2.3.1 South East Lincolnshire covers approximately 1,100 square kilometres and lies to the west and south-west of the Wash estuary. Comprising Boston Borough and South Holland District, the area is in the south-eastern corner of the East Midlands Region, bordering directly onto the counties of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
Figure 3: South East Lincolnshire Key Diagram
2.3.2 The Local Plan area is sparsely populated with approximately 158,100 residents14. However, South East Lincolnshire has seen one of the largest increases in population since the 2001 Census. The population of Boston Borough has increased by 19.3% (to 66,500) since 2001, and in the same period South Holland has seen an increase of 18.1% (to 90,400)15. As the population growth for Lincolnshire has been 13.1%15, the growth for the Local Plan area is significant, particularly given its relatively marginalised location away from the conurbations of the East Midlands. Furthermore, the Local Plan area attracts some 14,000 seasonal workers in agriculture and horticulture annually.
2.3.3 In South East Lincolnshire there are some 70 recognised settlements. The two largest centres of population are Boston and Spalding with approximately 33,000 and 29,000 residents respectively14. In South Holland, the towns of Holbeach, Crowland, Donington, Long Sutton and Sutton Bridge are freestanding centres. Holbeach, with a population of over 8,000, is the largest14. In Boston Borough the outlying settlements are smaller with Kirton, Swineshead, Butterwick, Old Leake, Wrangle and Sutterton being the largest. However, each provides services and local employment opportunities for residents, including from the surrounding rural areas.
2.3.4 South East Lincolnshire has a total of 73,800 economically active residents16. 73.3% of residents aged 16-64 are in employment, which is just below the regional and national averages16. Unemployment rates in the area remain relatively low and have been steadily decreasing between 2012 and 2016. However, average earnings in South East Lincolnshire are considerably lower than those elsewhere in the region or UK, although average earnings for employees working in South Holland are higher than for those in Boston Borough.
2.3.5 Agriculture is a key employment sector in South East Lincolnshire and the majority of businesses in the area are classed as ‘rural’, which reflects the dominance of agriculture in Boston Borough and South Holland. Furthermore, the region’s horticultural business is the second-most important in the UK with an estimated annual value of £470 million (2010). Food processing is also important to the area’s economy with an above average number of people employed in the manufacturing sector16. The Port of Boston is one of Boston Borough’s major employers and continues to do well, benefiting from ample available space and storage areas.
2.3.6 In terms of occupation, South East Lincolnshire has a high proportion of people employed in operative and elementary occupations and a low number with managerial, professional and associate professional jobs when compared to the wider East Midlands and Great Britain17. The area is therefore yet to fulfil its potential in generating high value-added ‘knowledge economy’ jobs. However, South East Lincolnshire’s workforce is also comparatively poorly qualified when considering the average for the East Midlands and Great Britain17. This is particularly apparent in Boston Borough where up-skilling local residents remain a priority for those within the education and business community.
2.3.7 In South East Lincolnshire, the take-up of employment land is slow, although recent development within the Kirton Distribution Park and at Wardentree Lane, Spalding is a positive sign. The recently approved scheme for the expansion of the University of Lincoln Campus at the Holbeach Food Enterprise Zone is an important step in trying to help attract more value-added knowledge economy jobs to the area in the long-term. The number of businesses starting-up in the area has increased year on year since 2011 by 20% overall, many are small-scale but play an important role in supporting the local economy18.
2.3.8 In general, South East Lincolnshire is well provided with shopping facilities19. The quantity and quality, in terms of accessibility and the range of retailers and retail formats, is broadly appropriate to meet the needs of local people. It has a healthy market share of convenience goods expenditure but some comparison goods expenditure leaks to the south and east19.
