Thursday, 31 December 2015

After the Floods: Greens Question Lancaster Flood Gate Closure Delays

Lancaster's Quay during the floods caused by Storm Desmond

Green Councillor for Castle Ward Nick Wilkinson has written to Sir Phillip Dilley at the Environment Agency asking for an explanation as to why the flood gates along St. George's Quay, Lancaster, were not closed on the Saturday evening of the floods.

After seeing that the swollen river was up against the walk way along the Quay on Saturday 5th December, Nick called the Environment Agency Incident Line at 16.55 to alert them to the fact that the gates needed closing urgently.

The Environment Agency said that they were inundated with calls and, when pressed, they were unable to give an estimated time to get the Quay flood gates closed.

Nick then escalated the issue to the emergency services and stood at the flood gates waiting for response team to arrive. The Fire Service and local Police attended (with bolt cutters), and the police asked Nick to call the Environment Agency back to confirm the process to close the gates. After around one hour, and the emergency services intervention, two Environment Agency officers attended to close them.

"The police and fire service were excellent," says Nick, "but I was surprised that the gates were not closed as a matter of course when the met office weather warnings were issued.

"It took myself, and the emergency services (whose resources were already stretched that evening)  over an hour to get the Environment Agency to close the gates. This could have been avoided had the gates been closed earlier.

"There should also be a way that emergency services can speak directly with the Environment Agency officers rather than having to go through a call centre."

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 30th December 2015 to 7th January 2016

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

We have just two new releases over the New Year period. There is transexual drama in The Danish Girl (15) and comedy drama with Joy (12A).

Movies that have vanished from the local cinemas include Bridge of Spies and Christmas with the Coopers. In addition the following are approaching the end of their screening: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2; Sisters; Spectre and The Lady in the Van. By way of compensation the movie Miss you Already is making a return for one day only.

Films coming soon to our screens include boxing drama with Creed on 15th January and Tarantino's western, The Hateful Eight starting the 8th January.

The big draw at the moment is still Star Wars: The Force Awakens though other great drama comes with In the Heart of the Sea. Children's films include Pan; Hotel Transylvania 2 and the excellent Snoopy & Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie. In addition there is family entertainment with Daddy's Home.

Period drama comes with Suffragette and The Danish Girl. However there is little high culture on offer during the week.

If planning a visit to the Vue, note that the lift was reported out of action on the 30th December.

Reviews

Daddy's Home
Director: Sean Anders
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini
A comedy. Conservative radio executive Brad (Ferrell) marries Sarah (Cardellini) and tries to be a good step dad to her two children. However his wife's charismatic and musclebound former husband Dusty (Wahlberg) comes for an extended visit. Brad finds he must now compete with their real father for the affection of his step children. There is a real on-screen chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg as they vie with each other and this provides plenty of opportunity for gags and comedy set pieces. However some of the gags are rather predictable leaving a film that is genuinely funny but seldom hilarious.

In the Heart of the Sea
Director: Ron Howard
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ben Whishaw, Brendon Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy
A film based on a non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is set in the winter of 1820 when the whaling ship the Essex sets sail. Finding the local whaling ground is depleted, the ship ventures into the Pacific Ocean. Here prey is bountiful, but a massive sperm whale seeks vengeance against the hunters. It attacks the ship and the crew take refuge on a tiny island where they face the prospect of starvation. Hence they have little option but to take to the seas again to face the hardships and privations of an extended voyage to return home. This is a gripping film with convincing special effects and plenty of action, though somewhat lacking in suspense. An entertaining sea-fairing yarn.

Joy
Director: David O Russell
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Diana Ladd
A semi-fictional biographical comedy drama about a mop, or how Joy Mangaro (Lawrence) became a millionaire. Joy is a divorced mother with two children, living with her extended dysfunctional family who all depend upon her. In the early 1990s she invents and markets the Miracle Mop. This becomes a great success, selling on a TV shopping channel. Her grandmother Mimi (Ladd) is always supportive of her, and it is she who supplies the narration during the film. The movie has a strong cast and Lawrence provides an exceptionally strong performance. There are some laugh out loud moments during the movie though at times it seemed a little flat. A good, but not a great film.

