Friday, 27 February 2009

Sainsbury's Plans for Morecambe Football Club Revealed


Sainsbury’s has revealed its plans for its new store at Christie Park, home of Morecambe FC, following a three-day consultation event.

Almost 200 local residents and stakeholders, including local MP Geraldine Smith, attended the event, which kicked off with an evening preview session on Thursday 19 February and was followed by two full exhibition days on the Friday and Saturday.

Sainsbury's says the feedback received so far has been very positive with over 90% of respondents supportive of the proposals. However, you can still send in your responses and thousands more feedback leaflets are due to be distributed around the local area next week for the convenience of those who were unable to attend the event.

Jo Try, who heads Sainsbury’s Northern Property Team, was available to answer questions, along with a team of specialist consultants in the areas of planning, transport and building design.

The Morecambe FC mascot Christie the Cat was a surprise special guest at the event (pictured right -- all those who thought that was Geraldine Smith get a no-prize...), also keen to view the proposals for the Club before relocating to his future home at Westgate for the 2010-2011 season.

Proposals for the scheme include an in-store customer restaurant, recycling facilities and the Sainsbury’s range of food and non-food items.

• A dedicated website for the proposals is now available at www.sainsburys-morecambe.co.uk.

Toilet Closures "Inconvenient", say Conservatives

Carnforth ccouncillor Tony Johnson has condemned proposals by the Council to close rural toilets.

"An alliance of the Greens and the Conservatives on Lancaster City Council have 'saved' the community swimming pools," the Conservative councillor notes in response to the announced proposals for £1.7 million of budget cuts.

"What a pity the Greens did not see fit to support the Conservatives and 'save' the rural toilets!

"In the rural areas we have few facilities supplied by the City Council," the councillor, who would prefer Council to be less divisive and more inclusive according to his web site, says. "We even had to buy the bricks to build the Carnforth swimming pool in the first place!"

Johnson argues the decision to close toilets without any replacement in place is particularly improvident.

"In Carnforth the sub post office at Highfield Road was recently closed despite public protest, and anyone collecting a pension now has a long journey from the Estate," Johnson, who is a member of the Carnforth Area Regeneration Partnership, continues. "This means that if a toilet is required there is nowhere one can go (as I get older, I know where all the local toilets are!) without making a purchase.

"'Waiting' until arrangements are (possibly) made next year is simply an inconvenience that is unacceptable."

The closure plan has been called in for scrutiny (see news story) before a final decision is made at the Council's budget meeting on 4th March.

Green Leader to visit Lancaster

Green Party Leader and MEP for the South East Caroline Lucas will speak at a meeting in Lancaster in March just prior to the Green Party spring conference in Blackpool.

The meeting titled - Future Bleak or Future Green? - will take place in the Hugh Pollard lecture theatre on the University of Cumbria campus on Bowerham Road, Lancaster. (Formerly St Martins College.) on Thursday 19th of March - starting at 7pm.

Caroline, who was voted ‘MEP of the Year’ last year in the prestigious Parliament magazine awards for her work on trade, was elected in 1999 as the Green Party Member of the European Parliament representing the South-East of England and sits on the Parliament’s Trade, Environment and Climate Change Committees, as well as being Vice President of the Animal Welfare Intergroup. Her work – both within the Parliament and in her constituency – includes peace and human rights, international trade and development, transport and planning, health issues and animal welfare.

She has received a number of accolades for her efforts to safeguard the environment, as well as her work in animal rights, and has featured in several high profile lists of top decision makers and influencers. BBC Wildlife listed Caroline in their ‘Top 50 Conservationists’, and New Consumer magazine placed her eighth in a list of 100 people judged to have made the biggest contribution to ethical consumption.

In 2007 she was voted Politician of the Year in the Observer Ethical Awards, and was also named as one of the Guardian’s ‘Top 50 eco heroes’ in January 2008.

Organised by North Lancashire Green Party, admission is free.

