Saturday, 26 March 2011

Local MP backs Tory bid to criminalize Squatters

(updated 27/3/11) After our recent coverage of how housing benefit changes will effectively impoverish some of Britain's most vulnerable when changes come into force by the end of 2011, you might be thinking that some will simply turn to squatting rather than pay rent they can't afford.

It seems some Tories have realized that too, because radical campaign site SchNews now reports that the criminalisation of squatting is on the cards.

An Early Day Motion tabled by Tory MP for Hove Mike Weatherley has attracted only 23 signatures so far, but enough for Weatherley to declare on his web site that 'his' anti-squatting campaign is "close to victory".

One of the signees is Morecambe MP David Morris, whose constituency includes a huge number of vacant properties.

Changes to the law, which would effectively criminalise trespass, have been on the horizon since the Tories came into power - rumour has it the whole thing emerged as part of ongoing attempts to clear travellers' sites.

The recent high-profile protest squats of multi-million pound properties in London have surely added a sense of urgency for the government.

Now, government press releases say changes will be made in the 'new year'. (Coincidentally, of course, just when the housing benefit changes really begin to bite).

Defending the right to squat will mean housing campaigners will have to face the ideologically driven campaign of misinformation coming from the
government and happily relayed by the media head on.

Housimg Minister Grant Shapps seems unmoved by concerns for human rights when it comes to squatters. "There's never been such a thing as squatters' rights," he says, "they are just a misreading of the laws that are actually designed to protect the home owner."

We suspect both local and national housing campaign groups may well beg to differ.

Mr Morris has yet to respond to a letter challenging him on changes to housing benefits.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Local Labour activists launch Save Sure Start petition

Local Labour Party councillors and prospective council candidates have launched a petition against the possible closure of Sure Start Centres in Morecambe.

The campaign comes as the Government and Lancashire County Council, both Tory-led, are making cuts to services across the North-West with threats that Sure Start Centres may lose funding.

The council at County Hall are still yet to announce where the cuts will hit. However, the local Labour team has decided to get as much support for Sure Start Children’s Centres as possible in an attempt to stop any closures.

Ian Pattison, prospective Labour candidate for Harbour Ward, launched the campaign with the support of Councillors Janice Hanson and Ron Sands, along with Margaret Pattison, Vikki Price and David Whitaker, who are both also prospective Labour candidates in the City Council elections.

“Over 3,500 Sure Start and Children’s Centres were opened by the previous Labour Government across the UK," notes Mr Pattison, "services that are vitally needed in towns such as Morecambe.

“This Tory-led Government is ruthlessly, carelessly and without thought removing essential services from our town," he continues, "and it will be a tragedy if our Sure Start Centres are hit.

"Removing this funding will significantly affect the availability of good quality childcare in the least well-off areas, reducing the ability of parents, including single parents, to find employment.”

The Labour team added: “We will continue to petition and fight to save these much-needed services for the people of Morecambe.”

Government increases money for pothole repairs

Lancashire is to benefit from the doubling of funding available for repairing potholes - which should come as welcome news to local drivers.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond has written to all English local highway authorities to inform them of their share of £200m after the funding increase was announced as part of the Budget earlier in the week.

Last month, the Department for Transport announced that it was making available £100m as an exceptional payment to help with much needed road repairs following the severe weather at the end of last year. This extra funding was made possible because of savings the Department made earlier in the financial year.

However, further savings have now been identified and so more money has been made available for this vital programme - and, hopefully, good news for the local area as local drivers have been telling virtual-lancaster some roads are in terrible condition.

"Caton Road is falling into the ground," says local architect Martyn Dews via Twitter. "It's in really bad condition."

"I think if I used my fillthathole app on my iPhone I'd ran out of battery juice with all the photos and uploads," another driver complained. "It may sadly come down to someone suing them for injury or loss [to get something done]."

In total, Lancashire will receive £3,792,323 for pothole repairs and Cumbria receive £6,229, 592. Overall, some £23,831,581 has been allocated to the North West for the repairs.

“Potholes are a menace to all road users and I want councils to make fixing them a priority," agrees Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

“That is why, when more funding became available, I agreed with the Chancellor that we would double the amount of money we are providing for repairs to be carried out.

“This represents a significant investment in road maintenance at a time of severe fiscal restraint, demonstrating the Government’s commitment to maintain our infrastructure to support motorists and businesses.”

The funding is in addition to the £831 million already provided to councils for road maintenance this year and the £3 billion the Government has committed over the next four years.

The funds will be automatically distributed to English local authorities according to the formula used to distribute road maintenance funding rather than councils needing to apply for it. To promote greater transparency and accountability, all local highway authorities have agreed to publish information on their website by 30 September 2011 showing where this extra money has been spent.

