Last week, we read a report of squeals of glee from “tourism campaigners in Boston” (who they, Ed?) celebrating a growing visitor economy following the implementation of a “destination management plan.”
If you like acronyms, it boils down to the news that a plan by BVEP in partnership with BBC and LCOC, with the DMP in there somewhere, might be getting its grubby paws on yet another £1 million to join the millions already wasted and the hundreds of thousands still available to try to make Boston town centre look halfway presentable.
What this alphabet soup is telling us is that once again a series of talking shops have been at work getting money set aside for projects that almost never then seem to happen.
In his play Othello, Shakespeare summed it up nicely as “prattle without practice.”
In case you’re not au fait with the litany of letters, BVEP is the Boston Visitor Economy Partnership which concocted its plan in yet another “partnership” with the local business community, Boston Borough Council (BBC) and the Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce (LCOC) and the Boston Area Destination Management Plan (DMP) – referred to thus probably because the first three letters of the acronym spell the word BAD! .
And what does the DMP do? It “sets out the context of the area's visitor economy and identifies actions to support development” and to “bring cohesion to the development of the town as a tourism destination, in turn growing its visitor economy.”
We suspected as much!
According to the report, actions that have been secured by the plan include getting £60,000 funding for “pedestrian way-finding and historical interpretation signage” (signposts) and more than £1 million for a townscape heritage initiative on east side of Market Place, and that by working together “we can ensure that the offer is developed and that visitors will be encouraged to come and experience it for themselves.”
If such fine phrases have a ring of familiarity to them, that’s because they’ve all been uttered before in some form or another.
In fact, when we started to dig deeper it wasn’t hard to find reports dating back more than ten years – all of them extolling the virtues of the Market Place and its importance both to residents and visitors alike.
In June 2004 the Boston “masterplan” identified the need to make the Market Place a more attractive area.
The masterplan was “refreshed” in September 2006, when it identified the Market Place as a “key area to take forward.”
Some of the phrases being bandied about at the time referred to the Market Place as “a physical environment which detracts from the unique heritage and quality that could potentially exist”
“This historic core can be seen as Boston’s greatest potential attractor...”
“Boston’s Market Place is the town’s greatest asset but has become weakened by a lack of investment and by poor quality public realm.”
All of this was, of course, written before the £2 million “refurbishment” of the area which – although it didn’t seem possible at the time – created more problems than it solved, and has been subject to regular criticism ever since ... although scarcely anything has been done to improve matters.
Interestingly, the photograph on the right was used to illustrate a 2007 report on the need to improve the Market Place, and is of the east side, which is the one that is supposedly next to benefit.
Given all the babbling over the past eight years you might have expected it to look a little better by now, wouldn't you?
But despite all the talk, all the reports, it has scarcely changed in all that time.
The Market Place is, of course, the focus of the Boston Conservation Area which was designated in 1969 – and which for the past two years has been high on the list of the English Heritage At Risk register.
It’s unfortunate that Boston often acquires unique distinctions that it could well do without – and to have the town’s entire conservation area on an At Risk register is one of them.
Last year English Heritage reported the area as being in a very bad condition, of medium vulnerability, but with the trend “improving.”
Set against the background that we have described above, we would have expected so much more to have been done or to be in the pipeline.
Let’s not forget that English Heritage put its money where its mouth was more than three years ago by stumping up £650,000 to help refurbish buildings in the area.
Have you seen the results?
That is because, sadly, the management of this was left in the hands of Boston Borough Council with the inevitable result.
English Heritage naively said at the time: “The reinstatement of traditional shop fronts is a priority in the scheme. The grant funding will contribute to a high quality built environment that Boston residents can be proud of” ... and “the economic regeneration of the town through investment in local businesses.”
With so many millions for the spending, surely, we must start to see something tangible soon ... shouldn’t we?
All this latest announcement boils down to is that a bunch of people with more time on their hands than things to do to fill it have drawn up pipe dream after pipe dream about how Boston could be improved ... but then apparently developed a short attention span as far as the next step was concerned.
In fact this was underlined earlier this week, when Boston Borough Council threw down a challenge to local people on how best to spend the £49,300 available for new town centre signage.
“Your help is crucial to help shape the project and decide what the top places are to visit and which stories help describe the town’s interesting history” burbles the borough by asking us – if we were a Boston tour guide – which five places we would take visitors to, and which five tales of Boston’s past would we share.
