Things just don’t seem to be going well for the powers that be in Worst Street lately.
After last week’s announcement of a public inquiry into the plans for a £100 million flood barrier for Boston, something that the leadership – especially ‘Nipper’ Bedford – was anxious to avoid, comes bad news about what Bedford has called “the only game in town” … the creation of a “super-Lincolnshire” governed by an elected mayor.
It would now appear to be a case of “match postponed” after Lincolnshire County Council Leader Martin Hill said that he would honour the 43:17 vote against devolution taken by County Hall and not support the multi-million scheme.
He is quoted as saying: "Since county councillors voted, I have discussed the issues again with the government, but was told that a mayor is still regarded as a ‘must’.
"In considering my position on the deal, I have absolutely at the forefront of my mind the views of the 4,000-plus residents who took part in the recent consultation.
"Although 59% of respondents said our councils should pursue greater funding and powers from the Government, 49% opposed the idea of a Mayoral Combined Authority, compared to the 47% in favour.
"I share their concerns about a directly elected mayor, with all the extra costs involved.
"With such a strong vote against the proposal from county councillors across all political parties too, I am minded not to support a directly elected mayor for the region based on what is currently on offer."
‘Nipper’s’ view by contrast appears to be that anything that provides Boston Borough Council with money for nothing is a good idea – rather than sitting down with his henchpersons and coming up with some real leadership and some tangible ideas.
Since the Tories were handed the keys to the Worst Street council chamber by the Bypass Independents five and a half years ago, they have simply bowed to the demands of head office time and again – cutting service after service without ever looking at ways to try to introduce new money into the town, or even trying to fight the rot that has steadily been setting in.
All of which makes ‘Nipper’ not a “leader” but a “follower”
Worse still, Boston seems slowly to be dying without any efforts at resuscitation from the powers that be.
Monday saw the news that the town’s Marks and Spencer store might well be on the list of those to be closed as the company looks to regroup.
The list was compiled by retail analysts the Local Data Company, whose director Matthew Hopkinson said whilst there were 35 towns or cities with more than one store, others “vulnerable because the town centre is already in serious decline” included Blackpool, Bolton, Boston, Hereford, Mansfield, Stoke and Sunderland.
Meanwhile, at the weekend at sign appeared in the window of the town’s Clarks shoe shop, saying: “We're closing late November but you can still shop with us. For your nearest Clarks store please visit www.clarks.co.uk."
This comes less than six months after Clarks opened a brand new £150,000 shop in Gainsborough – of all places.
The closure also comes three months after we were told that Boston Borough Council was “helping Clarks explore other options in the town.”
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Earlier this week we walked from the Town Bridge through Emery Lane where – after the dismal Cash Generator windows – we found empty store after empty store … whilst those that hadn’t closed completely were still shut well after normal opening hours.
This medieval street – together with Dolphin Lane – is regularly touted by Worst Street optimists as a haven for small independent shops, and has in the past been likened to the similar lanes that draw visitors to York in their millions each year.
We think that one of the big problems is that much of the commercial property in Boston may well be in the hands of absentee landlords.
A recent planning application for a major town centre shop disclosed that the owner/applicant was based in North London.
And again we are indebted to the satirical magazine Private Eye for its list of UK properties owned by companies in offshore tax havens.
In Boston these include: 22, Strait Bargate, which belongs to the Galante corporation of the Netherlands Antilles; 17b, Wide Bargate (Suleiman Capital Corp, British Virgin Islands, registered in 2005 and bought for £877,565); 94, to 102 (even), West Street Retail Park, (BNP Paribas securities services trust company, Jersey, registered 2010 and bought for £5,195,852) Sleaford Road Medical Centre, Boston West Business Park (Medicx Properties VI Ltd Guernsey, registered 2012 and bought for
£3,212,104); Malcolm Farm, Frith Bank (Madox Holdings, Guernsey, registered 2010 and bought for £1,150,000.)
Even the smallest places are not immune – to whit Haltoft End Service Station – acquired by Silversmith Holdings Inc of the British Virgin Islands in 2006 for £119,000.
Is it any wonder, then, that we have so many neglected empty shops when they are merely a tiny entry on a big balance sheet, and not worth selling because a tenant will appear eventually?
Tell that to the owners of the former Millets and Edinburgh Woollen Mill Shop.
And when the QD store in Strait Bargate closed, a company spokesman said: “We came up to negotiate a fresh rent position with the landlord and unfortunately were not able to come up with a commercially viable solution.
“We did present some proposals to the landlord but frankly they turned them down.”
The premises are now being advertised for rental at £195,000 a year – or £16,250 a month … exclusive of business rates, which could be as much again.
Not only that, the property comes with a new 15 year lease with “reviews” (i.e. increases) every three years and with the tenant paying the cost of all insurance and repairs.
At the start of this week’s little effort, we mentioned Boston Borough Council’s turning of a blind eye to the news of the barrier inquiry.
Last week we could but speculate – but have since had it confirmed that whilst at least one of our local “newspapers” did seek a comment, it was “directed” to “speak directly with the Environment Agency.”
This from a council which claims to pride itself on “openness and transparency.”
Surely, a request to respond to a decision affecting a crucial local project – one which the council had insisted should not be delayed by such trivia as an investigation to see if it was fit for purpose – ought to have generated a formal reply.
Not in Worst Street!
