Thursday, 1 April 2010

Lancaster Market Safe Until 2015

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Above: Market trader Peter Corker presents a copy of the huge petition protesting at the closure of the Market to the Council's Chief Executive Mark Cullinan on the steps of Lancaster Town Hall. Photo: Zoe Caldicott

At a four-hour special Council meeting last night, Lancaster’s Indoor Market was saved by just five votes from closure.

The final motion also called on the Council to consider refurbishment of the building, at a cost that will be far less than if it opponents to keeping it open had got their way.

"Let's hope they put their money where there mouth is," commented one trader.

24 councillors voted in favour of the successful Green Party motion (Greens, Labour, one Tory and two Independents) while 19 voted against, including the Liberal Democrats, most Conservatives, most Morecambe Bay Independents and one independent). There were three abstentions.

Those against the motion wanted to terminate the market traders’ leases, spend a fortune on turning the market into a ‘white box’, and then spend a further fortune in sweeteners to attract a single trader - ASCO, which has only one other store and the worst possible credit rating.

"We felt that the company in question does not have a reasonable prospect of success," the Greens said in a statement after the meeting, "and the worst case scenario (where they take the sweeteners, operate for a year or two then go bankrupt) was much worse, both financially and in terms of the Council’s reputation, than the alternative worst case scenario of continuing to operate an indoor market with a big deficit."

Now more hard work begins in trying attract new traders and new customers to the market to ensure that it thrives and that the deficit is reduced as much as possible.

Shockingly the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have both put out several leaflets in the John O'Gaunt council by-election claiming that they are fighting to secure the market’s future - yet yesterday they voted to close it, with no relocation option.

"Obviously, every trader in the market will be overjoyed in hearing that their businesses are secure for another 4 years," commented market trader Chris Green. "However, I'm dismayed that 19 councillors still thought that ASCO were a viable alternative, even after receiving information which clearly showed that this was an insolvent company.

"After taking professional advice, it is my understanding that any local authority cannot enter into a business arrangement with an insolvent firm.

"Let's face it, it's not rocket science."

Zoe Caldicott told virtual-lancaster she intended to pursue her Audit Commission complaint about the Council's handiling of the proposed closure of the Market.

"I'm pleased with the result, butt I think there are a lot of questions which need answering," she says. "In my opinion, the leader of the council should now step down."

Green party councillors are delighted that the market is to remain open and the tenants are to get new leases.

"The real work starts now and the Council needs to work hard to produce a re-invigorated market," urges Dukes Ward councillor Anne Chapman. "One that can maximise its contribution to tourism, jobs, regeneration, local food, choice and health.

"We look forward to getting on with this job."

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"This is good news," added Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate, Gina Dowding (pictured). "It's clear from the size of recent support from shoppers that people in Lancaster want to see the market retained and revitalized and offering the choice that it once did.

"We have very committed traders and we have local shoppers who will get behind the market. Hopefully now with this renewed commitment from the Council we can start to make the improvements so that Lancaster can have a successful indoor market once again."

The full text of the Green Group motion for Council 31/3/10: Lancaster Market


Council notes that the Council has been unable to secure a single tenant to its satisfaction since January 2008 and also that the option of a market on one floor is expensive in terms of capital costs and has many legal difficulties. Council also notes the desirability of a thriving indoor market in terms of employment and service to the district. Council therefore resolves that:

1. The City Council renews all existing tenancy agreements in accordance with the landlord and tenant act.

2. That the City Council endeavours to negotiate by agreement an amendment to the terms and conditions which would permit the City Council to consider any plans to refurbish the market hall.

3. That a sum of £150,000 is set aside that can be used for professional advice on running a successful market and on potential costs of refurbishment. However, money spent on consultants should be kept to the minimium possible.

4. That the option to tax the market should be re-affirmed, should this be necessary, to protect the Council from any VAT liability on any of the proposed capital works.

5. That a working group of councillors from all groups be set up to oversee plans for refurbishment and revitalisation of the market. That this working group gets expert advice and considers visiting other successful indoor markets.

6. That this working group to report back to cabinet at key points.

7. That the Council looks at all options in terms of reducing the overheads of the market and on the staff needed to make Lancaster market more successful.

8. That the working group considers the advantages of licenses/tenancies for new businesses in the market.

9. That the working group considers options such as making the market more food-based (particularly local food), attracting key businesses, such as a bakery, and marketing the market as a visitor attraction for the city centre.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Animal Care seeks Spring Fair helpers

7388.jpgLancaster's Animal Care charity on Lancaster's Blea Tarn Road is looking for help at its Spring Fair on Friday 9th April 2010 at St Martin of Tours in Westgate, Morecambe. They need people to help run stalls, serve refreshments or bake some cakes for them to sell on the day.

