Friday, 10 July 2009

Taxi driver fined for flouting smoking ban

A local taxi driver who was caught flouting the smoking ban has been ordered to pay a total of £489 by a court.

Susan King, 50, of Chapel Lane in Overton, was found guilty in her absence at Lancaster Magistrates Court on Thursday (9th July) of breaking laws brought in on July 1 2007.

The regulations make it an offence to smoke in an enclosed public or work place - which includes vehicles such as taxis.

Magistrates heard that King was smoking a cigarette in her taxi while driving over Skerton Bridge in Lancaster on May 24 this year.

She was spotted by one of Lancaster City Council's licensing enforcement officers, who subsequently issued her with a £50 Fixed Penalty Notice.

King failed to pay the fine and as a result action was taken through the courts.

Magistrates ordered her to pay a fine of £175, plus £15 victim surcharge. She was also ordered to pay the council’s costs in the sum of £299.

"The smokefree legislation was brought in as a public health measure to reduce the number of smoking related deaths and illnesses through passive smoking," commented Coun David Kerr, Cabinet member with responsibility for environmental health.

“The majority of people recognise this but there are is still a minority that believe they can ignore the law. It does not matter if a taxi driver has a passenger in their vehicle or not – smoke lingers and their passengers have a right to be able to travel in a vehicle that does not smell of smoke.

“We are also under a duty to ensure that the laws are enforced and we would urge all taxi drivers not to smoke in their vehicles. We would rather not take action against them but if we have to then we will.”

Environment Jobs A-Plenty if Council Went Green?

If Lancaster City Council insulated buildings and fitted green energy in the Lancaster area, it could create 64 jobs as well as slashing climate-changing emissions, according to independent research released by North Lancashire Friends of the Earth recently.

The research - by social enterprise and environment experts Carbon Descent - was published to launch a new nationwide campaign calling for local councils take urgent action to cut CO2.

Friends of the Earth's campaign - Get Serious About CO2 - is calling on councils to commit to cutting carbon dioxide emissions in their local area by at least 40 per cent by 2020 and produce an action plan detailing how they will make the cuts.

The new research analyses the manpower required to insulate homes and businesses and install green energy on buildings - which are two of the key ways in which councils could achieve a reduction in their emissions at least 40 per cent by 2020.

New jobs could be available as loft insulaters, architects, plumbers, builders, electricians, plasterers and insulation specialists - with new admin, transit and warehouse positions also created to support the installation of insulation and renewable energy.

The council has a big say over local energy, housing and transport. But at the moment, Lancaster City Council doesn't have an integrated plan that addresses how to reduce carbon emissions by at least 40% by 2020. This is a time period of just over 10 years and we need to start now if we are going to achieve this target.

The latest science tells us that rich countries like the UK have to cut their emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2020. Otherwise, climate change will make a billion of the poorest people in the world homeless - and people in the UK will be affected too by increased flooding and droughts, rising food prices and economic instability.

"With the economy in such a sorry state at the moment, the Lancaster area could really use the boost from 64 new local jobs insulating homes and installing renewable energy," argues Paul Martyn from North Lancashire Friends of the Earth.

"If Lancaster City Council fully insulated buildings and fitted them with green energy, it would create jobs, slash the areas carbon dioxide emissions, reduce people's fuel bills and make homes much more snug."

Thursday, 9 July 2009

£250 up for grabs - just for returning a form!

Would you like the chance to win £250 to spend as you please?

That’s the offer from Lancaster City Council – just for filling in and returning your electoral registration form.

Each year the council is required by law to canvass every household in the district and produce a Register of Electors which is published on 1st December.

The forms for this year’s canvass will be distributed in July and by August 10 every household in the district should have received one.

Those that confirm their details, or register changes to their existing details, by 4th September will be entered into a free prize draw to win £250.

Anyone who has not registered after this date can expect a knock on the door from one of the council’s team of canvassers.

“Registering to vote is vitally important," says Alison Hughes, Lancaster City Council's elections officer, explaining the aim of the campaign. "As well as not being able to vote people who are not on the Register of Electors could find their credit rating is affected, meaning that they may be unable to get a bank account, a mortgage, a credit card or sign up for a mobile phone.

"By offering an incentive to people to return their forms on time we hope to ease the burden on our canvassing team and, ultimately, reduce the cost of the annual canvass."

The service includes a 24 hour Freephone telephone service (0808 161 7649) or the internet registration service (www.register-online.co.uk).

