Just a few weeks ago, our so-called council leader Pete “Nipper” Bedford was telling us that one of his responsibilities was to do all that he could to make Boston a better place to do business in.
So we wonder what he makes of this particular tale about Worst Street which shows that such promises are apparently not worth the paper they are printed on.
For the past twenty years a local man has been operating a business from premises with no near neighbours – employing four people.
Throughout this time he has paid his business rates to Boston Borough Council, as well as paying for their trade waste collection service,
Recently, he decided to cut down a hedge surrounding his premises and replace it with a fence to neaten up the look of the place.
At some point a passing motorist noticed the business for the first time.
It’s not much of a reach to assume that this traveller had links with Boston Borough Council, because out of the blue and merely 7,300 days late, came a letter saying that the business was operating without planning permission, which meant that it could have to close.
No complaints had been received about it, and until the hedge was cut back, no one had a problem with it.
Doubtless, if a fence had been erected before the jobsworth cruised by, the status quo would have maintained.
The businessman decided to turn to his local councillor for help.
This was no ordinary councillor – but a member of the cabinet.
Yet apparently, the idea of making waves with colleagues – the Blue leader deplores “mavericks,” remember – overcame any sense of duty to a voter, who was told quite bluntly “I’d rather not get involved.”
Instead the victim was told to take his concerns to another councillor – a UKIP member in a different ward, with a reputation for taking on lost causes.
The businessman – whose operation is also registered with Companies House – has so far had to spend £5,000 in legal fees to try to fight this absurd decision.
Not unreasonably, he asked the people at Worst Street who have been taking his money for the past 20 years if it had ever occurred to them to see if he had the necessary permission to operate.
The answer – and you couldn't make it up – it’s a different department.
We understand that the best the planners can come up with is for a retrospective application to be put before the Planning Committee at a future date.
This, of course, involves an innocent party having to pay a fee to place the matter into the hands of a bunch of amateurs for a decision with no guarantee that the outcome will go in his favour.
It could lend a whole new meaning to the term pay as you go!
It could lend a whole new meaning to the term pay as you go!
Surely, a more humane solution would be to agree that a 20 year-old, trouble-free, fully paid up operation should be allowed some sort of planning “squatters rights” and allowed to continue without suffering any more stress.
But not in Worst Street.
Last week’s reports about the trumpeting from Worst Street and Boston’s equivalent of Scotland Yard about how the problem of drinking in the town centre has been solved, cut little ice with Boston Eye readers.
Regular reader Robin commented: “All the backslapping and self-congratulating by those who in their hermetically sealed bubbles seem to think that they have solved the on-street drinking fiasco, just makes the mind boggle.
“Here in the real universe outside of Munchkin Towers and Police HQ our eyes tell a somewhat different story.
"Last Saturday mid-morning I was walking down the Haven Bank where there was a group of around 15 street drinkers in full swing, not only were they drinking in a prohibited area but were within a few hundred yards of the police station, but then who in authority in this town cares a jot about reality – and law enforcement now appears to be a thing of the past.
“My daughter, who lives adjacent to Witham Bank West, tells me that Saturday evening down there was also a drink fest despite also being a prohibited zone. Who cares? Not anyone in authority, they are too busy back-slapping telling each other how brilliant they are.”
Former Independent councillor Carol Taylor – who was genuinely independent ... unlike some that we can think of – also criticised the claims.
She described them as “nothing but a self-congratulatory report by Boston Borough Council and the police.”
The reduction of alcohol consumption around the Ingram Memorial and other key areas in the town had the result that “sadly these street drinkers have moved to other areas including Park Street and Red Lion Street.”
And she found little that was constructive in the call by local police Inspector Jim Manning for the public to phone 101 if they saw anyone drinking alcohol in the designated Public Space Protection Order area.
“He is assuming that everyone has a mobile phone, which is a necessity because there are no public phone booths any more ....
“Many people nowadays do have a mobile phone but there are still many who don't. If you dial 101, there may be a long wait depending on how busy they are.
“When they have been informed of the street drinkers, does this mean that the police will drop everything and come running to remove them?
“Of course it doesn't – and we don't expect them to, as there is no immediate threat to life or immediate danger.
“There is no doubt that that the police and council are trying hard to address this on-going issue but to brag about being the first council to introduce the PSPO when legislation was passed, does not help people like me who remain greatly concerned that street drinking is still rife in Boston ...
“Perhaps we can have less patting of backs and more frequent reassurances that everything is being done to clear our streets of these inebriates. That is all we can hope for and the public will always try and help.”
Both writers comment on the lack of policing and the difficulty to get in touch with the cops when needed – but think how much worse things might become if the proposal for all three emergency services in Lincolnshire to share resources and buildings comes to fruition.
