Saturday, 17 March 2012

Police appeal for missing Silverdale man

Lancashire police are appealing for help to try to find a man who has gone missing.

Keith Smith, 64, of Challan Hall Mews, Silverdale was last seen at the Wheatsheaf pub in Beetham at about 2.15pm on Tuesday 13th March.

Mr Smith’s black VW Polo car was found abandoned on a car park on Shore Road, Carnforth this morning (Friday, March 16th) by a member of the public.

Mr Smith is described as white, 5 foot 9 inches with receding grey hair. He was wearing a grey jumper, grey corduroy trousers and brown shoes.

Inspector Pam Holgate from Lancaster police said: “It’s been a few days since anyone saw Keith and we are becoming increasingly concerned for his welfare as it isn’t like him to go missing. I would urge anyone who sees anyone matching his description or who knows of his whereabouts to get in touch.”

• Anyone with information should contact police on the non emergency number 101

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Lancaster man jailed after attack on neighbour

A Lancaster man who attacked his neighbour - breaking his jaw in two places - has been jailed for 18 months.

David Spencer, 46, of Howgill Avenue, Lancaster, appeared at Preston Crown Court on Tuesday 13 March after pleading guilty to section 20 wounding. He also pleaded guilty to intimidating a witness.

Spencer admitted attacking the man outside his home around 4pm on 21 April 2011. The man was taken to hospital where he had a metal plate inserted into his jaw.

“This was a cowardly and malicious attack, which resulted in a serious injury," notes DC Ciara Campbell from Lancaster CID.

“The victim was left in a great deal of pain and was extremely traumatised by the ordeal. Spencer also caused the witness unnecessary suffering in attempt to get him to withdraw his evidence.

“This result has had a positive impact on the community - we’ve had fantastic feedback from local residents who have been very supportive and are happy that justice has been done.

“This type of crime is completely unacceptable and I hope this helps to reassure people that the police will do everything within their power to investigate offences and bring offenders to justice.”

All change at the top: City Council confirms departure of Heather McManus

Lancaster City Council has confirmed it has made changes to its senior management, which sees, amongst other revisions, the disestablishment of the Deputy Chief Executive post held by Heather McManus.

Formally the Corporate Director – Regeneration, Heather was appointed to the post of Deputy Chief Executive which was created two years ago (see news story), when the three Corporate Director posts were disestablished and replaced by a Deputy Chief Executive post.

Heather’s tenure as Deputy Chief Executive has coincided with fundamental changes to the public sector, with local authorities and other public services radically re-examining the ways in which they deliver services. Out of these challenges have come, say th Counci, "many changes and challenges, that leave the city council in a position where it is continuing to provide the services that matter most to people in the most efficient and effective way."

As you would expect, as a Corporate Director and latterly as Deputy Chief Executive, the Council also says Heather has played an instrumental role in helping shape the service structures they have in place today.

"Having shown great enthusiasm, energy, drive and commitment in both her roles, Heather has played a key role in developing the strategic direction for a number of corporate programmes and important regeneration initiatives.

"Heather’s undoubted talent and experience in asset management and regeneration has been borne out recently in her appointment as President of ACES (the Association of Chief Estates Surveyors and Property Managers in the Public Sector) and we wish her well in this prestigious national appointment."



Of course, longtime readers of virtual-lancaster may also recall that Ms McManus was also party to some of the Council's less popular decisions of late, such as the closure of Lancaster Market and indeed the handling of its potential sell-off of the building's lease to a now discreditted developer.

Commenting on her departure, Heather said: “This has been a challenging time for local government but one the city council has adapted well to. Our latest budget demonstrates this, achieving significant savings, maintaining a 0% council tax and, close to my heart, investing significant funding to take forward important regeneration projects such as Lancaster Square Routes, Morecambe Area Action Plan and the business improvement district (Bid) plans for both towns.

"I am delighted our hard work to progress developments such as Luneside East is now taking off and I leave the district confident that it is in a strong position with a very positive future. I am personally proud of the part I have played in these changes and achievements.

"I will leave wishing the staff, councillors and people of the area well. I am a huge fan of the whole area and will continue to be a frequent visitor and promoter of its many assets."


Work set to begin on B4RN rural broadband project

Cables for the B4RN network will be laid using mole ploughs, which cause minimal damage to land. Photo: B4RN
The community-owned Fibre To The Home project Broadband 4 the Rural North has passed another major milestone with news that work will begin on laying down cables at the end of this month.