A quick straw poll – including an 88 year-old who has lived in Boston since birth – found that we struggled after two – despite the assurance from Worst Street that Boston “is lucky in that it has a wealth of history, heritage, culture and stories to tell ...”
The two most obvious were the Stump, and the Guildhall – although we preferred the latter before it was wired for sound with noisy recordings blaring in almost every room.
In fact, the borough bulletin promoting the challenge featured a blank signpost pointing in two directions – and, above, we have offered our own ideas as a starter for ten.
Going hand in hand with all of this is Boston’s membership of Die Hansa, which commemorates the Hanseatic League – a form of medieval cooperative of which the town was a member 700 years ago.
All told there are almost 200 town and city members across Europe, and Boston will be the fourth in the UK alongside Aberdeen, Hull and Kings Lynn.
The other three believe that membership brings tourism and business benefits – especially Kings Lynn.
However, the difference between us and them is that whilst Kings Lynn boasts enough places of interest to justify a fully-fledged historic town trail, all Boston can come up with is an artist’s impression of what our Hanseatic steelyard might have looked like.
Sadly, it seems as though – not for the first time – Boston is signing up for something that it believes will bring benefits without effort, and which will see the creation of yet another town talking shop.
It was with some satisfaction that – after mentioning the absence of numerous meeting dates from the borough’s website diary last week – many have now appeared as if by magic.
Sadly, it shouldn’t be necessary to have to nudge an authority which two years ago won an award for being the country's top council for transparency, inclusiveness and accountability from the Centre for Public Scrutiny.
Having said that, the CFPS is an in-house talking shop whose awards exist solely to scratch each other’s’ civic backs – and since then, Boston has made great advances to restore much in the way of secrecy and lack of information.
In the world of awards, it does seem that Boston more often than not is damned with faint praise.
Boston Stump is celebrating after receiving an award from review website TripAdvisor.
The Certificate of Excellence celebrates hospitality and is given only to establishments that consistently achieve at least four out of five good reviews.
Out of 82 reviews of St Botolph's 60 declared the church excellent, 19 good and only three average – which is surely what we ought to expect with such an impressive building.
Interestingly, Boston is often compared with York as being a similar sort of visitor attraction – quite wrongly in our opinion.
And York Minster – their version of Boston Stump – achieves similarly excellent reviews ... the only difference being that there are more than 5,000 of them compared with our 82.
Another triumph in the indifference awards includes St Botolph’s Footbridge.
In a paroxysm of glee, Boston’s Goody Two-Shoes Gazette declares: “St Botolph’s Footbridge took the top spot in the medium project category of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) East Midlands Merit Awards.”
“Medium Project Category” in the “East Midlands” “Merit” awards.
Not exactly gold medal stuff is it? – something more along the lines of an award for being a bridge.
Again, according the borough, the contemporary bowstring design was chosen “following extensive public consultation.”
We remarked on this at the time, when it was reported that 137 questionnaires were completed during a month long public consultation with 44 per cent of responses liking the bowstring design, 39 per cent preferring a traditional design and 17 per cent for a low bowstring truss design.
This means that the bridge was chosen on the votes of 60 people.
Obviously, the fact that it was also the cheapest bridge to build, which could largely be assembled off-site and installed with the minimum effort played no part in any of this.
With yet another award in mind, we note reports that last minute touches are being made to fill the dull-looking planters that clutter the town and double as bollards with displays to impress the judges of Britain in Bloom when they visit the town next month.
We are sure that we remember a time when the council’s park staff kept Boston colourful and bright all year round for the benefit of all who live here.
Sadly now, the position is that the town only gets a makeover to impress outsiders – whom we are sure would be appalled if they knew how drab it looks before they arrive and after they depart.
Amid all the chortling of how much greener the grass will be on the other side of the hill once the countless committees working (or not) on Making Boston A Better Place is the anticipation that it will result in more business for the town’s shops.
If that is to be the case, then we hope that things start moving soon.
The most recently published performance figures issued by Boston Borough Council show the disappointing footfall in the town centre.
A count is made – come rain or shine – on the third Wednesday of every month for 30 minutes at 10am and 2pm. opposite Brighthouse in Strait Bargate and numbers adults only – excluding children who look under 16 or people on the noisy, intrusive, polluting IntoTown buses.