Miss You Already
Director: Catherine Hardwicke
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Drew Barrymore, Toni Collette
Milly (Collette) and Jess (Barrymore) are lifelong friends though their lives are very different. Milly works as a PR executive. She is married to a rock star and has a perfect family. Jess however has a more mundane job and is desperate to have a baby. Milly's life however is thrown in turmoil when she is diagnosed with breast cancer. The film follows her fight with cancer and the stresses it puts on her relationship with Jess who finally conceives a baby. This is a passable movie which provides something of an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Pan
Director: Joe Wright
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Garrett Hedlund
A prequel to the story of Peter Pan. Peter (Miller) is abandoned by his mother and brought up in an orphanage run by Mother Barnabus (Burke). He is captured by pirates and taken to the magical world of Neverland where he is forced into slave labour by Bluebeard (Jackman). Peter and his friend James Hook (Hedlund) manage to escape to the forest where Peter befriends the fairy Tinker Bell. The fairies fight and defeat the pirates and Hook becomes captain of the Jolly Roger ship. A rather bland and somewhat contrived movie.

Sisters
Director: Jason Moore
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest
Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Kay) are very different sisters. Maura is the sensible one, now divorced, whereas Kate is excitable and prone to tantrums. They are summoned back to their parents house to clear out their childhood bedroom in one weekend as their parents Bucky (Brolin) and Deana (Wiest) are about to sell the home. The sisters decide to mark the occasion by hosting a party for their high school friends, but find things get rapidly out of hand. There is some crude language and sexual content in this movie and some some of the gags feel a little laboured. However the whole is a cracking comedy giving an emotional roller coaster ride.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott
The latest James Bond Movie. M engages in a political battle to keep the secret service, in the light of a plan by Max Denbigh (Scott) to replace the 00 program with computer surveillance. Bond meanwhile is trying to locate Franz Oberhauser (Waltz), the suspected head of the evil organisation 'Spectre'. The movie starts in Mexico during the Day of the dead celebrations and thence the action continues in London, Rome and Morocco. There are numerous over the top action sequences, car chases, a good assortment of scary villains and exotic love interest. However amid this harshness, the movie contains a good level of humour. Tension builds from the very start, though some of this starts to dissipate as the film progresses. This is James Bond from the classic mould and Daniel Craig delivers a great performance.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver.
The movie is set some thirty years after 'The Return of the Jedi'. The power vacuum left after the Empire was vanquished has been filled by the 'First Order' who start to control the galaxy with their stormtroopers. The movie tells of the adventures of Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia (Fisher) as they join new characters including Rey (Ridley), a scavenger, Finn (Boyega) a First Order Conscript and a spherical droid BB-8 as they battle the First Order led by the ominous Kylo Ren (Driver). This movie follows the style of the first star wars trilogy and, for this reviewer, was much better than the prequels. Old characters make a welcome appearance to supplement the newer heroes and villains. An excellent movie in all respects and the best Star Wars yet.

The Danish Girl
Director: Tom Hooper
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw
The film is based on a novel by David Ebershoff and inspired by the lives of Dutch artists Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Vikander). Set in the mid 1920's Gerda is a portrait painter, but a sitter is late for an appointment. Hence Gerda gets her husband Einar to stand in for the missing female sitter. This has consequences. Einar has been harbouring a disire to become a female and the finished portrait attracts favourable attention from art dealers. Einar decides to permanently convert to his alter ego Lili Elbe and becomes one of the first people to received a surgical sex realignment procedure to change from a man to a woman. The movie follows both the artists as they come to terms with the change from Einar to Lili. A serious movie, well acted and well received that highlights the issues of gender reassignment.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The concluding part of The Hunger Games series, based on the novels by Suzanne Colins. The movie continues from the previous film. Katniss (Lawrence) is recovering from battle, but she rejoins her comrades to bring the revolution to the Capital and President Snow (Sunderland). The Capital however is now peppered with booby traps awaiting for them. The film seems to move at a slightly slower pace than the previous instalments as there is a political element to the plot. Acting is very convincing, the special effects are spectacular and the plot has a good number of twists and turns. An excellent and emotional movie that provides a satisfying and worthy conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise.

