Saturday, 7 December 2013

Junction 33 Roadworks begin this week

The Highways Agency is proceeding with its project is taking place to repair bridges carrying the M6 over local roads, with work near Junction 33 starting on 9th December.

The work involves routine concrete repairs and installing new safety barriers along the southbound carriageway just north of Junction 33.

The work is due to be completed by Friday 20 December. Some lane closures and a 50mph speed limit will be in place.

• Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and other strategic roads is available, including access for mobile phone users. Do not use your mobile phone while driving - it is illegal. Before using any mobile, find a safe place to park. Never stop on the hard shoulder of a motorway except in an emergency.

-       From the web at www.highways.gov.uk/traffic or from a phone or mobile device at m.highways.gov.uk

-       By phone from the Highways Agency Information Line on 0300 123 5000 at any time. (Calls to 03 numbers are charged at no more than a national call to an 01 or 02 number and are included in all discount schemes and call allowances. This applies to all landlines, mobiles and payphones. Call costs will vary depending on your landline or mobile supplier.)

-       On an iPhone app which will automatically select the region you are in. Free to download from the iTunes store or search for Highways Agency on your device.

-       From Twitter – there are eight feeds with live traffic information provided by region. For information on roads in the North West follow us at @HAtraffic_nwest or for the full index visit www.highways.gov.uk/twitter

Friday, 6 December 2013

Clear up well under way after major storm hits Lancaster and Morecambe area

Council staff are busy cleaning up after the storm today - a full team were
at work clearing leaf fall in Skerton before it blocked drains this morning

Lancaster City Council staff are working hard clearing up the aftermath of Thursday’s storm.

High winds caused disruption as they battered the district, bringing down trees in place like Grimshaw Lane, and causing damage to buildings.

In Morecambe, the combination of high winds and high tides saw huge waves crashing into the town’s sea defences (as these pictures by N Reid Photography on Facebook show, and this video shot near Heysham by Sam Phillips, but they held firm to prevent serious flooding. Storm boards were deployed along the length of the promenade to prevent any water which did overtop the defences running off on to Marine Road.

Happy Mount Park had to close to the public for a short time due to tree damage in the park but it was quickly re-opened.

In Lancaster Dalton Square had to be closed while the city council’s tree gang was kept busy dealing with damaged trees and Williamson Park also had to close for a short time.

Although the park has re-opened, the Butterfly House, and adjacent mini-beast area, remain closed due to damage to the roof of the building. It is likely to remain closed while the damaged is assessed and repaired – keep an eye on www.facebook.com/williamsonpark for updates. The Ashton Memorial, café and shop are unaffected.

Flood defences built on St. Georges Quay bore the brunt of most of the storm surge, as we reported yesterday, but the high tide gave plenty of cause for concern.

"In the 11 years I have lived here, I have never seen the river like this," said Quay resident David Wilde online.

"The day we moved from the Quay in February 2002, we had a very high tide like this and no flood defences there then," recalls Janice Angus. "Our cellar was flooded and round the back of the houses. We were trapped and had to move the day after. The water stank as it brought sewerage up. 

"Be glad for those defences – I know they don't look pretty but they have served their purpose!"

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Whilst not the worst affected area in the North West, the district took quite a battering during Thursday.

“The council’s staff have worked extremely hard dealing the after-effects including dealing with the many fallen trees knocked over by the high winds.

“Thankfully all the work that has taken place over the years, not least the flood defences in Morecambe, meant we were well prepared and avoided much more serious consequences.”

On the lighter side of things, one Facebook user posted the following note: "if anybody has lost a tree load of crab apples you will find them strew along the cycle path at St George's Quay, along with various bits of foliage and a bucket..." to which came the reply: "Please photograph the bucket so it can be identified and claimed by its rightful owner."

The Great Northern Gas Gala holding out at Barton Moss

 

The Northern Gas Gala is the name given to the anti-fracking protest camp outside the new IGas drilling exploration plant at Barton Moss, near the M62 at Salford. The Camp campaign group is asking for donations to help cover campaign expenses and maximise the reach of the campaign.
Please visit http://northerngasgala.org.uk/donations/ to donate or see account details below.

Manchester Climate Action are also hosting a major 'Reclaim the Power' planning day on Saturday 14 December from 11:30am – 8pm at MERCI, 22a Beswick Street, Manchester, M4 7HR.

Fracking has triggered fierce opposition from local communities but today George Osborne has approved a new scheme offering fracking companies £100,000 for each exploration well and up to £10million over the lifetime of a project.

IGas originally told the BBC in mid-November that its target was to find coal-bed methane, but campaigners expected the process to lead to the discovery of shale gas and future fracking to extract it. The British Geological Survey estimates that the region may hold up to 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas.

More recently IGas have confirmed to the Manchester Evening News that they plan to drill more fracking test wells in Greater Manchester over the next year, and will also be looking for shale gas in other parts of the region.The firm already extracts gas through fracking at its Doe Green site near Warrington and says the process does not risk harming the environment, which would make the site quite unique, as the process involves injecting the earth at pressure with millions of gallons of an intensely toxic chemical mix.

Protesters attempt to prevent
plant vehicles entering the site
Frack Free Manchester, a campaign group largely made up of residents of Greater Manchester and Salford, have set up a Community Protection Camp outside the site since test drilling was initiated in the last week of November. However an army of police has been drafted in to protect the fracking company's operations from the residents it threatens. Police handling of protesters in the North appears to be rougher than at the Balham blockade, with injuries being reported from the outset.

