It’s bad enough when important and irreplaceable historic buildings are allowed to become run down and decay – but when a town’s entire conservation area becomes so neglected that it heads a regional list of areas at risk, then things have really reached rock bottom.Despite all the talk and the offer of hundreds of thousands of pounds in improvement money – English Heritage has branded Boston’s conservation area as in a very bad condition, and deteriorating … despite the £2 million Market Place Refurbishment scheme.
There are more than 9,500 Conservation Areas in England, and 524 of them are considered to be at risk.
The irony where Boston is concerned is that money is there to help smarten the area up.
It’s almost a year since Boston Borough Council and English Heritage announced that £650,000 would be made available over five years – and despite a couple of reminders, only one business has come forward to get a share of this first year’s £120,000 kitty.
Another irony amidst all of this is that whilst Boston Borough Council has been blathering about our heritage, it is this self-same local authority that has allowed the town’s most prominent historic building – the Georgian Assembly Rooms – to fall into such a state of decay that it cannot now afford to restore it and is selling it to a private buyer, who is widely expected to convert it into a nightclub – whilst closing a central block of public toilets.
It’s not as though Boston Borough Council is unaware of the benefits of conservation. A report a couple of years ago said that investment in the historic environment attracts businesses, and brings more visitors to local areas and encourages them to spend more and that historic environment attractions generate local wealth.
Specifically, it quoted a figure of £1.60 of additional economic activity is generated for every £1 of historic environment investment over a 10 year period, and that
Ironically, the report highlighted the impressive work done in Spalding as part of a five year scheme to improve conservation of historic buildings.
We wonder what English Heritage makes of all this.
In February last year, members of the organisation’s governing board – The Commission – went on a walking tour of the town’s historic sites as part of an ad hoc visit to keep in touch with “the vital task of protecting and sustaining the quality of historic places.”
Dr Anthony Streeten, East Midlands planning director, said at the time: “We chose to visit Boston because there is such huge potential for heritage to lead the way in regeneration.”
He described the Boston Town Centre Conservation Area as “one of the finest in the country,” adding: “Residents of Boston can take real pride in the history of their town and visitors have the promise of a true gem under the vast skies of the Fens.”
And a council spokesman said: "English Heritage's interest in Boston is long-standing and arises from the nationally-outstanding significance of much of Boston's built heritage.
"In the past few years, English Heritage has been involved in a broad range of issues in the town including heritage-led regeneration, master planning and urban design, grant aid for urgent works, archaeology and planning advice.
"During their tour of the town centre, English Heritage said Boston is one of the most significant unspoilt historic towns in the country and, with its support and that of the borough and county councils and through the use of European money, there is the opportunity to make improvements."
That was then – this is now.
Despite all the fancy phrases, it seems as though the conservation area has declined rapidly in the past 19 months.
And who is to blame?
English Heritage has provided the water in the form of a massive financial allocation – but Boston Borough Council seems unable to get the horses to drink from the trough.
Apparently, we have a Conservation Project Officer in the council – so we hope that this latest bad news from English Heritage will act as a spur to get things moving.
Oh – and if you thought that the Boston Conservation was alone in Lincolnshire in being at risk … it isn’t.
The Kirton Conservation Area is on the list as well.
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