The Early Bird share offer in the company ended on 29th February and B4RN CEO Professor Barry Forde has announced that sufficient shares have now been sold to commence the digging which will begin at the event on 31st March.

"We are delighted with the response to the share issue, which has surpassed even our highest
hopes," said Professor Forde, a networking expert with many years experience of designing, building and operating high performance networks.

"This proves that the appetite for investment and support of such community owned broadband projects is alive and well, and that solving the problem of rural broadband for the next generation is prompting people to invest even in times of economic hardship."

As we reported last year, B4RN will initially provide internet and telephony with further services in the future. Each home will have a battery backup so telephony over the fibre means landline connections are no longer required.

The local community will be celebrating the start of the dig when local farmers John and Andrew Metcalfe break the first sod at Jubilee Tower, Quernmore, marking the milestone with a grand opening ceremony,tea and cake.

The Metcalfes are just some of the many farmers who will be laying the ducting in order to buy shares in B4RN, which has been three years in the planning and development stage and whose share offer was launched last year.

“This will make a major difference to our community, and to me and my young family," enthuses Andrew Metcalfe. "As they grow they will be able to use the technology that children elsewhere take for granted, and we will be able to diversify our business through it."

The launch is being held at a local beauty spot that is half way along the first of the core routes. B4RN say the dig will progress out from either side of the start point, and all 13 core routes should be live in three months, weather permitting. Subsidiary routes and spurs to properties will branch out from that.

There has been so much enthusiasm in the plan that the management committee is considering whether to bring forward the timescale for later phases of the build.



B4RN is the only UK community offering gigabit broadband, meaning that consumers will have the opportunity to work, live and play faster and more efficiently than most places in the world. This forward-thinking, fully-fibred approach has been recognised as the optimal solution to the digital divide, and will encourage regeneration of this deeply rural area, bringing new jobs, opportunities and revenue to rural Lancashire.

The support of the local community has been key to B4RN's success to date, and there are
many people and businesses within the area who will be earning their shares through sweat and labour as well as investing their money.

"This is where we can reduce the costs that a traditional telecommunications
company would face," explains Professor Forde, "by using local skills and knowledge, working directly with the community, and being a part of it.

"B4RN is a 100 per cent community project, with neighbours helping neighbours. The community spirit is strong in rural areas and B4RN is a showcase for that spirit."

Share ownership starts from £100, with 30% tax refunds available to anyone investing between £500 and £20,000 under the Government's EIS (Enterprise Investment Scheme), which makes it an attractive proposition for all investors. £1500 ensures a Foundation Membership with additional bonuses such as a free connection and one year's free subscription to the gigabit service.

B4RN’s coverage area is close to the coast, the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales,
making it an ideal base for weekend breaks, holidays and the chance to explore some of the
north of England's most beautiful tourist areas.

External investors can nominate a property within B4RN coverage area for the free connection, including holiday cottages.

• Full details of the share issue, including the business plan, are available on www.B4RN.org.uk along with maps of the coverage area and phases.

• The full business plan is available on the website, along with details of the pricing and payment structure for local residents and businesses at http://b4rn.org.uk/business-plan includes bonuses of free install and connection for 12 months with a £1500 investment and payment in shares for involvement in the deployment of the project.

Renewed crackdown on metal thieves, raids net results

Metal thieves have once again been targeted by Lancashire police as part of a nation-wide crackdown on scrap metal theft.

The operation, codenamed Operation Starling, saw officers from Lancashire Constabulary carrying out visits to scrap yards and metal dealers, making crime prevention visits to vulnerable premises and conducting roadside stop-checks of vehicles suspected to be involved in the transportation of metal.

The activity, which took place between Thursday 8th March and Thursday 15th March, has been supported by a number of other agencies including Trading Standards, British Transport Police, VOSA and various local authorities.

“We are committed to tackling the problem of metal theft which costs victims in Lancashire thousands of pounds each year," said Chief Inspector Jon Bullas, who has been overseeing the operation. “Thieves have targeted homes and businesses as well as buildings like churches, causing significant damage and distress.

“It is our firm intention to reduce this type of crime by working with local communities on crime prevention projects and by disrupting criminal activity and putting suspected offenders before the courts.”

Between April 2010 and March 2011, there were 3,014 metal theft crimes in Lancashire.  This is a 48.3 per cent increase – or an extra 1,456 crimes – from the 1,558 reported between April 2009 and March 2010.

Lead flashing, copper boilers and piping and cables from train lines are amongst the metals stolen.