Campaigners were alerted to the fact that a convoy of drilling and heavy plant vehicles were due to arrrive to activate the site when large numbers of Police Tactical Aid Units were seen massing at Reds Stadium Salford preparatory to acting as their escort.

Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South, expressed concerns to the BBC saying that there were 150 officers at the site instead of "patrolling in our local communities".


In response the Greater Manchester Police stated "These officers are drawn from across the force including specialist departments.  We will continually keep staffing numbers under review to ensure a sensible but safe number of officers involved in the operation."

The company says that it cannot proceed to fracking without additional planning consent from the local authority. However with executives of the major UK fracking companies embedded in the current government, arranging tax breaks for fracking companies and the taxpayer also funding their private army of police to remove opposition, IGas are confident enough that licencing is in hand to risk a substantial investment in their current exploration and testing on Manchester's doorstep.

LINKS:

Donate to:
Account Name: Manchester Climate Action
Account Number: 65512724
Sort Code: 08-92-99
Reference: gala

The Northern Gas Gala
http://northerngasgala.org.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/NorthernGasGala

Manchester Climate Action
http://manchesterclimateaction.wordpress.com/

Frack Free Salford & Manchester
http://frackfreegtrmanchester.org.uk/
https://www.facebook.com/frackfreeGtrManchester

Lancaster Fights Fracking
https://www.facebook.com/groups/624416087591312

IGas PLC
http://www.igasplc.com/

Optical equipment stolen from Morecambe opticians

Police are appealing for information after thousands of pounds worth of equipment was stolen from an opticians’ in Morecambe.

Sometime between 5.00pm on Tuesday 3rd December and 9.00am the following morning, somebody entered Moon and Coxhill Opticians on Lancaster Road, Torrisholme.

They stole various pieces of optical equipment, as well as a computer monitor and keyboard, worth thousands of pounds.

Further to this incident, between 10.30pm and 11pm on the same night, somebody approached a BT control box opposite the opticians and severed a fibre optic broadband cable and also a telephone line.

PC Jo Clement said: “We believe the cable was cut prior to the burglary being carried out and at this stage we do believe the two incidents are connected.

“If anybody has any information about either or both incidents they are asked to contact police.

“I would also like to speak with anybody who may have seen anyone acting suspicious in the Lancaster Road area either on the night in question or the days leading up to it.”

• 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 

Praying Shell sculpture unveiled on Morecambe coastal path

'Praying Shell' by Anthony Padgett
A new sculpture has been unveiled on the coastal pathway out by Red Bank Farm (Archers Cafe) just north of Morecambe at Bolton-le-Sands. Set in a breathtaking headland location the “Praying Shell” by local award-winning artist Anthony Padgett combines themes from nature with the spiritual heritage of Morecambe Bay to create a potent symbol of reflection, renewal and environmental integration. 

Anthony Padgett tells us that he made a smaller version of the piece back in 1994 when he used to frequent the Midland Hotel in Morecambe, a couple of miles down the coast, and the piece also lightly references the graphic style of Eric Gill (1882-1940), whose work along similar themes is superbly integrated into The Midland's design. Padgett's own artistic history as an artist and author draws on and illuminates the experience of the existential dilemma in the world. His inspiration for this sculpture was his sense of a parallel between humanity’s openness to a larger dimension and the way cockle shells open as the tide comes in.

The work will provide a point of interest and inspiration for walkers along the coastal path.

The sculpture was unveiled last Saturday 30 November by Councillor Ron Sands who has known Anthony for many years and is Cabinet Member responsible for Leisure, Culture and Tourism and is the former Head of Tourism for Lancaster City Council.

The artist led commission received planning permission to be sited at Red Bank Farm in spring 2013 and was then carved from limestone over the summer. Anthony’s other works include the award winning Millennium Angel at Leighton Hall and he is looking for future commissions.

You can find the location on satellite maps at postcode LA5 8JR.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Woman found in distressed state in Lancaster

Detectives are appealing for information after a woman was found in a distressed state in Lancaster.

Around 3.00am on Thursday 5th December, a 22 year old woman was found by a man on Caton Road who had concerns for her welfare.

The woman was taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary, although at this stage it is unclear as to exactly what has happened to her.

An investigation is underway and police are appealing for anybody with any information to come forward.

Detective Inspector Andrew Bunn said: “The circumstances of this incident remain unclear at this time and we are still trying to establish exactly what may have occurred.

“If anybody thinks they may have seen this young woman in the Caton Road area around 3.00am on Thursday morning and can provide us with information they think could assist our investigation then I would urge them to contact police.

“I am particularly keen to speak with the man who found the woman. We believe he may have been driving a Maxi lorry. If this was you, or you know who this was, then please come forward.”

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



Government announces business rates to be frozen to boost local traders, but also raises pension age, caps welfare spending



The government has unveiled changes to the business rates system in its Autumn Statement today, which it claims will cut taxes, supporting the North West’s small businesses and high streets – and which might mean empty shops will see new use.

