Friday, 1 August 2014

Ahead of Monday’s planning committee meeting to approve the Quadrant development, one of the interesting things to emerge from the debate is the conflict of information about the important side issues that have arisen.
We all know that what we are told by those in “authority” is what they want us to hear, and in some cases efforts are made to ensure that the result goes their way at the earliest possible stage – witness the infamous “consultations” conducted by Boston Borough Council, where the eventual outcome is clear from the way the questions are couched.
However, sometimes, even our council’s best – or should that be worstattempts to be economical with the truth backfire, and the debate over the Quadrant development at Wyberton contains evidence that their powder-puff propaganda aimed at cosmeticising the bad news doesn’t always work.
The council always tends to be upbeat when confronted by failure because it thinks that admitting to it is a sign of weakness, with the upshot that it insults taxpayers like us and treats us as if we were a bit on the simple side.
And it seems that the same is true of the developers behind the Quadrant scheme.
Clearly they want us all to buy into their huge money making project, in much the same way that our so-called leaders in Worst Street want us to think that they are there to serve us and make our lives so much better.
Recently, the Quadrant debate was widened to include a presentation to businessmen who rely on Boston town centre for their livelihoods, and who expressed serious concerns.
But the developers continued to brush them aside, saying that a report they have bought and paid for found Boston had a good range of bars, restaurants and premises, and that this meant there would be no significant impact from the development – au contraire, there were likely to be significant economic benefits.
Enter Matt Clark, owner of the Assembly Rooms and collector of company directorships in the way that other people collect stamps.
He advised a simple way to get to the truth – one which we have done often – which is to walk around town and see how many premises have closed.
Pescod Square manager Andy Pottle said that the 100,000 sq. ft. retail section was bigger than Pescod and Oldrids.
“I have worked in the town centre for a number of years and over the last five years the footfall has gone down 18 per cent. Our car park is on its knees.
“I have serious concerns for Boston as a whole. Despite what people say Boston is going through a pretty difficult time. We need that development, but within half a mile of the Market Place – that's where our town centre is.”
So at last, it appears that the truth has emerged – even though it has been staring us in the face all along
And yet if you read the recently published Boston Borough Council annual report, what little mention of  our commercial health appears is beneath the headline “Other successes, and proclaims: “Town centre footfall went up by three per cent in 2013/14, reversing a downward trend which had persisted for the previous three years.
“Empty shops in the town centre this April were down to 13.6 per cent compared with 15.3 per cent the previous year.”
What this doesn’t say is that footfall therefore remains twelve per cent below what it was five years ago.
And it was only recently that council leader Pete Bedford donned his Mary Portas cloche to write in one of our local “newspapers” that town centres can no longer remain basic retail centres.
“In many respects the independent retailer/business has perhaps more resilience than the national retailer/chain store which is why Boston continues to buck the trend of the more significant closures we see in other towns and cities,” he proselytised. “Morecambe for instance has 30 per cent of its shops boarded up – that is not Boston and we should be celebrating that fact …
… “Boston has performed pretty well compared to many, and continues to do so, with its vibrant Saturday and Wednesday market and its Thursday craft market, all organised and managed by the borough council.”
This is known as damning with faint praise – and in the case of the market, claiming credit where none is due, since it has been running since 1545, most likely despite successive councils than because of them.
Only the craft market is a newcomer – and last week this was down to four stalls … but at least we have the comfort of knowing that they are organised and managed by the borough council!
And the number of independent retailers is dwindling – the latest apparent casualty being the traditional sweet shop in Dolphin Lane, which is seeking someone to lease it.
You don’t have to be a retail expert to see that Boston town centre is on its beam ends.
What we need – urgently – is for people brave enough to recognise the fact and to do something about it, not to bury the problem beneath a pile of waffle and hope that no-one will notice.


As an interesting aside, when the developers were asked what would happen if the Quadrant site didn't attract interest from supermarkets, the response was that was that they would think about it “if no interest was forthcoming.”
But by then, the die will have been cast, as, according to the application: “The scheme will be submitted as a hybrid planning application, seeking outline planning permission across the entire site, with all detailed elements submitted for the Community Stadium, the new distribution road and the points of vehicular access for all the developments.”
This means that Boston Borough Council is being asked solely to set the football stadium in stone at this point – and none of the accompanying fol-de-rol of shops and houses.
But if that happens, surely, the planning committee will hand the developer a convenient gun to put to its head to demand that the remainder of the development be approved.
Just thinking aloud.