The Lady in the Van
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
A true story, adopted from 1999 West End Play of the same name and filmed on location in North London. In 1974, Miss Shephard (Smith) is a woman looking for somewhere to park after being moved on the council. Playwright Alan Bennett agrees to her parking her van (which is also her accommodation) in his drive for a couple of days. However Miss Shephard then lived in the drive for the next fifteen years and the film shows the relationship between Bennett and his nuisance neighbour. This is a warm, charming and thoroughly fun movie.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Police Warning over Loyn Bridge road closure notice "tampering"

Lancaster Police have received several reports of people "tampering" with the road closures at the Loyn Bridge between Hornby and Gressingham.

Drivers are being reminded the closures are there for safety reasons, and moving the signs is putting the safety of local residents at risk.

Engineers are assessing the damage again today, after the north facing buttress collapsed.

If anyone is seen moving the signs, it should be reported.



Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 23rd to 31st December 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

There are two new releases in this pre-Christmas period, the comedy Daddy's Home (12A) and the action/drama In the Heart of the Sea (12A).

We have lost the movies Black Mass; Krampus & Victor Frankenstein and it looks like the spy films Bridge of Spies and Spectre are nearing the end of their season. However the films Pan and Suffragette have made a return.

Star wars: The Force Awakens is still the main feature film of this period, with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 providing a good alternative. Other strong drama on offer includes Bridge of Spies; Suffragette and The Lady in the Van.

Adult comedy during this period is supplied by Christmas with the Coopers and Sisters.

As expected over Christmas there is a good selection of family films on offer, including Frozen; Hotel Transylvania 2; Pan: Snoopy & Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie and The Good Dinosaur. Also on offer is the black and white Christmas classic It's a Wonderful Life.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas, One and All.

Reviews

Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell
A cold war drama, based on a genuine incident. Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is a spy working for the Soviet Union who has been captured in the USA. He is to be put on trial and James Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer, is given the job of acting as his defence. Meanwhile, a secret American Spy plane is shot down in Soviet airspace and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Russians and convicted of espionage. Neither America nor Russia want their respective officers interrogated by the other side and hence Donovan is tasked with organising a prisoner exchange. This is a fine spy drama, more dialogue and politics than action but it succeeds in building the tension. Both Hanks and Rylance give excellent performances and Spielberg masterfully created the ambience of the cold war period.

Daddy's Home
Director: Sean Anders
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini
A comedy. Conservative radio executive Brad (Ferrell) marries Sarah (Cardellini) and tries to be a good step dad to her two children. However his wife's charismatic and musclebound former husband Dusty (Wahlberg) comes for an extended visit. Brad finds he must now compete with their real father for the affection of his step children. There is a real on-screen chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg as they vie with each other and this provides plenty of opportunity for gags and comedy set pieces. However some of the gags are rather predictable leaving a film that is genuinely funny but seldom hilarious.

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' who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a 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.

In the Heart of the Sea
Director: Ron Howard
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ben Whishaw, Brendon Gleeson, Benjamin Walker, Cillian Murphy
A film based on a non-fiction book by Nathaniel Philbrick. It is set in the winter of 1820 when the whaling ship the Essex sets sail. Finding the local whaling ground is depleted, the ship ventures into the Pacific Ocean. Here prey is bountiful, but a massive sperm whale seeks vengeance against the hunters. It attacks the ship and the crew take refuge on a tiny island where they face the prospect of starvation. Hence they have little option but to take to the seas again to face the hardships and privations of an extended voyage to return home. This is a gripping film with convincing special effects and plenty of action, though somewhat lacking in suspense. An entertaining sea-fairing yarn.

