Friday, 11 June 2010

The End of the Road: Lancashire County Council Cuts Link

Lancashire County Council (LCC) has finally halted work on the much-maligned Heysham Link Road scheme following a further written warning from the Department for Transport (DfT). The letter outlined the financial risks LCC was taking by persisting with investment in a project for which the new government has withdrawn approval, as it launches its Spending Review.

The Secretary of State's letter to LCC Chief Executive Ged Fitzgerald reiterated, "In view of the likely budgetary constraints, and the consequent likelihood that not all schemes will be able to proceed on their planned timetable, it would be inappropriate for the Department to continue to invest time and resources on development of schemes at the same rate as before.

"Local Authorities will also wish to consider carefully whether investing further time and resources in developing such schemes ahead of the Spending Review is justified. They should not assume that schemes prioritised under the previous Government’s Regional Funding Allocations (RFA) process will be funded to the previous published levels."

The letter also confirmed that the public inquiry into the Compulsory Purchase orders sought by LCC for the scheme, scheduled for 12th October, would be indefinitely postponed, as (he reminded LCC) a key requirement for the scheme, the funding, could not be met.

County Councillor Keith Young, Cabinet member for highways and transport, said of LCC's collision with economic reality: "We are very disappointed to have to make this decision, but we accept that tough choices need to be made in light of the national deficit.

The County Council was warned by the DfT earlier this year of the potential risk to its budget of £1.5 million for external design and preparation work for the £139 million bypass scheme. The Council had just announced the award of the contract to Costain, who must share Coun Young's disappointment.

However Coun Young added, "We've continued work on Heysham Link until now because we know the project would have great benefits for communities and regeneration in the area.

Campaign group delight at bypass halt

Not everyone shares Coun Young's feeling, however. Transport Solutions for Lancaster & Morecambe (TSLM) have resolutely campaigned against 'the monster road' since the scheme was first mooted, and have often compained that they are forced to pay for both sides of every public enquiry as not only do they have to raise funds for the enormous preparation required to present their own anti-bypass case, and campaign but also, as ratepayers, to fund LCC's pro-bypass case, and its promotional campaign, with which they strenuously disagree.

virtual-lancaster reported on 17th May the concerns raised by LCC's continued determination to press on with the preparation of their case, despite warnings from the DfT that the funding position and priorities of all the schemes remain uncertain until Ministers have set out their spending priorities.

Given the state of the deficit it is likely that this position may remain 'uncertain' for some considerable time yet, hence the DfT's notice of its retirement from involvement.

Speaking for TSLM, Chair David Gate told virtual-lancaster, "The writing is on the wall for the £140 million Link. The idea belongs to another era, and Lancashire County Council will now have an uphill task trying to demonstrate that it represents value for money”.

“£140 million for three miles of HGV dual carriageway that doesn’t solve congestion and doesn’t bring jobs can’t be value for money. This scheme is out of line with government policy on transport, on the environment, and on what the country can afford.

"This is a huge blow to the Link plan, from which it may well not recover. It makes complete sense not to waste any more resources or public money on this project."

"We hope that Lancashire County Council will now develop plans for more affordable alternatives to tackle Lancaster and Morecambe transport problems. The Link divided the towns, it would not have brought them together. A great starting point would be the integrated transport proposals prepared for the Council by transport experts Faber Maunsell," said Mr. Gate. “The people of Lancaster & Morecambe would support them on that.”

Greens welcome Bypass halt

In a Green Party Press release Lancaster City councillor John Whitelegg said “This is a savage blow to the bypass and simply reflects what the Green Party has been saying for many years. This road is extremely poor value for money, does not solve congestion problems, does not solve air quality problems, frustrates our attempts to cut greenhouse gases and creates very few jobs”.

“We now have a very important job to do to persuade the government to deliver all the things we really do need in this district," he included, "including rail freight to the port of Heysham, much improved bus services on modern, attractive alternatively fuelled buses and big reductions in children being taken to school by car.”

World Cup Flag Fever at Lancaster Town Hall

town_hall_flagflying100610.jpgLancaster City Council is flying the flag of St. George at both town halls in support of England's World Cup bid in South Africa.

