Friday, 18 December 2009

CCTV released following £27,0000 arson

van arson.jpgPolice have released a CCTV image after a Mercedes van was destroyed in an arson attack.

The green Sprinter vehicle, worth £27,000, was parked at Udale Speciality Foods, Schola Green Lane, Morecambe, at 7.00am on 1st November when a fire broke out in its front cab.

Police would now like to speak to the man pictured in the CCTV image in order to eliminate him from their inquiries.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact PC Tom Evans on 01524 63333 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

BBC's Nigel Jay Headlines Spotlight Club Tonight

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Spotlight at the Storey - Lancaster's ace monthly writing and music night - is back this evening (Friday 18th December) with another top line-up of performers, including North West TV's Nigel Jay and musical comedy from Reginald Winters.

The Spotlight Club also starts earlier than previously, with doors opening at 8.00pm and its Open Mic session - where anything can happen on stage as newcomers and seasoned professionals take to the stage, perhaps for the first time or to test new material - starting at 8.15pm prompt.

Compered virtual-lancaster's John Freeman, tonight's line up, brought to Lancaster with support from litfest and local councils, is headlined by Nigel Jay, who became a familiar face on North West TV - to those glued to BBC news. He'll be reading from his first novel, And No Wings.


The novel sees Earth on the brink: global warming, climate change, environmental disaster, human catastrophe. Then suddenly something weird happens in energy-guzzling United States. It forces people to alter their lives. Maybe the whole world will follow suit. Maybe the planet will be saved. Who's behind all this? None other than the Lord God Almighty, stepping in to rescue mankind. A pity his loyal messenger, the archangel Gabriel - "Do I have to Boss? They're cretins" - couldn't be a bit more enthusiastic. Still, give him his head, if that's what it takes ... But will the plan work? Criminals, religious fundamentalists, corporate corruption. A maverick American President in election year. China, Britain, Spain, Africa. They're all wild cards. "Who'd be God?" muses the Almighty. "Yes, Guv", mutters Gabriel...

Also on the bill are poets Michael Durrant, whose work has recently appeared in Type magazine, and who dazzled with some naturalistic poetry sparkling with bold but telling metaphor back in June, according to Lunecy Review; the always-popular Antony Christie, whose second full length collection Of Love and Drowning will be published in January 2010; and Angela Martin, making her first appearance on the main Spotlight bill.

TrevMeaney_RegWinters.jpgMusic for the evening is provided by Reginald Winters, a four star sell out show at the Edinburgh Fringe festival with 'How To Survive A Zombie Apocalypse', and Kevin Wilkinson, whose new mini album A Little Light is now available for free download.

• The Spotlight Club: Friday 18th December, The Storey Auditorium, Meeting House Lane. Lancaster. Admission £4 / £2 (conc.). Doors open at 8.00pm with an earlier start time of 8.15pm for the Open Mic and Main Bill. Web Link: www.spotlightlancaster.co.uk

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Justice at last for Carnforth road death victim?

Some five years after his death, a road maintenance company has been fined £65,000 after a motorist was killed on the M6 near Carnforth a victim of various safety failures.

Graham Campbell, who was travelling north at about 11.30pm on 8th May 2004, died after hitting an unlit contractor’s vehicle parked on the hard shoulder of the M6, just past junction 35 near Carnforth.

Cumbrian Industrials Ltd, of The Ridge, Chipping Sodbury, Bristol, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive in relation to the incident and appeared before Preston Crown Court on Tuesday 15th December. The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 for failing to ensure the safety of the public.

The court heard that Cumbrian Industrials was guilty of several failings, including inconsistency in the positioning of the traffic cones, between the hard shoulder and lane one, which caused uncertainty to motorists about whether the hard shoulder should be used.

Cumbrian Industrials, which employs just over 80 people nationally and had a turnover of some £42m in the UK in 2007, also failed to provide detailed drawings for a change in the layout of the traffic cones, after the original plans were altered, and the cones were not moved back into place after the white line between lanes one and two had been repainted.