And another little thing that slipped unnoticed past observers and commentators was the news that a new supermarket at Wyberton might be expected to make a significant hole in the profits of the town’s existing Asda and Tesco outlets.
It was said that Tesco could suffer a 20.7 per cent “impact” – which represents a loss of £8.723m, whilst the plan would cost Asda slightly less at around £7.775m … or 17 per cent of its projected £45.67m turnover.
Two points occur to us here.
The first is that it may well be that neither of the existing supermarkets would want to open a new shop in Wyberton  and spend millions of  pounds on premises to shoot their existing profits in the foot.
Sainsbury has several other shops around Lincolnshire, and might see Wyberton as an attractive place to be – as would many supermarket shoppers.
And if Tesco and Asda were hit as badly as predicted, has anyone wondered what the effect on Boston might be if they decided to shut up shop – Tesco, for one, is having a tottering time, and such a move might not be beyond the realms of possibility.


Whichever way you want the Quadrant vote to go, you might be discouraged to note that there are thirteen members of the planning committee.
This leaves nineteen other non-committee members of the council – of whom only five have asked for seats at the meeting.
They are councillors Alison Austin (who is listed as a committee member, but who presumably as Mayor cannot take part in the proceedings, aside from any other considerations) the leader, Pete Bedford (who resigned from the planning committee at the end of last month)  veteran independent councillor Richard Leggott,  and Tories Gurdip Samra and Raymond Singleton-McGuire
Councillors Richard Austin and James Knowles have requested to speak as ward members and will have seats allocated to them.
We might have thought that every member of Boston Borough Council should have found the time to attend such an important meeting, the implications of which extend far beyond Wyberton, and may ultimately touch every ward in the borough.
But as we know how lacklustre and lackadaisical a number of them are, their absence doesn’t surprise us one little bit.


However, the Vogon battle-cry, and counter-argument to dissent from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy“resistance is useless!” – comes blazing through the agenda for Tuesday’s special planning meeting which tells us what we knew already, that the committee will rubber stamp the application.
A 61-page covering report to Tuesday’s meeting says: “The conclusion to this report is a main recommendation that the Committee are Minded to Grant the application.
However, the application cannot be approved without first being referred to Whitehall due to the size and location of the combined scheme, and that it may not be in accordance with the development plan.
The summary of recommendations is that:
“A: Committee receives the 556 signature petition in support of the proposals and takes it into account in considering the application. (Ha ha!)
“B: Committee is Minded to Grant (sic) the application and authorises the application and its resolution to be forwarded to the Secretary of State … to give him the opportunity to ‘call it in’ for his own determination.
“C: Either, in the event that the Minister calls the application in, the Development Control Manager is given delegated authority to organise the Council’s evidence to support the Committee’s desire to allow this application.
“D: Or, if the Minister declines to call-it-in, delegated authority is given to the Development Control Manager in consultation with madam chairman and the vice-chairman to conclude the planning obligation and conditions in accordance with the schedule of draft conditions and the draft Heads of Terms to any planning obligation that have been considered by Committee and in line with any Committee recorded resolutions”
As is so often the case, Boston and its people will most probably be sold short by the development in terms of the amount of affordable housing and infrastructure contributions, so expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the not too distant future … as was the case with the PRSA, the Market Place refurbishment, the town centre grant scheme for listed buildings, the grant scheme to enhance empty shops, the list goes on and on …
And given that – with one or two exceptions – the combined IQ of the planning committee members is lower than a snake’s belly and that the Tories members will do as they are told (assuming that they have even bothered to read all the paperwork) the plans will be approved regardless.
In a brave - but what with hindsight may well prove to be a foolhardy move – Boston Borough Council is to broadcast the meeting live on its website – which will let us  see and hear for ourselves just how hopeless many of the committee members are.
Hopefully, the broadcast will be available as a recording – as is the case with Lincolnshire County Council webcasts  –  for the benefit of people who will not be able to watch it live.
Note to the councillor who notoriously sleeps during planning meetings: It would be a good idea to try to at least keep your eyes open for this one!