The result of a recent decision to fly the England flag during major sporting events means the flag will be flying high in Lancaster and Morecambe on the days that the England football team will be playing.

The Mayor of Lancaster, Coun Tony Wade, welcomed the decision: "Major events such as this are a great way of bringing local communities together and gives us all the opportunity to show how proud we are of our national teams. 

"Lancaster City Council is keen to be part of the  World Cup celebrations and show its support by flying the flag of St. George from its municipal buildings."

Pictured: Municipal Buildings Attendants Alan Wilson (left) and David Hartley (right) hoist the flag of St. George at Lancaster Town Hall, ahead of England's opening match against the USA.

Cash for Community Groups on offer

Community groups are being invited to apply for grants that enable people to take part in community activities.

The Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership (LDLSP) makes Community Grants of between £250 and £2,000 to voluntary, community and faith groups within the Lancaster District boundary.

The deadline for the next round of grants is 16h July 2010, and projects must be undertaken before March 21st 2011.

Projects which meet one or more of the LSP’s ‘Valuing People’ priorities are welcome to apply. The priorities include improving a sense of belonging in a community, increasing the capacity of the sector, enabling older people to contribute to life in the district, and increasing the number of carers receiving guidance and support.

• For more information and an application form contact the Funding Administrator at Lancaster District CVS on 01524 555900.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Splash out on swimming lessons

Youngsters in the Lancaster and Morecambe district are being offered the opportunity to learn how to swim with a programme of lessons offered by Lancaster City Council.

The holiday season is approaching and learning to swim can help your child to be safe this summer.

Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise you can do to help you stay fit and healthy. The lessons will teach children a wide range of skills to make them feel competent and confident swimmers. As well as the health benefits of learning to swim, there are many safety benefits. Drowning is the third most common cause of accidental death amongst young people under the age of 16 years. On average 60 children lose their lives every year and most drownings take place within just 5m of safety.

Wherever you live in the Lancaster district, there is a swimming lesson programme near you. Sessions are running at Salt Ayre Sports Centre, and the community pools in Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham. The teachers are professional and motivated and lessons follow the ASA National Plan which includes knowledge and awareness of water safety. Courses are available on different days of the week at each of the pools.

The next 10 week course of swimming lessons start on the week commencing Monday 28 June and will run until Saturday 2nd October. There is a four week break from Monday 2 August to Saturday 28 August. Lessons take place between 4pm and 6pm from Monday to Friday and 7.50am to 10.30am on Saturdays.

The charge for each half hour lesson is £3.70 or £37 for a ten week course which must be paid in advance and is non-refundable. Monday courses are a nine week course due to the August Bank Holiday and there is a reduced fee for this course of £33.30.

Lancaster City Council offers various other ‘get wet’ activities for all ages from toddlers to adults. There are adult swimming lessons, aqua aerobics, ladies only sessions, young family sessions and Ducks ‘n’ Ducklings for the tiny tots. These activities are all available through the community pools and at Salt Ayre Sports Centre: please contact your local centre to find out what is available near you.

• For further information please telephone:

Salt Ayre Sports Centre - 01524 847540
Carnforth Pool - 01524 734699
Heysham Pool - 01524 420763
Hornby Pool - 015242 21119

Or alternatively visit the website at www.lancaster.gov.uk

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Morecambe PACT Meeting to spotlight mental health

A special PACT (Police and Communities Together) meeting for those affected by mental health issues is being held at the Harvesters Day Centre, Morecambe later this month.

The Harvesters, in Thornton Road, is a centre run by Making Space that gives those with mental health problems a place where they feel safe, get to meet new friends and ask for advice.

PCSO Natalie Craddock, of Morecambe’s Poulton ward neighbourhood police team, will hold the PACT meeting on June 22 at 2.30pm

Those who use the Harvester, or who have friends or relatives that do, are welcome to attend to discuss any local policing issues that they want to raise.