Those using the telephone or internet registration service do not need to return their form as well.

Both the telephone and internet systems also accommodate the 'opt-out' rules allowing users to add or remove their names from the edited version of the register used by mailing companies, and to request postal vote applications.

The register will be based on where people will be living on 15th October and it will be published on 1st December 2009.

After the register has been published, people can still apply to be added, for example when they move house, and forms can be obtained from Lancaster or Morecambe Town Halls, by phoning 01524 582905 or via the internet www.lancaster.gov.uk/elections.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Centros Debacle: Who Is Responsible?

The public inquiry into absent-from-proceedings developer Centros plans for Lancaster's canal corridor is nearly finished, with supplementary evidence and closing submissions due to be submitted in writing over the next few weeks.

Campaign group It’s Our City have played a full part in the inquiry process and have provided the Inspector with detailed evidence on consultation, traffic and air quality, the retail impact and economic tourism. The group also reports they were also hugely pleased to see so many local people come to the inquiry to tell the inspector why they opposed Centros’s plans.

A final decision is due in the next few months, and now It's Our City is turning its attention to what it describes as "serious problems" concerning Lancaster City Council’s role regarding these plans - especially its decision to withdraw from the Inquiry after it had begun. In particular: who was responsible for the council’s decision to defend the plans?

“It seems strange that the council only realised that there were major problems with this scheme, leading them to withdraw from the inquiry, at a late stage," says It’s Our City spokesperson Emilie Secker. "Surely the planning team should have been asking questions about these issues from the outset?

"It was clear at the inquiry that it is very important to the people of Lancaster that there is proper accountability for the poor decision to continue with the Centros scheme despite the clear failures of the plans”.

Despite the furore over the Inquiry's proceedings, It’s Our City say they are now looking forward to working with both local and national bodies to further community-led development in Lancaster.

“There are clearly some major problems with the way in which the planning team in the council dealt with this whole process," feels Billy Pye. "However, it's also clear that there are people within the council prepared to act with honesty and integrity and who have a different way of doing things.

"English Heritage and Save Britain’s Heritage are keen to work with local people in Lancaster in the future, and of course there are many local citizens who would love to get properly involved in deciding how Lancaster should move forward. We see this as an incredibly positive thing for the future of our city”.

Responding to It's Our City's concerns, Mark Cullinan, Lancaster City Council's chief executive, told virtual-lancaster: "I remain satisfied that the council has met its responsibilities appropriately and that its officers have acted properly at each stage of the process."

Dog Fun Day Planned for Heysham School

Lancaster City Council has teamed up with the RSPCA, the Dogs Trust and Lune Valley Training Club to offer free microchipping, identity discs and training to all dog owners at a special event to be held on Wednesday 22nd July.

The Dog Fun Day will take place at Trumacar Primary School in Heysham between 10.00am to 12 noon and 1.00pm to 3.00pm.

Dog owners will be given the chance to have their pets chipped for free and meet experts from the Dog Warden Service, RSPCA and Dogs Trust, who will be on hand to offer advice.

Lune Valley Dog Training Club will also be providing one-to-one consultations.

Every dog attending will be given a free engraved disc to put on their collar and anyone claiming any welfare benefits will be entitled to a free neutering voucher. To claim the voucher simply take along some form of proof of your benefit.

Children are welcome but they must be accompanied by an adult.

• For more information on the day contact Mark Woodhead 01524 582744 or email mwoodhead@lancaster.gov.uk

Canal Corridor Inquiry closes

The Inquiry into the Centros plans for Lancaster's Canal Corridor closed last week with a final decision on the proposals due in the next few months.

Most of the Inquiry time in the final week was taken up by personal statements from members of the public and from local councillors arguing against the plans.

Reflecting the level of interest in the proposed development, the City Council details over 70 people who had their say, with 66 members of the public made personal statements against the plans eight Green Party councillors either spoke in person or submitted written statements also against the plans.

Just one member of the public spoke in favour of the plans and, despite the Council's overall support for the scheme, no councillors from any other political party took advantage of the opportunity to speak in favour.

Councillor John Whitelegg, who represents Bulk Ward which will be primarily affected by the development if it goes ahead, spoke about his disappointment that the whole plan was imposed by the council. He was also concerned that Centros with no attempt to involve the public in a thorough participative exercise to develop their own ideas for this part of the Bulk Ward.