We were reminded of the legend that says if you stab a dinosaur in the tail, it takes some considerable time before it realises what’s happened and  lets out a roar because of its sluggish metabolism and slowness to react.
What made us think of that was the sluggish response to the problems of falling revenue from Boston’s car parks.
More than 26,000 fewer car park tickets were sold in 2013-14 compared to the previous year, slashing £88,000 from council coffers.
This was airily brushed over in the council’s annual report which said “we will be examining reasons for a decline in car parking tickets sold, and a resulting fall in income” – as though the issue was of merely passing importance.
That makes it sound as though the problem is a new one, but look back to the previous annual report for 2012-13, and the excuses were still out in force.
Then, a number of factors, “including the delayed introduction of new fees and charges, bad weather and competition from private operators” resulted in the £869,000 income from car park ticket machines being significantly below the target of £923,000.
Given that the council can’t for once criminalise us for not buying enough car park tickets, it still likes to point the finger of blame elsewhere if possible.
Regular readers may recall that the introduction of new fees were delayed because of furious protests from a number of groups at the greedy, ill-judged move to charge blue badge holders to park – which was underpinned by a thoroughly feeble, unconvincing and  insulting apologia to justify it.
The dinosaur analogy got us wondering which prehistoric creature it might be best to name the sluggards of Worst Street after.
No problemo!
The translation of Apatosaurus is "Deceptive Lizard.”


Much as the Worst Street doyens would like more money from parking, we suspect that the ones who are really minting it are in County Hall, following the acquisition of the right to issue parking tickets. And sure enough, that has turned out to be the case.
In 2013 revenue from parking tickets in Lincolnshire was the second highest outside of London.
Lincolnshire County Council issued 35,275 parking tickets, bringing in £2,196,590 in fines.
And out of 187 of the 435 councils contacted by car insurer Churchill, the authority ranked second highest for councils outside of the capital.
It finished behind only North Somerset District Council which raked in £2,250,130 despite issuing fewer tickets.
Including authorities in London, Lincolnshire County Council ranked ninth in terms of revenue from parking tickets.
When the civil parking enforcement scheme had run at a loss in Lincolnshire after its first four months, Richard (Bob the Builder) Davies, the county’s portfolio holder for highways said: “Nobody wants to lose money but it is not a profit-making scheme so if there is a small cost that is something we are prepared to accept for the benefits it brings.”
Of the Lincolnshire tickets issued, more than 8,500 parking fines were stuck on car windscreens in ten streets in Lincolnshire in the past year – two of them in Boston.
Market Place appears at number two in the top ten list of profits with 1,334 fines issued, of which 894 were for parking in a restricted street.
And number six on the list was Wide Bargate, where 724 fines were issued, 346 of which were for parking in a disabled person’s space.
When the civil parking enforcement scheme was mooted, it was said that it would cost about £1.1 million a year and 20 parking wardens were expected to rake in £940,000 annually in parking fines.
In a Q&A about the project the council council’s response to the question “Isn’t this a fundraising exercise?” was unequivocal.
“Definitely not. Ideally we want people to park only where they should, so we don’t have to issue any tickets at all. It is likely however, that the number of tickets issued could increase at first, as this isn’t something that has been widely enforced before and people may not be used to this. The hope is for the scheme to be self-funding. If there is any surplus, this would only be used for transport improvements.”
In that case, we hope our leaders in Worst Street are lobbying for a proportional share of the proceeds to be spent on roads in the borough.
But somehow we doubt – a) that they will and – b) even if they did, they wouldn’t succeed.


Meanwhile, Boston’s parking problems continue unabated.
The picture above was taken last Thursday – as you can see by the presence of the vibrant four-stall craft market (thank you Boston Borough Council) – and it shows that despite all the bluster from the likes of town centre panjandrum Derek “Knocker” Richmond people simply park where they like, and add to the overall chaos and unsightliness that characterises Boston Market Place.
This is a problem that has needed addressing since the Market Place was “refurbished” at a silly price and a number of promises to make it a true focus for the town were never carried out.
The new line of parked cars beside the wooden planters is a direct result of the council’s incompetence at organising the area to make it safe for foot traffic since it became what is laughingly known as shared space for motorists and pedestrians.
Ironically, whilst nothing was any different the day after this photo was taken apart from the barely noticeable absence of the market stalls, we did spot a traffic warden on duty in the town.
He was busy ticketing a car parked neatly – albeit on yellow lines, but in a way that posed no problem for other road users.
photo: Google street view
But it was the location of the ticketing episode that drew our attention.
It took place in Windsor Terrace, a narrow street used only by locals and probably unknown to the majority of Boston residents.
Look at the street we mean.
The thought crosses our minds that if you’re a traffic warden who wants a break from the confrontational strife that goes with the job, what better way than to ticket a car that’s out of the way, causing no problems, and with the driver conveniently absent?