• For more information about Harvesters Day Centre call 01524 832606


More PACT Meetings


Bolton-le-Sands: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/boltonlesands

Carnforth: http://www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/carnforth

Ellel: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/ellel

Halton: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/halton-with-aughton

Heysham: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/heysham-north/harbour

Kellet: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/kellet

Lancaster
Bulk: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/bulk
Castle: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/castle
Dukes: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/dukes
John O'Gaunt: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/johnogaunt
Scotforth East: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/scotforth-east
Scotforth West: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/scotforth-west

Lancaster University: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/warton-northern-division/lancaster-university

Morecambe
Poulton: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/poulton-in-morecambe

Silverdale: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/silverdale

Slyne with Hest: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/slyne-with-hest

Skerton
Skerton East: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/skerton-east
Skerton West: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/skerton-west
The Vale: http://www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/skerton-east/the-vale

Upper Lune Valley: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/upperlunevalley

Warton: www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/warton-northern-division

Wyre:www.lancashire.police.uk/neighbourhood/over-wyre

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Council prepares for major cuts to services

Hot on the heels of Prime Minister David Cameron's warnings yesterday about major cuts in public services - and a call for voters to make their views known as to what services should, or should not be protected - Lancaster City Council has issued its Corporate Plan, drawn up to identify its core priorities.

Potentially all service areas - including frontline services such as waste management, environmental health, public transport, and environmental enforcement - could be affected by impending funding cutbacks, although it is too early to say when the axe will fall.

Back in March, the Council assumed a 3% (around £500,000) year-on-year reduction in its basic funding from Government, but retained a maximum target increase for Council Tax of 3.75%. This meant that the Council needed to save a little under £800K for 2011/12 and £1.3M for the year after, and some progress is being made on this.

Since then, the new Government has announced it will make immediate savings of £6.2billion with a budget due on 22nd June, but has not yet set out by how much it will reduce grants to local authorities. Because well over 60% of the city council’s net revenue budget currently comes from Government grants - and further government backed funding has helped to support many regeneration and community based schemes - it's a certainty further expenditure reductions will need to be made in the coming months.

The Government has also indicated that it wishes to see councils freeze council tax in the next financial year. Given that for every 1% increase in council tax the Council receives around £85,000, a freeze would have further serious effects on its budget, unless Government provided extra funding to cover this.

In response, the Council's corporate plan for the next three years sets out the council’s priorities and how it will deliver them in the context of the current financial situation, identifying its major role in economic regeneration – supporting the local economy - climate change, statutory services and partnership working and community leadership.

Introducing the plan, Council leader Stuart Langhorn warns that the Council now expects to have to find a further £1.25 million in savings over the next two years, which will mean further cuts in services and facilities, possible staff cuts and, perhaps, the privatisation of some services is also possible.

The Council's priorities will be reviewed in the light of legislative changes and/or changes to revenue and other support from Government or other agencies.

Projects it specifically states support for in terms of employment include the creation of the Lancaster Science Park, support for the nuclear power industry and new renewable energy services, and a renewed emphasis on developing Morecambe as a tourist destination.

Lancaster Market is also identified as a 'project' to be developed, which is good news after all the uncertainty over its future in recent months.

However, while the Council clearly remains committed to promoting the area's heritage and culture, there is no specific mention of support for organisations such as The Dukes and Lancaster Literature Festival in the 12-page plan, or any of the area's museums.

As widely reported, the Government is now consulting all taxpayers on what services it thinks should be kept safe from cuts, and which ones could be sold off or cut to reduce the nation's budget deficit.

“As with all public bodies Lancaster City Council faces a number of enormous challenges with the very real prospect of a reduction in the money we receive from the Government to help run our services," warns Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of the Council.

“Given this context, the corporate plan focuses on those areas which we believe that are of the greatest benefit to the community. Our challenge now is to ensure that the council is structured in the right way to deliver these priorities, whilst responding to the financial difficulties ahead.

“While much has already been done to achieve this aim, we must and will go further to ensure we continue to provide good value for money services to our communities.

“Striving to be more efficient has already meant some tough decisions and a reluctant acceptance that the city council simply can’t do everything that it currently does.

While there have not been any compulsory redundancies at the Council - and it is too early to say if there will be in the future - the council is sure to be considering this option, given announced staff cutbacks from other councils. At present, though, the Council says its intention is to maintain so far as possible its stated intent of no compulsory redundancy and will attempt to lessen the impact on its employees where possible through means such as voluntary redundancy and redeployment. There have been a number of staff departures in recent months.