The government says the extra funding is being provided on an exceptional basis, because of last winter's bad weather. "It remains the responsibility of local councils to plan and manage their road maintenance programmes throughout the year, including appropriate winter resilience measures."

• Department for Transport Website: www.dft.gov.uk Public Enquiries: 0300 330 3000

Teenager assaulted at Lancaster takeaway

Have you seen or do you
know this man?
Police are appealing for witnesses after a teenager was assaulted at a takeaway in Lancaster earlier in the year.

Around 3.40am on Sunday 27th January 2011, a 19-year-old man from the town was repeatedly punched in the face and body as he was waiting to order food at Iky’s on St Leonards Gate.

A Lancashire Constabulary spokesperson said: “This was a nasty and unprovoked assault and anybody who was in the takeaway at the time of the assault is asked to contact police.

“Police would also like to speak with a man who was captured on CCTV inside the takeaway at the time of the incident.

Have you seen or do you
know this man?
"Anybody who recognises him is asked to come forward.”

• Anybody with any information is asked to contact police on 08451 25 35 45 or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

3Cs challenge issued to would be 'adventurers'

Lancashire Clubs for Young People is once again organising its popular 3C's Challenge - encompassing Caving, Climbing and Cycling - which will raise money to provide activities to underprivilaged young people across the local area.

The 3C's Challenge is a different kind of sponsored challenge for 'wannabe' adventurers, with a day full of Caving, Climbing and Cycling challenges. No previous experience is required other than to be reasonably fit and to be up for a challenge!

The 3C's Challenge will take place on Friday 20th May 2011 from between 9.00am to approximately 5.00pm. Teams of four persons £125 minimum sponsorship per person (£500 per team) are invited to enter, although if individuals are interested they can be partnered with others.

"This is an excellent opportunity to support a local charity working on local issues," say the organisers, who also tel us only limited places are available, so early booking is advised.

LACYP was formed in 1934 as the Lancashire Association of Boys' Clubs but is now known as the Lancashire Association of Clubs for Young People, working through personal contact with 40 affiliated clubs throughout Lancashire, who have over 11,000 members aged between 8 and 21 years Its aim is to assist and support these in providing a safe and exciting place for young people in which they can participate in a range of organised activities and develop through positive experiences, make new friends, learn about themselves and realise their potential as responsible citizens of the community.

• All technical equipment and instruction will be provided. For an application form, please contact Stephen Maxwell on 01524 65106. or by e-mail on stephenmaxwellATlacyp.org.uk. Web: www.lacyp.org.uk

Take Taekwondo at Trinity

A fun Taekwondo class, suitable for beginners and experienced martial artists begins at the Trinity Community Centre in Lancaster next week.

Taekwondo is a South Korean martial art with an emphasis on the kicks which you'll see at the Olympics next year. Lessons include fitness work and stretches whilst teaching you the blocks, strikes and kicks you'll need. 

"Students can come to just have fun and learn or take exams and work all the way up to black belt," say teachers Becky and Alex, who are both black belts in the martial art.


The lessons are suitable for kids 8 years old and up and adults of different fitness standards.

• Taekwondo Classes begin on Monday 28th March at the Trinity Community Centre, Middle Street, Lancaster on Tuesdays 5:30-7pm.  Each lesson costs £2.50 and you can pay as you go. More info at: www.ellisonstkd.co.uk

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Don’t let registration myths mean you miss your chance to vote

Lancaster City Council is warning people that believing urban myths about electoral registration could mean missing out on the chance to vote in the local elections taking place on 5th May.

There are many myths and misconceptions surrounding registration, but it is important to know the real rights and wrongs behind the process.

  • Paying council tax does not get you on the register of electors.
  • If you are not registered you may find it difficult to open a bank account and it may affect your credit rating, as the register of electors is often used to verify a person’s existence and for credit referencing purposes to counteract fraud.
  • Students can lawfully register at both their term time address and another address they are resident at outside of term time.
  • Commercial companies do not have automatic access to your details.  Since 2002 there have been two versions of the register – the full and the edited. You are able to opt out of the edited version simply by ticking a box on the form that you receive annually, or on a rolling registration form.  The edited version is available for general sale and can be used for any purpose.

The last day for registering to vote in this year’s local government elections, and the referendum on the Alternative Vote, is 14th April 2011.

Canvass forms were delivered between August and November last year, so if you filled one in you should still be registered and do not need to do so again unless you have since moved home.

• More information and registration forms can be obtained either via www.aboutmyvote.co.uk or directly from Lancaster City Council by contacting the elections office on 01524 582905.

Bypass goes back to planning despite government funding green light

This week's Lancaster Guardian reports that the proposed M6 Link to Heysham is to be re-submitted for planning approval - despite confirmation of much of the funding for the project from the government in yesterday's budget (see news story).