Despite all this our never-vigilant council is constantly making us aware of problems that it has no intention of solving.
The latest of these is cycling in pedestrian areas – which means, of course, the town centre, even though the problem is equally bad on many pavements and footpaths around the borough
The council has “reminded” cyclists who ride their bikes in pedestrian-only areas that it is an offence for which they could be fined.
“Police and councillors have emphasised that riding a bicycle where it is not permitted is not to be taken lightly. In busy areas, where room for manoeuvre is restricted, serious injury can be caused by collision between cyclists and pedestrians, especially if they involve the very young and the elderly.”
Sergeant Paul Coleman said there had been an increase in incidents of cycling, and an increase in complaints.
“Cycling at speed into a pedestrian area which is populated with large numbers of people could very easily result in a collision. If this were to involve a child or other vulnerable person the consequences could be very serious. We cannot afford to take that risk and are therefore working with the council to deal with this issue”.
Councillor Derek “Knocker” Richmond, and Councillor Stephen Woodliffe, portfolio holder for community safety (who he? – editor) have said the council will work with the police and use the council’s CCTV system to combat persistent offenders, who may face a fine of £50.
If these words sound familiar, then it is not surprising.
We heard almost the same expressions of concern from Boston Borough Council back in October last year.

click to enlarge photo
Even worse, a look back though our files reveals a bad case of all mouth and no trousers if ever there was one.
In October 2007 – almost seven years ago – we read of yet another crackdown on cyclists, which was then about the fifth in recent years.
It followed an episode in February the previous year, when a pensioner was seriously injured after being hit by a cyclist in a pedestrian-only area.
The town's community beat manager was reported as saying: "One of our PCSOs patrolled the area and, unbelievably, had to warn more than 20 people about riding bicycles in the town centre in the space of 45 minutes.
 "What was even more surprising was all those warned were older people who should know better – none of them were youngsters.
 "There will be no more warnings to those offending. Anyone found cycling in a pedestrianised area will receive a fixed penalty ticket."
Earlier in 2006 a newly-appointed PCSO pledged a personal war on cyclists who broke the rules.
After a few months, the police reported that whilst their push was initially successful, some cyclists had "slipped into old habits."
Which means that the police had just given up on the problem.
The fact is that cyclists in Boston treat pavements and footpaths throughout the town … and not just in the town centre … as their personal highways, and always have – and all the empty promises to deal with the problem are exactly that and serve no other purpose than to prove that the council and the police take the public for fools.


Back to car parking now.
Serendipity is never a chooser, and has handed Boston Borough Council some bad news that it could well do without in the week ahead.
Monday was, of course, to be the day that the council marked the centenary of the start of the First World War by unveiling of a pair of wrought iron community benches in the town’s Memorial Gardens paid for by public subscription.
Due to circumstances beyond the council’s control (shouldn’t that be its inability to organise a booze-up in a brewery? – ed) the ceremony to salute the veterans will now take place  in November – 96 years since the war ended –  with the unveiling of a £4,500 lump of stone paid for largely  from our council tax, as the public proved reluctant to stump up the cash.
In the meantime, one old soldier has a salute of his own for Boston Borough Council – but being of the two-fingered variety is not perhaps what they had in mind
A 94-year-old war hero has branded the council “Nazis” for giving him a parking fine after he left his car to help his elderly neighbour on to a bus.
George Chester from Horncastle accepts that he parked in a restricted area when he dropped his elderly neighbour off at Boston bus station in May.
He says he left the car for two minutes to help a neighbour board the bus, and when he returned he found a parking ticket on his windscreen – but the time on the £35 fine claimed the violation took place at 12.54pm, when in fact he had dropped off his neighbour at 1.54pm.
“They made a mistake and they are trying to make me pay for it,” he told the Daily Mail website  - which is read by around 150 million people every month.
“They’re acting like bullying Nazis. Well, they don’t scare me …
“I’m not going to pay the fine. If I’d paid at first it would have been £35. Now, it’s £105. It’s not the cost.
“They can take me to court. If it means going to jail then I’ll go to jail.”
The Mail reports “Boston Borough Council, who are responsible for the bus station, refused to back down on the fine.
“A spokesman said: ‘When Penalty Charge Notices are issued, photographic evidence is usually taken by the Civil Enforcement Officer to evidence the offence.
“’Whilst it is not appropriate to comment on individual cases in the public domain, there is a process available to anyone who wishes to dispute a PCN can ask (sic)  that the matter be heard by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal which is an independent body that listens to evidence from both parties and then makes a decision on the case based on the evidence that is presented to them.’”
Not exactly a response brimming with the milk of human kindness, is it?
Why didn’t Boston legitimately pass the buck to Lincolnshire County Council which is the authority responsible for  making all that profit from car parking tickets, and let them take the flak?