Businesses in 232,000 premises in the North West will all see benefits from the government’s actions, and 102,000 premises in the North West will see their business rates bill frozen or falling. Measures include:

  • A two per cent cap on the RPI increase to business rates. This will benefit 174,000 business premises across the North West – the remaining 56,000 properties will pay no rates at all
  • A £1,000 business rates discount – available for two years to shops, pubs and restaurants worth less than £50,000 – will benefit 46,000 properties in the North West
  • Extending the Small Business Rates Relief for another year will provide continued support to 81,000 small businesses – 56,000 of which will pay no business rates at all
The cap on business rates, £1,000 discount for retail properties and extension of the Small Business Rates Relief come alongside other government action to cut the costs of rates for business, including:

  • A reoccupation relief which will provide a 50 per cent business rates discount for 18 months, on retail properties that have been vacant for a year or more
  • Relaxing the rules around the Small Business Rates Relief so that small businesses wishing to grow and take on a second property will be able to receive the relief for a year after expanding 


Businesses and young people in the North West will also benefit from government action to cut employer’s National Insurance Contributions for all under 21s on earnings up to £42,000. This means:

  • Employer National Insurance Contribution bills for 174,000 under 21s in the North West will be wiped out from April 2015
  • 38,000 employers in the North West will benefit
  • £55m worth of savings for North West employers in the first year alone

The North West will also benefit from actions already taken to cut employer National Insurance Contributions in this Parliament:

  • Raising the threshold at which employer National Insurance Contribution becomes payable, lifting 140,000 people in the North West out of employer contributions altogether
  • Introducing the £2,000 Employment Allowance for up to 137,000 businesses in the North West
Although the above might be good news for business, the Autumn Statement also brought a number of changes, not least of them the news that the state pension age is to increase to 68 in the mid-2030s and to 69 in the late 2040s.

Overall welfare spending is to be capped and anyone aged 18 to 21 claiming benefits without basic English or Maths will be required to undertake training from day one or lose their entitlement. People unemployed for more than six months are to be forced to start a traineeship, take work experience or do a community work placement or lose benefits.

From April, a new tax relief is to be introduced for investment in social enterprises and new social impact bonds.

BBC News: Autumn 2013 Statement at a glance summary

Mad Hatters Celebrate Tea Party Success

The Lancaster & Morecambe Mad Hatters are very pleased at the warm reception their week of mental health awareness events received last week in Lancaster & Morecambe.

All the events, which included Tea Parties & Craft Fairs in Lancaster & Morecambe and a screening of controversial Israeli director Ari Folman's 'Waltz with Bashir' were well supported and the finale to the week, The Mad Hatter's Cabaret at the Gregson last Friday, drew a large audience. The warm and very friendly atmosphere encouraged several very talented new performers to take the spotlight and entertain - indeed the evening was so successful that the organisers are planning to make it a regular night.

Andy Baxter, who works part-time as a programmer for an IT company told Virtual-Lancaster he had attended two of the Mad Hatter Week events, the film and the cabaret.

"The film was really interesting; it was about recovered memory and how Foldman, by finding and talking with his old army comrades, who he found also had missing memories - but not the same ones - was able to make and use connections in the present to go back and explore / rediscover his past - and how other peoples' perceptions of past events helped him.



"The Mad Hatter Cabaret  was just fun. I made a hat, people did their bits and it was just fun all the way through the evening. It was good to see people who are maybe a bit on the outside of things usually being able to get involved creatively and showing what they could actually do. It was a really good night."

One of the organisers, Maria, told Virtual Lancaster that the idea for the Week was partly inspired by by the National Mental Health Awareness Week, which took place in October. In Lancaster it was marked by an Art Exhibition, 'New Horizons' which ran at the Storey in conjunction with the Storey Artists Show and a number of other local events and supported by The Helm Mental Health Drop In ServicePositive Futures, Ridge Lea Hospital and Help Direct, among others.

As well as these agencies Lancaster & Morecambe has self-organised support groups of people who are experiencing mental health issues. Many of their members felt that mental health issues, and indeed mental illness, are so widespread throughout the population that awareness needed to be developed in the wider community on a more informal basis.

They also wanted to create more informal opportunities for people with mental health problems to socialise and enjoy the benefits of community life, as well as contributing to it. As Maria explained. the SHARP (Self Help Art & Recovery Project) is one of the sub groups of the Gregson Community Association, and like the Association's other sub-groups, SHARP contributes towards community life, offering a resource for community members as the needs arise, and using art, music, theatre and performance writing for self-help and as a means of educating the public, and training mental health workers. You can find out more about SHARP at http://sharplancaster.org.uk/.

Other groups involved in the Mad Hatters project are:

Lancaster District Peer Support - a recovery and well-being club for people with severe and enduring mental health problems. http://www.peersupportlancaster.org.uk/

The Hearing Voices Network - supports anyone with these experiences seeking to understand, learn and grow from them in their own way. http://www.hearing-voices.org/

We look forward to bringing you further news about Mad Hatter events in the coming year.

Wild weather hits Lancaster and Morecambe

The River Lune earlier today as the largest storm surge in 60 years hit. Photo courtesy Michael Yates Photography
The largest storm surge in 60 years on the River Lune has caused some flooding today while, elsewhere, Morecambe sea front was hit by gale force winds and other storm damage caused problems across the district.

Due to high winds the Williamson Park and all buildings are closed until further notice. The Lancaster Guardian reports cars have floated out to sea and people are trapped inside VVV Health and Leisure Club in Morecambe.