2.3.9 Boston town centre is the defined retail centre for Boston Borough whilst Spalding town centre performs a similar role in South Holland. Holbeach, Long Sutton, Crowland, Donington Kirton and Sutton Bridge provide residents with a range of shops and services to meet everyday needs. In 2015, vacancy rates for retail units in the area’s town centres remain relatively high. Despite this, footfall through Boston town centre has been increasing in recent years, and both Boston and Spalding are popular on market days.
2.3.10 The Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015 ranked Boston Borough and South Holland District the 66th and 134th most deprived out of the 326 English Local Authorities20. The most deprived areas are concentrated in the centre and north-western (Fenside) area of Boston town and in Sutton Bridge, South Holland20. There are a variety of problems affecting both areas, including: low income; poor health; involuntary exclusion from employment; and poor educational attainment and skills. More generally, many residents face barriers to housing because of unaffordability, which can lead to poor living environments for some. Many residents living within the rural area are also reliant on the car to provide access to shops and services, particularly with public transport being more limited in these areas.
2.3.11 South East Lincolnshire has approximately 67,000 dwellings (28,340 in Boston Borough and 38,660 in South Holland) occupied by around 64,600 households15. The type of housing in the area reflects its rural nature, with a higher proportion of properties being detached than the national average15. The majority of South East Lincolnshire’s housing stock is owner occupied with private rented accommodation as the second most popular form of tenure15. The number of social rented properties in Boston Borough is above the national average, but in South Holland the figure is below15.
2.3.12 House prices in the area remain well below those in Lincolnshire as well as the rest of England. This is despite the fact that average house prices in Boston Borough and South Holland increased by 159% and 154% respectively between 2000 and 201021. The shortage of affordable housing is a significant issue for the area. South East Lincolnshire lies within two housing market areas; there is a requirement for 100 affordable dwellings per annum in Boston Borough22 and 280 in South Holland23,24 to 2036. However, the delivery of affordable homes in recent years has been much lower than this requirement; just 22 and 91 affordable dwellings were completed in Boston Borough and South Holland in 2015/16.
2.3.13 South East Lincolnshire is located at the south-eastern limit of coastal Lincolnshire which is recognised as being poorly connected – especially by the highway network – to the rest of the region. Just three Principal ‘A’ Roads connect the area and these are heavily used by a considerable volume of HGVs and farm vehicles, and other slow moving vehicles such as caravans accessing the Lincolnshire and Norfolk coasts in the summer.
2.3.14 Passenger transport to places outside the area is mainly by bus or rail. However, rail provision in South East Lincolnshire is relatively limited in both coverage and service level, and passenger usage of Boston and Spalding’s rail stations has declined in recent years25. Currently, rail services to Nottingham, Lincoln, Peterborough and beyond operate at hourly intervals or longer. Bus patronage in Lincolnshire as a whole has also decreased over the last few years. In South East Lincolnshire, the primary inter-urban bus network provides separate links to Boston from Lincoln and Skegness, and to Spalding from King’s Lynn (via Holbeach) and Peterborough (via Crowland)26. This network is supported by an on-demand bus service (CallConnect) that operates in response to pre-booked requests without a fixed timetable. Other commercial bus services link the towns of Boston and Spalding directly and provide links to the rural-hinterland settlements of the two towns. Three ‘Into Town’ routes in Boston provide regular services linking residential neighbourhoods to the town centre on a 30-minute cycle throughout the day. In Spalding, two ‘Into Town’ routes provide a similar service.
2.3.15 Car ownership in South East Lincolnshire is above the county and national average, reflecting the rural nature of the area, limited rail provision and lack of access to services in some areas15. It is therefore unsurprising that the car or van is the primary form of transport for residents travelling to work15. In South Holland, 45% of people travel to work by car, which is significantly higher than the national (35%) and Lincolnshire (40%) averages15. Boston Borough has a rate that is marginally below the county average but marginally above the national15. Bicycle use in Boston Borough is relatively high, as levels are nearly double that of Lincolnshire and four times the national rate. In South Holland, bicycle use is comparable to the rest of Lincolnshire15.