This week's paper leads with news of the setback, which reports the scheme, which was revised to bring costs down, will now have to be submitted to the new Infrastructure Planning Commission which now deals with "nationally significant" projects.

Even if the project is approved after this new planning process, work on building the controversial link road would not begin until the Spring or Summer of 2013 - by which time the costs already agreed will be higher simply because of rising costs such as inflation and increased costs of land purchase.

Campaigners arguing for alternatives to road building have already questioned the wisdom of the County Council being exposed to 'open ended costs' on the project. The government yesterday committed to £110.9 million in funding, but the County still has to find over £12 million to fund the full, estimated £123 million cost of the scheme.

Back in January, Green Party County Councillors voiced serious concerns about the way that Lancashire County Council is proceeding with Link Road, arguing proposed cost cutting measures had changed the approved scheme to such an extent that it could go to yet another costly public inquiry to gain approval.

Although the County Council was then refusing to release details of its plans, even to its own councillors, in its "Best and Final Bid" for funding, submitted to the government in January, it proposed that it could reduce the then estimated £137 million cost of the road by £8 million in various ways, including raising Shefferlands roundabout at the north end of the new Lune Bridge by around 13 metres to reduce the amount of excavation here and in the cuttings between the roundabout and the A6. 

Other cost cutting measures revealed included deleting lighting from sections of route between junctions, even though County said at the last public inquiry that lighting would be installed for safety reasons; adjustments to southbound slip road at Junction 34 of the M6, saving £2 million; and reduction in site supervision cost estimates from £6.23 million in 2007 to £1.5 million. Such action could potentially, of course, result in a truly worrying reduction that could be paid for in the lives of construction workers.

Although not linked to any specific plans, the County Council argues the Link Road will facilitate, encourage and ease industrial and commercial regeneration of Heysham, Morecambe and the surrounding areas. In addition, it claims the road will ease the current and restrictive traffic congestion experienced in central Lancaster, freeing capacity for alternative greener transport options.

But in its Final Funding bid, the Council admits that while major businesses in the areas that will benefit from the scheme have been approached with a view to securing contributions to its construction, none have been secured to date.

Despite this, there is widespread support for the scheme including both Conservative MPs and within the widespread business community. The MPs, local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce have been actively lobbying in support of the project. Seven out of the ten local County Councillors (both Labour and Conservative) wrote to the Prime Minister in support of the scheme.

Responding to the government's backing for the project yesterday, the County Council claims it will create some 3000 jobs in the local area during the construction phase.

Tim Ashton, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "The idea for a major road link from the port of Heysham dates back half a century and I'm very proud that we're finally going to deliver it.

"The Heysham-M6 link will generate thousands of jobs during construction alone, promote ongoing economic growth in the region and reduce traffic congestion in Lancaster city centre."

• The Lancaster Guardian's full report on the planning delay, which includes comments from the Chamber of Commerce and campaigners against the scheme, is not yet online. An image of the proposed changes to the scheme published in the newspaper does not yet appear to be on the County Council web site

Lancashire County Council Heysham to M6 Link Road Page 

Best and Final Funding Bid for M6 Link (County Council document, PDF)

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe has published many alternatives to the road scheme which could be introduced at a fraction of the cost of a new road

• Infrastructure Planning Commission: http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Budget confirmation for funding of M6 Link for Heysham

The Chancellor George Osborne today announced his Budget, with plans to reform the nation's economy and, he claims, steps to help families with the cost of living.

He also confirmed of funding for the hugely controversial link road between the M6 and Heysham.

The Budget confirms that the Government will stick to its plan to reduce the deficit and sets out a new model of economic growth, based on investment, manufacturing and exports, which they claim will see prosperity "shared across all regions and across all sectors".

Specific measures announced in today's budget to support growth in the North West include:
  • A 1 per cent cut in corporation tax from April 2011 to 26 per cent, falling to 23 per cent by 2014, with an increase in the bank levy from January 2012 to offset the benefit to banks.
  • The introduction of 21 new Enterprise Zones based on Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) areas, to encourage new investment in areas with untapped growth potential. The Budget confirms that two of the first Enterprise Zones will be located in the North West, led by the Greater Manchester and Liverpool City Region LEPs. 
  • £100m additional funding in 2011-12 for science investment projects, including £10m for the Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus in Cheshire.
  • Improved access to finance for SMEs through major reform of the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) and Venture Capital Trust schemes, providing more generous tax breaks and ensuring that more companies are eligible for support.
  • Extension of the current small business rate relief (SBRR) holiday. Eligible businesses occupying properties with rateable values of up to £6,000 will pay no business rates for one year from 1 October 2011 and those with rateable values of up to £12,000 will receive significant reductions. 67% of properties in the North West have a rateable value of up to £12,000 and could benefit from this measure.
The Chancellor also announced measures he claimed would help people this year and make the tax and benefit system fair and sustainable, including:

  • Increasing the personal allowance by £630 in April 2012 to £8,105. 2.68 million North West taxpayers will gain by £48 a year in 2012-13, and 28,000 will be taken out of tax altogether.
  • Funding for an additional 80,000 new work experience places for unemployed young people, ensuring that up to 100,000 places will be available over the next two years. An estimated 12,800 young people in the North West could benefit.
  • National roll-out of the New Enterprise Allowance (NEA) to support up to 40,000 unemployed people to start their own business. An estimated 4,600 unemployed people in the North West could benefit from the NEA.

