Friday, 26 July 2013

Drink driving falls in Lancashire

Results from the police's annual summer drink drive crackdown show that the number of people caught drink driving in Lancashire is down.

A total of 11,398 tests were administered throughout the month of June and 144 of the people who took the test – or 1.26 per cent – failed. In addition, five people refused to provide a specimen, meaning the total number of people who failed or refused the test was 149 or 1.3 per cent.

This compares to the 2012 summer drink drive campaign when 12,171 tests were administered and 206 – or 1.7 per cent – failed or refused the test.

The campaign saw high-profile enforcement activity take place across the county.

Chief Inspector Debbie Howard from the road policing unit said: "This year's crackdown has seen a decrease in the number of people caught drink driving compared to last year. I hope that this reduction is down to more people acknowledging the devastating consequences of drink driving.

“We know that people like to make the most of the warmer weather in the summer months and this can sometimes lead to more alcohol being consumed. We want people to enjoy themselves but to be aware of the dangers of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

"I must stress that whilst this campaign is over, our enforcement activity around drink driving continues. We police the county's roads day-in, day-out and we will always take action against anyone we suspect of flouting the law.”

County Councillor John Fillis, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "It's very encouraging to see the positive effect which years of hard work to change attitudes to drink driving has had, and that this continues to be supported by strong police action.

"The improvement over last year shows that our approach in Lancashire is working and we'll continue to educate and enforce to ensure people take on board that drinking and driving is a risk not worth taking."

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw said: "Drinking and driving costs lives, and I hope the drop in the number of people being caught demonstrates this message is getting through.

"I am supportive of the crackdown run by the Constabulary, and their continued efforts to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured on Lancashire's roads.

"Raising awareness of the harm caused by driving under the influence of drink and drugs, and targeting those who do, can only be positive for the county's residents."

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Fylde Anti-Fracking Groups call public meetings

Caudrilla drilling rig at Banks in Lancashire
Cuadrilla drilling rig at Banks in Lancashire

As hundreds of West Sussex residents today blockade roads preventing Cuadrilla trucks from entering their shale gas extraction ('fracking') site at Balcombe (see reports here), the anti-fracking campaign is gathering momentum in Lancashire with a series of local meetings in August (see details below) which will also be attended by campaigners from Brighton.

Oil company Cuadrilla plans to start shale oil and gas extraction on sites roughly between Preston and Blackpool, (see map) with a number of planning applications in various stages of being approved by Lancashire County Council.

'Excluded Perils'
News that buildings insurance now excludes damage from fracking as an 'Excluded Peril' has worried Lancashire residents following earthquakes in the Spring of 2011 caused by test drilling at the sites. Further evidence has been published this month linking substantially increased levels of tremors and earthquakes to water injection processes such as used in shale gas fracking.

In the US shale oil and gas extraction methods have also resulted in heavy contamination of local agriculture and drinking water supplies. Research is still underway on claims that the industry is responsible for increases in adrenal and pituitary tumors, headaches, nausea, joint pain, respiratory problems, birth defects and other symptoms.

However US extraction sites are mainly concentrated in rural areas, far from large centres of population. Such wildernesses do not exist in densely populated England, and over a million people live within a 25 mile radius of the proposed Lancashire extraction sites. The chair of Water UK has raised concerns over the likelihood of pollution  but rather than impose regulation on what is largely a self-regulated industry the Environment Agency has said it will only deal with matters on a case-by-case basis.

The Cuadrilla Coalition Cabinet 
Generous tax cuts for fracking companies were announced by Chancellor George Osborne this month, making it increasingly impossible for sustainable energy suppliers to compete and obtain investment. They complain that senior figures from the shale oil and gas extraction industry sit in the heart of Government.

Cuadrilla Chairman and former BP boss Lord Browne (Cabinet Office), Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw (Dept of Transport) and BG Group director Baroness Hogg (Treasury) have all been accused of the potential for conflicts of interest, as they hold senior advisory roles at a time when the Government is heavily promoting fracking.

Last month Centrica paid Cuadrilla £40m for a 25% share in its Lancashire exploration license. Next month the Government will publish new planning guidance on fracking. Planning and regulations will be streamlined to make it easier for shale gas exploration and production.

Baron Browne
When chair of BP,  Cuadrilla's Chief Exec Lord Browne became known for his 'ruthless' policies of cost-cutting which were blamed for a series of major disasters including the Texas City Refinery explosion (2005) and culminating with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. After it was found in 2007 that he had committed perjury in a legal case he resigned from BP and also from Goldmann Sachs, where he was a non-executive director, during a time when it was alleged that it engaged in improper and irresponsible practices that helped to precipitate the global financial crisis.

Browne is still heavily involved in energy-oriented private equity dealings and, as global power shifts eastward he is following it, being recently appointed adviser to Russia’s Alfa Group to advise the company on a new $20bn (£12.7bn) global oil and gas fund.