Pan
Director: Joe Wright
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Garrett Hedlund
A prequel to the story of Peter Pan. Peter (Miller) is abandoned by his mother and brought up in an orphanage run by Mother Barnabus (Burke). He is captured by pirates and taken to the magical world of Neverland where he is forced into slave labour by Bluebeard (Jackman). Peter and his friend James Hook (Hedlund) manage to escape to the forest where Peter befriends the fairy Tinker Bell. The fairies fight and defeat the pirates and Hook becomes captain of the Jolly Roger ship. A rather bland and somewhat contrived movie.

Sisters
Director: Jason Moore
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest
Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Kay) are very different sisters. Maura is the sensible one, now divorced, whereas Kate is excitable and prone to tantrums. They are summoned back to their parents house to clear out their childhood bedroom in one weekend as their parents Bucky (Brolin) and Deana (Wiest) are about to sell the home. The sisters decide to mark the occasion by hosting a party for their high school friends, but find things get rapidly out of hand. There is some crude language and sexual content in this movie and some some of the gags feel a little laboured. However the whole is a cracking comedy giving an emotional roller coaster ride.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott
The latest James Bond Movie. M engages in a political battle to keep the secret service, in the light of a plan by Max Denbigh (Scott) to replace the 00 program with computer surveillance. Bond meanwhile is trying to locate Franz Oberhauser (Waltz), the suspected head of the evil organisation 'Spectre'. The movie starts in Mexico during the Day of the dead celebrations and thence the action continues in London, Rome and Morocco. There are numerous over the top action sequences, car chases, a good assortment of scary villains and exotic love interest. However amid this harshness, the movie contains a good level of humour. Tension builds from the very start, though some of this starts to dissipate as the film progresses. This is James Bond from the classic mould and Daniel Craig delivers a great performance.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver.
The movie is set some thirty years after 'The Return of the Jedi'. The power vacuum left after the Empire was vanquished has been filled by the 'First Order' who start to control the galaxy with their stormtroopers. The movie tells of the adventures of Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia (Fisher) as they join new characters including Rey (Ridley), a scavenger, Finn (Boyega) a First Order Conscript and a spherical droid BB-8 as they battle the First Order led by the ominous Kylo Ren (Driver). This movie follows the style of the first star wars trilogy and, for this reviewer, was much better than the prequels. Old characters make a welcome appearance to supplement the newer heroes and villains. An excellent movie in all respects and the best Star Wars yet.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The concluding part of The Hunger Games series, based on the novels by Suzanne Colins. The movie continues from the previous film. Katniss (Lawrence) is recovering from battle, but she rejoins her comrades to bring the revolution to the Capital and President Snow (Sunderland). The Capital however is now peppered with booby traps awaiting for them. The film seems to move at a slightly slower pace than the previous instalments as there is a political element to the plot. Acting is very convincing, the special effects are spectacular and the plot has a good number of twists and turns. An excellent and emotional movie that provides a satisfying and worthy conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise.

The Lady in the Van
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
A true story, adopted from 1999 West End Play of the same name and filmed on location in North London. In 1974, Miss Shephard (Smith) is a woman looking for somewhere to park after being moved on the council. Playwright Alan Bennett agrees to her parking her van (which is also her accommodation) in his drive for a couple of days. However Miss Shephard then lived in the drive for the next fifteen years and the film shows the relationship between Bennett and his nuisance neighbour. This is a warm, charming and thoroughly fun movie.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Trio wanted after Lancaster robbery on Wyresdale Road

Stolen: a red cornet during a mugging on Wyresdale Road
Police are appealing for information after a teenager was robbed by three men in Lancaster.

Around 12.40am on Friday 18th December, a 17-year-old male was walking on Wyresdale Road when he was approached by three men. One of them demanded the teenager hand over his bag while a second man tried to grab the teenager from behind.

He managed to run away but fell over, however after being pushed into a bush by two of the men he pushed tow of his attackers off and managed to get away.

