Saturday, 27 February 2010

Conservatives undecided on Market future

JRMace.jpgConservative City councillors have yet to decide how they will vote on proposals to close Lancaster Market by the end of the year when Full Council meet later this week.

"The Conservative Group has not issued a formal statement on the Lancaster Market, and as yet, we do not know what specific budget amendment on the Market will be put before the Council for a vote on Wednesday," Conservative leader (and former Council leader) Roger Mace told virtual-lancaster.

"In response to recent enquiries on the subject, I have reminded people that, back in January 2008, I moved a resolution in Cabinet asking for a report from officers 'to outline options open to the Council to advise, support and assist market tenants affected by the proposals to relocate their businesses with effect from any closure.'

"I have not changed my view on this," he continued.

The Conservatives are, however, clear that they do wish to see market traders continue in business, although not necessarily in the current Market.

"There is no desire to see traders stop trading," Roger confirms, "but there is a need to reduce the current level of deficit from operating the Market: a deficit which is unsustainable and not good value for the Council Tax payers in the district."

The Lancaster Market building is owned by Allied Lancaster, part of London-based Allied Freehold Property Trust Limited and it, along with the Marketgate complex - was transferred to this corporate identity for £34.5 million in Feb 2008 (as reported by local newspapers at the time such as the Morecambe Visitor).

Lancaster City Council pays yearly rent of £461,000 for the building, but despite the ongoing recession, that rent is to rise significantly in the next financial year - to £492,000.

Roger Mace says some people who have contacted him to raise there concerns did not know the City Council only has a 99-year lease on the building.

"In some cases, people were unaware that the Market building is not owned by the Council, so I have explained to them that much of the ongoing problem arises from the terms of of the lease agreed to by the Labour administration in 1995.

"I hope for a sensible outcome."

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site

• Several online groups are discussing options for the future of the market: this Facebook group has the highest membership of 4000 people, but there are others. A petition is also being circulated around Lancaster Market for people to sign. Over 7000 people have signed so far.


Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market


Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Friday, 26 February 2010

Lancaster Market Protest: Council Solicitors act

Lancaster City Council has begun to use its solicitors to threaten campaigners fighting their plans to close Lancaster Market, arguing that they may have circulated what might be considered "commercially sensitive" information.

virtual-lancaster is concerned the Council may also try to ensure its plans to close the Market are discussed closed down behind closed doors at next week's Council meeting, by the councillors and Council staff. The public - who pay their wages and have funded the Market for years - will have no direct say.

Rather than openly discuss the Market's future, the Council seems set on steamrolling opposition to get its way for a "single retailer" replacement for the current Market.

virtual-lancaster wishes to point out that our previous news item at no point stated the questions we asked were fact, but challenged the Council to confirm or deny rumours circulating.

The only response we have had so far from the Council to our questions has been to correct a web link in the story, which was pointing to last month's Full Council meeting, not the meeting on Wednesday 3rd March at 2.00pm at Morecambe Town Hall. We were, of course, more than happy to make that correction.

At no point has the Council confirmed or denied allegations being made about its deal to secure a single retailer to replace the Market.

• Several online groups are discussing options for the future of the market: this Facebook group has the highest membership, but there are others. A petition is also being circulated around Lancaster Market for people to sign. Over 7000 people have signed so far.


• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site

Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market


Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Lorry checks carried out at accident blackspot

Local police checked 60 lorries to make sure they were road worthy as part of an operation cracking down on vehicle safety at an accident black spot earlier this week.

Officers involved in Operation HGV carried out stop checks on the A683 bypass at Heysham, to make sure vehicles coming to and from the port were safe.

Police dealt with two accidents on the by-pass last month after two 32-tonne articulated lorries overturned due to poorly loaded trailers or insecure loads. A VOSA check also revealed several faults with one of the vehicles.

Each vehicle stopped by officers was taken to a nominated site where a mechanical examination was carried out by VOSA, a fuel examination was carried out by customs and police officers checked any official documents. Vehicles suspected of being overweight were also taken to a weighing station. Eight HGVs were found to have faults and were issued with immediate prohibition orders. 14 drivers were also given words of advice in relation to their vehicles.