2.3.16 Although the landscape of South East Lincolnshire has a very flat and rural character, it is shaped and dominated by agricultural and horticultural activity. This means that extensive views and large open skies are common vistas, where vertical structures like churches (such as the ‘Boston Stump’), pylons and wind turbines draw the eye, defining man’s historical and modern day influence on the area. Field hedgerows and wooded areas are limited to lining roads or around settlements. The open and flat landscape of the area also means that it is sensitive to development.
2.3.17 A huge part of the area has been reclaimed through a vast network of drainage systems and coastal defences that have created some of the richest and most extensive agricultural and horticultural resources in the country. The flat character of the land and its proximity to the Wash estuary means that the main watercourses – such as the River Witham, River Welland, River Nene and connected drainage channels – have tidal influences which require everyday management through the operation of pumping stations and sluices. Climate change, along with the associated predicted effects on sea-level rise, brings the threat of extensive flooding that could affect whole settlements. This is predicted to be common in 100 years’ time as a consequence of extreme high tides and storm-surges causing major breaches in coastal and/or tidal defences. Even a minor flood event has the potential to inundate valuable farmland with saline water and negate productivity for many years.
2.3.18 South East Lincolnshire’s nationally and locally-designated wildlife sites provide different levels of protection for a growing range of protected and priority habitats and species. The Wash is a natural habitat of international importance and has Ramsar, Special Protection Area (SPA), and Special Area of Conservation (SAC) designation as well as also being protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and National Nature Reserve (NNR). Besides the Wash, the area is home to: 2 SSSI’s, 3 Local Nature Reserves, 81 Local Wildlife Sites and 2 RSPB reserves.
2.3.19 The area’s interlinked waterways are part of the rich ecological network supporting the biodiversity of the area. Historically, these watercourses were the main transport corridors for trade with inland Lincolnshire and beyond. Today, this role is more limited but they are a resource with a largely unrealised potential for recreation and tourism. The Fens Waterways Project that is underway seeks to link Lincoln and Ely with an inland waterway and should have tourism benefits for the area, as well as helping to connect habitats.
2.3.20 There are 2 Air Quality Management Area’s (AQMA) within Boston to monitor levels of nitrogen dioxide27. When assessed in 2016, it was concluded that consideration can be given to the revocation of the Bargate Bridge AQMA, although it was recommended that this be postponed until the impact of a new distributor road and proposed residential development in the area can be properly assessed27. There is still an air quality issue in the Haven Bridge AQMA27.
2.3.21 South East Lincolnshire has a long and varied history. Some of its archaeological remains date back to Roman times when salt manufacture was an important industry, particularly in the south of the area. Agriculture also has ancient roots and managing tidal inundation to protect farmland is evident in banks and ditches dating from Anglo-Saxon times. Boston has been a major centre as a port and commercial area since the Middle Ages and later played a significant role in the Pilgrim Fathers’ journey to the new world and the founding of the USA. Today, the area has 24 Conservation Areas (13 of which are in South Holland), over 1000 listed buildings, 43 Scheduled Ancient Monuments (SAMs) and 2 Registered Parks and Gardens. These assets are highly valued for the important contribution they make to local distinctiveness and identity. The town of Boston has three conservation areas and its built heritage is regarded as being of national significance by Historic England. Both Boston town and Spalding retain a strong commercial function within their historic cores that attracts visitors generated by the tourist economies of Lincolnshire and Norfolk, adjoining to the east. There are many pressures on the historic environment and the percentage of Conservation Areas, SAMs and Grade I and II* listed buildings deemed to be ‘at risk’ in South East Lincolnshire is above the national average28.
2.3.22 For a sparsely-populated, predominantly rural area, South East Lincolnshire, surprisingly, is of great importance in the national context; its contribution to food production and food security is significant, while its ability to conserve scarce resources and develop sustainable energy solutions will contribute to meeting the challenge of climate change.