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.
“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.”
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.
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.