According to the World Development Movement (WDM), up to a third of all coalition ministers have past or present links with fossil fuel companies or with financial and services companies supporting oil or gas projects.

History of Corruption
As the Blackpool Gazette reported last year, tourism is important to Fylde and the scenario of 800 wells could have a hugely damaging impact. Nevertheless it still seems as if Lancashire residents have as much chance of having their concerns noted as residents of the Niger Delta did when a series of the world's greatest oil spills were inflicted on them by BP under Lord Browne's leadership.

Far from the industry delivering the promised benefits, or operating to any required safety standards, government and local officials were bought off and corruption runs rampant.  Nigeria actually became more impoverished as a result of oil-dependency and the corruption introduced by the petrochemical industry.

Lancaster & Morecambe area  residents may face even greater perils, as there has been no reference in any of the UK fracking debates or planning documents  to the fact that we have two nuclear reactors within 20 miles of a drilling site known to have already caused earthquakes.

A number of local groups have formed to campaign for adequate environmental protection from Cuadrilla's oil and gas extraction projects and for tighter regulation and have arranged a series of meetings to be held in rural Fylde in August.

Residents' Action on Fylde Fracking say that:

'There is a great demand, especially amongst famers, for more information and discussion on the impact of shale gas extraction in rural areas and on agricultural land.

"RAFF is very grateful to the Frack Off folk for coming up from Brighton to arrange these meetings and help the community conversation that is gaining momentum in Lancashire."


Confirmed Local Meeting dates are:  
Sunday 4th August  - Grimsargh Village Hall  - 11am
Sunday 4th August  - Kenlis Arms, Barnacre, Garstang  - 5pm
Monday 5th August  - Townley Arms Longridge  - 7:30pm
Tuesday 6th August  - Goosnargh Village Hall  - 7:30pm
Tuesday 6th August  - Broughton and District Club  - 7pm
Wednesday 7th August  - Wheatsheaf, Garstang  - 6pm
Wednedsay 7th August  - Billsborrow Village Hall  - 6:30pm
Thursday 8th August  - Barton Village Hall  - 7pm

Local Groups
Further information can be found at http://stopfyldefracking.org.uk/, and also on the RAFF facebook page at
https://www.facebook.com/pages/RAFF-Residents-Action-on-Fylde-Fracking/287213358008385

Other local groups include:
Frack Free Fyldehttp://www.frackfreefylde.com/ - you can also find them on facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/FrackFreeFylde

Ribble Estuary Against Fracking  http://www.reaf.org.uk/ - also on facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ribble-Estuary-Against-Fracking/118630441577702

See a map of current and proposed locations licensed for fracking at http://frack-off.org.uk/locations/

The Friends of the Earth international Fracking and Shale Gas campaign hub can be found at
http://forum.foe.co.uk/campaignhubs/index.php/page,page2160.html

See also:

http://frack-off.org.uk/cuadrilla-boss-gave-30m-bribe-to-azerbaijan-strongman/

http://virtual-lancaster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/anti-fracking-campaign-to-continue.html

Go Whale Watching - in Heysham

Photo: Living Seas
If you're interested in whales or dolphins then you might want to pop along to Heysham Harbour on Saturday afternoon to find out more about them, for an event organised by wildlife organisation Living Seas.

Living Seas have organised a number of dolphin and whale watching events over the next few weeks in Lancashire and Cumbria, to try and get an idea of just how many cetaceans are out there.

The events are part of national studies tying in with the Sea Watch Foundations’ National Whale and Dolphin Watch Week (which runs until 4th August) and the Wildlife Trusts’ National Marine Week (which runs until 11th August).

"All of the whale and dolphin watches are free and open to anyone and everyone (no need to book places)," organiser Emily Baxter told us. "They take place over a few hours so people can just come and go as they please and our staff will be there recording sighting, talking to people and answering questions throughout."

It should be no surprize to learn that whales are part of the flora and fauna of Morecambe Bay: regular cetacean sightings in the Irish Sea and off the Isle of Man include Harbour Porpoise, Short-Beaked and Bottlenose Dolphins. Whales sighted include Minke, Fin and the Long-finned Pilot whale.

Back in 1989 a beached whale was given a burial at Lancaster University for research purposes and its appearance was a feature of a number of Really Heavy Greatcoat cartoons published in local listings title On the Beat.

Flashback: A whale beached locally in 1989 prompted a cetacean appearance in loccal comic strip The Really Heavy Greatcoat by John Freeman and Nick Miller

An eight ton immature female fin whale was found dead at Heysham Harbour in November 2000. It was buried on Salt Ayre Tip.  A minkie whale also beached off Grange-over-Sands in 2009.

In January, Ken Willman struck lucky when he came across a lump of the world's most vaulable dung - better known as ambergris - while out walking his dog. He was offered £43,000 for the rare substance. (Ambergris is a kind of cholesterol that forms around the by-product of a sperm whale’s main food source, squid — the hard beaks of which occasionally get caught in the animal’s lower gut). The find prompted authorities to warn people to be careful on the Bay if they decided to seek out similar 'gold'.