It is believed a bag belonging to the victim was taken during the incident, with a red cornet, pictured, stolen.

The first male is described as aged 20, of slim build, with a slim face, large nose, wearing a grey Adidas tracksuit with blue stripes.

The second male is believed to be white, 5ft 10in tall, of slim build wearing a blue raincoat and the third man is described as white, with thick black eyebrows and stubble.

Detective Constable Sam Johnson, of Lancaster and Morecambe CID, said: “This was a distressing and frightening incident for the person involved.

“We would appeal to anyone with information about the men described or recognises the instrument pictured to contact officers immediately.”

• Anyone who can help police is asked to contact 101 quoting crime reference WB1510433

Monday, 21 December 2015

Lancaster "blighted" by inaction on Canal Corridor site, says Lancaster Vision

Disused Mitchell's Brewery building
Image courtesy British Land
With no news on its development in sight, many fear Lancaster's centre is blighted by the vacant Canal Corridor North site. Now, Lancaster Vision is arguing for a high-quality mixed development on the site: retail, housing and cultural buildings.

Lancaster Vision is the section of Lancaster Civic Society that focuses on the long-term future of Lancaster District and its economy and wrote some months ago to the chairman of the Canal Corridor property owners British Land to ask for an update on their plans for the Canal Corridor North.

British Land launched a consultation on the site in 2013, but has not updated the associated web site - www.canalcorridor.info - since then.

The last news item connected with the company's plans for Lancaster was published on the British Land web site in June 2013, announcing the appointment of a team of professional consultants to work on the regeneration of the 10 acre Canal Corridor North site in Lancaster city centre. The development team included new architects, planners and building specialists.

"Having already appointed urban regeneration specialist, Centros, to manage the development through the planning and construction processes, British Land has now appointed a new architectural team consisting of Chapman Taylor and Richard Griffiths Architects," the press statement read.

"GL Hearn, Gleeds and Jones Lang LaSalle have also been appointed as planning consultant, quantity surveyor, and letting agent respectively – with Mayer Brown continuing as transport consultant and Waterman Group as structural engineer and environmental consultant."

Since then, all has gone quiet and on receiving no reply to their letter, Lancaster wrote to British Land last week, this time to Richard Wise, Head of Retail Development, to seek a response.

"Lancaster has seen very little retail investment in the last two decades," he said in 2013, "and this strategic site, bordered by a canal and with two active theatres, offers the opportunity to create a strong, experiential shopping, leisure and cultural destination."

"The letters set out the view that Lancaster District has a number of special features that make it a very attractive place to live, work and visit," say Lancaster Vision.

"This is not just our view  -  it emerged strongly from a seminar organised by Lancaster Vision in February 2014 under the title The Big Opportunity  - Unlocking Lancaster’s Potential, and attended by representatives of local business, developers, transport undertakings, education, of Lancashire County and Lancaster City Councils, and indeed of British Land."

Martin Widden, a spokesperson for Lancaster Vision, points out that major changes have occurred in Lancaster District recently, including the opening of Lancaster Castle to the general public and construction of the Heysham-M6 Link Road, due to open in summer 2016.

These developments will help to bring more business into the District, he argues; but Lancaster Vision is convinced that the local economy has the ability to perform much better.  Much more could be made of its diversity of assets, including its history and heritage, its natural environment with river, canal and proximity to some of the most beautiful land and seascapes in the country, its educational institutions and its varied retail specialists.

“Lancaster and District has great potential, much of which is only partly realised," he says. "The Canal Corridor North site is the major regeneration opportunity in central Lancaster, and we would like to see it developed.

"It could add a significant new level to the variety of retail and leisure on offer in the District, encouraging increased economic activity, and building further on the strong economic case for retail developments in the City.  It will also provide an opportunity for more housing to be developed in the centre.  This would bring very important benefits to the District.”

If the major movers and shakers in the District’s economic development continue to drag their feet on this, Lancaster is at risk of missing its big opportunity.