Reports say that discussions between Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue, Lincolnshire Police and East Midlands Ambulance Service could see the development of a single emergency services hub at South Park – in Lincoln, of course.
There could also be a merger of back office services as well as a shared control room.
The last time we attempted to call the police on a non-emergency number we were left aghast by the time it took to get through.
We also assumed that someone taking the call would have an inkling of where we were ringing from but that was not the case.
Worse still the operator seemed to have some difficulty in understanding that Boston was a town in Lincolnshire.
Worse still the operator seemed to have some difficulty in understanding that Boston was a town in Lincolnshire.
And to cap it all, our call was followed by the most disinterested response that we have ever encountered from a so-called “service.”
It seems that ex-councillor Taylor has a better memory than her former colleagues at Worst Street when it comes to the declaration that the replacement of planters in the Market Place is the “next stage” in the development of the area.
She told Boston Eye: “The planned erection of bollards to replace the planters is a contra-indication in the original design.
“It was stated in the original design documents that bollards, etc. should not be placed in the area.
“Also in the 'new Market Place' there is a recommendation that seating should be strategically placed around the area so that people can sit and view the historical buildings from the best vantage point.
“Mind you, at least the Seventh Heaven Café benefited greatly when the planters were put in, and of course anyone else who wishes to put seating outside would benefit too.
“Sadly the only other eating establishment is Kentucky Fried Chicken – and I can't really see this happening, can you?”
All of this is absolutely right.
The final report to the council’s cabinet ahead of the £2 million “refurbishment” was published in January 2010 – .getting on for six years ago – and said amongst other things that “a dedicated public area should be created, which provides additional seating within the Market Place.
“If seating is introduced, ensure that it is special to Boston, and is grouped in locations where people will want to sit – sheltered, out of wind, with a good view.
“Existing cafés should be encouraged to create an outside café area within any new public area. However, if these are on the public realm, the quality of the fittings used and the means of enclosing the areas needs to be carefully controlled to ensure they enhance and not detract.
“Remove superfluous or redundant items.
“Rationalise the use of cycle racks to increase the provision of secure cycle racks and locate them close to the main shopping areas.
“Avoid additional railings or bollards.
“Consider use of flower boxes/baskets to improve appearance.
“Retain and add to wooden street name signs or new incised stone street name signs as part of the local identity ...
“Group traffic signs together to reduce clutter and use the minimum required.”
Hands up if you don't recognise much – or any – of these things as having happened.
Had this simple set of guidelines been followed, the Market Place would now look completely different, and might perhaps have achieved the aims for it – one of the most important being the ambition “to attract private sector investment into the town,” to help drive forward a number of projects identified earlier in the report.
These included shop frontage design guides and grants, the refurbishment of Wormgate and Pump Square,brownfield developments, and waterways development – the last of which we were told “may be broken down to a number of projects.”
These can scarcely have been called projects, as nothing has been done about them since the report appeared all that time ago.
The nearest we got was the waterways project – but that has now succumbed to County Hall’s desperation to save money, and we somehow doubt that much will happen in the foreseeable future.
It isn’t as though the powers that be haven’t had enough time to think about all of this.
The so-called Boston “Masterplan” identified the need to make the Market Place a more attractive area as long ago as June 2004 – and was “refreshed” in September 2006 when regeneration of the Market Place was identified as a “key area” to take forward.
The fiasco that eventually followed is unforgettable.
Between them, Worst Street and Clownty Hall cocked up the entire job, leaving behind the mess that we see today.
The suggestion that a “next phase” involving replacing the planters was in someone's mind all along is laughable.
As we said last week, the introduction of planters was to disguise the fact that motorists and pedestrians were left fearful and confused by a vast expanse of dull stone setts void of any easily recognisable signs denoting priorities for either.
Not only that.
Worst Street had the nerve at the time to seek sponsorship of the planters and to link them to the Boston in Bloom competition.
Now, the planters are to be moved here, there and everywhere – doubtless to become neglected and vandalised ... and perhaps even converted into firewood.
The suggestion that the bollards were part of a long term plan is Worst Street’s idea of “spin.”
Unfortunately it is nothing more than yet another example of how our leaders try to treat us as though we are half-witted by telling us tales and expecting us to believe them.
Masterplans notwithstanding, the on-going decline of Boston is yet again charted in the council's quarterly “performance” figures – without any hint as to how the rot might be eradicated.
A comparison between trends for the first quarter of 2014-15 and the same period for this year shows a decline in the average daily pedestrian footfall – the barometer of how many people visit the town centre shops – of 8% ... down from 2,585 to 2,366.
Perhaps the reason is that there are fewer shops to visit – the number of vacant retail units has increased from 14% to 18%.
Car parking ticket sales – another indicator of the health of a town centre – are down from 146,064 to 142,063 ... a fall of 3%, meaning a drop in total car parking fee income (including passes and fines) of 9%, from £247,935 to £227,628.