If you want to help raise funds to keep cats like Mo here in cat food (or maybe you can just give him a new home?), volunteers should contact Animal Care via adminATanimalcare-lancaster.co.uk or telephone 01524 65495.

The charity reports it is also considering opening a shop in Lancaster; again, if this is something that might interest you, get in touch.

Animal Care has existed in various forms for over 30 years but as a registered charity since 1978. A few local animal lovers started to care for animals in their own homes when no-one else would help them and as the need for help increased so did the need for a permanent site to house the dogs, cats, rabbits, sheep, goats, horses and other animals desperately in need of care and attention.

In 1987, Blea Tarn Kennels were kindly donated to the charity and since then the many volunteers involved in the charity have helped improve the site so it is able to provide the best home until a forever home can be found for each and every animal.

7797.jpgAt any one time there can be up to 40 dogs/puppies (like poor old Rex, left), 70 cats/kittens, 50 rabbits, rodents, ferrets and other species at the centre while permanent homes are found for them. Occasionally the centre looks after wildlife that may need the interim care before it goes on to a specialist wildlife centre.

The charitable aims of the organisation are to help unwanted, stray and unloved animals and then to find them permanent homes with suitable owners. This in itself is becoming harder and harder as each year the centre get more and more abandoned and unwanted animals needing our help.

At present they have 30+ dogs on either the waiting list or stuck at local dog pounds waiting to come in.

• More about Animal Care at: www.animalcare-lancaster.co.uk

Monday, 29 March 2010

Spring into action to keep criminals at bay

As the weather improves (allegedly), local residents are being urged to ‘Spring into action’ and take special measures to prevent themselves from becoming victims of crime.

With the clocks going forward to provide more hours of daylight people may be tempted out into their gardens – and thieves might be tempted to steal things from them. Lancashire Police are now advising residents to include a little crime prevention into their garden maintenance to keep the criminals at bay.

• Cut back overgrown areas where criminals may hide.

• Lock away your tools when you’ve finished each day – they could be used to break into your home.

• Use chains to secure ladders and wheelie bins when not in use – they could be used as climbing aids.

• Do you have any walls or fences which would be easy to climb? Trellis can be an effective way of preventing burglars gaining access to your garden. They will add extra height to a fence or wall and will probably not support a burglar’s weight.

• Defensive planting - consider planting prickly plants, bushes and shrubs around vulnerable areas such as windows, fences and boundary walls. This will help deter burglars.

• Make sure locks on sheds and garages are in good repair.

• Fit a good quality closed shackle padlock to your shed and make sure you use it.

• Consider fitting a shed alarm to deter any would be intruder.

• Property mark your expensive mowers and power tools with your postcode and house number - thieves do no like property that is easily identifiable.

• What type of crime is happening in your area: maps.police.uk


• Home Office Crime Prevention Tips here

• Crime Reduction www.crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk

Another comprehensive Home Office website which offers a wide variety of crime prevention advice, with topics such as industrial, home and vehicle security to name but a few

• Safe from Scams - www.safefromscams.co.uk

A very useful and informative site providing information on scams and frauds of which members of the public should be aware

Appeal after Lancaster taxi driver injured in robbery

Police are appealing for information after a taxi driver was injured during a robbery.

The driver had picked up two passengers from outside KFC in Penny Street, Lancaster, shortly before 10.30pm on Monday 22nd March. He took them to the Dolly Blue Tavern near Lancaster football ground, where the men then attacked him.

The driver had a seat belt pulled around his neck while the men tried unsuccessfully to take money from him. They then fled the scene, taking the driver’s mobile with them.

Both men were white and in their early twenties. One was described as being around 5ft 8 tall, of skinny build, with short dark hair, and wearing a dark top and jeans. The other was described as around 5ft 9, of stocky build and wearing a grey and white striped jumper and jeans.

Police have released CCTV footage showing a man that they would like to speak to in order to eliminate him from their inquiries.

DC Gareth Beaty, Lancaster CID, said: "The taxi driver sustained some bruising around his neck and was lucky not to have been injured more seriously. I would urge anyone with information about this incident to contact police."

• Contact police on 012524 63333.

New Year's Day Rape: Arrest Made

Lancashire Police have arrested a 32-year-old man from Carlisle on suspicion of rape, in connection with an incident in Morecambe on New Year’s Day (where the suspect was wearing ‘pirate’ fancy dress).

