For the second blog in a row, Boston Borough Council’s planning procedures and policy take pole position.
Last time the spotlight was on the meetings themselves – the time they take and perhaps waste, and the cost of these taking shops … especially now that lunch for thirteen committee members and doubtless a hanger-on or two is included.
This time the focus turns to the way individual cases are handled – and at least one senior councillor is less than happy that one application has been ‘pushed through’ … saying: “I have seen planning documents which seemed to suggest to me that vital elements of planning ....were being … improperly addressed without any real explanation!”
The councillor is former mayor Brian Rush, and the case concerns the installation of a biomass boiler at Tanglewood Care Homes’ Hunters Creek nursing home on London Road in Boston.
Tanglewood sought retrospective permission after going ahead with the building and installing the boiler in Boston.
The application was made on 8th June and has since sat around before being approved on 30th August.
By a remarkable coincidence another Tanglewood home – Cedar Falls in Spalding – had also installed a biomass boiler and housing without planning permission … and is also seeking a retrospective go-ahead.
“Despite what is now being claimed, both these projects in my opinion are being pushed through under the radar, so to speak,” said Councillor Rush.
“This might have been a fait accompli until local residents in both towns stood up and let the public and the press know exactly what was going on.”
Councillor Rush said that he became interested in the Hunters Creek application … “which until now was being directed with little criticism or comment by ward representatives.
“I have seen planning documents which seemed to suggest to me that vital elements of planning were being, I think, improperly addressed without any real explanation.
“I expect that I will be condemned by colleagues, but in my opinion every planning application should be laid before full committee, giving elected members an opportunity – no matter how brief – to inspect and examine possible implications.”
“I believe that both the Cedar Falls and the Hunters Creek proposal are a wakeup call to residents both in Boston and Spalding as to what could have turned out to be a real danger to the health and welfare of the complainants.”
They were certainly a wakeup call to someone – as although the retrospective application was made at the beginning of June, it sat around for twelve weeks, and was then nodded through within days of councillor Rush raising questions about it.
There are also some interesting features surrounding the application.
When first we checked it out on WorstWeb – the Boston Borough Council website – this was the information we found.
The flow chart for dealing with the application clearly shows that it is not to be delegated to an officer for a decision.
But when we looked again a few days later the view was quite different.
This time the application is marked for delegation – which means that the decision for approval or otherwise is left to an officer, and not members of the Planning Committee.
And this has taken place, with the application among a number in a batch that was rubber stamped around the end of last month.
So was it or wasn’t it?
The answer – whilst first suggesting a change of heart at some time during the journey of the document from creation to finalisation – is most likely far more prosaic.
It may have to do with the report being created on a particular piece of software – whose format does not travel well when exchanged between interested parties who more than likely read it on different computer devices and with different browsers.
The result is complete confusion for people trying to access Worst Street’s hilarious policy of openness and transparency – in this case completely misleading them and causing uncertainty about who has been doing what.
What remain unchanged, though, are some of the key issues brought up by Councillor Rush in the first place.
The Spalding reapplication raised a number of issues mainly concerning Lincolnshire fire service and residents’ complaints which left it undecided.
The Boston reapplication also generated its own concerns – yet strangely the ever-expanding and ambitious Boston Town Area Committee could not be bothered to respond when consulted.
But as a result of publicity, three parties responded, sending in five letters between them which cited the inappropriateness of the boiler’s location; its negative impact and the charge that it was out of keeping with existing buildings; that neither the fire risk nor the flood risk has been considered along with pollution and noise, especially during the night. There were also concerns that the flue on the amended plans would not work.
Most of these complaints are covered in the council report with a condition to address any possible noise issues.
More worryingly, the response to fears about the flue is dealt with thus: “In relation to whether or not the flue will work is a matter for the applicant and their agent to determine. The amended plans were submitted by the agent, it is understood following the concerns raised by neighbours. It is therefore understood that they would have ensured that the flue ‘will work’ prior to submission.”
At some point, the long and winding road to a decision did rattle the cages of four councillors for ‘consultation.’ Planning committee Chairman David Brown responded next day; Vice Chairman Sue Ransome, who also chairs BTAC-ky, failed to respond; Alison Austin replied that the development was not in her ward; and ward councillor Richard Austin also failed to respond.
So, the bottom line is that the whole application stood or fell on the basis of a dialogue between an officer and a single councillor.
Councillor Rush told Boston Eye that given the contentious nature of the application he could not see the need for a last minute sprint to get it approved, as it was installed and working, and had been for twelve weeks, and ought to have waited a little longer so that the full committee could have given the issue its full attention.
“What the heck were our officers doing, sitting on this application since June?
“What level of public consultation took place?
“Why also are they suddenly leaping around, when members are away on holiday, arranging a very ‘non-public’ planning meeting – if one even took place, at all?
“Which leads me to question what level of public consultation took place?
“Our senior officers constantly bang the drum about ‘openness, honesty and integrity’ – well, it seems these principles were not applied to the people of Woodside?
“Woodsiders need some straight honest answers – no more jiggery-pokery – this application should be brought straight back to the Planning Committee, now!
