Before we collapse into a heap of gibbering ecstasy at the news of a “shopping village” for Boston, let us remember that there have been many planning slips ‘twixt cup and lip over the years in the town.
It’s one thing to seek to turn a chunk of derelict land into a glittering shoppers’ paradise – but between the wish and the ribbon-cutting ceremony lies a road littered with potholes and possible setbacks.
The application in question is for the demolition of properties in Strait Bargate and Wide Bargate with the NCP Red Lion Street car park being built over to create what we would term a ‘precinct’ rather than a ‘village’ – comprising 14 shops, two restaurants and 15 flats.
When recently advertised, the asking price for the lot was £3,250,000 plus VAT.
For lovers of jargon, a statement by the development company behind the application – Texas Group PLC, which is based in Eccles, Manchester – says: “The scheme is intended to provide a mix of buildings, spaces and uses which fills an existing void in the urban fabric of Boston and opens up pedestrian links through this space to fragmented areas of the town.
“The design will provide high quality, contemporary buildings which respond and complement the existing conservation area and surrounding historic buildings without resorting to pastiche.”
On the company website, we are told: “As a family owned business we are able to take long term strategic decisions for the greater good of our family members and our family of customers. This is because we value the service we provide to our tenants, with many of them looking to build and grow their businesses with our ready and willing support within the many buildings we have in our portfolio ...”
“… our head office in Eccles … supports, monitors and manages the group's diverse property portfolio, extending the same degree of attention and value to the person with one desk on a monthly requirement through to those clients who seek larger premises with the security of holding a long-term lease.
“No customer has the same needs, our longstanding experience in the market tells us that, but we aim to please.”
“ … The group prides itself on acquiring stagnating assets, which using flair and imagination are refurbished and restructured to provide modern day working environments.”
It all sounds a bit like a Waterfall Plaza II.
All of this took our mind back almost a decade, when Worst Street was whooping and leaping about Merchants Quay – the position of the apostrophe along with the rest of it, was never finalised – an £80 million plan intended to revitalise a 12-acre area, stretching from West Street to Lincoln Lane and including a 60,000 sq. ft. department store, a food store, eight major space units, 17 other units of various sizes, a new ‘riverside restaurant quarter,’ a 700 space gold standard car park, more than 100 new city-style apartments, an hotel and a new iconic pedestrian bridge to the town centre.
Sadly the idea came at the wrong time as the economy hit problems and the shop which was to provide the ‘anchor’ for the development – Debenhams – pulled out.
Soon afterwards the developer – Modus – went out of business, and remnants of its plans were taken on by another company but Boston was again left out in the cold.
But we still remember the words of the mayor of the day Councillor Peter Jordan, who was also the deputy leader of the Boston Bypass Independent – when he famously described Modus as “a wonderful company. They are the sort of straight dealers I want to be in bed with.”
The current application is not the first for this site – there have been at least two others going back as far as 1988.
In each case it would appear that objections were made by the borough’s planners and endorsed by the planning committee, as both applications were withdrawn – in one case five years after it was submitted.
Another was withdrawn at the appeal stage – which suggests that the would-be developers felt that
Worst Street was being a bit heavy-handed
in its refusal of permission to build.
Perish the thought.
Nonetheless, Boston Borough council does have something of a history when it comes to fannying around with applications whose basic intention is to make the town a more attractive place.
The was the almost comic messing about with the application for the ASDA store off Sleaford Road, which appeared to be delayed forever because a monkey puzzle tree was in the garden of a listed building that needed to be demolished for the traffic plan.
Then there was all the to-ing and fro-ing over the original application to build a Lidl store in Tawney Street that would have seen the demolition of the former Bedworld eyesore.
Despite the appalling state of the site and its surroundings, bizarrely it was located in a conservation area, which prompted planners to suggest that the height of the building should be lowered by a few inches so as not to spoil the view of Boston Stump.
And there was the famous quote by Conservative Independent Councillor Alison Austin, who appeared to object to the social class of the application (which is nothing to do with planning decisions) when she declared “Boston deserves better.”
Whilst permission was grudgingly granted, Lidl thought long and hard before finding an out of town site to build on – leaving the Tawney Street eyesore in an even more shabby condition.
Whilst fourteen new shops for the town are to be welcomed, we have to wonder what sort of shops they might be.
Let’s not forget that over time we have lost high street names such as the Edinburgh Woollen Mill Shop, McKay’s, Milletts, Thornton’s, Jessops, QD – so it seems unlikely that they will be planning a comeback …whilst our only in-town supermarket on the Boston Shopping Park morphed from Asda to Netto to Morrisons, before becoming a second Iceland store.
The council's Economic Development Officer, Clive Gibbon, has already made comment on the plans according to a local report.
“The council’s economic plan clearly sets out a vision ‘to create a strong, successful and resilient economy that works for all by positioning the borough as a destination of choice for investing, working, living and visiting.’
