the acronyms that our local council comes up with – and the list seems almost limitless. A report up for discussion next week on the adoption of open spaces in the borough,  offers these three gems: LAP – a Local Area for Play; LEAP - Local Equipped Area for Play and NEAP – a Neighbourhood Equipped Area for Play. What we need now is a Big Open Unequipped Neighbourhood Development Site -  and  then we can do things in LEAPS and BOUNDS!
Not for the first time, we are indebted to the Boston Standard for the introduction of  another word into the English language. Poultergeist?” Some one who scares easily in the presence of the supernatural, perhaps – they certainly sound to be a bit chicken!
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Thursday, 15 March 2012

Not enough houses ... Not enough jobs ... Not enough money. But when can we  expect to see some action?

Imagine a land where population growth brings rising unemployment, poverty and lack of housing, and the only jobs that are available are the most basic and poorest paid.
Sound familiar?
Oddly enough, the description is a summary of life in Elizabethan England around 500 years ago – although the similarities with the present Elizabethan England are too uncomfortable to ignore.
Which brings us to a pair of “assessments” - commissioned by Boston Borough and East Lindsey District Councils - a Strategic Housing Market Assessment and an Economic Viability Assessment, covering what is being called “Coastal Lincolnshire.”
Insofar as they can be deciphered by the average punter, they paint a pretty gloomy picture.
A policy for Boston set out in November 2006 said the borough council would try to negotiate that 30% of dwellings provided on sites of 15 or more dwellings within Boston or Kirton and five or more dwellings elsewhere in the district should be affordable housing - split between 60% social rent and 40% shared ownership.
At the time only 38 affordable homes a year were being completed in the borough, and by April 2010 an average of 43 affordable homes a year had been completed since 2005.
Compare this with an estimate which says Boston needs a net annual affordable housing of 100 dwellings, and you will realise just how wide the gulf is.
The assessment says that the government’s comprehensive spending review will have implications for housing policy and strategy outside of the strategic housing market assessments and cuts in affordable housing grant, and the local housing allowance may affect the existing affordability of both public and private rent as well as new development:
On affordable housing, the target put forward in the assessment for Boston is 20%.
It also says that the borough might consider the potential for the use of urban extensions – and has modelled a notional 2,000 unit scheme in Boston – although it doesn’t think that this is realistic.
Meanwhile, unemployment has begun to rise again at a rapid rate and was around 3.5% in Boston last year - and the assessment says that more than 80% of all new social tenants had no earnings from employment - which shows that many new lettings are to households which are entirely dependent on benefits.
How Boston plans to address this is anyone’s guess – but  as usual, other Lincolnshire district councils seem to be grasping the nettle.
Already there has been an announcement that more than 200 affordable homes are to be built in East Lindsey in the next three years after the district douncil pumped £2.5million into its housing capital programme to fund a partnership with a housing group.
And work has started on the first new council houses in Lincoln for 20 years.
In a nutshell, Boston needs more housing – but of equal … if not greater importance … it needs more job creation.
And as we have said before it needs a change of attitude by Boston’s great and good who need to disabuse themselves of the idea that the only place for the town’s workforces is either the packhouse or the field.
But the bottom line is  - we have to to stop talking about it and start doing something about it.

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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Where there's muck, Boston Borough Council will find a way to turn it into  money!

We were writing tongue in cheek when we recently suggested that our cash-strapped council might at some point decide to make us pay extra for our refuse collection.
It therefore came as something of a shock to see just such a possibility mentioned in a report on green waste which is being debated at tonight’s meeting of the Environment and Performance Committee. Not only that, but if adopted, the idea could be to profit from the charges and give the council with cash for other projects.
The report follows a trial collection of garden waste last year, which caused considerable controversy.
Selected households were asked to put compostable material into their blue recyclable bins, and their paper, cardboard and glass into specially provided plastic bags.
Although the collection of green waste was a big success, the use of blue bags was not popular - and the solution that people preferred was to have a third wheelie bin - although they were not keen to have to pay for it.
Well, hard luck!
Recommendations at tonight’s meeting are for the Cabinet to start consultations with staff with the idea of bringing in a four day working week;  supporting the introduction of a kerbside green waste collection service using an additional wheelie bin where appropriate - and asking residents to pay £20 for it; and banning the current practice of allowing garden waste to be dumped with the rest of the household waste.
The idea of the four-day week comes from West Lindsey, where the district council found that adopting a longer four day collection week for their staff, could reduce collection vehicles and save considerable capital and revenue expenditure.
Boston’s operations team also like the idea, which could save one or two vehicles, and possibly offer other savings that could  provide further services, and cut costs.
However, as we pointed out last week, the council often confuses the words saving and charging.
The report explains: “Many of our neighbouring councils have, up to now, offered a free collection based around the provision of a third bin and collection regime to residents on an opt-out basis.
“It is clear that several are now considering implementing annual charging to cover the cost of the service provision.
This council could consider an annual charge at a rate which returns an overall surplus, with any amounts above operational costs being used to contribute towards future capital costs.
Apparently, charges for such services vary widely across the country, from £20 to more than £70 a year – with an average of around £35.
With a £35 annual charge and an assumed 40% take-up, savings  (i.e. earnings)  to the council over seven years are estimated to be £2,117,000.
These would be used to contribute to other revenue and capital commitments.”
Nothing is written in stone at this stage, and there are a number of options for the council - ranging from the redesign of rounds, banning of green waste from residual bins and stopping all garden waste collections (including the Saturday service,)  which would lead to operational savings.
The report also mentions the option  fully to implement a green waste collection service funded in total by the authority -  but we think that Hell would freeze over before our cash-conscious  (i.e greedy) council opted for something like that.
Based on the council’s current track record -  stand by to pay for your garden waste wheelie bin, and pay again to have it emptied.
As our local Tories might say: “We’re all bin it together.”

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