One HGV driver was also caught using his mobile phone which, as well as the fixed penalty, will also result in a suspension of his HGV licence by the Traffic Commission. 11 other non-HGV drivers were also prosecuted for a variety of offences.

As part of the operation, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) technology was also used to check all vehicles travelling along the by-pass between the Mellishaw roundabout and Overton roundabout.

PC Mark Howson, Morecambe Police, said: “It is vitally important that these large vehicles are road worthy and carrying their loads safely before they set off on their journeys, otherwise it is not only the driver whose life is at risk but also those of other road users.

“It’s the operator’s responsibility to maintain a trailer and keep an up to date record of service intervals. If the operator causes or permits an employee to move an unsafe load or passengers then the operator commits offences.

“Equally it’s the driver’s responsibility to check any load and security before the trailer is moved to a destination by road. Should the driver transport an insecure load and or use a defective trailer, then the driver commits offences as well as the operator.”

Going, Going, Gone!

North Lancashire Green Party are holding an auction of goods and promises at the Park Hotel Bowerham Road. Lancaster at 8.00 pm on Saturday 27th February (viewing from 6.00 pm onwards).

Members and supporters have donated over sixty lots to the auction including: a one week stay in an exclusive lakeside house in France (See: www.lacduciel.co.uk), a weekend in Edinburgh, a visit to a harpsichord makers workshop and a new song written and recorded especially for you. Plus lots more.

Money raised will go towards the General Election Campaign Fund to elect Gina Dowding in Lancaster and Fleetwood.

The auction is organised by North Lancashire Green Party and admission is free.

Conservation area proposals go out to consultation

Lancaster City Council has launched a consultation into plans to help further protect the district’s unique character and history.

Last year the council launched an indepth review to see if parts of Carnforth and Lancaster’s Cannon Hill should be designated as conservation areas.

The review was led by an independent consultancy, The Conservation Studio, who have recommended the creation of two new conservation areas.

In Carnforth, the conservation area is recommended to cover the approximate triangle of Lancaster Road, Haws Hill and Market Street.

To the west, the area would then take in the railway station, the frontage buildings of the former ironworks and an area of the railway land to include all the significant structures.

For Cannon Hill the recommended boundary includes Westbourne Drive, Orchard Lane, Sunnyside Lane, Laurel Bank and Beechfield.

Any comments should be submitted to the council by 31st March 2010.

• For details on the implications of designation, the recommended boundaries and to have your say, please visit the council’s website: www.lancaster.gov.uk/newcas

Alternatively, you can visit Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls or Carnforth Library to view the consultation documents.

• Comments can be made by email to forwardplanning@lancaster.gov.uk or in writing to The Conservation Team, Planning Services, PO Box 4, Town Hall, Dalton Square, Lancaster LA1 1QR.

Anger at Market closure grows, demonstration planned

Campaigners against the closure of Lancaster Market recently proposed by the City Council's cabinet have organised a demonstration at Morecambe Town Hall next week when the plans will be discussed by full Council.

The full council meets at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall and campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans.

So far,  only Green Party councillors have opposed the plan when they came to a vote in Cabinet, but the closure plans but over 4000 people have already signed a petition against the plans, according to the Lancaster Guardian.

Campaigners are calling on local residents to support the campaign any way they can. Pop into the Market and sign the petition against the closure, or join one of the several facebook groups rallying support against the plan. (This one has the highest membership, but there are others)

Let's see if we can make a massive difference in our own community.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Anglers, carers and musicians all benefit from Galbraith charity grants

Five community groups in Lancaster and Morecambe can get going with projects for people in the district, thanks to grants from the Galbraith Trust.

The Galbraith Trust meets quarterly to make grants to groups with charitable purposes within the Lancaster district. The Trust came into being in 2001 with an endowment from the estate of Ian Galbraith, whose family had run hardware stores in Lancaster since the 1950s until Ian's retirement.

