Believe it or not, the festering eyesore pictured on the left is a Grade II listed building – which means that it is a structure of historic importance.
The former Millets shop sits prominently in Boston’s Market Place beside Dolphin Lane at the heart of the town’s conservation area – destroying whatever ambience the eastern side of the Market Place might lay claim to.
So, it should come as no surprise that for the sixth year running, Boston’s Conservation Area remains on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.
It takes some considerable lack of achievement to earn such dishonour – but nonetheless, Boston has not taken the time, nor put in the trouble to avoid it.
In the 2016 register, the number of conservation areas at risk fell to 496 from 505 in 2015.
This means that just 6% of England's conservation areas are now considered to be at risk.
It’s a small number, and such areas are not all as large as Boston – but when the town first entered the risk list in 2010, Historic England was keen to stress that: “The Market Place forms the commercial heart of Boston, but in 2010 many of the buildings here were in a poor state of repair and this conservation area was added to the Heritage at Risk Register.”
“Today Boston's distinctive historic townscape is recognised as the bedrock of the town's future prosperity.”
But the bedrock is inexorably crumbling.
Over the years, oceans of money have been poured into Boston to help improve matters.
In 2013, English Heritage as it then was launched a scheme jointly with Worst Street to make hundreds of thousands of pounds in grants available to private owners of listed buildings to restore them.
Very few took advantage of this offer, and it has to be said that the borough’s efforts to promote it could have been more enthusiastic.
Despite the fact that the borough boasts a Heritage and Tourism and a Town Centre Services department with around 25 staff between them, we have seen little evidence of what they have done to earn their crust over the years.
The most we have seen is improved signage indicating where to find local attractions, as well as the “monoliths” that detail local history.
More recently, Worst Street acquired another £1m for a Townscape Heritage Project which specifically targets the side of the Market Place where the former Millets ruin now stands.
It would be interesting to see an account of where all this money is to be spent as – so far – there are very few signs of much by way of achievement.
The former Millets shop is available to interested parties under a number of varied deals – the whole place could be let at £40,000 a year; or sold with vacant possession for £450,000.
The ground floor is available to let separately from the upper floors for £25,000 a year with the upper floors for sale on a 125 year lease for £150,000.
Planning consent is in place for the conversion of the upper floors into six self-contained flats.
Given how long the building has been on the market and its ever-declining condition we find it hard to imagine a taker coming along soon.
But in the meantime, something must be done to improve the place.
One possibility is that the borough tries to persuade the owner to apply for one of the grants available – but that would be using our money to improve a commercial interest – as happened with the former Edinburgh Woollen Mill shop, which closed two years ago. But after all the work the building remains empty, with no takers for the £45,000 a year rent.
However, there might be an alternative option for the old Millets under the Worst Street IFIG – iron fist in iron glove – policy.
This was most notably brought into play in 2013 when Worst Street stepped in to improve a neglected property in Wormgate to the tune of £7,000 in taxpayers’ cash which it then demanded back from the owner.
True, less draconian efforts to get the building improved had failed, but as the town centre portfolio holder trumpeted at the time: "This case demonstrates that the council is serious about improving the appearance of buildings and pursuing property owners who think they can just ignore us ...
“Along with English Heritage we had done all within our power to help this property owner ....
"If you are an owner of an eligible property in a significant state of disrepair, don't wait for the council to have to serve notice on you. Come and see if you can be eligible for a grant and restore the property. The reward for a small investment can be substantial …”
We wonder what – if anything – Worst Street has done to try to improve the state of number 16 Market Place.
More worrying than Boston’s persistent tenure on the Heritage at Risk list is a new entry – Boston Stump … the jewel in our crown.
According to Historic England: “The church suffers from a risk of flooding. Below ground drainage needs improving. The belfry roof at over 100 ft. needs re-covering, and the tower west elevation waits repointing and some stone repair.”
The listing comes little more than a month since the Stump was awarded £160,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund to develop the church as a “centre of heritage and community cohesion.” The Passion for People project will enable the telling of stories of Boston’s role in local and international history which will hopefully attract more visitors to the town.
The grant is seed money which will hopefully pave the way for another £1.2m by the end of next year.
The total cost of the project will be approximately £2.2 million – half of which will need to be raised in partnership funding.
It all sounds very attractive – but wouldn’t it be better to repair the roof first, and get the church off the risk list?
Our local MP Matt Warman finds himself at odds with opponents of the Greater Lincolnshire devolution proposal who are fed up with never-ending tiers of government.
For a while, all looked to be going swimmingly – until Lincolnshire County Council voted against the plan along with South Kesteven District Council.
Approval of the deal – which had to be unanimous among the ten councils involved – would have seen the government hand over £15 million a year for the next 30 years to a newly created combined authority.
But a contingent part of the proposal was that there should be an elected mayor to supervise the new council – which some say could cost more than £2m a year.