Visits to the historic but hardly ever publicised Guildhall are down by 8% from 2,518 to 2,341 – which works out at fewer than 50 visitors a day.
And the so-called Tourist Information Centre in the same building has seen visitor numbers drop by 6% from 2,518 to 2,341.
Of course, the lion’s share of Worst Street’s recent investment has been in the Geoff Moulder Leisure Centre and the Princess Royal Sports Arena – and whilst the Moulder appears to be going swimmingly, figures for the PRSA show that fitness class participants stand at 3,677 against a target of 4,650 whilst the numbers taking a dip totalled 3,502 against a target of 3,900.
Comparisons with the GMLC for the same period show the number of adult swims at 16,676 against a target of 15,000; the number of junior swims at 9,330 ... well in excess of the target of 8,000 and the number of people signed up to learn to swim at 54 above the 700 target.
The sorry thing about all of this is that the unpalatable statistics are simply reported – without any suggestion as to how things might be improved.
But we had to smile on one occasion where efforts were made to play down a particularly bad set of figures for the percentage of major planning applications determined within 13 weeks – which last year was 88.24% against a target of 75%, but which collapsed this year to 57.14% against a 75% target.
The report told us: “The reduction in performance should be seen in context – the 'Land East of Toot Lane' decision which was released after the conclusion of an obligation was over the 13 week target period. Being the first quarter cumulative figures only and the relatively low number of applications that single application has a large effect on the headline figure ...”
“The Land East of Toot Lane” has a fairy tale ring to it redolent of The Magical Land of Oz, Narnia, Wonderland, the Hundred Acre Wood,or Neverland.
But unlike the fictional titles, it is a Land Where Bad Things Happen To Planners.
Some numbers even worse than those visiting the Guildhall or the PRSA came in the form of the Borough's annual Have Your Say survey which ran from November 2014 to January 2015.
Over three months it received a meagre 294 replies – fewer than one a day – which was so small that it could not be compared with the previous year.
The findings disclosed that 69% of people were satisfied with the local area as a place to live (9% were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and 23% were dissatisfied); 46% were satisfied with the way Boston Borough Council runs things (24% neither; 30% dissatisfied); 39% agreed that the local area is a place where people from different ethnic backgrounds get on well together (26% neither; 34% disagreed); 36% agreed that Boston Borough Council provides value for money (36% neither; 28% disagreed)
The highest levels of satisfaction were for garden waste collection (82%) and refuse and recycling (80%) with Boston Market – at only 65% – an especially disappointing figure.
Most of this falls into the category known as damning with faint praise, and shows the mountain that Boston Borough Council has to climb – without the oxygen of a good idea to help.
No wonder that the mayoral campaign to get people to submit favourable comments about Boston is struggling so hard.
But as we have said before, it is not being helped by the borough’s own publication – the Goody Two Shoes News ... a sort of in-house fifth column with a circulation of 784.
As we have said before, whilst we wouldn’t expect the council to fail to grasp the nettle when necessary – although it seldom, if ever, does – it fails to take on board that this publication is a window on the world of Boston through which anyone, anywhere in the world, can peer and form a view of the place as somewhere to live and work, perhaps.
At the end of last week, a GTSN banner headline declared ... “We’ll clean it up but you’ll pay” – a story about one man whose name and address were published who had defied requests to remove rubbish from his garden.
Enter Boston Borough Council in the shape of eight dustmen – oops ... sorry, “council refuse operatives" – with three bin lorries who took an hour to clear the garden.
Even more significant that that the story invoked the condemnation of the so-called council leader “Nipper” Bedford.
The man involved, he said, “had been given every opportunity to clear his garden himself, but chose to ignore the council and will now have to pay the price of us doing the work for him. We have to take into account the distress such negligence causes to other residents and this demonstrates we will use the legislative powers available to us to seek a solution when necessary.”
Tough talking … and we don't disagree about the distressful aspect.
But – as with The Case of the Vile Young People and Their Woodland Drinks Den and The Pink Poo Peril, these were minor, local events, worthy of a few lines in a local newspaper – but not as brushstrokes on the world wide canvas that the internet paints of Boston.
The other thing that concerns us is the way that in accounts of this kind the council tends to gloat about its might – rubbing the perpetrator’s nose in it with such lines as “you’ll pay” and the threat to “use the legislative powers available to us ...”
We’ve referred to this before – it’s the iron fist in the iron glove approach, or the “I’ll get you, Butler” philosophy.
The beleaguered daily bulletin (circulation 784) went from one extreme to the other in the last week – after beefing up a parish pump story about garden rubbish, it followed through with reports that were really nothing to do with the authority.