Everywhere you turn these days, it seems that the moment organisations lay their hands on some money they turn to “consultants” to help them spend it – and Boston appears to be no exception.
In the past few days, we have read of two local organisations buying third party help after receiving large sums of cash.
The first is Boston Borough Council, which in November scored a £1.39 million grant from the Government's Controlling Migration Fund, after a bid by the council and partners.
And even though we would think that some reasonably impressive ideas and support material would have been needed to clinch the grant, six months later it was announced that Worst Street had called in a Lincoln based company called Rose Regeneration to ‘evaluate’ a programme of activity aimed at promoting community cohesion the project.
The company reported: “We are working with Lincoln International Business School (University of Lincoln) to undertake an external evaluation and return on investment modelling of the programme” – whatever that means.
So, here we have a lot of cash – from which it appears that two other organisations may be looking for a slice to advise another organisation which ought to know everything there is to know about immigration in Boston and the best way to tackle any problems.
Rose Regeneration is also involved with a project involving Boston Stump which has received more than £1 million from the National Lottery towards a £2.7 million scheme of which the balance is being raised locally.
Rose tweeted at the end of last month “Proud to be evaluating it's (sic) role in Inclusive Boston @LincolnshireCVS.”
The money for the church will include an educational centre, new floors and under-floor heating; two glass porches near the entrance which will allow for the main doors to be left open and urgent repairs to the fabric of the building including the renovation of the 83-metre tower - one of the tallest medieval towers in England, and flood prevention measures.
It’s at this point that thing begin to get a bit confusing.
Is the evaluation of the church’s role in Inclusive Boston on behalf of the Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service connected with Worst Street’s migration project?
It would appear so, as Lincolnshire Community and Voluntary Service has declared itself to be “one of several partners working with Boston Borough Council to deliver the Inclusive Boston project to promote community cohesion throughout the town.”
So, at least two separate organisations appear each to have hired a third to evaluate what broadly seems to be the same thing – no doubt at a cost – when the hiring organisation ought to have all the necessary expertise to do the job themselves.
And it already seems that their evaluator has work aplenty – with enough projects to keep an army of consultants employed for the foreseeable future.
Mr Rose Regeneration is a chap named Ivan Annibal – described on the company website as having “a national reputation in economic and community development, with particular specialisms in coastal and rural issues” and “a practical ‘hands on’ style to delivering programmes and projects.”
We certainly hope the he and his company have a better time of it than they did four years or thereabouts ago, when Mr Annibal was appointed as the Big Local Rep to Boston Big Local.
The job of the Big Local Reps is to help the local groups achieve their vision through support, advice and appropriate challenge.
But Mr Annibal’s time with Boston Big Local was a fraught one which culminated in the temporary resignation of the group's only paid official who cited ‘deep concern’ with the management of the project regarding a ‘lack of consultation and community engagement’.
A newspaper report in April 2014 said it was understood that questions about Mr Annibal had been raised with the company who train and supply the reps on behalf of the Local Trust.
Two months later, the reports said that the facilitator would return to her paid position and that Mr Annibal, had ‘chosen’ not to renew his contract.
Some gloomy news for Boston appeared in a set of figures tweeted by Worst Street 'Independent' Councillor Paul Gleeson.
Not only did Lincolnshire appear fourth in a list of the ten poorest places in Northern Europe, but a second chart disclosed that the average full-time mid-point wages for the county showed that in Boston in 2017 pay was more than £700 lower than the previous year.
West Lindsey topped the list at £27,959 with Boston at £21,092 – a difference of £6,867 … and sad to say as these are average figures there will be many in Boston struggling on far lower pay.
Still with matters monetary, we note the whooping from Boston’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Councillor Aaron Spencer over the news that a £1 million property fund investment made three years ago has returned £1.111 million – giving the council an additional £111,000.
This was the first time we had heard about this loan being taken out – and none of those we spoke to could remember it either.
Ironically this must have been taken out at a time when Worst Street was screaming poverty left, right and centre – and it seems odd to be borrowing such a large sum when you were also telling everyone how hard up you were. Perhaps that’s why no one seems to have heard about it until now.
Good as a £111,000 profit is, regular readers will recall that this three years’ worth of income represents just one year’s interest on a £1 million loan which Worst Street took out in January 1991 for sixty years at an interest rate of 11⅛%
Despite an internal inquiry it was never determined who borrowed the money or for what reason.
The cost at the end of the borrowing period will be nearly £7 million – all of it interest.
Finally, we wonder whether the newly formed Bostonian Independents Group might well benefit from a course in local geography.
A map used to illustrate its 20-point plan makes use of a mouldering signpost showing the way to Langrick, Haven Bank, New York, Hundle Houses, Coningsby, Dogdyke and Boston.
The first five of these places are in East Lindsey district, whilst Dogdyke is in North Kesteven.
One out of seven for a Boston political party isn’t exactly the highest score, is it?
Now for the good news – depending on your point of view.
Our summer silly season schedule has run its course.
We’ll be back next Monday 24th September – online as always from 5am
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