Chief Inspector Bullas appealed for the public’s help to enable police to continue their work, urging them to contact 101 with details of suspicious activity. He also issued the following advice to homeowners and businesses.
  • Avoid leaving anything lying around that could be used to help a thief e.g. ladders.
  • Make it difficult for thieves to move stolen goods by storing wheelbarrows and wheelie bins securely.
  • Consider anti-vandal paint and property marking.
  • Use alternative materials to lead for any repairs - to reduce the risk of becoming a target for thieves.
  • Regularly check your roofs so that any theft is found before it rains and further damage is caused.
  • Consider installing security lighting, particularly at roof level where metal roof coverings are present.
  • Anyone with information about the theft of metal can call the police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Lancaster off-licences and bars reprimanded for teen alcohol sales



Staff in several Lancaster and Morecambe off-licences and bars have been issued with fines after failing to make ID checks and selling alcohol to youngsters.

Officers in the north of the county, assisted by Trading Standards and a number of teenage volunteers, carried out a three-week test purchase operation to ensure that those working in licensed premises were meeting their responsibilities when it comes to preventing under age sales.

In total, 43 premises were visited in Lancaster and Morecambe, with 11 venues failing to make the necessary checks and enabling two 16-year-old girls to buy 10 bottles of wine, four double vodkas and four large glasses of wine.

Ten premises were also visited in the Wyre area, with one in Cleveleys and one in Thornton failing to ask two 16-year-old girls for identification. The teens were able to buy two bottles of wine.

"Staff will now be issued with £80 fines and the licensee of the premises will have to undergo a surgery with police officers to educate them as to their responsibilities when it comes to preventing underage sales.

"I’m disappointed that premises are still supplying alcohol to children and caring little for age awareness," said licensing officer Sergeant James Martin. "Every premise should challenge the age of anyone who looks under 25 and enforce a no ID, no sale policy.

"The quantity of alcohol obtained could hospitalise the children involved if consumed. Staff in 40 premises behaved responsibly and asked for ID, the small minority should consider the serious nature of this. Police will actively seek to closes premises that put children at risk.”

Coronation Field developer's next target?


(Updated 15th March) As outrage grows over the actions the Property Trust and its destruction of trees in Freeman's Wood on Lancaster's Marsh, despite legally-binding Tree Preservation Orders (see news story), it seems law-breaking is just a sideline when it comes to the company's full plan for massive development of the area, including Coronation Field - plans local councillors say they have not been made aware of.

As we reported this weekend, contractors for the Trust, who own Freeman's Wood, have caused widespread and illegal destruction to trees and land - but the removal of the Wood entirely (or, at least, its name) is not one of their aims.

It has since emerged that this is the work of staff for White Lund firm VMC Developments, who Friends of Freeman's Wood campaigners believe are digging the up the land in a search for valuable stone from the site.


Campaigners protesting at the actions, who want to protect Freeman's Wood by making it a city green, have also discovered that planning consultants the Satnam Group, acting for the Property Trust, the owners of the Freeman’s Wood site, are proposing to build houses on some of the land near Freeman's Wood (PDF link) - and re-develop Coronation Field.

"The site, which currently provides no value to the local community, can unlock the potential to enhance and relocate the existing recreational facilities for the area," say Satnam, who have submitted two different plans for consideration, arguing their proposals "would incorporate the future aspiration of the local football team.

"Put in simple terms this would be new fully drained pitches, a new club house and parking. Main vehiclar access would be via New Quay Road which would remove the majority ofthe traffic from Willow Road and the surrounding area.

"Option 2 would also provide increase leisure facilities with another playing field for rugby and an indoors sports facility with a separate carpark accessed from Willow Lane.

"The new Business units will be designed specifically for new businesses, adaptable and flexible, these will be able to grow and change with the business requirements as it expands or changes to suit the market. Again accessed from New Quay Road this will have no impact on the local community.

"The new playground on the Coronation Fields site will be design with modern equipment and facilities for all ages including a carpark for people visiting. The affordable housing will be used to help residents in the area. Situated on the bus route to the City Centre, this would also make an ideal location for key worker accommodation.

"The new market housing will be designed to take advantage of the surroundings, overlooking the new playing fields and adjacent Freeman's Wood. The overall development will improve the current social provision in the area, provide new affordable housing, new market housing and business units to encourage new jobs in the area."