In this latest round they gave a total of £6,779 to groups from Morecambe and Lancaster, donating £1908 for a fishing trip for young people to Morecambe and District Junior Anglers; - £1,400 for the production of carers’ packs to Lonsdale District Carers; £1,328 for a cultural sharing event to the Hua Xian Chinese Society; £885 for a workshop and concert for the Promenade Concert Orchestra; and £1,256 for a cooking programme for children and young people for the Marsh Community Centre Charitable Company.

Organisations who receive a grant do not need to be registered charities, but the activity for which they seek a grant must be charitable and the application must be made on behalf of an organisation, not by an individual. The people benefiting from the charitable activity must live in Lancaster District (as defined by the boundaries of Lancaster City Council).

The Trustees invite applications for grants which would usually be between £100 and £3,000. Applicants are asked to complete a simple form and submit their most recent accounts.

• For an application form and guidance notes, contact Penny Darby, Funding Officer at CVS on 01524 555900 extension 32, or by emailing pennydarby@lancastercvs.org.uk

Council to clam up on Lancaster Market plans?

Lancaster MarketThe full extent of Lancaster City Council's plans for Lancaster Market may be kept secret when they are discussed next week, hidden behind claims of commercial sensitivity - and denying the public and local press the full facts on what is being proposed.

Facing increasing losses, the Council's Cabinet announced plans to close the market earlier this month (see news story), a proposal set to be discussed by full Council on 3rd March. It seems possible, however, that much of the debate will be held behind closed doors on the pretext that the plans are "commercially sensitive" - even though the proposals could, potentially, expose the Council to huge financial risk.

Virtual-lancaster therefore challenges the City Council to confirm or deny:

• Whether it has approached the recently-launched new supermarket chain ASCO to be the "single retailer" who will take over the Market building - the same company behind a newly-opened Warrington supermarket that has attracted disturbing comment from ex-employees and readers of the Warrington Guardian?

• Whether, after closing down community resources such as playgrounds and other amenities on the grounds that it has no money, the Council is now proposing to spend some £500,000 on converting Lancaster Market to make it a "White Box" building, suitable for single retailer use?

• Whether it has, or is proposing to offer ASCO £400,000 to take on the running of the building?

• Whether it has, or is proposing to also offer ASCO free rent for one year as an additional 'sweetener'?

• Whether it has, or is proposing to offer, existing stall holders some £200,000 in compensation for the loss of their pitches?

virtual-lancaster is keenly aware the future of Lancaster Market is a mess and the annual loss is unsustainable. (In a recent statement, the Council says Lancaster Market has a substantial deficit, currently identified as £461,000 2009/10, rising to £492,000 in the next financial year). But we are very concerned that the Council's proposed solution could expose Lancaster to even greater financial risk than the one it already faces - and Lancaster people will have no say in those plans, because the full details may well be kept from us.

We sincerely hope that Lancaster City Council will consider the future of Lancaster Market in full public view, and not, as may happen, behind closed doors.

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site


Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market


Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Lancaster allotment project gets funding boost

Lancaster-based Community Interest Company Local and Effective Sustainable Solutions has been successful in its bid for over £200,000 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund's Local Food scheme for a new allotment site and food growing project, 'Off the Ground'.

The allotment site, on Ambleside Road, Lancaster, received planning permission last year and is likely to be open by June. There will be a community meeting to discuss the project once a project coordinator has been appointed.

"As well as providing a new allotment site, Off the Ground will help local schools and community groups with their food growing projects and encourage people to grow food in their own gardens," explains Simon Gershon, a director of LESS. "The allotment site will have a communal tool store and polytunnel.

"Training on food growing will be available from the project workers. Growing more of our own food has benefits for the environment as well as our health, and we hope this project will make a real difference to the number of people in the district who are able to grow food."

• LESS is currently seeking a project coordinator, project workers and an administrator for the project. Further details of these posts, and of how to register your interest in an allotment, can be found on the LESS website, www.lessuk.org

• If you are interested in having a plot on the new allotment site please email food[at]lessuk.org, giving your name and address. (Replace [at] with @).

Monday, 22 February 2010

Transport campaigners launch fund-raising campaign

Campaigners against the proposed Heysham-M6 link road have just launched a campaign to raise funds to help them present its case at the 2010 Public Inquiry into the costly scheme.