Despite the surge, the Quay flood barrier has done its job and protected houses and businesses from major flooding.

Local Michael Yates captured the storm surge on the River Lune and has posted stunning pictures of the river itself and resulting flooding on the Facebook Lancaster Past and Present group.

Ladies Walk and the subway between the Millennium Bridge and Lune Street were flooded, but St. George's Quay seems relatively unscathed.

City Council staff are out in force to deal with problems caused by the gales and high tide, as leaves blocked drains and street furniture was blown where it shouldn't.

Barricades blown into Owen Road this morning. Photo: John Freeman

Local reporter Nick Lakin has posted several photographs of Morecambe seafront on Twitter.



"You could really feel the power of it all, scary yet really exhilarating," he commented.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Local Cinema Round-up for 4th to 12 December 2013 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day listings every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up and reviews.

New releases this period include an excellent Disney animation with Frozen (PG), and a re-release of the classic Mary Poppins (U).

With the approach of Christmas there is a good selection of family based films including Free Birds (U), Saving Santa (U) and Saving Mr. Banks (PG). Also this is a good period for horror stories with the remake of Carrie plus a chance to catch the 1979 version of Nosferatu the Vampyre and the 1952 version of The Phantom of the Opera.

For something different the Dukes is offering an insight into the secret meanings of numerous cinema favourites with The Pervert's Guide to Ideology.

Reviews

Free Birds
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Keith David, Colm Meaney, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler
Two turkeys (as in birds, not films), Reggie and Jake, use a time machine to attend the first Thanksgiving meal in an attempt to get turkey removed from subsequent thanks-giving dinners. Reggie is from a free-range turkey farm and he realises why turkeys are being fattened!  Jake has the vision of commandeering the time machine in an attempt to change history. The film has some romantic interest with Reggie falling for Jenny, a turkey he meets during the adventure. In all the plot of this animation seems a little over complicated and the film contains some rude humour that may not be appropriate for the very young. In all an entertaining movie but one that is not destined to become a classic.

Frozen
Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad, Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen'. The queen has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (her sister) and loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all ages and makes an ideal movie for Christmas.

Gravity
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney
Ryan Stone (Bullock) a medical engineer and seasoned astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) are on a shuttle mission to repair the Hubble Telescope. However during a routine space walk, disaster strikes as the shuttle is destroyed by impact from space debris and Stone tumbles free in space. The film follows Stone's plight as she battles to survive. Bullock gives a superlative performance in this spectacularly shot movie. However the interest of the film is not the impressive special effects but rather the exploration of human frailty in adversity.

Philomena
Director: Stephen Frears
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
A quaint and charming film based on the book 'The Lost Child of Philomena Lee' by Martin Sixsmith. Dench plays Philomena, an Irish woman who had her baby taken from her for adoption in the USA whilst she was forced to live in a convent after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Much later in life she enlists the help of Sixsmith to try to discover the whereabouts of her lost son. Coogan produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay. He plays Sixsmith, the journalist who has fallen out of favour. Both Dench and Coogan give superb performances in this funny and heartwarming if a little sentimental film. Well worth seeing.

Saving Mr. Banks
Director: John Lee Hancock
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Tom Hanks
A film exploring the tribulations as Walt Disney battled to make the musical 'Mary Poppins'. Disney promised his daughters that he would make a film of the book, but the author, Mrs Travers, proved to be difficult to work with and had very fixed ideas regarding the interpretation of her work. She hated the sentimentalization of her book and the use of animation. She only gave grudging approval as she needed the money. This film is more sentimental than accurate, and includes numerous flashbacks regarding Traver's rather troubled life. Acting is great and the friction between Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) makes for compelling viewing.

The Best Man Holiday
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Morris Chestnut, Terrence Howard, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Sanaa Lathan
This is a sequel to 'The Best Man' which was released 14 years ago and explored the humour when an author (Harper) is best man at a wedding when his due to be released book shows his friends in an unflattering light. 'The Best Man Holiday' sees the college friends as they are reunited. The opening credits bring the audience 'up to speed' on the history of the characters and the film is a comedy exploring the tensions and complications between a group of friends over the Christmas period. The film contains sexual innuendo and some sadness but succeeds in being an excellent and enjoyable comedy.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Stanley Tucci, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The Hunger Games started as an extremely successful trilogy by Suzanne Collins. For this reviewer, the first Hunger Games excursion into film felt a little clunky. However the Hunger Games: Catching Fire got everything right and is a first rate movie. Katniss Everdeen was the winner in the 74th Hunger Games tournament and as victor she and Peeta Mellark must undertake a victors tour of the districts. However rebellion is 'in the air' and the ruler, President Snow, sees Katniss as a potential threat to the status quo. Hence he plots to discredit and kill her by involving her in a new Hunger Games along with old winners. So the participants need to defeat President Snow as well as avoiding killing each other. This is a dark, tense, thrilling and very enjoyable movie.

Thor: The Dark World
Director: Alan Taylor
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Stellan Skarsgård, Kat Dennings
Thor must combat an ancient, pervasive and powerful enemy, led by Malekith, to save the earth and all the realms. Much of the action is played out in Asgard and the interaction between Thor and Loki provides a major part of the film. However there is plenty of action and a strong vein of humour. In all a film that is very entertaining and does not take itself too seriously.

