Anyone listening to BBC Radio Lincolnshire or watching Look North this week would have come away with a depressing sense of having seen it all before, as people lined up to berate Boston Borough Council for its poor showing in the Christmas lights department.
A Facebook page attracted almost 90,000 visitors.
The condemnation was almost universal – and the ensuing news coverage produced the customary blame game that we have heard so often before.
Councillor Paul Skinner – who has performed so poorly in the past – again tried to wriggle out through political devices … when for once a simple, brief apology plus a “we’ll try to sort things out better next year” would have got him off the hook.
Instead, we heard that Worst Street had given ample warning that it could no longer finance luxuries such as Christmas lighting, and asked where taxpayers would rather see cuts being made.
We hate to seem repetitive, but the budget to run the mayor’s office is around £80,000 a year.
Shaving £35k from that to pay for the lights would still leave his worshipless almost a grand a week to party with his mayoral mates around Lincolnshire and beyond.
And of course, there is the £100,000 subsidy that sees councillors and staff park for nothing in a perk that no other public employees elsewhere enjoy.
Councillor Skinner also blamed local business for a lack of enthusiasm when asked to stump up towards the cost of celebrating Christmas – tediously reminding us that the council had “no statutory responsibility” to do so … whilst overlooking that neither is it compelled to fund staff parking or the vanity project known as the mayor.
So … if the council has no money for such seasonal frivolity – why did it get the hapless and hopeless Boston Town Area Committee, B-TACky – to hand over £35,000 (and pass the buck as well) to the torpid Boston Town Team, whose inactivity makes a sloth resemble an Olympic athlete?
Enter Jenny Elwick – apparently still with the team even though the role of co-ordinator was advertised earlier this year.
Without blaming the council, she blamed the council … stressing that Worst Street waited until August to pass the baton to the Town Team which left scarcely any time to do much.
The lack of what we understand as lights was defended by the use of a laser projector which pumps images on to the wall of various buildings – but to most people it’s not the same.
We also e-mailed the Town Team’s Deputy Chairman for Facilities, Daniel Elkington who assured us that the group was still alive and kicking.
“The chamber are hiring someone to do the work in between meetings so next year should be better.
“Xmas lights are the first thing on the agenda for January. This year we got funding from BTAC to do them and front loaded the contract. This means with the same funding next year we will incrementally increase the impact year on year.
“We knew they wouldn't have as much impact as the old lights this year however, the old lights were in the possession of the old company that ran the contract and, sadly, couldn’t be retained.
“The ones that were owned by the town were not safe and were killing the trees so they had to go.
“The other elements to the lights were not taken up by the business community as much as we would have liked. This is nobody's fault really and there are lessons to be learned here.
“After the demise of the BID (which ceased three years ago – Ed) it is going to take some time to build up a real business community and we will keep working on this as the years go by.
“Believe me; I share the frustrations with the plethora of legacy issues in the town and we will continue to work positively to engage with the business community and get a real sense of pride and ownership in the town, but it will be hard work as those legacy issues have done a lot of damage.
“I fully intend to report back to BTAC on the lights.
“In addition the Boston Business Briefing is going to be even bigger and better this year and we are looking forward to the business awards in February. We are glad the business awards were moved as they really did clash with everything else going off in December and February allows us to give them the prominence they deserve.
“We are also very glad that the Office of National Statistics has a more accurate position on the population in the town as most funding formulae are largely based on population and we hope that with Experian updating their mosaic profiles of Boston it should be easier to attract more shops to the area.
“Finally, I had a wander around Waterfall Plaza the other day and was quite impressed by the facilities there. We hope that the work done on that development shows that there are innovative individuals willing to invest in the town.”
We keep hearing contradictory tales about who is paying whom and for what in this debacle – with Worst Street saying that the bill will need to be footed by business in the coming years, whilst Mr Elkington is talking of “the same funding.” There are also suggestions that lights are being bought outright on a five year instalment plan.
The plot thickens almost by the day … just as the Christmas gloom deepens.
We wonder whether Worst Street has become so complacent in its misdirection that it no longer bothers to disguise things.
We have been told that a new avenue of trees has been planted in Central Park to replace mature trees which had to be taken down due to “safety concerns.”
But in the same breath, we learn that “the multi-stemmed silver birches have been planted on both sides of the path leading into Central Park from Tawney Street where previously a nuisance area had developed with drinkers relieving themselves under cover of the shrubbery which has been removed.”
So what are we talking about – safety or not?
The destruction of public amenities is the kneejerk Worst Street response to “anti-social activity” – by now acres of shrubbery and countless public seating areas have probably been removed because to one bothered to seek any other way to stop street drinking and its attendant problems.
We are also told that the next new tree-planting scheme will be at Burgess Pit, where a “community orchard” is to be developed with apple, plum, pear and cherry trees, plus crab apples for the wildlife.
Is this the same Burgess Pit that was once a no-go play area which even now requires its own dedicated CCTV camera?
It is indeed.
Should Boston Borough Council deem scrumping to be an offence – and we are sure that if it doesn’t already, then it will do soon – then we expect the crews who man the cameras to be very busy indeed.
But nicking fruit from a “community orchard” might be a tough charge to make stick!
After complaints about the apparently off-hand way that Boston’s planners have dealt with objectors to the Quadrant scheme in Wyberton, a number of excuses have been forthcoming from Paul Edwards, the council’s development control manager.
These include claims that “as a result of unplanned absences and other priorities, the collating of these revisions, getting them onto the website and then organising the over 400 letters (sic) and emails to advise people of this revision took much longer to generate than we would normally have hoped.
“This has resulted in some confusion and uncertainty which was never the intention of the Council and for which I must apologise.”
It seems that technology also bogged the planners down when: “It turned out that one of the plan drawing numbers included an ‘&’ within it and the system that would have uploaded this onto the website saw this as part of a computer language instruction and it thus didn’t perform what we had asked it to do.”
Mr Edwards concluded: “On the contrary to not alerting the public, this council goes beyond its minimum statutory requirements on publicity of planning applications and in this instance when there is no actual requirement to publicise amendments to an existing application. In addition, I have recently repeated my offer to the Parish Council that I will always be willing to attend any Parish Council meetings to explain the procedure behind this or any other current application(s).
“I do understand your concern about incompetence but please let me assure you that we were aware of these difficulties once people had first brought it to my attention; it was just that I was not quick enough in rectifying it which led to your complaint for which I apologise.”
Finally, we were intrigued by a Worst Street decision to extend restrictions on a taxpayer due to the number of complaints and enquiries that he has made.
Worst Street has a condemnatory policy against “persistent and vexatious complainants” who act as they do “to make life difficult for the council or individuals, rather than genuinely to resolve a grievance.”
The response is a communications bar which limits complaints and insists that they are sent only via the hopeless “feedback” address
The “offender” in this instance has had “over 30 complaints and enquiries logged” to date this year – roughly one each working fortnight.
We have seen a number of these – and many of them seem quite pertinent.
The council appears not to like it when people won’t take their response as an answer.
And in this case, it is being claimed that e-mails to the “offender’s” local councillor are being redirected to the “feedback” system which allows the council’s constraints to be used as a get-out clause.
Ho, ho, ho!
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