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Please give Boston a boost

Let's all get involved in talking the town up, not down. That's the plea from Cllr Paul Skinner, Boston Borough Council's portfolio holder for the town centre.

Cllr Skinner, responding to questions from the Boston Standard, said: "Much has happened and is happening to make Boston a more attractive place to live, visit and do business in, such as the recent gold award from Britain in Bloom.

"Promotion of Boston is a partnership with responsibilities shared by Boston Borough Council, other authorities such as Lincolnshire County Council, and businesses, including the Boston Standard, shop owners and traders who depend for their prosperity on the continuing and growing prosperity of Boston.

"So let's all get involved in talking the town up, not down.

"As a visitor destination Boston has much to offer in terms of heritage and history - how many other small towns in the region can offer the grandness of St Botolph's Church (Boston Stump) - not much beats a trip up the Stump tower into wide open blue skies on a day when the weather is kind. I would recommend this to anyone who can spare the time on a sunny market day. If you think Boston is tired, forgotten, down at heel the vistas awaiting you will soon change your mind.

"We still have one of the biggest weekly markets in the area and it maintains its position as a favourite with visitors, shoppers and traders despite the difficult economic times we have been through. We do have some empty shop units, as does every town, but our shop vacancy levels are among the lowest."

Yesterday the Boston Standard presented a special report looking at the challenges Boston faces in the future, and based, primarily, on the latest quarter's performance figures and further analysis requested from Boston Borough Council.

It highlighted, and headlined, an appeal for all to help promote the town. Cllr Skinner said: "I am pleased to see the Standard getting behind my appeal for all to do all they can to help this fine town."

The Standard reporter supplied a list of questions (highlighted in bold below), all of which were responded to. Not all of the information requested appeared in the Standard article - perhaps because of pressure of space - so it is all reproduced here, as supplied to the Standard.

In addition a national survey by the Government's Office for National Statistics has revealed Boston to be the third least anxious place in the country.

On a scale of ten, Boston scored just 2.06 for levels of anxiety. The "Personal Wellbeing in the UK 2014/15" survey questioned four areas - happiness, life satisfaction, feeling life was worthwhile and anxiety. Boston scored second lowest in the country for life being worthwhile at 7.37 and second lowest in the country for life satisfaction at 6.96. That could suggest a contradiction, or suggest that although some in Boston are not entirely happy with their lot it doesn't really cause them a lot of anxiety.

When considering Boston's scores (0 being "not at all" and 10 being "completely") the national averages should be borne in mind - life satisfaction was 7.6, feeling that what one does in life is worthwhile was 7.8, happiness yesterday was 7.5 and anxiety yesterday was 2.9.

Responses to information in the council's performance report for the quarter April to June, 2015.

Boston Big Local funding of £19,000 for partnership initiatives with the borough council is over two years. Our Boston in Bloom bid focused on investment in town centre planters and enhancing the busy Haven Bridge transport corridor.

Spending to date:

Future spending:

We are working with other partners on some of these projects - Transported, HMP North Sea Camp and Boston Greenscapers

Cllr Skinner said: "You ask what the council is doing to 'promote more footfall'. As well as those mentioned above here are a few others."

Cllr Skinner added: "I'd rather pose the question, ask not what Boston can do for you, but what can you do for Boston? We can all help by looking for the positives and talking the town up - our reputation and our perceived attractiveness depends upon it."

Boston Standard: When it comes to footfall there is an eight per cent decrease, while vacant units are up. Why do you think footfall is down? Is there a correlation between the units or is it a natural decline? What is the council trying to do to promote more footfall?

Many factors can affect the quarterly figures - a few days of bad weather, for instance, can have a significant impact on a comparatively small sample. Footfall figures are gathered on the same single day of each month over a period of just 30 minutes - they can be seriously skewed by something as unpredictable as the weather. It is a better indicator to use annual figures if sensible comparisons are to be made.

Looking at overall year-on-year trends, Boston is rather holding its own and is not seeing a massive downturn - that's good news - we present a vibrant shopping centre. And it's a fact that more and more people are shopping on line and that less retail space is going to be needed in the future than is now - that is not simply a Boston challenge but a national one. Vacant shop units - compared to many towns our vacancy rate is not bad at all and people I show around Boston are incredibly impressed by the vibrancy and the low rate of vacancies. And vacancies do need to happen to allow new uses and new businesses to come in. But we are not complacent.

STEAM data (Scarborough Tourism Economic Activity Model) that Lincolnshire County Council commissions indicates tourism figures for Boston to be: 2013 Boston 1,282,000.... 2014 Boston 1,302,000

Boston Standard: In car parking - tickets sold are down by 4,001 tickets, however, car parking income from machines is about level at 1%. Is that due to the price increase? If so does this show that although the council is still making money, it is losing custom? If not then what reason is given for the loss of ticket sales? Again what is the council doing to get cars into its car parks?

The parking fees have not changed since Q1 last year and Q1 this year so price changes can't be a factor. Possibly people are coming in and staying for longer and buying higher priced/higher value tickets - so instead of, say, four tickets sold for a total of four hours of stay in Boston (4 people x 1 hour), it might be three people coming in and staying three hours each. So three tickets sold but nine hours of people time spent in Boston. Our parking fees are reasonable and so parking for several hours rather than just one hour is good value. Some might be using other private car parks - in terms of people coming to Boston we really don't mind.

Boston Standard: Tourism during these Spring/Summer months also seems to be taking a hit with Guildhall visits down by 177 and visits to the Tourism Information down 147. Is that as expected or below expectations? Again is there any known reason? Was there an obvious reason 30 people chose not to enter the Guildhall, which is the same building as the TIC?

In the case of the Guildhall, for instance, the overall tendency has been for increases in admissions - and there is no real significance in the fact that in the last quarter, 50 days of opening, admissions were down by an average of 3.5 visitors a day. TIC users and Guildhall users are counted individually and the numbers do not reflect conscious decisions of TIC users not to visit the Guildhall.

Boston Standard: The three 'Key Projects and Tasks' (explore and discover, car parking project, townscape heritage application - can we find out if and how those are expected to impact on the rest of the year? Any updates on how each of these are going?

Explore and discover... The signage is not scheduled to be manufactured and installed until next year. It is designed to aid the visitor and improve the experience in discovering Boston. The consultation and allied engagement exercises are progressing well and helping inform the design solutions and content being developed with the consultants which are going through early draft stages.

Car park machines - hope to install later in the month

Townscape Heritage bid - Stage 2 application being worked up - if successful opportunities for private sector to make funding applications may start later in 2016.

Signage project - implementation hopefully spring 2016.