Turbo
Director: David Soren
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Peña
A DreamWorks animation in which Turbo is a snail obsessed with racing cars who dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500 race. His hopes start to look more realistic when an accident with a car engine provides him with a magical turn of speed. The animation is expertly done. The snails have cute believable personalities and the whole has a real 'feelgood' factor of an underdog following his dreams. The film follows the DreamWorks hit animation 'The Croods' and whilst it is extremely enjoyable, it lacks twists and subplots that make for a really memorable movie.

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day listings every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page.

Lancaster police hunt car thief after burglary on Balmoral Road

Police are appealing for information after a car was stolen following a sneak in burglary at a house in Lancaster last month.

At some time between 8.00pm on10th November and 8.00am on 11th November, the offender entered a house on Balmoral Road through an unlocked rear door and went into the kitchen and took car keys and a mobile phone.

The offender then left by the same door and stole a Silver Seat Ibiza (registration KM08 PNZ) that was parked on the street in front of the house.

Also in the car were a number of items of horse riding equipment including tack and clothing.

Detective Sergeant Fiona Jackson said, “If anyone has any information at all about this theft or if anyone has perhaps seen the car then I would ask them to come forward and contact us.”

virtual-lancaster readers have reported  number of incidents of 'opportunist theft' in the Moorlands area, with some regularly finding thieves have tried to gain access to back yards, often causing damage to gates and other property.

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 quoting log reference LC-20131111-0164 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.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Meet the Makers are coming to town

Meet the Makers, who will be visiting Lancaster's St. Nicholas Arcades over the weekends of 13th-15th and 20th-23rd December, are a group of talented, like-minded individuals who live in the city and the surrounding towns and villages promoting handmade goods and crafts.

The Makers all create and craft their own designs and have devised an event in the centre of town to give local people a chance to buy handmade goods this Christmas without having to travel further afield to find original and unusual gifts.

Teaming up with St Nicholas Arcade and raising funds to support the St John’s Hospice appeal, Jan Towlson (who makes quirky jewellery) and Colette Halstead (a successful glass artist) have brought together a wide range of artists and their unique products including quality cushions, cake pops, driftwood art, exquisite felt products, ceramic gifts, woodcraft, candles, material gifts, paintings, handcrafted soaps, stained glass, decoupage, unique jewellery and artwork.

There will be up to 15 different artists and makers attending over the two weekends in the busy run up to Christmas, selling a lovely range of gifts and below are just a selection.

Joining will be Alex from Cushy Heaven, selling lovely quality cushions, Amy from Polka Pops with her very cute cake pops, Emma and Jo from Beachpurl selling beautiful driftwood art. Also on hand will be Carolyn from CarolynJane with her exquisite felt productions, Mark and Lisa, a great duo selling ceramic gifts, Lou from Lakeland Wood who is very creative with wood, Becky and the Wonky Fox duo who make candles, candle holders and cute material gifts.

John Ellis is a painter from Lancaster who also exhibits with the Town House Gallery, while Dianne from Bare Village soaps handcrafts quality soaps. Debbie from Debbie's Shed will be selling lovely items made using stained glass techniques, while Heather from Heathers Bespoke Crafts does lots of amazing things with decoupage - and John Driskel, whose artwork captures scenes from the Lakes and surrounding areas.

So think local this christmas and support handmade - and the Hospice!

• More info: www.sjhospice.org.uk/news/367/250/Meet-the-Makers-are-coming-to-town/

Lancaster's 'Three Tier Forum' opens doors to public for the first time


People in Lancaster district will have the chance to see local democracy at work when an innovative meeting is opened to the public for the first time.

From its next meeting on Monday 9th December, Lancaster's three tier forum, which brings together county, district and parish councillors, will be open to the public.

Each of Lancashire's twelve districts has its own three tier forum, so called because they bring together councillors from each level of local government to discuss issues of mutual interest and influence local priorities.

County Councillor Janice Hanson, chair of Lancaster's three tier forum, said: "The forum brings representatives of the three levels of local government together to discuss issue! s that are important to local people and to influence what gets done. We work together on those issues to come to a consensus based on what is best for Lancaster district. We are all elected to represent the people of the district and it is only right and proper that we open these meetings up to them."

• The next meeting of the Lancaster Three Tier Forum is on Monday 9 December, 2013 at 6.15pm at Lancaster Town Hall.

University of Cumbria chosen by NHS to train specialist cancer staff

The University of Cumbria will soon be helping to ease the shortage of specialist cancer staff in the NHS after it was announced as the sole provider of a new national training course based on its Lancaster campus.

Working in partnership with a range of NHS trusts in England, the university will train physics graduates allowing them to work in roles which are pivotal to the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

The university was awarded the national tender by the NHS through its Modernising Scientific Careers programme and will be the only university in the country offering this course.

The Graduate Diploma in Healthcare Sciences will feature a combination of attendance and distance learning, with students qualifying at the end of the course as a healthcare science practitioner specialising in nuclear medicine or radiotherapy.

Graduates will be recruited by their NHS trust and will alternate between working in a hospital and studying at the university’s Bowerham Road campus in Lancaster.

Charles Sloane is a principal lecturer within the university’s Department of Health and Sport Sciences, and has been integral to the development of this course.