Drawn up in 2010, the proposal was submitted to the City Council last September but it appears councillors were not made aware of the plans by the Council's own planning staff - much to their annoyance.

"This has been sitting in an obscure corner of the City Council’s website," says Jon Barry. "As a ward councillor, I am none too pleased with not having this pointed out to me until I specifically asked if such a document existed."

One proposed design for a new club house for
the Marsh Football Club
Satnam's plans for ‘relocating’ the existing playing fields to the far corner of the site would be too far away for most people to use them, feels Councillor Barry.

"The club-house for Marsh United would be completely open to vandalism," he says.

"As you can guess, this proposal is completely unacceptable to me and, I’m sure, most local people.

"Apart from anything else, Coronation Field is an incredibly important space for people on the Marsh.

"The area was given to the people of the Marsh by Lord Ashton (Williamson) and was formerly used as a tip for the lino factory," John reveals. "A huge project took place in the early 1950s where the site was levelled by volunteer labour (and if you know the size of the field, that is an awful lot of wheelbarrows!). The field was named after the 1953 coronation of the present queen."

This development dovetails with a separate Barratt/Redrow homes application for Luneside West for the old factory. Perhaps the 'replacement' new pay-to-play facilities in the Satnam scheme are being aimed at owners of these proposed dwellings, not existing residents.

Submitted in 2010 and now awaiting a planning decision, the Barratt proposal on Luneside West is for residential development comprising 403 units, associated highways works, open space and landscaping. Go to http://planapps.lancaster.gov.uk and search for application 10/00660/FUL.

View the Satnam proposal - September 2011


Friends of Freeman's Wood Blog

Energy advice day to help locals save on their bills

Home Energy Service group LESS are holding a community energy advice afternoon at St. Lukes in Skerton on Thursday 15th March 2012.

The event aims to help people to to find out how to save energy, reduce fuel bills and cope with rising fuel prices and stalls will include Help Direct, Lancashire Fire & Rescue Service, Lancaster City Council, Citizen's Advice Bureau and cavity wall and loft insulation company Tadea.

There's also the chance to find out about the Skerton demonstration Eco House and the Skerton Weir Hydro project proposed by MORE Renewables.

This event is part of a government-funded energy efficiency project that LESS are delivering in Skerton in March. As well as community engagement events they're creating a demonstration house and conducting community building energy appraisals. For more information about that project click here.

• Skerton Energy Advice Day, St. Luke's Primary School, Skerton (2.30- 4.30pm), 15th March 2012. Web: http://lessuk.org

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Lancaster landlord gets fine for putting family at risk

A Lancaster landlord has been fined for putting the lives of a family at risk by failing to arrange an annual gas safety check.

Carole McMillan, 57, was prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive after she failed to arrange for a registered engineer to visit a property on Birkdale Close in Scale Hall.

Lancaster Magistrates’ Court heard Ms McMillan had been renting the house out to a couple and their two young children, aged five years and nine months old. An investigation was launched on 27 April 2010 when it was discovered that gas appliances at the house had not been checked since 6th February 2009.

Carol McMillan admitted a breach of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 for failing to arrange an annual gas safety check. Ms McMillan, of Hatlex Lane in Hest Bank, Lancaster, was fined £750 and ordered to pay £2,250 in prosecution costs on 13th March 2012.

“Carole McMillan put the whole family at risk by failing to make sure an annual gas safety check was carried out," said Rohan Lye, the investigating inspector at HSE. “Landlords have a legal duty to ensure tenants aren’t exposed to dangers from gas appliances in their home.

"It doesn’t cost a lot to arrange a visit from a registered gas engineer but checking that appliances are safe once a year could save someone’s life.”

“By law, every rented home should have an annual gas safety check by a Gas Safe registered engineer to make sure that all gas fittings and appliances are working safely and efficiently," added Paul Johnston, Chief Executive of Gas Safe Register, the official list of legal and safe gas engineers."This is the landlord’s legal responsibility.

“Landlords must also give tenants a copy of the gas safety record to prove that these checks have been done. If your landlord hasn’t provided an up to date gas safety record, you could be at risk from gas leaks, fires, explosions and carbon monoxide poisoning.”

Around 20 people die every year in the UK from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by unsafe gas appliances. Landlords are legally required to arrange an annual inspection of their properties by an engineer registered with the Gas Safe Register.

• Homeowners and landlords can find a registered gas engineer by visiting www.gassaferegister.co.uk

Roger Wilson at the Gillow on Thursday

Roger Wilson - at the Gillow this week
This Thursday (15 March) the extraordinary folk musician Roger Wilson returns to Lancaster's Robert Gillow pub - an immensely talented guitarist, fiddle player and singer. 