As the naysayers emerged, Mr Warman took to Twitter, to tell us: “Those Lincolnshire councils rejecting devolution are turning down half a billion pounds and yet will decry lack of investment. Madness.”
He dismissed others’ fears with the line: “I am absolutely confident in the good faith of this Conservative government and Secretary of State. No reason to think otherwise.” – a loyal but somewhat naive position, we thought.
And as far as the possibly high cost of a mayor was concerned, critics were brushed aside by the argument: “Even if that were true who would turn down £15m a year for the sake of £2.2m?!”
Easy come, easy go at just under 14% of the total – yet Mr Warman seems obsessed with the idea that we must have yet another tier of government to run the ship.
Our view on this is that whilst devolution of power and money to Lincolnshire is A Good Thing – yet another political stooge swallowing up millions in taxpayers’ cash is not!
Mr Warman points out that “his” councils – Boston and East Lindsey – have voted for the scheme.
But they would, wouldn’t they.
Both need lots more money and seem to think that the £15m that would come in each year would be equitably shared – and in the case of Boston quotes from Worst Street “leader” ‘Nipper’ Bedford suggest that he fails to grasp the big picture.
Worst Street itself appears to be turning the usual blind eye when things don’t go the way it likes.
Whilst the story has now been removed from its website, it still appears in the “news” section beneath the headline “Two more councils vote for devolution” telling readers: “D-Day is on the cards following approval by Cabinet members today of Boston Borough Council's recommendation to forge ahead with devolution.”
Mr Warman also took the issue to the House of Commons during a discussion with Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, when he said:
“Another key part of the midlands engine will be the Lincolnshire devolution deal. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging the eight out of 10 councils that have voted for it already to work with the Government to make sure that we get the best devolution deal for Lincolnshire and that Lincolnshire does not turn its back on half a billion pounds of Government money?
Back came the vague response: “My hon. Friend highlights the importance of these devolution deals, including that for greater Lincolnshire, in bringing about more growth and better productivity in all regions of the UK.
“As my hon. Friend said, eight councils out of 10 have accepted the deal — I hope the others will as well — which will make a great difference to jobs and growth.”
At the time, South Holland District Council had not voted on the deal – their decision in favour took place on Wednesday night, so Mr Warman was jumping the gun to quote the figure at 8 out of 10 at the time.
And Mr Javid seemed not to understand that the two councils mentioned had voted against the idea – which in his book means the deal is off.
What was it Mr W said: “I am absolutely confident in the good faith of this Conservative government and Secretary of State. No reason to think otherwise.”
Want to think again?
Whilst it never usually bothers, Boston Borough Council is currently promoting a “business opportunity” to try to wash its hands of the public toilets at Leverton.
Worst Street has managed the toilets for some years, with Lincolnshire County Council footing the bill – but that is now being withdrawn.
Worst Street adds: “Under Government austerity measures the council cannot afford to keep the toilets open, but it is reluctant to close them and is exploring every opportunity to retain them.”
Hence the search for “entrepreneurs interested in a rare and unusual business opportunity.”
Worst Street witters on: “The project would suit someone who may already have experience of the catering or retail trade.
“Premises are available in a pleasant location which already has proven footfall. The council wants to hear from anyone with an interest in taking over responsibility for the public toilets at Leverton. It is a substantial building with business development potential.
“The council wants to maintain public access to the toilets, but someone taking on responsibility for the building would have opportunity to potentially use the rest of the space to open a cafe or run another suitable business.”
The council neglects to mention that one possible reason for the “proven footfall” is that there is already a café nearby – or that the toilets have been identified as a place of “anti-social promiscuous behaviour.”
Worst Street wrote to Leverton Parish Council a year ago asking if it would consider contributing to the costs, at which time members felt it was not viable to contribute.
This latest stunt strikes us as a pretty underhand way of doing business – especially as the existing café has only recently acquired a new owner according to the property website Rightmove.
What a surprise for the new owners when Boston Borough Council approves a rival facility within yards of their new business.
The relevance of the content – or rather the lack of it – is becoming increasingly noticeable to readers of the borough council’s website.
Recent examples include the winner of a pumpkin competition, a lottery grant to a local parish church, and a scheme to melt down aluminium drinks cans.
But the old ones are the best – as regular readers will already know.
This week saw yet another plug for Pinchin’s pie shop at Algarkirk which has won some awards in a foodie competition.
At one time you couldn’t move for irrelevant free plugs for Pinchin’s – a while ago, we pointed out that stories had appeared no fewer than five times in 12 months in the borough’s bulletin.
The Worst Street website ought surely to be able to tell us more about what’s happening with council matters – and stop trying and failing to present itself as some sort of additional local newspaper.
The now weekly bulletin is another example of having so little content available, that it simply rehashes the website content – which is why we have cancelled our subscription.
This week’s bulletin is a prime example – four out of the seven stories featured have nothing to do with Boston Borough Council, and all have appeared on the main website in the previous week.
It’s birthday time, so there will be no blog next week. We will be back on Friday 11th November.
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