“This is a very exciting development for the university. It has been a real pleasure working closely with clinical partners and the team at Modernising Scientific Careers within the NHS," he commented.  “Their motivation in helping us shape and deliver the programme will quickly increase the number of front line staff available in hospitals who diagnose patients with severe illnesses and with the treatment of cancer.

 “As there is currently a severe shortage of NHS staff in this field, the introduction of this course will enormously benefit the NHS service in delivering timely care to cancer patients.”

This two-year course will be launched in January and is open to graduates who have a degree in physics or applied physics.

The course has been developed in partnership with Christie Hospital in Manchester, which is one of the largest cancer treatment centres in Europe, and Rosemere Cancer Centre at Royal Preston Hospital.

• For more information on the course, visit www.cumbria.ac.uk/graddiphealthcarescience

Council launches parking strategy consultation, charges to be reviewed

Lancaster City Council is inviting comments on its draft parking strategy for the district, which includes a potential review of parking charges and changes to regulations that mean the County Council is now in charge of maintaining (and creating) resident parking schemes.

The draft strategy was approved by the council’s Cabinet in October and is now open to public consultation.

Its aim is to provide a comprehensive approach to parking management which will improve the service provided directly to customers whilst also meeting the wider public needs of sustainability and amenity.

Councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox, cabinet member with responsibility for parking, said: “The Lancaster district is approaching a period of great challenges, changes and potential development.

“In the next few years we will not only see the completion of the Heysham to M6 link road but also the potential development of Lancaster Castle as a major tourist attraction, new plans to redevelop the Canal Corridor North site, and the opportunity to upgrade Morecambe town centre through the Morecambe Area Action Plan.

“All of these developments will have an effect on parking provision so the time is now right to update the strategy.”

While the new Park and Ride that is to be built as part of the M6 Link scheme will add some 550 car parking spaces for city visitors, Lancaster will also lose some car parking in coming years if new developments go ahead.


One aspect often discussed is the cost of parking in the area, with many arguing it is too expensive. The report acknowledges that parking charges are a useful mechanism for assisting with the control of demand for parking space. "However, a careful balance needs to be found," it notes. "If charges are too high then spaces will be underused but, conversely, if they are too low demand for spaces will increase to a level which makes them more difficult to find and increases congestion.

"Charges should also reflect the importance of shoppers’ and local business needs and
their high priority within the parking service."



However, it's also noted that it has been suggested that the tariff structure should be reviewed and that the same structure should not apply across the district.


"A review of the current tariff structure may assist in the promotion of Morecambe as a visitor
centre," the report acknowledges, "and help to achieve a greater visitor dwell time."


The report also notes rising costs for the administration of some parking schemes and highlights changes which mean, for example, that the City Council has less influence over the implementation of additional residents’ parking schemes. The County Council is also reviewing the priority given to traffic regulation orders for resident’s parking schemes and the future approach on the identification, assessment, funding and implementation of additional schemes.

The draft parking strategy is available to view at www.lancaster.gov.uk/draft-parking-strategy. The deadline for comments is December 31 2013.

• If you wish to submit any comments about the strategy please send them to parking@lancaster.gov.uk by 31st December 2013. Alternatively contact David Hopwood, Parking and Administration Manager on 01524 582817.

Depending on the type of comments that are received, changes may be made to the draft strategy or the comments will be taken into account when the action plan is implemented. The council is aiming to publish the final version of the strategy in February 2014.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Support local businesses this Saturday

Businesses in the Lancaster district are gearing up for the first ever Small Business Saturday UK, a nationwide event taking place on Saturday 7th December to champion local independent businesses.

Lancaster City Council is supporting the event by encouraging as many small businesses as possible to offer special promotions.

New start-ups and budding entrepreneurs are being offered free pitchs at the council’s markets in Lancaster and Morecambe. 

Existing traders plan to mark the day with a range of special offers and discounts for their customers.  Look out for the Small Business Saturday UK for participating traders.

Residents are being challenged to 'keep it local' by doing all or most of your shopping on December 7 with independent small businesses.

Councillor Janice Hanson, cabinet member with responsibility for economic regeneration, said: “Small businesses play an important part in our local economy, so this initiative is a great opportunity to shine a spotlight on them and help them thrive.  We have a wealth of small, independently-owned businesses in the district and we hope everyone will really get behind the scheme and give them the support they deserve.”

A number of local businesses have signed up to take part, including:
 
* JuJu's Boutique, Winter Gardens, Morecambe
* Arteria gift shop & art gallery, Brock Street, Lancaster
* The Handmade + Vintage Market, The Storey, Lancaster
* Atkinsons Coffee at the Shop, The Hall, China Street and The Music Room, Lancaster
* Sixteen Twelve, Lancaster Charter Market
* Morecambe's Festival Market
* Charter Market, Lancaster
* Assembly Rooms Market, Lancaster
* Total Strategy Games, Lancaster Charter Market
* Kathy's Hairstylist, Sun Street, Lancaster
* Frankly Media
* Inspiration Gifts, Lancaster Leisure Park
* Lewis's Coffee Shop, New Street, Lancaster
* Alchemy, Morecambe
* Bare Necessities, Princes Crescent, Bare
* Enchanted Kids, New St, Lancaster
* Studio Arts, North Rd, Lancaster
* Black Bear Computers
* Woodies Crook o Lune Snacks
* Baxters Potted Shrimps, Thornton Rd, Morecambe
 
New local businesses have also been given the opportunity to bring exciting new products to the council's markets for free on the day.  Keep an eye out for Liberty print children's wear, Celtic blankets, stone carvings, iced cakes and sugar modelling and Made in Wray bespoke wooden products at Lancaster's Charter Market and hand-made board games, giant posters and Christmas wreaths at the Assembly Rooms Market.