• Further info: www.lancastergreenparty.org.uk

City Council Faced Bankruptcy, Says Barry


The government and the national media are crowing about the "good news" regarding low council tax rises -- expected to average at around 3% across the UK as a whole. Locally however, councillors and staff having to implement wide-ranging service cuts to keep rises below the government's five per cent cap are far from happy.

Responding to news of the planned cuts to local Citizens Advice Bureaux, The Dukes and the closure of public toilets (see news stories here and here), past of a £1.7 million savings package drawn up fro full Council approval in March, Green councillor Jon Barry notes Greens in Cabinet voted against the CAB cash cuts -- and made it clear to virtual-lancaster that the budget cuts are an inevitable consequence of the council's poor finances beset by a number of problems and additional costs.

"The council's finances have been in a disastrous position all of this year," he revealed. "There are several reasons, but these include loss of interest from the £6m invested in Iceland, concessionary fares (free travel for pensioners) costing hundreds of thousands more than the money given by the government and a rent review on the market which put the rent that the council pays the owners up and kindly backdated it, costing several hundred thousand more."

As a result, the Council have had to make £1.7m of cuts from about last November. "The Tory leader of the Council resigned because he couldn't sort out the budget - so it was left to the rest of us to stop the city going bankrupt," Barry reveals. "It really was that serious.

"We have had to do lots of things that we would rather not do and many of them at too short notice because the budget wasn't worked on early enough by the person who was supposed to be doing it.

More problems ahead

The problems facing Lancaster City Council are far from over, even with these proposed cuts. virtual-lancaster understands the LCC will have to find some two million pounds in savings next year on top of the £1.7 million in savings it has to make now.

"The budget for next year is also dire and we haven't even got round to the £6m Iceland money yet," Barry admits. Lancaster City Council had £6 million saved with three Icelandic banks - Landsbanki, Glitnir and Kaupthing - and the Governmentt has allowed the Council a year's grace in accounting for it.

Faced with a combination of bad finacne news, the Council had no choice but to shrink in terms of its support services and restructure many of its other services. "Doing this through things like early retirement etc is expensive," says Barry. "We have a reserve set aside (about £900,000) to do this.

"If we spent this reserve on other things then we would not be able to sort out next year's budget and the cuts would be even worse. For example, early retiring a service head or director can cost £200-300k on pension contributions, severance etc. So even £900k doesn't go far.

Taking Responsibilty

"As far as my position on cabinet is concerned, I could have just opposed every cut and tried to make myself 'popular'," Barry reveals of his own views on the cuts. "However, I'm afraid this is not how I'm made. I feel that I have to play my part and take responsibility for getting the Council's finances back on track. This is the only thing that will work in the medium term."

There is some good news. "We have been making progress in reducing the Council's energy bills and saving money (and CO2) there. Salt Ayre Leisure Centre uses more energy than all of the other Council buildings put together and a number of steps have been put in place recently to reduce energy useage there. We will be continuing with this and also doing the same things to the Town Halls in the coming year."

Barry stresses that he realizes things could have been done better, such as the decision to close local public toilets, which has now been "called in" for scrutiny. "Everything would have been much easier if we had done this last summer rather than bringing it in as a last minute thing," the councillor admits. "Having said that, we have set aside 20k for alternative provision (though I'm assuming some of that will be to employ somebody to sort out the 'Richmond' scheme).

"I am hoping that we can 'open' more toilets than we close - and give a bit of a boost to some flagging rural businesses at the same time. Anyway, I hope so and I'll be putting effort into trying to ensure that it works."

Overall, councillors of every political hue can fight each individual bit of the budget, "but then we have the choice when all the bits are put together (some of which we will agree with and some we won't!) of voting for the whole package or not," says Jon, who recalls with vivid detail that thrashing out the budget at Cabinet as it currently stands toook over eight hours. "We did at cabinet, because apart from Citizens Advice Bureaux, it could have been a lot worse and we did need to set a budget of some sort."