Capital Investment projects confirmed in the Budget include

  • Thornton to Switch Island Link - £14.5m for a new single carriageway road which will take traffic away from communities in Sefton; and Heysham to M6 Link Road - £110.9m for a bypass to the north of Lancaster, connecting Heysham to the M6
  • £900m of rail electrification projects on railway lines between Liverpool, Manchester, Preston and Blackpool. This will be completed by 2018.
  • The Ordsall Chord - £85 million of investment which will link Manchester Victoria and Manchester Piccadilly stations, supporting significant reductions in journey times between Leeds and Liverpool.
"Today's Budget sets out measures that will support strong and sustainable private sector growth, reform the economy and tax system and help people in the North West to make ends meet in these difficult times," claimed Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander. "It takes affordable action to reduce fuel prices while raising the threshold at which people start paying tax, taking a further 260,000 people out of income tax altogether and reducing the tax paid by 25 million people by an average of £48".

Commenting on the Ordsall Chord project, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond says the Government’s investment in this £85m scheme is "great news for rail passengers on both sides of the Pennines and shows the Government’s commitment to investing in our existing railways, while also planning a new high speed network.

“This new stretch of track will enable Trans Pennine trains from Leeds, York, Hull, Middlesbrough and Newcastle to use Manchester Victoria and continue on to Liverpool as well as Manchester Airport. This will cut average journey times between Leeds and Manchester by 15 minutes and between Leeds and Liverpool by around 35 minutes.

“In addition, this scheme will allow a 50% increase in trains between Leeds and Manchester via Huddersfield and release much needed platform capacity at Manchester Piccadilly. The scheme is expected to be complete by the end of 2016.”

Adults warned about risks of buying alcohol for children

Adults are being warned about the risks of buying alcohol for underage children after a local man was given an £80 fine for buying booze for teens.
The 20 year-old man was given the fine after police were alerted to the fact that he had passed vodka, wine and beer on to a group of youngsters after making a purchase in Halton.

PCSO Annette Hoover, Halton neighbourhood police team, said: “Buying alcohol for children is dangerous in that it makes the youngsters susceptible to harm when they become drunk. It also adds to the alcohol-fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour in an area.

“Aside from these obvious dangers, there is also the risk that you will get an £80 fine, and you can face a criminal conviction," she added. "Adults should be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to preventing underage children from getting access to alcohol.”

Local Poets to launch new gathering

Poet Ron Scowcroft
Ron Scowcroft. Photo: John Freeman
The first of a new twice-a-year series of quality readings by local poets will take place on Thursday 14th April at The Storey Auditorium in Lancaster.

April Poets will feature Jim Turner, taking his bearings from the landscape; Ian Seed, the editor of the webzine Shadowtrain, reading from his new collection Shifting Registers; plus Rebecca BilkauRon Scowcroft and  Jane Routh (reading from her new collection The Gift of Boats.

The evening will also feature music from Kim and Liz on trumpet and keyboards and there  will be a limited number of floor spots, first come first serve.

• April Poets: Thursday 14th April, 7.30pm, The Storey Auditorium, the Storey Creative Industries Centre, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster. Entrance Fee: £4 or £2 (unwaged)

Monday, 21 March 2011

Mayor of Lancaster to hold charity race night

Charity is tipped to be the winner at a special event on 1st April to raise lifesaving funds for the stroke unit at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, hosted by the Mayor of Lancaster, Coun Tony Wade

A charity dinner and race night will start at 7.00pm with a reception in the mayor’s parlour at Lancaster Town Hall, followed by dinner and a race night.

• Tickets cost £18.50 and are available from the mayor’s office by telephoning 01524 582070 or emailing Ljackson@lancaster.gov.uk.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Budget Day Anti-Cuts Rally Planned in Lancaster

Wednesday 23 March is Budget Day and Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts plan a rally in Dalton Square, Lancaster, at 6pm.

Let's make lots of noise on Budget Day. Bring placards, whistles, banners, children, dogs. Show them we can't pay and won't pay for their mess!

Visit Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts on Facebook

And: Demonstrate for a Fair Alternative at the National Anti-Cuts March & Rally in London on Saturday 26 March. Fight Back! http://marchforthealternative.org.uk/