• Lancaster Civic Society is online at www.lancastercivicsociety.org

Lancaster University Ebola expert helps the World Health Organisation


Dr Derek Gatherer, an expert in Ebola from Lancaster University has hailed “a major step forward” in the diagnosis of the disease after working with the World Health Organisation.

The WHO Expert Committee on Biological Standardisation organised an international study to produce a standard test for Ebola virus infection.

Dr Gatherer from the Faculty of Health and Medicine at Lancaster was a member of the study along with Dr Bob Lauder, Dr Lisa Bishop, and former Lancaster researcher Katharina Hartman.

Dr Gatherer said: “ At the completion of this study we now have a standard diagnostic test which can be distributed to labs around the world so in the event of another suspected outbreak we can very rapidly tell whether the suspected cases are true positives or not.

“This is a major step forward in Ebola virus diagnostics and what we hope is that in the future we won’t have any more large Ebola virus outbreaks like the one we had in West Africa over the last couple of years.”

The Ebola reference reagents produced by the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control and endorsed by the WHO can now be used in laboratory tests by the scientific community around the world.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “Having standard tests for Ebola and other infectious diseases is essential. It helps us gain a greater understanding of the diseases so we can more effectively protect the public’s health.”

NIBSC was asked by WHO to produce two types of Ebola reference reagents. The first is run alongside patient samples to detect Ebola infection. The second measures Ebola antibody levels following infection, or following immunisation with candidate vaccines.

The Ebola antibody standard will be used around the world in the testing of Ebola vaccines in development, and is expected to help accelerate the availability of new vaccines.

Cumbria University staff donate to Lancashire flood fund

Staff at the University of Cumbria have donated £1488.54 to the Lancashire Community Foundation flood recovery appeal to support individuals and families and vital community organisations and resident groups affected by Storm Desmond.

The funds were collected at staff Christmas lunches which took place on Tuesday 15, Wednesday 16 and Thursday 17 December. Staff donated £744.27 in cash which the university then match funded to make up to a total of £1488.54.

Lynn Bewley, Communications and Events Manager, said: “Staff and students have pulled out all the stops to support communities affected by the floods in a variety ways and we’re delighted that we can make this further contribution to such a vitally important fund.”

Earlier this week, the university’s schools and college liaison team lifted spirits by visiting 102 schools across North Lancashire and Cumbria to share information about how the university can support schools in getting pupils interested in higher education.

Woman attacked in Lancaster assault


Detectives are appealing for information after a woman was assaulted in Lancaster.

Around 8.00pm on Friday 18th December, a 42-year-old woman was walking on Regent Street when a man approached her, grabbed her and attempted to drag her into an alleyway towards Portland Street and Lindow Square.

The woman was pushed to the floor and kicked by the man before he ran back down the passageway.

The male is described as being of large built, around 5ft 9in tall, dressed in black with a clumsy run.

Detectives are appealing to anyone who was in the area at the time of the incident to contact police.

Detective Constable Trevor Walker of Lancaster CID said: “Incidents such as this are extremely rare but this was clearly very distressing for the female involved.

“I’m appealing for anybody who saw anyone in the area, hanging around or running away, or heard this lady shouting for help, to contact us immediately.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 101 quoting crime reference WB1510475

Friday, 18 December 2015

Flood Recovery Grants Now Available

Central government has announced that local authorities will be provided with Community Grants as part of the Communities and Business Recovery Scheme. This will be equivalent to over £500 per household to help with recovery costs, such as provision of temporary accommodation.

All households in Lancaster, Wyre and the Ribble Valley that were flooded in recent storms will automatically receive a minimum payment of £500 from funding provided to Lancashire by central government.

And small and medium sized businesses severely affected by the floods can also apply for financial recovery assistance.

Council officers from Lancaster, Wyre and the Ribble Valley have been working hard to identify flooded properties. Every household identified will receive the £500 payment through their district council or the county council.