The judge deferred his decision on what costs the company should pay in addition to the fine.

“Everyone involved in roadworks should learn from this tragedy and consider whether they are doing enough to prevent deaths and injuries," commented Joy Jones, HSE’s Principal Inspector for traffic management.

“Roadworks always need to be managed with great care to ensure the safety of both construction workers and road users. There should be clear signing and a consistent use of traffic cones.

“Motorway roadworks can be very dangerous places for both workers and the travelling public unless a high degree of control is maintained, and Cumbrian Industrials was legally required to make sure this was the case.

“The company should have carefully planned and co-ordinated the work of its subcontractors. A new route through the roadworks should not have been opened until the carriageway was clear of obstructions and the correct signs and cones were in place.

“We will not hesitate to take action against construction companies who fail to comply with the law.”

Over the past seven years, 11 members of the public have lost their lives in incidents relating to the construction and maintenance of roads, airfields and sports facilities.

• More information on construction safety is available at www.hse.gov.uk/construction

Have your say on council spending

Lancaster City Council is inviting people to get involved and have their say on how it spends its money for the next few years.

The council has already set its priorities for the next three years, focusing on the social, economic and environmental issues of our district. However, with predicted reductions in government expenditure on public services over the next few years, local authorities are set to come under increasing pressure to make every single penny count and focus on the services that people most need and want.

On average, Council Tax payers pay £3.56 a week to Lancaster City Council. The council feels it is more important than ever that local people are given the opportunity to have their say on the services that are important to them and how it should be spending its budget in 2010/11.

"The council’s Cabinet has already reviewed and refocused the council priorities for the next three years and has collectively identified areas of spending that could be reduced for future years," explains Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of Lancaster City Council. "The Cabinet would like your views on these as they will be crucial in determining how the budget is allocated. With taxpayers help, the council can make sure its resources are targeted to the areas where you feel will be of most benefit and provide the services that are most important to them.”

You can get involved by:

- Completing a questionnaire by January 8 2010 - pick up a copy from Lancaster or Morecambe town halls, council housing offices on Cable Street, libraries or complete online at www.lancaster.gov.uk/consultation

- Registering your interest in attending a workshop in Carnforth (5th January 2010), Lancaster (6th January 2010) or Morecambe (January 7 2010) - email consultation@lancaster.gov.uk or telephone 01524 582268

• Go to one of the town centre exhibitions that will be taking place at Carnforth Railway Station on 5th January between 4.00pm and 6.00pm, Market Square in Lancaster on 6th January between 11.00am and 3.00pm, and the Arndale Centre in Morecambe on 7th January 7 between 10.30am and 1.30pm.

People completing the questionnaire or attending a workshop will be entered into prize draws for food, drink, gardening, entertainment and keep fit vouchers, thanks to support from local businesses that include Booths and The Refreshment Room, Carnforth and NICE café, Lancaster.

• For more information, contact the council's consultation officer by email consultation@lancaster.gov.uk or telephone 01524 582268.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Lancaster Vigil Message to World Leaders: Make a 'Real Deal' for the World on Climate Change

A group of over 30 people held a vigil on the steps of Lancaster's old Town Hall on Saturday evening. Nearly 100 passers-by added their candles to send thoughts and hopes for a Real Deal on climate action in Copenhagen.

The vigil was organised by Transition City Lancaster and was also attended by two Lancaster City councillors, a Lancashire County councillor and Lancaster's Green Party Parliamentary candidate. They stood in solidarity with the people of the world, particularly in those countries already experiencing the worst effects of climate change.

Astrophysicist and world-leading economist awarded Honorary Degrees

bellburnellHonoraryGrads2009web.jpgProfessor Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell, one of Britain's most distinguished female scientists and a high-profile economist have been awarded honorary degrees by Lancaster University.