Roger has played with just about everyone of note, has three solo albums to his credit as well as the highly acclaimed album with Chris Wood and Martin Carthy, and more recently was the mainstay of the music in War Horse and Lark Rise To Candleford.

There's more folk music at the Gillow on the way, too, with the venue hoping to host evenings with other artists of international repute such as Dave Gibb, Pete Morton and Gen Bartley as well as favourite, more local, acts. More info as we get it.

• Check out Roger's web site at: www.littlebackroom.com

• More information on music and other events at the Robert Gillow on their official web site: www.pubfoodlancaster.co.uk

Monday, 12 March 2012

What’s It All About, Alfie?

Vicky Binns as Annie and David Ricardo-Pearce as Alfie
A Coronation Street favourite who was killed off in the soap’s dramatic tram crash in 2010 finds a new lease of life at The Dukes in April.

Vicky Binns, who played Molly Dobbs in the television soap, is unlucky in love again when she appears in Alfie at the Lancaster theatre, alongside David Ricardo-Pearce, seen on TV in Outnumbered and EastEnders.

Vicky takes the role of Alfie’s young, na├»ve girlfriend, Annie, in the 1960s classic originally starring Michael Caine in the big screen version.

“I’m thrilled to be involved in this production," said Vicky, "and I hope that people will come along to share in the celebration of this great local work.”

In Coronation Street, Vicky was at the centre of a dramatic storyline in 2010 when her character had an affair with married father Kevin Webster with whom she had a baby son.

Before joining the soap, Vicky was a regular character in Emmerdale and has many theatre credits to her name.

Alfie is a Bolton Octagon production which will be played in The Round at The Dukes from 3rd - 7th April. The theatre is familiar territory for Alfie director, David Thacker, who was artistic director of The Dukes from 1978-84 and went on to win an Olivier Award with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

This production of Alfie marks 20 years since the death of its playwright, Bill Naughton who came from Bolton.

It tells the story of Alfie Elkins, the working class Don Juan of the East End who has women falling at his feet at the height of the Swinging Sixties. However his life soon comes apart at the seams and he starts to wonder ‘what’s it all about?’

On the first night of its Lancaster run – Thursday 3rd April – there will be a pre-show talk at 6pm with David Thacker who will speak about his approach to staging Alfie and the contrasting approaches to the work through novel, film and on stage. There will also be a post show talkback with the director and cast after this show. Both these events are free to ticket holders.

• Tickets for Alfie are priced £11-£18.50(Concessions a further £2 off).Standing £5. To book, ring The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit www.dukes-lancaster.org

Five years for Bolton-le-Sands Spar robber

Jason Durney
A Liverpool man has been jailed for five years following a robbery at a shop in Bolton-le-Sands where customers and staff were threatened with a Stihl saw.

23-year-old Jason Durney, of Dagnall Road, Liverpool, was among a group of hooded men who targeted the Spar shop on Main Road, Bolton-le-Sands, on 21st February 2010.

As an attempt to cut open the store’s ATM machine with a Stihl saw was being made by two of the gang, a third member took cash from the till, stole cigarettes and scratch cards. A customer who entered the shop was then chased out into the street by one of the gang, who was brandishing the saw.

CCTV checks established that Durney had entered the store less than two hours before the attack, wearing the same clothes that he later wore during the raid. The getaway vehicle, which was found abandoned in Carnforth hours after the robbery, was traced to Forton services earlier in the day – where CCTV footage again captured Durney on camera.

Durney appeared at Preston Crown Court on Monday 13th February and pleaded guilty to robbery. Appearing again today he was sentenced to five years imprisonment.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Constable Paul Donnelly, Lancaster CID, said: “This robbery was a terrifying experience for the member of staff who was directly confronted by the gang and for those who were in the shop at the time, especially as a Stihl saw was used. Staff acted very bravely protecting an elderly member of the public and I commend all members of staff in the way they reacted to this frightening incident that evening.

“Durney initially came up with a flimsy excuse as to why the CCTV images showed him both at the store and at the service station, but eventually admitted his guilt on the first day of the trial.

“The robbery was carried out by offenders coming into Lancashire intent on committing crime," he added. "Durney’s sentence shows that we are determined to catch such criminals; they will be put before the courts and will pay the penalty for their violent and intimidating behaviour.”