Addressing huge concerns about the budget cuts for local Citizens Advice Bureaux (see news story), the argument put forward for the cut will be that Council want the two CABs to merge and reduce management costs. Barry says the CABs are apparently currently in merger talks." The argument against this is that those savings might not be possible," opines Barry, "and in a recession, the CABs have a lot more work to do and are more needed."

• Full council will meet on 4th March where the cuts and budget changes will be finalised. The County Council will decide its funding levels for bodies such as The Dukes, which it co-funds with other organisations, on 19 March.

• The Citizens Advice Bureaux are asking everybody to write to their local councillors and MPs and to sign a petition online in support of maintaining their funding at www.ipetitions.com/petition/Save_CAB/index.html. Signatures are needed by 2nd March, so that it can be sent to all councillors before their final meeting.

Click Here for Local Councillor Information on the City Council web site. You can also write to local councillors to let them know what you think via www.writetothem.com. Please note, we're aware many local councillors access to their Council e-mail is erratic: real world letters will have more impact, even if they're just postcards.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Citizens' Advice Vital Role Threatened by Council Cuts

Supporters of Lancaster and Morecambe Citizens' Advice Bureaux, which are facing a £20,000 reduction in their budget, are asking for help to stop the cuts.

Lancaster City Council is proposing to cut £20,000 funding from these bureaux as they struggle to find savings and keep council tax rises to government imposed limits. The CAB are urging people to challenge the decision by writing to their local councillors and signing an online petition in protest at the plans.

The Bureaux provide a range of advice especially on employment, housing, debt and benefits and have seen an increase in people needing help in recent times due to the recession, and the cuts will damage their ability to provide them with aid.

"In the current economic downturn the Citizens Advice Bureaux are all the more necessary," said a spokesperson. "The number of repossession orders going through Lancaster County Court has doubled in recent months and there has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of evictions. The Citizens Advice Bureaux offer free, independent and confidential advice which can guide people through such difficult times and help bring about a positive outcome."

• The bureaux are asking everybody to write to their local councillors and MPs and to sign a petition online in support of maintaining their funding at www.ipetitions.com/petition/Save_CAB/index.html. Signatures are needed by 2nd March, so that it can be sent to all councillors before their final meeting.

Click Here for Local Councillor Information on the City Council web site. You can also write to local councillors via www.writetothem.com. Please note, we're aware many local councillors access to their Council e-mail is erratic: real world letters will have more impact, even if they're just postcards.

Photo:
Lancaster and Morecambe Citizens' Advice Bureaux

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Toilet Closure "Called In"

Lancaster City Council's unpopular plan to close 13 pubic toilets and offer a ‘Community Toilet’ scheme instead has been "called in" by the council's monitoring group, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

Cabinet decided to close the 13 toilets from 1st April 2009 last week, as part of a range of cuts in services to achieve savings of £1.7 million to ensure any council tax rise would be below 5%, as demanded by government.

£20,000 has been allocated to the 'Community Toilet' scheme in 2009/10, but now that plan has been requested to be called in after it was described as "unworkable" in rural areas and questions were raised as to whether all legal requirements to introduce the scheme had been met.

Objections to the scheme include concerns that in rural areas, public houses are the only alternative where toilet facilities would be open at weekends, which some people would or could not use for religious reasons. In addition, unaccompanied children are not legally permitted on licensed premises.

Councillor Abbott Bryning, who is Leader of the Council and Peter Loker (Corporate Director, Community Services) have been invited to attend the Overview Meeting on Tuesday 3rd March, to outline the basis on which the decision was made.

If the plan is thrown out, Cabinet would need to come up with alternative plans before
Budget Council on Wednesday 4th March which will take place at Morecambe Town Hall at 2.00pm.

Overview and Scrutiny Meeting Details
Budget Council Agenda and Details

Local Card Firm to Expand

Lancaster-based G-T-P Group Ltd, which offers a range of card issuing and transaction services, has been presented with an £185,000 Grants for Business Investment Award from the Northwest Regional Development Agency, to grow within the financial services sector, creating 25 jobs.