A reduction in the size of the organisation could also be achieved by not replacing staff when they leave the organisation. As an interim measure the Council has decided that from now on jobs will only be recruited to on a temporary, rather than permanent, basis other than in exceptional circumstances.

“We fully appreciate that some of the decisions we have taken, and will continue to take in the coming months and years, may be controversial and disappointing to those who have previously benefited from those services which have been affected," adds Coun Langhorn.

“These decisions are not taken lightly, but they are necessary given the financial circumstances in which the council, and the country, currently finds itself.”

• View the 2010 - 2013 corporate plan on the council’s website at www.lancaster.gov.uk/corporateplan

• The Council's 2009 Annual Report gives an overview of the council and the district it serves as well as a snapshot of some of the Council's achievements and initiatives during the year 2008/09. It's worth reading this as well as the Corporate Plan, as it shows how the Council performed against the targets set nationally for its services and the goals it set itself and provides information on the key priorities for the coming year (outlined in the Corporate Plan)

Green councillor accused of Lancaster Market 'leaks'

When Lancaster City Council's Standards Committee meets later this month, Councillor Jon Barry is to be taken to task for talking to the local press about the fate of Lancaster Market.

Council rules allow it to publish a summary of the complaint for public consumption - and, in many cases, name the Councillor involved (unless the Assessment Sub-Committee has concluded that such disclosure is not in the public interest or would prejudice any investigation).

The complaint brought against Cabinet member Coun Barry concerns his naming the now-wound up company, ASCO, as the single retailer approached by Lancaster City Council to take over the lease of the Market building, in a Green Party press release issued on 2nd March (see: "Greens push for revamped, smaller Market").

The full text of the complaint notes: "The complainant alleged that in a comment on the Virtual Lancaster website on the 2nd March 2010, Councillor Barry identified the company being considered by the Council as a potential single trader tenant for Lancaster Market, thus disclosing confidential information in breach of paragraph 4 of the Code of Conduct."

Coun Barry was, in fact, far from the first person associated with the Council to identify ASCO as a potential partner. virtual-lancaster was already aware of the name of the now wound-up retailer, after a senior member of council staff mentioned the name during a meeting with Market traders on 22nd February.

In addition, the Lancaster Guardian reported that ASCO was 'believed' to be the preferred partner in a web story on 28 February, subsequently published in its print edition.

On 3rd March, one day after virtual-lancaster published the Green councillor's comments, the Morecambe Visitor reported in its print edition that ASCO had been approached. This information was also published as a news story posted online on 2nd March.

ASCO themselves must have helped with that story, which would have been in preparation at least two days previously to meet print deadlines. They even kindly supplied a visual of how the revamped market building might have looked, featured on the paper's front page.

It seems then, that it is entirely permissible for a commercial parter of the City Council to release confidential information; and for a council staff member to identify that partner; but even though the contested information had clearly been in the public domain for two weeks, a democratically elected Councillor was not allowed to mention the company's name.

virtual-lancaster challenged the Council in our report and by direct emails to confirm or deny that ASCO was the preferred partner in a news story dated 25th February but we were met with stony silence. No-one from the Council has addressed the concerns we raised in our report about the manner in which Asco won Council preferment as a potential partner. (See "Bending Lancaster City Council to its will: The ASCO File")

Indeed, it would appear that on every occasion in which the Market has been on the council agenda since 2008, press and public have been excluded and reports and even minutes restricted from public scrutiny.

Market trader Peter Corke told virtual-lancaster on 28th February in on the record email correspondence that Heather McManus, the City Council's Director of Regeneration, revealed the name of ASCO at a meeting between her, Council leader Stuart Langhorn, some Cabinet members, council staff and market traders.

"What she said was 'ASCO had been receiving threatening phone calls'," he told us. "This was the only time at the meeting with other Traders that any of the council officers or councillors actually mentioned ASCO by name."

Other market traders have confirmed separately that McManus clearly identified ASCO.