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe are asking for help in raising funds to enable them to put its case to the forthcoming Public Inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase and Side Road Orders for the Heysham-M6 Link Road Northern Route, which is scheduled to start in June 2010.

"We have worked hard to rally local and national opposition to the Orders resulting in 480 letters of objection being sent to the Secretary of State at the Department for Transport, Lord Adonis, which has secured a second Public Inquiry," says group co-oridnator David Gate, who wants to retain key experts in the campaign to make the case against the road at the Public Inquiry.

"TSLM has been campaigning for five years to stop the building of this controversial and damaging road scheme. Since the Public Inquiry in 2007, we have commissioned a report for the Department for Transport by a national transport expert into the poor value for money of the scheme; we have met DfT officials in London to explain why they should not grant funding, and we have continued to lobby politicians, both local and national."

Although the Link Road has planning permission, this does not authorise the building of the road, and funding for the scheme is not yet secure, at a time when everyone accepts that government funding must be cut. The scheme still has many hurdles to clear, and TSLM say it will continue to fight it vigorously.

• If you are able to help, please post your donation by cheque, with the remittance slip below, to TSLM, PO BOX 146, Morecambe, LA4 6WR, or you can make a secure payment using PayPal on the TSLM website (www.heyshamm6link.info).

'Robin Hood' Tax on banks to get Green support?

Gina DowdingProposals for a proposed "Robin Hood" tax on bank operations may get support from the Green Party this week, thanks to its local parliamentary candidate Gina Dowding.

This week, Gina, who is Lancaster's Green Party candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood in the coming general election, was to propose the motion at the Green Party’s spring conference that the Greens should support the global "Robin Hood" tax campaign fronted by actor Bill Nighy (Love Actually, Pirates of the Caribbean) in the UK.

"This simple tax presents an opportunity to redistribute the enormous wealth of an untaxed financial sector towards those with the greatest need," Gina claims. "I am proud to be one of the proposers of this motion to the Green Party's Spring Conference."



The Financial Transaction Tax would impose a very low tax on financial products such as stocks, bonds and derivatives but raise around £250 billion for investment in international development and climate change. So far, nearly 30,000 people have signed up to support the campaign with an online poll on the campaign web site (robinhoodtax.org.uk) suggesting overwhelming support for the idea, which was also proposed by Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown last the September's G-20 summit.

Campaigners argue such a tax on banks has the power to raise hundreds of billions every year. "It could give a vital boost to the NHS, our schools, and the fight against child poverty in the UK – as well as tackling poverty and climate change around the world."

"Governments around the World sat back as banks awarded themselves huge bonuses, while gambling with our money," Gina argues. "The financial turmoil that followed exemplifies an agenda that seeks to put profit before people.

"Aside from the urgent need to curb the bankers' bonuses, this small measure could be a real opportunity to benefit those in most need around the world and help tackle poverty and the worst effects of climate change, both here and abroad."

Earlier this month, US Democrats introduced legislation that would levy a tax on financial transactions by most large US banks and other financial institutions, but the Nasdaq web site reports the bill has little immediate chance of success as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ruled out using the tax to offset the cost of a job-creation package that lawmakers are currently piecing together.

Gordon Brown's suggestion to introduce a financial transaction tax met with a lukewarm response from global finance ministers, but MEPs and experts from various organisations have discussed the the feasibility of introducing it in the European Union.

In Decmeber, Xavier Rolet, chief executive of the London Stock Exchange group said any such levy would be vigorously opposed by the financial industry, as it would increase costs and have a "substantial damping effect" on transaction activity.

By contrast, Sony Kapoor, managing director of think-tank Re-Define, claimed the "revenue potential is enormous".

A rate of 0.01 % would raise €287 billion worldwide, with €130 billion alone coming from the EU plus Switzerland and Norway, according to an Austrian study cited by Alexander Wiedow, the European Commission's director for taxation and customs union (for more arguments presented to the EU, click here.

• Robin Hood Tax web site: http://robinhoodtax.org.uk

• Lancaster and District Green Party web site: www.lancastergreenparty.org.uk