Formed in 2001, G-T-P, which is based in White Cross, provides card issuing and transaction services for two markets – account cards for business or trade customers and prepaid consumer cards, such as gift cards.

The company, which was recently a finalist in the 2009 Card Awards, currently employs 43 people, having gained UK market leadership in the operation of business-to-business account card schemes and expanded into the prepaid card market.

Now, G-T-P hopes to become the leading player in the card management market, increasing turnover to £4.6 million and staff numbers to 68. The grant from the NWDA will help that strategy, with G-T-P now able to invest in new IT infrastructure and card processing equipment, while leasing new premises.

“G-T-P is clearly a rising star within the financial services sector, achieving excellent results year on year," commented Mark Hughes, Executive Director of Economic Development at the NWDA. “The NWDA is pleased to support regional businesses that have a flair for spotting areas for growth.

"With Agency support the GBI Group will have the means to fulfil their potential, increasing turnover and importantly increasing the number of jobs for Lancaster.”

“As an international company G-T-P’s strengths have been built on our heritage in the North West," added Helen Child, Chief Executive at G-T-P, who will be joining a host of international speakers at the 2009 Prepaid Card Expo in Orlando, Florida, the world’s largest gathering of prepaid, stored value and emerging payments professionals next month. "The NWDA Grant will allow us to continue our rapid growth, particularly within the prepaid market.”

• The NWDA is one of several government agencies trying to help keep local business on track despite the current economic downturn. For ore information on the range of support being offered go to www.nwda.co.uk/supportingbusiness • For more information on business support visit www.businesslink.gov.uk/northwest

New Nuke Build? Your Views Wanted - But Tell Us Who You Are First

(Updated 25/2/08 after comment from the power station on 'advance booking' concerns): Residents around Heysham Nuclear Power Station are being offered the chance to hear first hand about plans to nominate land next to the site for new nuclear build -- even though such plans were dismissed in the past, as geological problems mean the Heysham site is not suitable for expansion.

People interested in making their views known are also being asked to give their names and contact details in advance of attending -- more details below.

Public consultations for other major local development projects such as Sainsbury's and Centros have never made such a request, which rather makes us wonder why you have to do this, unless of course organisers EDF Energy are anticipating some kind of mass protest...

However, a spokesperson for Heysham told virtual-lancaster there was "'nothing sinister in asking for names.

"The interest for similar meetings at Hinkley and Sizewell got close to being over-subscribed in terms of venue size and fire licence etc.," he explained. "But as The Platform is cavernous I don't see that being an issue at Heysham and people can just turn up anyway."

Earlier this year, the Government published details of the process by which the nuclear industry can nominate sites for potential new nuclear power stations and the criteria against which potential sites will be assessed.

EDF Energy, which now incorporates British Energy, intends to nominate land next to the existing Heysham power stations as part of that process.

“While the company’s new build focus is in the south of England where the need for new generating capacity is most urgent, we believe the Heysham site is a good candidate for new nuclear," says Paul Winkle, station director of Heysham 2 power station. “However, before a nomination is made, we want to explain the Government’s nomination process and give local people the opportunity to discuss the issues with members of staff from the company.”

“We are proud of our strong links into the community here at Heysham," added Gwen Parry-Jones, station director of Heysham 1 power station, "and I hope that people come to the meeting to hear about our site nomination plans and raise any issues they feel we need to consider.”

The Government has set out how the nomination process will work. Site nominations must be received by 31st March 2009. The list of nominated sites will published shortly after, followed by an initial month-long opportunity for the public to express their views on how the sites match up to the criteria.

British Energy has been looking at each of its sites as potential for new build and carrying out strategic site assessments at each for some time. It has put in grid applications as a precursor to new build at its sites at Hinkley, Sizewell, Dungeness, and Bradwell - so they would be part of the first wave of any new build.

As part of the takeover of British Energy by EdF, the land at the Heysham and Dungeness earmarked for potential new build - but not the existing stations - will have to be sold to another company who would use it for a new nuclear station.