That mention was enough for traders to quickly scour the Internet and learn about ASCO's awkward trading history and the controversial business practices of its former Managing Director Ted Ward, subsequently also reported by virtual-lancaster (See: "Who are ASCO and who backs it?"), and prompt concern and public discussion about just who the Council was considering doing business with. (Former council Conservative leader Roger Mace asked market trader Chris Green, of M Green and Son, for information found on ASCO after the meeting).

It is quite clear that even before the Morecambe Visitor story, and the Green Party press release, ASCO's involvement in the proposed change of use of the Market building was public knowledge.

Bizarrely, when an official complaint is made against a Councillor and taken up by the Council's standards Committee, that councillor is not allowed to defend themselves or make public comments on complaints, until the complaint is resolved. However, in issuing summaries of complaints, the Council does points out that that the fact that a complaint has been referred for investigation should not be taken in any way to imply that there has been a breach of the Code of Conduct.

(Complaints against Councillors are often rejected and indeed, one made against Coun John Whitelegg, also cited in summaries of the meeting's agenda points, has recently been rejected, although it would appear from the public summary that it has taken over a year for the complaints procedure to run its course).

The name of the complainant against Coun Barry has not been identified in the publicly available summary provided by the City Council to local press.

virtual-lancaster considers the complaint against Jon Barry spurious, and a further attempt to deflect criticism from both staff and councillors who lent their support to the ASCO proposal that provoked a storm of protest. Surely it is now time for a much more wide-ranging inquiry into this whole matter: and yet both the Audit Commission and the Council's own commercial auditors KPMG have rejected such suggestions.

"Obviously every trader in the market was overjoyed in hearing that their businesses were secure for another four years," says market trader Chris Green of the Full Council's rejection of the ASCO plan back in March. "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."

Standards Committee meets on Thursday 17th June at 10.00am at Lancaster Town Hall. Separate complaints against Councillors Dennison, Marsland, Burns, Ashworth, Wade and Kerr and Keith Sowden will also be considered.

Update: by Satori

On Tuesday 15 June, responding to a question from Virtual-Lancaster as to whether disciplinary procedures similar to those being applied to Cllr Barry were being considered against Corporate Director Heather McManus, Lancaster City Council issued the following unattributed statement:

"At the meeting on February 22 it was clear that traders already believed they knew the identity of the single trader and it was they that raised the name of the company. The traders were told at the meeting that the name of the trader could not be confirmed or denied and any mention by a council officer of the company name was made in this context.

"At no time has any council officer revealed details of the exempt information which was provided to Cabinet or Council, either during a meeting or an informal discussion. Any suggestion to the contrary is both incorrect and defamatory and this allegation should be immediately removed."

Following that meeting subsequent issues of all the local press rushed to publish confident reports on the planned deal with Asco, as detailed above, and Asco, presumably believing it was no longer bound to confidentiality, then itself released confirmatory details to the Morecambe Visitor.

McGuinness denied in TT Superbike race

JohnMcGuinness030610.jpg

Morecambe's John McGuinness was denied a potential 16th Isle of Man TT win on Saturday when he was forced to retire on the opening lap of the 6-lap Superbike race. The HM Plant Honda rider, second fastest in practice, had set a ferocious pace in the first few miles to lead on corrected time but his race was soon over, mechanical problems forcing him out on the Sulby Straight, half way round the Mountain Course.

It was a long wait for McGuinness as heavy sea mist in Douglas delayed the start from its original start time of 12.00pm until 3.30pm but when the race did finally get underway, John put in his usual charge over the first 9 miles to lead the field as they swept through Glen Helen on the first lap. However, it was very close and the first official timing point had John just 0.08 seconds clear of local hero Conor Cummins -- so it was very much 'game on'.

However, as the riders passed through the speed trap in Sulby, it was clear all wasn't well as John was only timed at 136mph, some 50mph down on the speeds he'd be normally reaching. Sure enough, news soon came through that he had retired on the Sulby Straight and his race was over before it had even begun.

Speaking later, a hugely disappointed John said: "I'm absolutely gutted, there's no other word to use. I rode absolutely flat out for that first half of the lap and the bike was flying but as I got to Ballaugh, it started to lose all its power and that was that.