Local Events

Saturday 27th July, 1.30-5.30 pm, Heysham Port, North Harbour Wall, Lancashire
Cost: free
A sea watch for whales and dolphins, just drop by at any time to help record sightings data. Parking on the North Harbour Wall, bring binoculars if you have them. Grid ref: SD 396 601 Post code: LA3 2UH.


Saturday 10th August, 12-4pm, Heysham Port, North Harbour Wall, Lancashire
Cost: free
A sea watch for whales and dolphins. Parking on the North Harbour Wall, bring binoculars if you have them. Grid ref: SD 396 601 Post code: LA3 2UH.


• More details: www.irishsea.org/events/events-north-west-england/ (there are also events in Cumbria) or for more information contact Emily on 01539 816318 or livingseasnw@cumbriawildlifetrust.org.uk

The Living at Seas team are recording an item with BBC Radio Lancashire today that will be out on Drive Time this afternoon or on Friday afternoon. Listen out for it.

• Seawatch Foundation: www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk (download a PDF detailing the cetaceans of the Irish Sea here)

• Lancashire Mammals: www.lacfs.org.uk/Mammals.htm 

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

City Council asks Government for Robin Hood Tax to ease cuts

On 17th July Lancaster City's full council voted in favour of asking the coalition government to join with 11 European countries - including Germany, France, Italy and Spain - that have pledged to introduce a
Financial Transaction Tax (FTT).

Otherwise known as a Robin Hood or Tobin tax, this would be a tax on  financial transactions between financial institutions against the exchange of shares, bonds and derivative contracts. The proposed tax would not apply to transactions in the 'real' economy and you can read more about it here.  It is intended to reduce speculative trading and is targeted at those responsible for creating the financial crisis. It would raise up to £20bn per year.

The Council also noted that the coalition government is making disproportionate cuts to funding of local government, and called on it to reverse this policy, asking instead for a wider programme to proceed with the urgent reform of the banks, separating the high-street and investment arms, a crackdown on high-earners’ and corporate tax avoidance, and proper regulation of the markets.

The motion was supported by Green and Labour Councillors, and opposed by Conservative councillors, (with the exception of Coun. Johnson, who abstained) with Independents being split.

Coun. Tim Hamilton-Cox, who proposed the motion on behalf of the Greens, said,

“The loss of government grant funding to the city council over the last three years now adds up to £3.1m each year and the council faces losing a further estimated £2.7m in the next 2 financial years. So far the city council has increased efficiency and employed (progressively) fewer people.

"There becomes a limit to the scope for increased efficiency. Cash losses of £5.8m a year add up to a very significant loss to the local economy, undermining the prospects for local businesses. And the cuts threaten more of the services on which many people and organisations rely for assistance and quality of life.


"Britain already has one type of financial transaction tax - the stamp duty on shares that raises £3.5bn a year for the exchequer. A Robin Hood tax would merely extend the stamp duty principle.

"As the European Commission tax chief, Algirdas Semeta, put it recently: 'Taxing the financial sector is a question of fairness. Banks and financial institutions received - and continue to receive - massive support from the public sector to overcome the crisis.' "

Coun. Dave Brookes, who seconded the motion, added,

"Unfortunately, the UK government doesn't see it this way. George Osborne has not only refused to sign the UK government up, but has also launched a legal challenge against the European FTT.

"By curbing some of the worst financial sector excesses, a Robin Hood tax would help to rebalance the economy. And it could help to re-balance the worst-affected local authority, and other public sector, budgets."

Read the full minutes of the council's decision here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Another cyclist knocked down on Cable Street, driver fails to stop

Police are appealing for witnesses after a cyclist was hit by a car in Lancaster and the car failed to stop at the scene last week.

The collision occurred at just before 2.00pm on the 16th of July on Cable Street in Lancaster when the 17 year old cyclist was hit by what has been described as a maroon coloured car.

He was knocked from his bike and the car slowed down but did not stop at the scene and drove away in the direction of Caton Road.


This is the second reported incident of a cyclist being knocked down on Cable Street where a driver failed to stop. In May, 80-year-old George Mitchell was knocked from his bicycle. He subsequently died in hospital.

PC Mark Howson investigating said, “Fortunately, the cyclist only received relatively minor injuries but this could have been much more serious. The driver of the car has not stopped at the scene as they should have done and so I am very keen to hear from anyone who may have witnessed what happened so we can try to trace the driver.

“I would also appeal to the driver directly, if that was you, please come forward and contact us as we need to establish the full circumstances around what happened.

“Due to the damage to the bike I would suggest that there may be some front end damage to the bumper and the bonnet of the car so if anyone has perhaps seen a burgundy or maroon coloured car in the area with any similar damage then please let us know.”

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.