Those residents in greater need may be eligible for further support from the same fund. Eligibility details and application forms are available at the Lancashire Community Foundation's dedicated website www.lancsfloodappeal.org.uk. The Lancashire Community Foundation is administering this element of the funding on behalf of Lancashire County Council.

Non-farming businesses who have been severely affected can apply to the same fund through Boost Business Lancashire, the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership's Growth Hub. Guidance and application forms are available at the website: www.boostbusinesslancashire.co.uk (Farming businesses will be supported through a separate scheme run by DEFRA.)

Martin Kelly, Director of Economic Development at Lancashire County Council, who is chairing the Strategic Recovery Co-ordinating Group, said: "All agencies are working extremely hard to get residents and businesses back to normality following last weekend’s devastating floods. We know what a distressing time this is and it is our absolute priority to get people back in their homes and business back on their feet. A key part of that is to ensure that the flood recovery funds made available by central government get to residents and businesses as soon as possible."

These grants are part of a package of support available to businesses and residents, including business rate and council tax relief, for which applications should be made to the relevant district council.

Further information for Households 

Council officers from Lancaster City Council, Wyre Borough Council and Ribble Valley Borough Council have been working to identify flooded properties. They have currently identified 420 properties across the three districts. Identified households will receive a payment of £500 from the scheme and do not have to apply.

In addition to those flat £500 payments, which will be administered by the district councils and the county council, those households in greatest need can also apply to the Lancashire Community Foundation for additional support.

• Applications can be made directly online at: https://ukcf.secure.force.com/forms/Lancashirefloodrecovery or by visiting www.lancsfloodappeal.org.uk 

This scheme for those in greatest need can provide support for cleaning up, emergency repairs, clothing, food and drink, heating and equipment, child care equipment, basic furniture. This is not an exhaustive list. Priority will be given to households with people over 70, children under the age of five, people with low incomes, people with physical or learning disabilities or mental health needs (eg those receiving Disability Living Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Attendance Allowance or Personal Independent Payment). The scheme will not normally fund vehicles or people who are fully insured (unless they have additional costs which are not covered).

Information for Charities and Community Groups 

Constituted community groups and registered charities can also apply for funding via the Lancashire Flood Appeal for emergency response work and as well as clean-up projects via www.lancsfloodappeal.org.uk

In addition to the Government's Communities and Business Recovery Scheme, the Lancashire Community Foundation is also expecting to raise more than £250,000, to directly support individuals and families in hardship and vital community organisations and resident groups in the areas affected by Storm Desmond. It provides emergency response support and clean-up support via charitable donations and grants.

Further information for Businesses

This scheme is available for small and medium sized businesses (up to 250 fulltime equivalent employees) in Lancashire flooded during the heavy rain of December 2015 which were trading on 5th December 2015 and were severely affected by the flood (either directly or indirectly).

The grants are not intended to cover losses incurred by the flooding which should have been covered by insurance but rather to support businesses in their recovery. Examples of the support companies can apply for include paying for specialist expertise to help plan clean up and recovery; marketing expenses; interest relief; training; and other revenue expenditure.

An application form and guidance are downloadable from the Boost Business Lancashire site www.boostbusinesslancashire.co.uk. Boost gateway staff will be available to help businesses complete the form. Once the claim is approved payment will be made electronically.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Morecambe MP Welcomes Government Funding confirmed to help all who have been affected by flooding

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Greg Clark MP has announced measures to ensure that all who have been affected by flooding are supported in the recovery process.

In a letter to Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris, Greg Clark laid out the following measures to support those who had been recently damaged by flooding, which Mr Morris has noted on his official web site:

• Belwin Emergency Scheme: This scheme reimburses local authorities for costs incurred on, or in connection with their immediate actions to safeguard life and property or to prevent severe suffering or inconvenience as a result of a disaster or emergency in the area.

• Government Community and Business Recovery Scheme:

• Provide Local Authorities with over £500 for each household affected by flooding; for example to help with temporary accommodation.

• Provide grants of up to £5,000 for householders to protect their home from future flooding e.g. to replace flood barriers, move electricity sockets higher up, replace doors and windows with a water resistant alternative etc.