"It looks like it was the crank sensor and whilst I was able to ride the bike back to the pits, I could only rev the bike up to 6000-7000rpm as it just died if I revved the bike anything higher than that. I rode those first few miles to Glen Helen faster than I've ever gone before and, to be fair, I don't think I could do it any faster, but it was going to be a hell of a race so for it to be over before it had barely started was very disappointing. That's the TT for you though."

John was back out on the track yesterday (Monday) on the Padgetts Honda's, competing in the Superstock and Supersport races, both being held over four laps.

Pictured: John McGuinness wheelies the HM Plant Honda at the end of the Cronk y Voddy straight as he posted the first 130mph lap of the 2010 Isle of Man TT during this evening's practice session. Picture by Stephen Davison - Pacemaker Press International.

Monday, 7 June 2010

World Cup: Locals travelling to South Africa offered health advice

With many local football fans preparing not just to sit and watch the World Cup live on new big screen TVs but watch it as a spectator at the event itself, the Health Protection Agency is alerting England football fans to the dangers of unprotected sex in South Africa, where 20% of people aged 15 to 49 are HIV positive.

The warning is being issued along with general travel advice for fans who are still preparing to make the trip to watch England or indeed other countries in the final stages of the World Cup competition.

“Following safe sex advice is essential when at home and abroad, but its importance is highlighted when travelling to areas where infection rates are higher than in the UK," said Dr. Valerie Delpech, head of the HIV section at the HPA. “We know that the group most at risk of infection with HIV in developing countries, including South Africa, are women, who may be involved in the sex industry, forcibly or otherwise.

"Ensuring you always practise safe sex, by using a condom, will significantly reduce the risk of contracting HIV or another sexually transmitted infection while in South Africa.”

The "Safe Sex" message comes as the HPA also warn of other infectious diseases travellers should be aware of, such as a flu-like illness called Rift Valley Fever, which is transmitted by mosquito bites, which has have been reported in South Africa. The risk of travellers catching this infection is low, but measures should still be taken to avoid being bitten.

Malaria is not believed to be a risk to travellers to the host cities, but travellers intending to combine their trip with a safari, or with a visit to malaria-risk regions in South Africa or other African countries, need to take appropriate malaria prevention measures before and during their travel. The advice is, consult your GP before travelling.

Rabies is also a risk so it is a good idea for travellers to avoid contact with animals and to ensure that, if they get bitten, licked or scratched by an animal, they seek medical assistance as soon as possible.

“It’s important for people going to the World Cup to discuss their particular travel requirements with their GP or travel clinic to ensure they are adequately protected,' urges Dr. Jane Jones, head of the HPA’s travel and migrant health section, "including being up-to-date with routine vaccinations, as well as any additional vaccinations that may be appropriate. It’s also important to take out adequate travel health insurance.”

Dr. Jones added: “The most commonly reported travel associated infection is diarrhoea and travellers to South Africa should therefore be mindful of food hygiene and to ensure that caution is exercised when choosing where and what to eat.

“The easiest way to protect yourself from stomach bugs is to wash your hands before eating and after going to the toilet and to remember the phrase ‘boil it, cook it, peel it or forget it’. Just a little thought and some sensible practices could avoid any unpleasant illnesses that could ruin your World cup experience.”

Walk your way to a healthy lifestyle

walkers_on_beach.jpgIf you're looking to improve your health, meet new people and enjoy the best scenery our district has to offer, then you might want to join the area's new Health Walk Group.

Lancaster City Council’s Active Health Team is starting a walking club for people who want to improve their health by joining in with some gentle exercise.

Every Wednesday the group will meet at the Battery on Morecambe promenade and spend around half an hour walking. The group is open to all and is free to join and all you need to bring are comfortable shoes and clothing.

Walking is good for your heart and lungs and improves cardiovascular fitness (and in Lancaster, sometimes it's a much quicker way to get to work than getting into your car...)

Most of the 'work' of walking is done by the muscles of the lower body, and it’s a weight-bearing activity, so it can help improve bone density. At the same time it's low impact so it won’t strain your joints.