City Council continues long-running battle to recover £6 million lost in Icelandic bank collapse



(Updated 14:00): At a time when Lancaster City Council faces swingeing cuts in its funding from the government, it's good to learn that is is still expecting the return of the majority of the £6 million caught up in the Icelandic banking collapse back in October 2008 – although exactly when remains unclear.

All told, when Iceland's three biggest banks - Glitnir, Landsbanki and Kaupthing - and their UK-licensed subsidiaries such as London-based  Heritable Bank all collapsed in October 2008, they held deposits of up to £900 million from English local authorities.

The cause of the Icelandic banking collapse has been ascribed in part to Iceland's deregulation of the banking industry in 2001. After the three banks were privatised in 2003 they went on a borrowing spree, mostly in Europe. The strategy proved catastrophic.

As we reported in 2008, Lancaster City Council invested some £6 million in high interest Icelandic banks - but those investments were not covered by the then Labour government's guarantee to cover personal account losses following the collapse. The national Guardian featured a list of councils that were caught up in the fallout, and most are only now beginning to see resolution of the matter after a long-running legal battle.

As well as the City Council, locally Lancashire County Council invested £10m with Landsbanki.

Icelandic banks agreed to refund local authorities whose assets were frozen after a long-running legal battle to ensure local authority cash tied up in the 2008 collapse in November 2011. Failed Icelandic bank Glitnir agreed to to repay UK councils some £186m lost by 50 councils in March 2012.

Details of Lancaster City Council's liabilities as a result of the Icelandic bank collapse, published back in June

City Council documents released in June 2013 (PDF link) indicated the expected recovery of some £5.98m of monies invested - but there still seemed uncertainty as to when this money would be returned.

The most recent public update on the situation was reported to the Budget and Performance Panel last month (PDF Link), major changes to report. The Council still expects to recover around £6 milion equivalent to the value of the original investments. A fourth distribution from Landsbanki had been made since June regarding the Council’s investment, representing 5.23% of the original claim, of which 53.9% has now been recovered.
Details of Lancaster City Council's liabilities as a result of the Icelandic bank collapse, published back in October

Elsewhere in the UK, some councils, such as Wiltshire County council recently confirmed they have finally seen much of their investment returned.

The Local Government Authority recently announced it had helped councils recover a further £21 million of taxpayers' money deposited with Landsbank.

The latest payment took to £225 million the amount recovered from the failed Icelandic bank since the LGA secured priority creditor status for local authority depositors. Councils are expecting to recover all of the £414 million originally deposited, with additional payments expected in future instalments over several years.

The recovery of monies owed is complicated, not helped by Iceland's ongoing financial battle with Britain on the matter reported by The Guardian in October.

Channel 4 reported back in 2009 how councils were originally tempted to put cash into the Icelandic accounts by interest rates of more than six per cent, but some faced criticism that they should not have been risking taxpayers' money in the banks so late into 2008, after concerns had been raised earlier in the year.

They invested following strict national guidelines - but while some authorities stopped putting taxpayers' money into the high-interest accounts months or years before the Icelandic banks collapsed, some were still depositing cash in October 2008, the month the institutions fell, a C4 survey revealed.

Councils defended the deposits on the grounds that they regularly review and invest millions of pounds of council taxpayers' money, and need to spread the risk throughout various institutions. Many made healthy returns from Icelandic investments before the collapse.

The Local Government Association called for an independent inquiry into credit rating agencies. It wanted to find out why the Icelandic institutions were being given high ratings "right up until a matter of days before they collapsed".

These agencies, whose opinions can have a huge impact on a country's financial viability, seem to continue to prove pretty inept as not only did some not predict the Icelandic banking collapse but they have proven remarkably slow at predicting the country's economic recovery, too.

Icelandic journalist Sigrún Davíðsdóttir noted earlier this year that from 100% of GDP in 2004 these three banks grew to roughly ten times the Icelandic GDP in mid-2008, shortly before they collapsed in October 2008. No one – and least of all the rating agencies – seemed to wonder how sustainable their growth was and why three banks from a tiny island with  no history of banking could out-earn foreign banks despite borrowing at a relatively high cost.

"In the sorry saga of the Icelandic attempt at becoming a centre of international finance, the rating agencies played a rather dismal role," he argued. "This story was carefully traced in a 2010 report by a special investigative commission set up at the behest of the Icelandic Parliament."

In October 2008, the Council's Chief Executive Mark Cullinan stated that at the time of making the investments, which had been expected to mature in 2009, the banks concerned were reputable institutions with high credit ratings.

"As part of its investment strategy Lancaster City Council currently has a portfolio totalling £24million spread across a number of financial institutions," he explained.

"The amount invested can vary daily, given that the Council can reasonably expect between £200 to £250million passing through its bank accounts in any one year. The Council uses the investment income generated to help fund its annual budget in providing services.

"Around £6million of the current portfolio is invested in three Icelandic banks.