The man has been released on police bail until 18th June. Police inquiries are still ongoing.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Women on Wheels ride around the city coast and countryside

wow09_sml.jpgA Women on Wheels (WoW) cycle ride takes place on Sunday 4th April -- and whether you are beginner or a seasoned pro, everyone is welcome. You can even hire a bike if you don’t have your own.

This is a chance to join Lancaster City Council’s cycling team on an 11-mile 'city coast and countryside' ride, an easy bike tour of Lancaster, Morecambe and Hest Bank, which organisers say will mainly avoiding the traffic and use a mixture of cycle tracks, roads and the canal towpath.

The aim of the rides is to encourage women who might not have the confidence they need to cycle on their own, to get out and about with other like minded ladies.

Riders should meet at 11am at the Millennium Bridge, Lancaster.

If you don’t own a bike but would like to loan one for the ride, please contact Lancaster City Council’s Celebrating Cycling team on 01524 582392 or by email at celebratingcycling@lancaster.gov.uk at least a few days in advance of the ride.

• If you are feeling inspired to take part, there's a WoW ride on the first Sunday of every month until December. Following routes included in the Cycling for All Guide, these interesting and relaxing rides are free of charge and suitable for varying levels of ability, so check the website www.celebratingcycling.org/wow or call 01524 582392 for details.

Council's Cabinet discusses Lancaster Market options, new protest planned

Lancaster MarketLancaster City Council's Cabinet met last week to discuss a public report detailing the findings of the Cabinet Working Group set up to consider the future of Lancaster Indoor Market, which has an annual deficit of over £400,000 a year.

They in turn will report to Full Council which will meet this week (Wednesday 31st March, meeting details here), and campaigners again plan to march on Lancaster Town Hall to demonstrate their support to keep the Market open in some form.

Cabinet has been examining the issues surrounding the Market for a number of years, with no less than five reports and a series of recommendations, since January 2008.

In December 2008, Cabinet gave officers “approval to negotiate directly with retailers to try and procure a single retailer for the Market Hall on the basis that the preferred option would be that the current deficit is reduced to zero. Or, as an alternative, to report back to Cabinet should a single retailer be prepared to take up occupation of the Market Hall, on the basis of the Council contributing an amount that is less than the deficit currently being faced by the Council.”

The final report to Cabinet was in February this year and, as a result Cabinet made a series of recommendations to Full Council. After a huge protest against the proposal to close the Market - and controversy surrounding the choice of newcomer supermarket operation ASCO as a retail partner, a recommendation first kept from the public but later confirmed by the company itself - Council voted to set up a Cabinet Working Group, open to all Members of Cabinet, to consider all the options available on the market and the business plan from the market traders.

The group has met four times and the Council says it has "spent many hours listening to information and advice and asking questions, as well as discussing a number of issues and options for reducing the market’s significant cost to taxpayers".

In addition to hearing from the existing market traders, on three occasions, and the National Federation of Market Traders, the working group also gathered evidence from the National Association of British Market Authorities; Cushman and Wakefield (the agents hired by the council following an earlier Cabinet decision to find a retailer for the market); the strategic director of Blackburn with Darwen Council (which itself is undergoing changes regarding its market); Quarterbridge (specialists in the development of retail markets); and the Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce.

As a result three options have been produced for consideration by Full Council this week:

• Single retailer
• Market traders’ proposal
• Refurbishing the existing market

The details of each option have been set out in the public report to Cabinet (PDF link) and will be discussed at Cabinet.

Following the meeting a report will then be prepared for consideration by Full Council at a special meeting on 31st March which will be held at 6.00pm at Lancaster Town Hall.

• In related news, the partner of one of the market traders, Zoe Caldicott, has been so incensed by the controversy surrounding the closure plans that she has complained to Local Government Ombudsman about Lancaster City council's conduct. "This complaint has now been allocated to the relevant department," she reports via the Save Lancaster Market campaign page on Facebook.

"I have also filed a complaint with the Audit Commission (the people who protect the public purse) and the information is now being requested from the council. I am more than confident that the evidence provided will raise more than a few eyebrows." (You can read the full text of her complaint here)

Details of the Council Meeting and associated documents on the City Council web site
Details of the Save Lancaster Market demonstration (Facebook)

Date announced for Skerton West City Council by-election

The date for a by-election to elect a new councillor for the Skerton West ward of Lancaster City Council has been announced.

Voters in the ward will go to the polls on Thursday 6th May - possibly the same day as the General Election.

Anyone who is interested in standing for the vacancy should telephone the elections office on 01524 582905.

The closing date for nominations is 12pm on Thursday 8th April.