Another story that is doing the rounds concerns a local council that took an elderly, disabled ratepayer to the local magistrates’ court for the non-payment of a £3.75p council tax debt dating back to 2006.
The tale says that the magistrate was so incensed by this that he ordered the council to cough up the man’s travelling expenses – he only had a fiver on him to pay his taxi fare to court – and to pay the costs of the prosecution, which ran into several hundred pounds.
It’s hard to imagine that a council can be so callous and stupid – and if you happen to know the name of the authority involved, please let us know,  so that we can tell our readers.


We’re planning early for Christmas this year, with a new version of an old parlour game designed to signal our response to the way that we are treated by our real rulers at Lincolnshire County Council.
In recent weeks, we have seen how the powers that be at County Hall show little if any regard for the people of Boston – and last week we saw a declaration from one of them that he would like to do away with our tier of local government entirely.
The main argument these days is that it would save a shedload of money, which is what local government seems to be about these days – rather than using our council tax wisely and well to provide the services that people need and in most cases are entitled to.
However, if 32 councillors (soon to be thirty) are incapable of doing what's best for Boston, how can a mere seven at Lincoln represent our interests – particularly as our current representation is the result of a political caprice.
At least there is some broad balance at Worst Street, even though opposition is merely a word to denote which members of the council are not do-as-you-are-told Tories.
So … to our parlour game.
It’s modelled on the old Victorian game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey – but localised and with a soupçon of mischief added to reflect our cynical times.
All you need is a copy of the county council’s Lincoln Imp logo, and an asterisk on a piece of paper which you then cut out. 

In the centre you can paste a head and shoulders photo of one, or all, the nine members of the county cabinet if you like – we've used the leader ... only as an example.
All you need now is a pin and a blindfold, and the Lincoln Imp logo mounted on a piece of cork board, and you are ready to play – “Pin the Ars*hole on the Imp.”

Our photo above shows the target that you are aiming for.
Think of the hours of fun you can have with a game like this – and get some of the bile created by Lincolnshire County Council out of your system as well.
Have fun

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  1. A very interesting and really comprehensive revue this week, which gives much for us to think about. They say that truth is stranger than fiction, without a doubt in this town it certainly is.
    Ah the report of the £3.75 debt court case that has cost taxpayers a considerable amount of their cash. Well I do know this gentleman quite well and only spoke to him a few days ago when he told me first hand of his court case and the outcome. Your report is exactly the same as what he told me about it. As he lives in a street off Carlton Road I think it safe to say that its our good old Boston Borough Council acting true to form yet again.

    1. Thank you NBE team for yet another blog giving us readers much to think about. I would however like to address the issue of non attendance at next weeks planning meeting by many councillors like myself. This meeting will be one of the most important meetings Boston has ever seen due to it's impact on the good people of Wyberton. Tickets are limited so it is far more important that those people who will be acutely affected by the decision have the opportunity to attend. It is not that councillors are not interested,
      we are!. As for myself, I have to attend mandatory training with my work and it would mean that I wouldn't get there until after 6pm therefore missing the presentation and much of the initial debate. Kind regards Cllr Carol Taylor

    2. Scouter 41August 05, 2014

      Well said Robin & Carol. I think we are all grateful for the return of NBE and the sanity & humour it brings back into Boston life - and well done NBE for all the time consuming investigative journalism your team clearly puts in. It is of an extremely high standard and I think your detractors realise that and therefore are loath to 'bite back'.

      Robin, thanks for the info concerning the 'Great Parking Robbery' - I just knew that our august Council had to be the £3.75 creditor in question!
      Beggars all belief .... but then again these are people who apparently are quite capable of 'knocking' on one's door, after hours!

  2. Scouter 41August 07, 2014

    "At a meeting just concluding at Haven High Academy, councillors approved plans to build a new stadium for Boston United, an adjacent sports centre, retail outlets, a supermarket and 500 homes." - Boston Standard 05/08/2014

    Boston should take pride in itself for standing up for the cause of the White Elephant. Now we have two that we can rightly claim to be keepers of .

    White Elephants demand some keeping though and are renowned for their longevity .....

    Well done everyone, the White Elephant Society welcomes your undying support.