Walking will also increase your muscle tone, boost metabolism, ease stress, raise energy levels and improve sleep, which combined can also help you lose weight. Regular walking can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis and arthritis -- and can help you to deal with anxiety and stress, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

Lancaster City Council’s Active Health team operates a referral scheme for NHS patients who have any risk factors for coronary heart disease. Residents who meet the scheme's criteria are referred to the team by their GP or practice nurse, and a 12-week individually-tailored programme of physical activities is then developed.

• For more information on the Health Walk Group or to speak to the Active Health Team, please contact 01524 582607 or visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/activehealthteam

• There are plenty of other walking activities in the area, too. The Ramblers Association has regular walking events - see our events guide for details - and local newspaper the Lancaster Guardian has a regular walk feature, written by Graham Dugdale

Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band to play at the Platform

Acker Bilk


World famous clarinet player Acker Bilk will be performing with his Paramount Jazz Band at the Platform in Morecambe on Friday 18 June.

Acker Bilk - a regular guest at the top Morecambe venue - gained worldwide fame with hit singles ‘Stranger On the Shore’ in 1962 (which stayed in the charts for 55 weeks and was the first number one hit in the UK and USA simultaneously) and ‘Aria’ in 1976.

Since then, Acker and his Paramount Jazz Band have firmly established themselves as one of the most successful and best loved British jazz bands of all time.

In 2001 Acker received an MBE for his services to the music industry and in 2005 gained a BBC Jazz Award for his unique contribution to jazz in the UK. Recent collaborations include concerts and albums with the late Humphrey Lyttelton, Chris Barber and Van Morrison, also the very successful ‘3Bs in Concert’ – a combination of Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball and Chris Barber and their bands.

In recent years Acker Bilk has integrated the cream of the UK's current jazz talent into the band with the introduction of Enrico Tomasso (trumpet), Ian Bateman (trombone) and John Day (bass) to the line-up. The band has a new vitality which is guaranteed to make the concert go with a swing!

• The show will start at 7.30pm and tickets cost £15, from the Box Office on 01524 582803 or from Morecambe or Lancaster Visitor Information Centres.

Food Safety Week: Tips to avoid food poisioning

To mark the start of Food Safety Week (7 - 13 June), Lancaster City Council’s Public Health and Safety Team is reminding people in the Lancaster District about the importance of good food hygiene in the home.

Food hygiene is particularly important during the summer months, when levels of food poisoning soar. There are around 120,000 extra cases of illness recorded across the UK when the weather is at its warmest.

“Every year around in excess of 400 people in the Morecambe and Lancaster district get ill from food poisoning," notes Steve Mann, the Council's Public Health and Safety Manager. "We expect to see the number of cases increasing as the weather gets warmer and barbeques and eating outside become more frequent.

“To help people learn more about this and the simple things they can do to keep themselves and their families safe, members of the Public Health and Safety Team will be available to speak to for help and advice at supermarkets within the district during 7 -11 of June.

“People should not worry unduly about food poisoning; there are some simple common sense steps people can take to avoid getting ill," he added. "Just storing, handling and cooking food properly will minimise the risk.”

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises that following simple principles will help people to keep food safe.

“Proper cooking will kill food bugs," advises Bob Martin, a food safety expert at the FSA. "It's especially important to make sure poultry, pork, burgers and sausages are cooked all the way through. If there's any pink meat or the juices have any pink or red in them, germs could be lurking!  Check your food is steaming hot all the way through before serving.

“Avoiding cross-contamination is also extremely important, that is preventing bacteria from spreading between foods and from contaminated surfaces or utensils.  Make sure you store raw meat covered and at the bottom of the fridge, below and away from ready-to-eat food.

"Never use the same chopping board for raw meat and ready-to-eat foods without washing the board and knife thoroughly first.”


The FSA also highlights that clean hands in the kitchen are vital in the fight against food poisoning; while food must also be kept at the right temperature. Food that needs to be chilled should be kept in the fridge and check that it’s running at the right temperature - between 0°C and 5°C.  Storage above this range can allow bacteria to grow or harmful toxins to form.  Also, on a picnic, don't take food out of the fridge until the last minute and use a cool bag to keep it chilled until ready to eat.

• For more advice on food safety go to eatwell.gov.uk/keepingfoodsafe