Professor Burnell - an astrophysicist who helped discover a new type of star - and Professor Brian Arthur, an economist who was one of the pioneers of complexity theory, were awarded their degrees by Lancaster University's Chancellor Sir Chris Bonington on 9th December.

As a PhD student at Cambridge, Professor Bell Burnell is an astrophysicist who has worked in all areas of the electromagnetic spectrum, observing new sources from radio frequencies to high energy gamma rays. She has been an outstanding leader of research both at the Open University, where for ten years from 1991 she was Professor of Physics, and then as Dean of Science at the University of Bath, a position she held until her retirement in 2004. She is an enthusiastic and committed communicator of science to the public and a champion of women in science.

Burnell was involved in the discovery of pulsars - highly magnetised dead stars that emit radio waves along their magnetic poles. This discovery opened up a new branch of astrophysics and was later recognised by the award of a Nobel Prize to her supervisor.

She has since received many honours and awards from American and British scientific bodies for her contributions to science. She has been President of the Royal Astronomical Society and in 2008 became the first female President of the Institute of Physics.

In her quest for further knowledge she has used telescopes flown on high-altitude balloons, launched on rockets and carried on satellites. As a high profile speaker and broadcaster she has done much to advance public understanding of science and provided an important role model to women considering a career in the field.

• Photograph courtesy Lancaster University

Greens Condemn New Nuke Plans for Heysham

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It should come as no surprise to learn that Lancaster's Greens have condemned plans for a third nuclear power station at Heysham - and indeed, any new nuclear build in the UK.

Responding to a consultation at Lancaster Town Hall last month about Government plans to simplify the planning application process for new energy infrastructure, including new nuclear power stations, local Green Prospective Parliamentary candidate Gina Dowding has this week reiterated Green Party policy to oppose the building of new nuclear power stations.

The Green Party opposes the building of new nuclear power stations, arguing it is uneconomic, unsafe, and leaves future generations a legacy of highly radioactive waste, noting that the Health and Safety Executive recently said it could not recommend plans for two proposed new nuclear reactor designs because of wide-ranging concerns about their safety.

The New Civil Engineer, and national newspapers such as The Guardian, noted that the HSE, Britain’s main safety regulator, said in a report that it could not endorse the use of French and American designed reactors - the UK EPR developed by AREVA and ElectricitĂ© de France (EDF) and the AP1000 developed by Westinghouse Electric Company (WEC) - because of wide-ranging concerns about their safety, noting much more “detailed work” needed to be done before they could be approved for use.

The HSE’s assessment work is due to be completed within a year and a half, but one industry expert suggested a delay of up to three years was possible.

gina_dowding_greenparty.jpg"The Government is using climate change as an argument in favour of building new nuclear power stations," notes Gina Dowding (pictured left), the Green Party’s candidate for the new Lancaster and Fleetwood Constituency at the next general election. But the government's own Draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (PDF) highlights climate change as one of the key risks to new nuclear power stations.

"Because they need to be built on coastlines or estuaries for cooling purposes, they will be at risk of floods, storm surges, rising sea levels and coastal erosion," Gina continues.

"The Government and the nuclear industry are still not dealing with the issue of storing radioactive waste," she adds. "There is still no facility operating anywhere in the world capable of disposing of this dangerous pollutant, so we don’t actually know it’s safe."

"The document highlights other negative impacts such as the ecological impact on Morecambe Bay, local water quality, and habitat and species quality. It downplays any risk to the human population in the District, suggesting that a ‘car park’ and some out buildings will provide enough distance between the reactor and local residents to mitigate against any adverse radiological hazard."

The Greens argue there are alternative power generation methods to nuclear. "Instead of spending millions on promoting nuclear energy as a solution to climate change, the Government should be legislating for energy efficiency, and facilitating the construction of proven safe renewable energy developments," argues Gina.

