Run-down buildings cost Caistor the crown

Caistor’s empty, run-down buildings were responsible for the town losing the East Midlands In Bloom trophy, members confirmed yesterday.

Although rumours had been circulating on Facebook and around the town, it was the first time members of the organisation have revealed in full the feedback it received from the East Midlands In Bloom judges.

As revealed previously, the town were pipped to the post by only two points.

Caistor had also achieved the maximum possible award for its community involvement – 50 out of 50 points. This is the first time the maximum has been awarded for community involvement in the East Midlands.

The town’s entry in the competition was still a storming success, with Caistor picking up Gold in the Large Village category.

But the judges’ criticism of a situation which has been a long-standing source of frustration means the group is unsure how to progress in the future.

Also of Caistor in Bloom Martin Sizer joins Michael Galligan in the Town's Market Square. 25% of The Market Square is dominated by The old Co-op. Recently after much pressure The Co-op painted the frontage but the graphics for the shop windows to disguise the empty interior never materialised. In a move jointly financed by The Co-op and The Town Council £25000 has been made available to heritage Lincolnshire and Hodson's Architects to carry out a feasibility plan to see what the future of the building could hold

Martin Sizer and Michael Galligan, of Caistor In Bloom, in the Market Square: 25% of the Market Square is dominated by the former Co-op. Recently after much pressure Lincolnshire Co-op painted the frontage but the vinyls for the shop windows have not been fitted. In a move jointly financed by the Co-op and Caistor Town Council, £25,000 has been made available to Heritage Lincolnshire and Hodson Architects to carry out a feasibility study on the building

“We lost out by only two points behind Market Bosworth, which is a chocolate box village,” said Martin Sizer, who runs the Post Office in Caistor’s Market Place. “Market Bosworth has five thatched cottages near the centre which look beautiful and I don’t think it has any empty buildings at all.

“At this rate, we’re not going to win again, because next year the judges will look at what was said this year. They want to see progress. But for years and years we have seen no progress with the empty buildings in Caistor at all.”

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“We’ve been calling for something to be done. I have visitors coming into the Post Office all the time, saying, “fantastic place, but shame about all your empty buildings’. The Co-op has been empty for five years.

Although the judges specifically referred to the former Co-op, citing the “empty shop on the back of the Market Place”, they made it clear that a number of “vacant, poor quality buildings” were dragging the town down.

The judges advised the group to “analyse the judging tour route” to avoid empty buildings.

In the past, this has meant avoiding the former council depot in Mill Lane, despite the hard work nearby residents had put in to make their gardens so beautiful.

But the tour went past the former council offices at Southdale because of Caistor In Bloom’s work in planting a wildflower meadow there.

Like at Mill Lane, a number of residents at Southdale had also made a huge effort and some of the gardens were outstanding.

Nearby resident Phyllis Balmforth, who is 79, had also spent hours pulling up weeds that were several feet high from the paved area in front of the former council offices.

Unfortunately, rotten timber, peeling paint, cracked brickwork and broken gutters are unsightly features of the former council offices and distinctively-shaped former library.

“They said pick a route that doesn’t involve going past redundant buildings, but how can we not take them into our Market Place?” said Mr Sizer.

The In Bloom team were pleased that the Co-op had painted the frontage of its Market Square building in time for the judging, but disappointed that vinyls had not been put in the windows as promised.

The windows on the former Co-op building looked dirty when the Citizen met Mr Sizer and In Bloom colleague Michael Galligan in the Market Square this week.The vinyls have not been fitted.

“That sort of thing shows contempt for the town,” said Mr Galligan.

Mike Galligan of Caistor in Bloom with one of the houses that lost Caistor points. Westgate House sits in one of the most prominent positions overlooking the Town Square and is next a lovely row of cottages

Mike Galligan of Caistor in Bloom with one of the houses that lost points for Caistor. Westgate House sits in one of the most prominent positions overlooking the Town Square and is next to a picturesque row of cottages on Plough Hill

During the tour, the judges passed comment on Westgate House, at No. 7, Plough Hill, and other nearby buildings, added Mr Galligan.

It was difficult to stop the judges from seeing Westgate House, because of its prominent position and because it was visible from the Market Place, he said.

“Westgate House has been unoccupied for more than 30 years,” he added. “This situation keeps dragging on and on. It’s a disgrace. How much longer before anything is done?”

An appraisal of the former Co-op is currently being undertaken by Heritage Lincolnshire and Hodson Architects with a view to considering its potential. A workshop will take place at the Town Hall on October 14, between 3pm-5pm, where the public will be asked to make suggestions about potential uses for the building.

In February, Manjeet Gill, the CEO of West Lindsey District Council, addressed the Caistor Civic Society and hinted that some privately owned properties in the town might be the subject of a compulsory purchase order. The Citizen gained the impression that Westgate House was one of them.

But Mr Galligan said the town needed a more comprehensive strategy. “We should be talking about all the buildings in Caistor that have been empty for a long time,” he said. “These things have a cumulative negative effect on the town. They reflect badly on our community.