• An exhibition and public meeting will be held at The Platform, Morecambe, on Tuesday 10th March. The exhibition opens at 3.30pm and the public meeting starts at 7.0pm.
• Due to anticipated demand, people are asked to register their attendance at the meeting in advance. This can be done by submitting your name and contact details by email to mail@heyshamnewbuild.co.uk, or by phone on 0800 980 3195 or on-line at www.british-energy.com.
• More information on how people can have their say is available on the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s website at www.nuclearpowersiting.decc.gov.uk

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Library Building Work Announced

Lancaster Central Library and has announced that both the main and junior libraries will be closed from 1.00pm on Wednesday 11th March for some exploratory building work, tied in with the Lottery funded refurbishment due this year.

"We’re hoping to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of this so that the closure causes the minimum inconvenience possible," a spokesperson told virtual-lancaster.

• For information about local library services go to: www.lancashire.gov.uk/libraries

Don't Close Anchor Lane, say Greens

Lancaster City Council has received a planning application to install glass doors at either end of Anchor Lane, which links Lancaster Market Square with Church Street so that these doors can be locked shut when the cinema is not open.

While there is a separate ginnel nearby which is not affected by the plans, Anchor Lane has been in use as a public thoroughfare for centuries and green councillors say it would be "tragedy" if commercial interests closed it off.

Three green councillors have objected to the proposal on the grounds that Lancaster’s streets and alleyways should remain open at all times and should be improved and integrated into a high quality walking network to enhance Lancaster’s distinctive street patterns and historical significance.

"A dense pattern of streets and alleyways open at all times and contributing to the distinctiveness of historic towns and cities are very important," argues Coun John Whitelegg. "Public space is precisely that and we should resist any attempt to privatise and shut off our streets and alleyways.

The closure proposal is exactly the kind of issue councillors and campaigners fear will become a regular problem if major private works such as Centros gain a foothold in the city.

“We have a wonderful pattern of ancient streets and alleyways in Lancaster and they give the city a strong historical identity and contribute to its significance as a tourist destination," feels Jude Towers. "We must not spoil this with inappropriate additions like glass doors on our alleyways.”

"Closing off streets and alleyways by glass doors or any other means is wrong," says Councillor Chris Coates, and should not happen at all and certainly not at the behest of a commercial organisation.”

Council Cuts Services, More to Come?

(Updated 27/2/09, redundancy cost figure corrected): Public toilets, The Dukes, Salt Ayre Leisure Centre and Citizens Advice all face massive cuts in their budget as Lancaster City Council struggles to balance its finances to keep the council tax down and find £1.7 million of savings from its budget.

In addition, virtual-lancaster has learnt that thousands of pounds have been earmarked for potential redundancy payouts -- and despite making savings this year, the Council may have to find up to £2 million in savings next year.

The City Cabinet voted in favour of the following cuts this week, citing that the decisions were taken in the context of the Council’s budget position and the need to make ongoing savings and achieve value for money, as well as proposed priorities and the impact on service users.

• CLOSED With the exception of Bull Beck, 13 public toilets are to be ‘mothballed’ with effect from 1st April 2009 (See news story). A ‘Community Toilet’ scheme will be put in place from April 2009 and £20,000 has been allocated to this in 2009/10.
• GONE Heysham Heritage Centre
• GONE Lancaster’s “Twinning Association” with other towns had its full budget cut