Tuesday saw the tale of a nine year-old rightly concerned about the dangers to wildlife caused by rubbish in a local waterway who wrote to “a number of organisations including the council.”
She was invited in for a chat, and a member of staff designed a poster which has now been put up along the entire waterway.
Forgive us for pointing out that maintenance of waterways is down to the Environment Agency.
We know this because on more than one occasion, we have written to Boston Borough Council is a similar vein as the star of Tuesday's GTSN – with one big difference.
On each occasion we were told to stick our head up a bear’s bum and to take our gripes to the EA..
Funny how different the response is when the council detects a piece of cheap publicity that it can exploit to try to make Worst Street look good.
Even more interesting was how quickly our prediction last week that Worst Street would be among the first in the queue to milk the funds of the Boston Big Local project came to pass – using the waterways stunt to, err, test the water!
Despite the oft-repeated promises that spending from the £1 million fund is “down to the residents” and “will not be dictated by Boston Borough Council or by the Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service” we note the quote from an officer saying “we would like to thank the Boston Big Local for funding the printing and installation of the signage.”
Yet again the powers that be are treating us as fools.
And how long will it be, we wonder, before – having got a taste of the money available – Boston Borough Council will be nosing into the trough for bigger and greedier mouthsful?
We hear that things went from bad to worse for the beleaguered 102 workers at Norprint who lost their jobs though a “pre-pack” agreement to wind the company up.
In July 1998 – almost 17 years before the crash, the then parent company Norcros sold the Norprint labelling business for £8 million in a management buyout.
Unfortunately – and not because they weren't told about it – the government department calculating redundancy payments to ex-staff took this date as the one when the company started up.
This meant that the payments were calculated on a maximum service entitlement of 17 years – even though some staff had almost half a century’s service.
Fortunately, this is now being corrected, and extra payments are finding their way to veteran ex-staff.
We had to raise a smile when one of our so-called local “newspapers” reviewed the first 100 days since the borough council was returned in May – something which we had done a few days earlier.
What made us chuckle in particular was the way that the affiliations of two politicians were described.
The dynamic duo in question is the Clan Austin.
In the newspaper piece, Mrs Austin was described as the “Independents Leader” – which conjures up an interesting vision, given that the only person she “leads” is her husband, Richard.
But he’s the mayor this year – so does that subordinate her role to his?
Frankly, we find it rather sad that just two people can constitute a group.
Labour does the same thing at Worst Street as well – but at least it is a political party.
Something else that struck our eye was the way that Worst Street lists the current political composition of the council ... Conservative - 13, UKIP - 12, Independent - 2, Labour - 2 and Unaligned - 1.
The so-called “unaligned” member is Councillor Barrie Pierpoint, who defected from UKIP on election day, and who has since clearly described himself as an Independent councillor.
We suspect that this is because the Austins – positioned politically somewhere between the Thane of Cawdor and Lady Gruoch Macbeth and Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson – wouldn't be seen in the same room with him except during a full council meeting as he is not “their sort of independent” … and that Worst Street’s concept of diplomacy is to appease the Austins and demean another's status through the implication that he’s someone who can’t make his mind up.
The dictionary defines “unaligned” as “not allied with or giving support to a particular organization or cause.”
This is as true of the Austins as it is of Councillor Pierpoint – although the Austins have thrown their hats into the Conservative ring since the election to keep UKIP out of power.
Wheels within wheels, eh?
A terrible rumour is going the rounds suggesting that last week’s dramatic picture in the Boston sub-Standard of a hooded man swigging from a bottle hidden in a brown paper bag against the backdrop of Boston Stump might have been posed by a member of staff.
Wash your mouth out with soap for even thinking such a thing.
Common practice is to indicate that a picture has been posed by “models” if such is the case – and no such alert appears with this particular picture, so it can’t have been meant to mislead us.
Having said that, it was most fortuitous to find such a perfect picture so perfectly posed with such an agreeable subject.
Finally, it’s back to the GTSN (circulation 784.)
As a “council” publication – though some days you would scarcely know it – we expect it to report the goings on in Worst Street ... which are of course engineered by a Conservative “leadership.”
But Tuesday’s edition stepped over the mark as far as we were concerned when – beneath the headline – “Chance to meet your MP” it listed locations where Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman will be parking up during his camper van tour this weekend.
It helpfully included the MP’s website and email addresses as well as his London and Boston ’phone numbers.
Doubtless it was thought that this could be passed off as vital public information – but we see it as nothing more than a political plug by the ruling group for their man in Westminster – and we are sure that its appearance in the GTSN was as much of a surprise to Mr Warman as it was to us.
And what of our own councillors?
Once upon a time they used to hold local surgeries, which were briefly listed on the council website after we mentioned their absence.
If councillors still go in for this sort of thing, some publicity would surely be of use to them.
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Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com