He also referred to the irresponsible behaviour of the city council in promoting a development that made air quality worse when as a council it had, in his opinion, done little to deliver our statutory duty to improve air quality.

(Last week, research being carried out by Prof Barbara Maher of Lancaster University into current pollution levels in the city has revealed the alarming extent to which people are already being exposed to lead pollution from vehicles. Acknowledging concerns, backed by its own monitoring station, the city council says that over the next two years, with the help of the Energy Saving Trust, it would implement a climate change action plan. View its Air Quality and Pollution page here).

Councillor Maia Whitelegg emphasised her concerns for children and the need to protect children in Bulk Ward from additional traffic danger in line with the "Every Child Matters" agenda.

County Councillor Sam Riches said she was deeply concerned about the proposed demolition of so many historic buildings, especially in view of the designation of conservation areas in the vicinity. She argued the loss of buildings in Stonewell in particular would do irreparable damage to a street plan and its associated elements, including vistas from further afield, which have taken centuries to develop. Lancaster is incredibly lucky to have such a complex built heritage, and whilst a number of the buildings in the Canal Corridor area are clearly in a poor state, it would be completely iniquitous to destroy them in order to develop the site.

Councillor Jude Towers raised several concerns about the proposed development, including the accelerating trend in developments of this type to remove public space into the hands of private developers, giving them the freedom to impose rules and regulations on that once publically owned space as they see fit.

"The Inquiry was a huge success in that all the objectors were able to present detailed, robust evidence as to why this development should not proceed," said Councillor John Whitelegg, reflecting on the whole three-week Inquiry.

"Day after day at the Inquiry showed that the Council's case was weak and incomplete and that its defence of this damaging development was based on poor judgement, poor data, a poor understanding of planning policy and a disregard for historic buildings.

"The high point was undoubtedly the unprecedented amount of public involvement in the final week and the passionate arguments made in favour of an alternative to Centros that would enhance Lancaster's special character and sense of place rather than producing more traffic, pollution and boarded up shops in the city centre."

Lancaster Air-Mail from the 4th Plinth!

Lancaster based-artist Rachel Baynton will join 2400 people taking their place this year on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Angel of the North creator Antony Gormley’s One & Other project which sees a different person on the plinth every hour, 24 hours a day for 100 days.

On Saturday 25th July between 5-6.00pm Rachel will be standing on the plinth and wants to know what you would say if you were up there. She intends to launch paper aeroplanes from the top of the plinth, with your messages written on them, to the world below. The messages will also be available to view and respond to at Proto-type Theater’s website on their plinthmail blog, www.proto-type.org/plinthmail.

"Antony Gormley described the One & Other project as being about the democratisation of art, that anyone could have an equal opportunity to take part and have an hour to present or communicate whatever they chose" explains Rachel, who is also part of local theatre group Proto-type. "I was lucky enough to receive one of those spots but not everyone can be.

"I’d really like to try and give a voice to those with something they want to say on the plinth but haven’t been given the chance to. If I shout then I’m not sure I’ll be heard over the noise in Trafalgar square so paper aeroplanes seemed a good way of sending a message."

So, do you have something to say? Is there something that you’re passionate about that you’d like to draw attention to? Do you need to announce, explain, apologise, shout from the roof tops? If so then email Rachel at plinthmail@proto-type.org and she’ll pass the message on.

• Rachel will be launching your messages on Saturday July 25th, 5-6pm. You can watch Rachel launch them, and all the 4th Plinth 'performances' live via http://www.oneandother.co.uk. (Note this is a live webstream that may contain offensive content).

• Send your messages to plinthmail@proto-type.org
Find your messages at www.proto-type.org/plinthmail . Please include your name and location and keep your messages to approx. 50 words, thankyou!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Lancaster City Council publishes its Annual Report

Lancaster City Council has published its Annual Report for 2008/09, which gives an overview of the council and the district it serves, as well as a snapshot of some of its achievements and initiatives of the last year and priorities for the next 12 months.

“The last 12 months have been a difficult time for both the council and society in general," commented Coun Stuart Langhorn, Leader of Lancaster City Council. Not really a surprize, considering the council is still coping with the fallout from the Iceland banking crisis and demands to make savage cuts to services. But despite this, "I believe that the council has had a successful year," Langhorn adds.

“This report looks back at how some of the challenges we have had to overcome as well as looking forward to those we face in the future.”

• To view a copy of the report, visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/annualreport or contact Lancaster City Council’s Corporate Strategy Service on 01524 582150.