“For a town that is proud to be part of the Lincolnshire Wolds, with the Viking Way passing by, these buildings have the potential to wreck tourism in the area. This situation is killing off the town with more and more businesses moving away.”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?
What would you like to see happen to Caistor’s empty buildings? Have you any ideas how any of them should be used? Why do you think they have stayed empty for so long and what do you think can be done about them? The Citizen will invite the owners of the buildings and the CEO of West Lindsey District Council to read your comments.

8 Comments

  1. J S

    To be honest if caistor stopped being anti-business then maybe people and businesses would purchase the empty buildings and bring investment. Yes it is a small quiet town in the wolds and new businesses may cause a bit of disruption to residents but what other choice do people have?
    The town council i feel are most to blame they never seem to be able to make their minds up and move forward with things.

    Reply
  2. Rob C

    It is a shame, I remember many, many years ago Jaguar cars used Westgate House as a back-drop to advertise one of their vehicles in Lincolnshire Life. A quality building going to seed.

    Reply
  3. Paul M

    Build more houses in Caistor, and hurry up about it.

    Reply
  4. Mystified

    A well constructed article which describes Caistor’s problems. Well done to the Caistor in Bloom team, a massive effort in spite of the empty and derelict buildings in the town. I do wonder how much longer you can tolerate this situation. Also wondering when the town council will make a contribution to the owner of Westgate House to carry out a feasibility study or even Acis Group and West Lindsey District Council to carry out feasibility studies of their properties? Come on Caistor residents, let us know what you think. Do you want to live in a town with all these empty and derelict buildings? Nothing will be done unless you complain. Leave a comment now!

    Reply
  5. Richard Wish

    The Gold award for Caistor in Bloom is a great result but the judges’ comments are an accurate reflection of an ongoing problem.

    The empty buildings tell a tale of irresponsible owners who treat Caistor with contempt and a District Council which is unwilling to use powers that are available to it to force action.

    The Co-op is obviously happy for public funds to be used to finance a problem of their making. The relaxation of restrictive covenants and a willingness to accept market value of a dilapidated building would bring the building and market place back to life. While efforts are made to complete expensive feasibility studies and charitable organisations are willing to endeavour to restore the buildings and bring them back to use without a competitive threat being made to the Co-op’s retail activity, that particular owner has no reason to take action.

    The Co-op is the only shop in town so Caistor can “go take a jump”.

    The private owners of important buildings do have a civic and ethical responsibility to the town but if the owners do not share this view it is up to local authorities to apply the available law. I do not like these interventions but these buildings have been a problem for many years and it is obvious that they will be lost or become dangerous if remedial action is left to the owners. I reluctantly conclude that compulsory purchase is probably the final outcome.

    West Lindsey should acknowledge the tremendous work the Caistor community has made to improve the town and bring to bear the legal and administrative powers available to it.

    The Co-op has behaved appallingly and West Lindsey has been less than effective.

    I know the good efforts that the Town Council have made to persuade West Lindsey to take action (which it has done to a limited extent) and to invite Elected Members to the town and its many events in order to involve them in the town and build relationships. It is now time for West Lindsey to make things happen.

    I hope many people can make a comment to encourage the parties involved to take effective action.

    Reply
  6. Aiden Wood

    I wonder how serious councils are when considering Caistor’s empty buildings. In 2013, Springs Church asked WLDC if we could take on the old library and maintain & use it for events and well-being beneficial to the whole community. Initially talks went well as it would save the council over £8000 a year in tax etc. But after a change of personnel at the council they pulled the plug and refused to discuss the matter any further. Since then it has continued to cost the council every year; the property is used as a dumping ground for anything & everything; it’s deteriorating rapidly and smells of damp as you enter the door to the medical centre. This was a golden opportunity for the community to utilise a disused building free of cost… and it was missed by council officials.

    Reply
  7. Annie Glass

    Caistor in Bloom applies for funding from this organisation: http://www.nationwidefoundation.org.uk/emptyhomes.asp
    (Councils can’t apply. Up to £175,000 available. Get match funding off West Lindsey council if you need it.)
    No time to set up new group, so Caistor In Bloom should apply. Application deadline = November 1st.
    W.H. owner agrees to let building to Caistor In Bloom for five years. (It must be leased for at least five years to get funding. You can’t use the funding to buy the property)
    Caistor in Bloom gets town builder to do up Westgate House on condition company takes on two apprentices and trains them up. (not the owner of W.H., because funder won’t agree to that)
    Caistor In Bloom sublets W.H. to Springs Church for their well-being events.
    Owner of W.H. keeps ownership, gets West Lindsey council off his back and has the property done up free of charge. Maybe if everything works out he will consider donating the cost of a new Kubota.
    Caistor In Bloom gets trophy, rid of an eyesore, a new set of wheels and wow, aren’t you clever, guys?
    Town builder gets work.
    Two kids get training and a decent start in life.

    Reply
  8. Carol Mackenzie

    To be fair, a number of empty properties in Caistor are privately owned; and as such are not really the responsibility of CTC. The old Co-op building in the Market Place is a problem to date. However, the Council together with the Co-op have worked together to bring about a feasibility study to justify its restoration and subsequent use. Thank you to those in our community who showed an interest and attended yesterday’s workshop where everyone was able to put forward their ideas for this buildings future uses, which were all to the benefit of this brilliant town. Everyone who attended was also made aware of the various funding options. If you weren’t there yesterday – oops, then you missed an opportunity!

    Reply

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