Councillors back plans for £8.25m development of college site

The site of the former college  (shown in red) although it not clear how much land will be involved in the new plans. Mareham Road is bottom left of the image
The site of the former college (shown in red) although it not clear how much land will be involved in the new plans. Mareham Road is bottom left of the image

In the days of the Wild West , the cry that used to ring out across the good ol’ buffalo plains was: ‘Here comes the cavalry!’

In current day Horncastle, it has changed to: ‘Here comes East Lindsey District Council!’

Part of the former Horncastle College site which could become part of the new development

Part of the former Horncastle College site which could become part of the new development

Whether the authority is actually riding to the rescue of besieged settlers probably depends on where you live.

ELDC has confirmed it is planning to move lock, stock and barrel to the former Horncastle College site off Mareham Road in a £8.25m redevelopment.

And it’s just not the council that is coming to LN9...the ambitious plans also include a new College of Further Education in a partnership with Boston College.

The plans – which signal one of the biggest ever investments in Horncastle – should deliver a welcome boost to the town’s economy.

Nose to tail:  Traffic on Boston Road. There are fears scenes like this could increase

Nose to tail: Traffic on Boston Road. There are fears scenes like this could increase

Apparently, the new ELDC headquarters will have 170 desks.

Some staff will work from home (good luck with the internet!) and some from other locations. The majority will transfer from Tedder Hall which costs almost £400,000 a year to maintain,

More people should spell good news for local businesses...even if it is a lengthy hike from the site to the town centre.

Potential cycle path apart, more people means more vehicles...on already congested roads.

ELDC leader Craig Leyland

ELDC leader Craig Leyland

And while councillors voted 35-9 in favour of the plans last Wednesday, perhaps it’s town Mayor Fiona Martin who best summed up the situation.

She said: “I’m all for the development. It is wonderful news for Horncastle. I haven’t spoken to anyone who is against it.

“It’s positive, not only for Horncastle but for East Lindsey as a whole. These are very exciting times.”

Coun Martin, a town and district councillor, is an MBE – awarded for services to the community – and she has spent the last 33 years travelling from her home in Mareham Road to Manby.

Horncastle mayor and district councillor Fiona Martin

Horncastle mayor and district councillor Fiona Martin

Now, she can look forward to a much shorter journey while other councillors will probably have to make sure vehicles and tested and insured!

But Coun Martin has concerns – not least regarding traffic.

Her fellow councillors probably only glanced at a traffic report that she says contains ‘a lot of false assumptions and a lot of gaps’.

Coun Martin is particularly concerned about a section of the report describing Foundry Street as a potential two-way road, offering a possible second access to the site.

As she points out, Foundry Street is supposedly ‘residents’ access only’ while the talked-about second access is currently fenced off alongside buildings Lincolnshire County Council apparently wants to retain.

On top of that, the report suggests that at 5pm ‘home time’ there will be only nine ‘extra’ vehicle movements along Mareham Road.

Coun Martin says: “I fail to see how that can be accurate. There are 170 desks for ELDC, then all the students, all the staff. Nine vehicle movements? No way.”

Unless those vehicle owners want to break the law – and use Foundry Street – Mareham Road and Boston Road is the only access and exit route.

It is already among the worst congested in the county and the subject of frustrating delays.

It is ironic that just hours after ELDC leader Craig Leyland first backed the Horncastle plans, his ‘friends’ at LCC were shelving a scheme for a bypass which would have alleviated some of the jams.

Coun Martin did succeed in receiving assurances a meeting would be held to discuss traffic issues.

Most other aspects of the development still have to be finalised.

ELDC plan to buy the land from the county council for £500,000, spend £6.226m on their new ‘hub’ and £l.52m on the college.

Some councillors voiced their opposition - not least what would happen to Tedder Hall and Skegness Town Hall once ELDC leaves

Louth’s Jill Makinson-Saunders called the scheme a ‘vanity project’ while Coun Ros Jackson accused the council of hypocrisy because it rejected a Labour budget earlier this year, then revealed the Horncastle master plans..

She said:“We should not be spending this kind of money on ourselves.”

Another Louth councillor, Andrew Leonard, said the plans had not been thought through, adding: “You should have all your ducks in a row and they are not. They are dead in the water.”

Coun Leyland launched a stinging verbal attack and accused disgruntled councillors of showing little respect.

He insisted: “We are not being reckless. This is not a vanity project. It’s about doing something for the residents and staff of our authority going forward.”

He acknowledged the future of district councils was far from certain but added: “If you’re (councillors) going to shy away from decisions because of that you may as well not get out of bed in the morning.”

Amid more criticism about money and few details, Coun Leyland said the project would be ‘scrutinised’ going forward.

Coun Richard Fry stressed the move would improve the council’s carbon footprint and termed Tedder Hall as ‘an environmental nightmare.’

Given the Tory majority at Manby, and the fact ELDC’s executive committee had supported the plans, a ‘no’ vote was about as likely as a smooth Brexit.

The positives for Horncastle appear to outweigh the negatives. Traffic issues aside, it’s not just sandwich shop owners who will be rubbing their hands in anticipation.

Any teenagers planning to further their education will certainly be relieved at not having to get up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to Lincoln or Boston. Their parents, who have to fork out for fares, will be equally happy.

It is hoped police and health services could move into the new hub – handy for anyone who had been burgled or has a foot infection.

How long everyone will have to wait is the big question.

The plans partially rely on £1.52m of funding from the Greater Lincolnshire Enterprise Partnership.

When added all the figures are added up, there appears to be a ‘hole’ of around £1.42m.

So, the first skirmish has been won.

However, the battle is far from over before we see the first brick laid. No-one has even sounded the trumpet to summon the cavalry.