091128nuclear.jpgThe local consultation took place at the Town Hall between 26th-28th November. Visitors concerned about the new nuclear power station planned in Heysham were invited to read the 500+ pages of consultation documents before responding to the proposals.

Visitor Gisela Renolds said, "A cynic might suggest that the Government made the consultation this cumbersome to ensure as few people as possible engage!"

In response to Ed Miliband's announcement of ten proposed new nuclear power stations, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, said, "Bypassing the planning system in this way is bad news for democracy and for the environment... A key democratic right is for the public to have a say on how their area is developed. Decision-making about where we get our energy from, and the long-term costs associated with nuclear, should be opened up to more accountability, not less."

The 10 sites deemed suitable for future nuclear plants are Heysham, Bradwell in Essex, Braystones, Kirksanton and Sellafield in Cumbria, Hartlepool, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire, Sizewell in Suffolk and Wylfa in North Wales.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) said that safety of new rector design was critical.

“If nuclear power is going to play a part in delivering a secure energy future for the UK, it must be safe and that means construction will be to exacting standards," The Health and Safety Executive has helpfully highlighted areas of concern, allowing these issues to be rectified before the plans are completed in June 2011,” said CECA head of industry affairs Alasdair Reisner, according to New Civil Engineer.

“As we move towards this date, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association would encourage the reactor designers to call upon the skills and knowledge of the association’s members, to help them overcome any issues in relation to the buildability of the civil engineering aspects of the reactor design.”

(NB. Consultation photo has been doctored to display a synopsised screen message;-)

Flood Charity Pop Video Has a Local Bite!

It Bites 2008 bandpictiles-smaller.jpgUniversity of Cumbria film maker Russell Cherrington has joined forces with eighties chart-toppers It Bites to try and help victims of the recent devastating floods in Cumbria.

The band, who are from Egremont, have recruited stars from the rock and pop world to record a new version of their classic hit Calling All The Heroes.

The gathering took place on 4th December at Wetton and Downes’ studio near Milton Keynes, the legendary studios of King Crimson and Asia.

The aim is to raise funds to help with the relief efforts in West Cumbria and, apart from It Bites, the recording features the talents of John Wetton, of Asia, Geoff Downes of Buggles and Yes, H from Marillion, Jason Perry from A, plus Jem Godfrey.

The song and is being released as an EP, together with a video shot by Russell Cherrington from the Film and Television Department, of the Faculty of the Arts at the University Of Cumbria.

“As soon as I heard from Bob Dalton of It Bites that they were going to record an all star version of the 1980's classic Calling All Heroes I knew the University of Cumbria should be involved," explains Russell, who has produced videos for Japan, Peter Gabriel and Queensryche. “Charles Mitchell - the Dean of the Faculty of the Arts - pulled out all the stops to make this happen at University level.

“We put together a team of film and television production students and shot the video in Glasgow with Marillion, and in Milton Keynes at a Mansion Studio owned by members of Yes, King Crimson and Yes. The video is almost done and we are going to be involved in the charity concert too.”

• A charity concert for the floods is to be announced soon headlined by It Bites. For more info, check the band's MySpace page

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Really Heavy Greatcoat Review of the Year 2009

Yes - a new Really Heavy Greatcoat! Longtime virtual-lancaster readers will know the Greatcoat strip was the joint creation of VL contributor John Freeman and top local cartoonist Nick Miller back in 1987 (more info here), and has featured in several print publications, local and international down the years. But what with other work commitments and the assumed demise of Comics International, where it was last appearing (the publisher now appears to be ignoring our emails for confirmation of this), the strip has taken a back seat to other things for the moment.

That hasn't stopped Mr Miller creating his now traditional 'Review of the Year' featuring some of the characters, and he's also created a smashing seasonal e-card which will also be published on virtual-lancaster very soon. Enjoy. Over, to you, Nick...

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• More great Nick Miller and 'Team Sputnik' goodies at: www.teamsputnik.co.uk/blog

More Really Heavy Greatcoat strips and information