"At the time of making these investments, the banks concerned were reputable institutions with high credit ratings.

"Although all the institutions the council has invested in are rigorously scrutinised prior to being chosen, given the current unprecedented crisis in the global banking market, interim measures have now been put into place to give even greater protection to our cash balances," he continued. "These measures include keeping any future investments with highly rated institutions based in the UK or Ireland, where Government has now given guarantees for any such investments made."

•  The 2013/14 Treasury Management Progress Report outlines the Council's investment strategy and details of funds owed by the Icelandic banks (PDF)

Government "complacent" over rising crime figures, claims Commisisoner

Clive Grunshaw: Government should not be
"complacent" about crime statistics
The era of falling crime could be at an end, according to leaked figures showing a “disturbing trend” of rising muggings, burglary and theft – and Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has warned things could get worse as the government continues to make funding cuts.

The Times (subscription required for full story) reports today that unpublished police data shows a sharp increase in property crime, as thieves target smartphones and tablet computers through break-ins, and snatch thefts and street muggings. There has also been a rise in shoplifting, with police forces reporting first-time arrests of people stealing basic food.

Responding to the story, Clive Grunshaw, Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner, warned: "The police force as a whole has never had to endure cuts on this scale and, while so far we have managed to ride the changes without seeing a detrimental impact on levels of reported crime, this cannot continue.

"This Government should stop being complacent about the crime statistics and realise that there are consequences to their decisions. A tipping point is fast approaching. Crime has been at an unprecedented low but, as the cuts really start to bite, so we will start to see year-on-year increases.

"Mr Finnigan points to a rise in first-time offenders turning to shoplifting to put food on their tables. It is a fact that, while the Constabulary is facing significant financial challenges, so are Lancashire's residents – and we cannot ignore the potential impact this has on crime levels.

"This is something my office is aware of, and we are currently working hard alongside our partners to implement an Early Intervention strategy which will target Lancashire's most vulnerable residents and families and prevent them turning to crime. As Police and Crime Commissioner I remain committed to pro-active policing, rather than simply a reactive response.

"However, I have written to Theresa May personally to express my concern at the impact further police cuts could have. I do not believe now is the time for panic, but this Government needs to understand that high-performing, successful police forces need investment to maintain performance, not drastically diminishing budgets."
 

Police launch ‘Bah Humbug’ Christmas campaign

‘Spoiling Christmas for criminals’ – that’s the aim of this year’s festive ‘Bah Humbug’ crime prevention campaign launched by Lancashire Police today.

The initiative will support the operational policing activity taking place across the county and will see officers out and about in town centres giving out free jingle bell purse alarms to attach to bags, so people can keep their valuables safe while out shopping for presents.

Car park signs have additionally been put up around the county to remind drivers to lock their vehicles and remove their valuables from view when shopping and on nights out.

Festive safety messages will also feature on the Constabulary’s Facebook, Twitter and website, and Christmas cards are being sent out to known criminals as a deterrent to would-be thieves.

The campaign will be complemented by a booklet being distributed to the public covering different types of crime, giving advice to householders, shoppers, revellers and motorists. 20,000 newsletters have also been distributed to residents, giving them hints and tips to have a safe and enjoyable Christmas.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Bates said: “The countdown to Christmas has officially begun, with only 23 days now until the big day itself.

“We want people to be able to enjoy the festivities, while being sensible to prevent themselves becoming victims of crime. There are lots of simple things that the public can do to lessen their risk, which we will be telling them about on Facebook and Twitter.

“We are also making known criminals, such as previous burglars, know that they are on our radar, we will be keeping a close eye on them and we will arrest and charge those responsible for taking advantage of the opportunities to commit crime at this time of year.”

Lancashire residents are being urged to:

Keep your home and valuables safe
  • Fit a burglar alarm and outside lighting.
  • Ensure your windows and doors are locked.
  • Keep presents out of view both at home and in your car.
  • Don’t leave your set near your front door or on display.
  • Mark your new valuable items with your postcode and note down make/model/serial numbers.

Keep your car and its contents safe
  • Stay with your car whilst it is defrosting.
  • Always lock doors and close windows.
  • Keep valuables out of sight. Better yet, remove them from your car.
  • Keep a shovel, torch, blanket, bottles of water, sturdy outdoor footwear and a charged mobile phone in your car in case you break down this Christmas.

Be safe on nights out
  • Have a plan on how you will get home safely.
  • Use a legitimate taxi company.
  • Use busy, well-lit routes if you have to walk.
  • Walk facing oncoming traffic.
  • Have your keys ready as you approach your car.
  • Park in well-lit areas.

Stay safe when shopping
  • Keep your bag with you.
  • Keep purses, wallets and mobiles in your inside pockets, out of view.
  • Carry handbags across your body with the flap facing you.

Shop safe online
  • Always use secure sites. Look for the padlock symbol.
  • Always keep printouts of online documentation.
  • Never disclose your bank or card details as proof of identity or age.
  • Register your cards with Verified by Visa or MasterCard SecureCode when prompted.
  • Log out when you have finished shopping.

• If you have a security concern, you can get advice from your local Neighbourhood Policing Team who can be found by typing in your postcode in the ‘My Area’ tab on www.lancashire.police.uk. To report a crime, please call Lancashire Police on 101. Always dial 999 in an emergency