Last year the average daily football was 2,409 – which strikes us a pretty pathetic... especially as the count is made on a market day, when the figures should be at their best.
Perhaps the lack of customers could be explained by the lack of places for them to shop.
The latest figures show that this year there are currently 45 vacant shopping units in Boston – up from 37 last year, which is a rise of 4% to a total of 18%
This means that almost one in five retail outlets are vacant.
Meanwhile, car parking ticket sales have slumped by 6% – down by 38,326 on last year – but total parking income, which includes fees for car parking passes and fines as well as income from ticket machines, has increased by 6%.
Another interesting barometer of the town's health is the number of new housing applications received – which are down for the fourth consecutive year and totalled 1,458 ... almost 130 fewer than 2013/14.
Almost without exception, figures such as there are sending a clear message of warning – but no-one at Worst Street seems prepared to hear it.
Under the banner “Delivering better council services with less money” the report allocated a High Risk score to the budget.
It declares: “There is a risk around the long term balancing of the budget with economic and funding uncertainty impacting on the ability of the council to achieve its corporate priority to deliver better council services with less money.
“There is a risk that capacity will impact on the ability of the council to achieve its corporate priority to deliver better council services with less money.”
It lists the possible negative risks as: “The risk of lack of money and lack of certainty going forward; lack of transformation projects.
“The risk of a lack of capacity, recruitment and retention; potential changes in leadership; fewer staff, increasing workload.
Strangely some of the negative risks are also considered to have a positive side as well – “the opportunity to maximise the efficiency of council services and continue to improve value for money; transformation programme
“The opportunity to maximise staff resources by targeting priority areas, working with partners and shared services, improving recruitment and retention, preparing for changes in leadership.”
It’s heartening to see the phrase “change of leadership”appear more than once.
We only wish it meant what we thought it might mean.
We only wish it meant what we thought it might mean.
Apparently an old problem with Boston Borough Council’s website, which we have highlighted before, has re-emerged.
A reader writes to say: “I have sent numerous emails to the borough council's general email regarding their website – when viewed from a mobile. So far no response!
“The problem is, it seems impossible to view the council's full version of their website but only the mobile version.
“When trying to access a specific page on the website via a search engine for example, once opened the page defaults to the mobile version homepage.
“I'm viewing on iPhone and have been through all the settings on my phone browser and can't find any solution on my phone.
“This is the only website I can recall having this problem and it's very frustrating!
“I've tried making the council aware how rubbish the mobile version of their website is, there isn't even a contact email address on their "contact us" page.
Most of this is above our pay grade – but we have mentioned more than once that Worst Street’s general e-mail address ... email@example.com ... often seems less than bothered to reply to enquiries from punters.
Let’s hope that someone will – once again – remedy the problem which treats enquirers so off- handedly, and get the website working properly as well.
A regular reader declares himself at something of a loss following a letter which appeared in one of our local “newspapers” this week,
“I opened the local paper this week and read with amusement – or should that be bemusement – - a letter from a recently elected borough councillor,” he writes.
“In this letter to the editor our new 'trust me I'm a councillor' recruit spelt out his feelings about the benefits of not having to carry the baggage of political party membership.
“What amused – and amazed – was the fact that the letter was from a councillor who presented himself to the voters on a party ticket – UKIP – and within an hour of his declaration as an elected councillor was knocking on the door of the Conservative group with the intention of transferring his party allegiance immediately.
“The letter further claims it will be easier for this councillor – following the Conservatives' natural reluctance to take such a character to their political bosom – to represent his electorate as an
unaligned Independent member of the borough council.
“Questions to other councillors reveal that any member adopting such status is not allocated any seat on any working council committee or outside body.
“A trawl through the list of recent appointments reveals that this is the case in this instance; so exactly how our letter writer is going to more easily represent his ward and its voters from such a starting point needs a wee bit more explanation, methinks.”
Finally – and still with our council members – a couple of little birds tell us that not everything in the garden is rosy.
Apparently one member is complaining of not getting the right information to get on with the job properly, whilst another is lamenting the strain that official duty is placing on previously wide ranging outside activities.
We suspect that speculators among our readers would unhesitatingly conclude that the councillors in question must be newly elected UKIP members.
In fact both are Tories.
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com