• CUT Salt Ayre Leisure Centre is to have its budget cut by 10%, saving £119,000, with a demand for additional energy savings. Expect higher charges to be on the cards in future. The cuts could mean the centre may have to close on certain days.
• CUT £20,000 slashed from the budget of Lancaster and Morecambe Citizens Advice Bureau, just when local people need them more than ever as redundancy and other “credit crunch” issues bite
• CUT £40,000 from The Dukes budget – proposed higher cuts by Coun Roger Mace of some £75,000 were rejected
• CUT £10,000 from LUDUS Dance - Britain's leading dance in education company
• CUT £3,900 from the Community Volunteer Service budget
• CUT Floral decorations at Civic ceremonies - saving £2,300 a year
• CUT Countryside Projects – by £3000
• CUT Arnside and Silverdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty projects – by £2,500
• CUT Morecambe Music Residency – by £1,400
• CUT Forest of Bowland AONB – by £1000
• CUT Community Projects – by £1000
• CUT The Shopmobility service – by £1000

• SAVED Carnforth, Heysham and Hornby Community Pools – but Council will look at increases in charges
• SAVED Lancaster Fireworks Festival in November, now part of wider ‘celebrations’ to mark the Lancaster Town Hall Centenary, which will include paid Town Hall tours and a Mayor’s Ball
• SAVED Budgets for the Storey Institute and the Lancaster Literature Festival remain unchanged
• SAVED Morecambe Town Hall and Dalton Square flower beds

Reaction to the plans has been mixed but, so far, largely negative. Cyclists have already condemned the closure of public toilets, pointing out the problems they will have with the “Community Toilet” scheme. “I can’t take my bike into a pub with me if I need the loo!” one stormed.

The Dukes received £260,700 from the Arts Council and £175,564 from Lancashire County Council this year. The Lancaster Guardian reports that after the meeting Dukes director, Joe Sumsion, said he recognised the council's difficult position but was "disappointed".

"There will be things we will not be able to do," he told the paper. “It shouldn't stop us doing what we do now but it will impact on growth and stop us reaching more people."

Beyond Cabinet, councillors have also criticised the cuts, suggesting saving could have been made elsewhere apart from those services savaged in this latest round of savings. One pointed to the Council’s legal department, which regularly has to refer to County Council’s legal department, and suggested the City Council could have cut it and tendered legal services from County instead.

Other councillors have expressed concern at the high costs agreed at setting up a Morecambe Council at a time when cuts are being made in other areas.

• Full council will meet on 4th March where the cuts and budget changes will be finalised. The County Council will decide its funding levels for bodies such as The Dukes, which it co-funds with other organisations, on 19 March.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Lancaster community say 'No!' to plastic

Lancastrians of any religion or none are giving up buying plastic for Lent (25 February - 11 April). The challenge is designed to raise awareness of the effect of the 'throwaway culture' on human beings and the environment and offers two levels:

Level 1 - no plastic bags, plastic bottles, or takeaway food packaged in plastic - and
Level 2 - no new plastic at all (except for lifesaving plastic e.g. medicine wrappers).

There will be a series of workshops and socials throughout Lent at Lancaster University and in town. More details, including a chance to sign up to the challenge, can be found on www.notoplastic.org.uk.

How much plastic do you throw away each day? Plastic never bio-degrades, so every plastic bag, bottle, and toothbrush you've ever used can still be found in a rubbish dump, the sea, or littering our streets and countryside. This debris can also harm wildlife, especially in our oceans, and tiny plastic particles can accumulate and persist up the food-chain.



It is thought that plastics in the food chain are damaging reproduction in mammals by changing hormone balances - no one yet knows what the long term effects on humans of ingesting plastics particles will be.

However, there are simple ways you can reduce or eliminate plastic from your life. Try buying your fruit and vegetables loose rather than pre-packaged, for example.

This challenge was started by two Lancaster University PhD students – Ele Lamb (Linguistics) and Rose Lerner (Physics). Earlier in the year they decided to try giving up plastic for three months. Rose says, “I was getting really fed up of all the plastic I was throwing away – especially when it was obviously not necessary. That’s when I came up with the idea of doing without plastic completely”.

Ele says, “Living without plastic for three months was great. It made me think and helped me lead a simpler life."

• Those who sign up on the website www.notoplastic.org.uk will receive short emails during Lent with one tip per day on how to reduce or eliminate plastic from their lives.
• There is also a Facebook group:
www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=49386054394&ref=nf