“Our plan clearly supports this level of investment and the employment growth leveraged through the application and if successful will have important benefits not just for the town of Boston, but shared more widely across the whole local economy.”
We echo those sentiments, as at long last Boston could be in line for something by way of improvement – but not without a careful balancing act.
This is the time to turn our back on all the past messing around that has left the town with such a poor shopping offer.
We should decide here and now that we do not need any more vaping shops, or charity shops or mobile phone shops or coffee shops.
This is a chance to take back the town and begin to shape it to our liking, and there is ample time to try to find out how to use the planning laws in our favour to do so.
We must unravel the mind-set in the planning office which always approves applications “with conditions” – and we must get the members of the planning committee to work for the good of the town … not nit-pick or turn their noses up at something they deem infra dig.
Our piece last week about a bypass for the town did not go unnoticed.
Former Independent Boston Borough Councillor Richard Leggott e-mailed to say: “It’s nice to hear that representation on the possibility of a bypass/distributor road is continuing.
“I say continuing as that is all it is.
“A further round in talks with Lincolnshire County Council that have been taking place since, if my failing memory serves me correctly this time, 1999-2000.
“The Boston team at these BBC/LCC talks was led by Joyce Dobson, and included several other councillors.
“At the time, we felt that progress – in the shape of a route/discussion/rejection/
agreement/variation was a good start.
“Of course there was always the thorny problem of finance through regional (does anyone recall or grieve at the passing of the Regional Assemblies?)/LCC channels to be dealt with.
“I can remember one alternative route put forward was to use London Road, put a spur/bridge off it over the Haven, and take that through the dock with an exit from the dock area to join up with A52 east of Boston.
“I do recall that this suggestion was not supported very strongly at county by our local county councillors at the time.
“Whether this was the sole cause of its failure I do not know.
“Various other routes were also researched.
“Part of the solution to acquiring any necessary finance was to put the right label on the project that would attract EU funds also.
“Thus when the scheme finally broke into public view it carried the Enterprise Corridor tag – Enterprise being the EU flavour of the time.
“The noticeable and to some, unacceptable, omission of the word bypass in any title led to the formation of that great Boston disaster – no, not the Tea Party – the Bypass Party.
The pressure group 38degrees is promoting a campaign to provide accommodation for the homeless in Lincolnshire.
A spokesman for Boston Borough Council said they accommodated ten homeless people overnight on February 28th – the worst night of the big freeze – and added: "No rough sleeper was refused accommodation.
Without question, no-one should have to sleep rough – especially during appalling conditions such as those we saw recently
But we have noticed a recent arrival of people whose genuineness we would query.
On one recent market day, we noticed no fewer than five sleeping bags and their occupants on the streets in waking and working hours at the same time – on the Town Bridge, outside KFC, outside Marks and Spencer, outside Oldrids and outside McColls.
Each was well bundled up with a metal begging bowl in front of them and in some cases sound asleep.
Were they homeless or not?
At one time we saw two occupants of one site swap places – perhaps to keep fresh faces in the system.
On another occasion – a Sunday morning – we saw a group of about half a dozen walking into town each armed with the necessary sleeping materials and on other occasions have seen what looks like a management meeting outside McColls as the shops are opening on a Sunday morning.
By an interesting co-incidence two towns have been in the news recently because they are taking action against people they believe are professional beggars rather than genuinely homeless.
Police in Ely – one of England’s smallest cities have urged people not to give beggars their money, insisting none of them are genuinely homeless.
Officers said those who claimed to be sleeping rough were actually fraudsters who were making “substantial amounts of money.”
They warned that kind hearted and well-meaning people were in danger of being misled and said if they wanted to offer beggars something it should be food or a hot drink, rather than cash.
Meanwhile a campaign has been launched in Torquay to deter street sleepers accused of being “fake homeless.”
Something like this will always be contentious – but unless we take the appropriate steps there is a serious risk that Boston will draw more and more people who are not homeless but after easy money to our streets and doorways.
In pursuit of the Worst Street motto Quoque Paulo Nimium Sero (too little, too late) we note the triumphal retweeting of a message from the organisation Love Your Local Market thanking the council for signing up.
This event will be staged between 17th and 31st May and has been running for the last six years.
We think this is the first time that Worst Street has got involved – despite our previous suggestions that it should … the first time being five years ago.
Kick a dinosaur in the tail and it will roar 20 minutes later – Worst Street is no different.
Finally – round about this time of year Boston Eye notches up its anniversary.
As far as we can recall the end of February/beginning of March saw the completion of 12 years’ blogging.
What will lucky thirteen have in store, we wonder?
You can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
E– mails will be treated in confidence and published anonymously if requested.
Our former blog is archived at: http://bostoneyelincolnshire.blogspot.com
We are on Twitter – visit @eye_boston