Last week we mentioned one of our favourite committees – B-TACky, which exists solely to make life even more miserable for taxpayers who live in the town centre – when it actually sat back and listened to an idea to create a cycle path alongside the bus route that it currently ruining Strait Bargate.
In support of a desire to “see a reduction in the quantity of grassed areas which are closely mown” – i.e. reduce grass cutting to save money – committee members are thinking of converting unused space into “a more naturalised area” which is allowed to grow … with planting of fruit trees and wild flowers to enhance the areas. Not only that, but “additional benches, outdoor exercise equipment and basketball hoops” have also been suggested.
All of this is being discussed at a time when areas of Central Park are being further massacred to reduce opportunities for shrubbery to be used as a lavatory or hiding place in which to drink.
Only a few days ago, Worst Street told us that grounds staff have also removed shrubbery from around a bench near the sorting office in South End where there had been "constant complaints about street drinkers congregating and leaving drink-related litter behind.”
Mention of benches reminds us that four and a half years ago B-TACky was busy tearing up benches all over town to stop them being used as al fresco bars.
At a rough count, at least 30 benches were removed in the fruitless battle on anti-social activity in Boston – and now the council is thinking of reinstating such seating in these proposed areas of bucolic bliss.
Even now, we can scent disaster in the making in the same way that sharks can smell blood in the water.
Benches … fruit trees … wildflowers …
And the cost of buying new benches must certainly go a long way toward diminishing the saving in mowing the grass – which of course will become even more attractive to people who let their dogs foul such open spaces.
And don’t imagine that Worst Street will have been prudent enough to keep the scores of benches they ripped out in case they were needed for a rainy day.
Sometime after the seats were removed in their scores, an approach for some to be relocated on a local allotment was dismissed on the grounds that they had all been “dumped.”
We are quite sure that this doesn’t mean sold for their scrap value – rather “dumped” on someone who would himself make money by doing what the council couldn’t be bothered to do!
The retired hack in us cannot resist the lure of a potentially big news story. So, as we returned from our Sunday shop and found that a major police operation had closed Freiston Road and Main Ridge, we Tweeted the news and copied it to the editor of the Boston sub-Standard – which we joined for a brief time as a reporter half-a-century ago this year.
Back came the reply: “Will ask the weekend team to have a look into it” – and so we waited with interest.
Sometime later a “report” on the Standard website rehashed our Tweet in a somewhat sceptical way and said that the police would not reveal more as the operation was on-going. “Updates” were promised.
Eventually, we suggested to the Standard that for “updates” they would do worse than visit the Boston off-Target which had sourced the entire story – including pictures – from social media, whilst the Standard weekend “team” apparently twiddled its thumbs.
In terms of police activity in Boston, this was clearly a mega incident.
All those years ago, word would have reached the Standard and – fate forefend in 2016 – someone would have been sent out to take a look … together with a photographer.
The Target did what most papers do these days – cobble together tweets and pictures from the public domain, whilst the Standard weekend “team” couldn’t even manage that.
It’s been said that Boston town centre is in a serious decline.
It’s also said that that thriving local newspapers are synonymous with a thriving town.
Last week we listed the then known candidates for next month’s Sleaford and North Hykeham by election – made less interesting by the climb-down of former Boston election contender Robin Hunter-Clarke.
The UKIP candidate is now that well-known “I’ll stand anywhere where you might vote for me” wannabee Victoria Ayling – perhaps because she was the only Kipper left who wanted the job
The full list of candidates is:
Victoria Ayling – UKIP
David Bishop – Bus Pass Elvis Party
Jim Clarke – Labour
Paul Coyne – Independent
Peter Hill The Iconic Arty Pole – Monster Raving Loony Party
Caroline Johnson – Conservative
Marianne Overton – Lincolnshire Independents
Ross Pepper – Liberal Democrats
Sarah Stock – Independent
Mark Suffield – Independent.
Finally, in common with local councils everywhere, Boston spent the day Tweeting its activities as part of an event called Our Day.
This involved such riveting details as opening the park gates in the morning and locking them at night, and opening the council offices and closing them at night and … are you awake there? Pay attention!
Of course, we weren’t supposed to read all this as – a long time ago – we were barred from reading the council’s tweets or from following it.
Such a serious step usually follows improper behaviour of some sort – but in our case we have only ever visited the page and never posted any comments … which makes the action one of petty and insecure spitefulness merely because we dare to criticise Worst Street in our blog.
Nonetheless, we managed to follow the day, which at some points was padded out with non-council stuff just to make it seem busier.
There was also such helpful information as: “The Leader of the Council is currently attending a GLLEP ESIF sub-committee meeting discussing applications under EU funding.”
That’s good to know. We hope that alphabet soup was on the lunchtime menu.
We also heard that IT equipment was being set up “for tonight’s council meeting” and that the caretaker had locked up for the day after it concluded.
Did this meeting really take place?
Not according to the council’s own calendar which showed no-meetings scheduled for Tuesday 15th. Perhaps the day didn’t look exciting enough – or could our “open and transparent” council be hiding meetings from us? Fate forfend!
But just to demonstrate a sense of humour, Worst Street tweeted the picture below – beneath the message “Stand-off in Boston Cemetery. Magpie comes beak to nose with a resident squirrel.”
Twitchers among you will doubtless be as disappointed as we were at the absence of the magpie.
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