• Ensure that flood effected businesses who have their trading disrupted can get back on their feet, with funding equivalent to £2,500 provided to Local Authorities, with funding also to help farmers restore their land.

• Council Tax and Business rates relief to those who are effected.

"I am pleased that the Government have committed to helping everyone in my constituency who has been effected by flooding," said David Morris MP, speaking after the announcement.

"Although most of this funding is passed through the local authority and administered by them, please contact my office if you have been effected and you are unsure of how to apply for the schemes which have been announced to help."

• Contact Mr Morris via his web site at http://www.davidmorris.org.uk


Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 16th to 24th December 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

Only one new film has been released this period, the long awaited science fiction adventure sequel Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A).

Movies that have vanished from the local screens include Pan and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension. In addition the following movies will soon be withdrawn Black Mass; Krampus; Spectre; Steve Job and Victor Frankenstein. However we see the welcome return of action and adventure with Everest and seasonal family fantasy with Frozen.

Science fiction adventure is well represented with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 and the well received Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Horror films on offer are Krampus and Victor Frankenstein.

For adult drama there is Bridge of Spies; Carol and Spectre, whereas comedy comes with Christmas with the Coopers; Sisters and The Lady in the Van.

Family movies include Hotel Transylvania 2; Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie; The Good Dinosaur; The Muppet Christmas Carol and the ever popular Frozen.

Finally the Dukes are presenting another Film Quiz on Sunday 20th December.

Reviews

Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell
A cold war drama, based on a genuine incident. Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is a spy working for the Soviet Union who has been captured in the USA. He is to be put on trial and James Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer, is given the job of acting as his defence. Meanwhile, a secret American Spy plane is shot down in Soviet airspace and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Russians and convicted of espionage. Neither America nor Russia want their respective officers interrogated by the other side and hence Donovan is tasked with organising a prisoner exchange. This is a fine spy drama, more dialogue and politics than action but it succeeds in building the tension. Both Hanks and Rylance give excellent performances and Spielberg masterfully created the ambience of the cold war period.

Everest
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Robin Wright, Nasko Mori
A docudrama set in May 1996 when two expeditions tried to make it to the peak of Mount Everest. However a blizzard resulted in the death of eight climbers. The main emphasis is on the five climbers who perished on the South face. This is a dramatic and moving film, best appreciated in 3D to get the most of the scenery and the dizzying drops. The mountain itself is the primary focus, with character development taking second place. However, there is much made of the trials of the climbers and of the emotional distress of loved ones left behind. An unsentimental movie which makes the viewer feel that he is part of the expedition.

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' who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a 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.

Sisters
Director: Jason Moore
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, James Brolin, Dianne Wiest
Maura (Poehler) and Kate (Kay) are very different sisters. Maura is the sensible one, now divorced, whereas Kate is excitable and prone to tantrums. They are summoned back to their parents house to clear out their childhood bedroom in one weekend as their parents Bucky (Brolin) and Deana (Wiest) are about to sell the home. The sisters decide to mark the occasion by hosting a party for their high school friends, but find things get rapidly out of hand. There is some crude language and sexual content in this movie and some some of the gags feel a little laboured. However the whole is a cracking comedy giving an emotional roller coaster ride.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott
The latest James Bond Movie. M engages in a political battle to keep the secret service, in the light of a plan by Max Denbigh (Scott) to replace the 00 program with computer surveillance. Bond meanwhile is trying to locate Franz Oberhauser (Waltz), the suspected head of the evil organisation 'Spectre'. The movie starts in Mexico during the Day of the dead celebrations and thence the action continues in London, Rome and Morocco. There are numerous over the top action sequences, car chases, a good assortment of scary villains and exotic love interest. However amid this harshness, the movie contains a good level of humour. Tension builds from the very start, though some of this starts to dissipate as the film progresses. This is James Bond from the classic mould and Daniel Craig delivers a great performance.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver.
The movie is set some thirty years after 'The Return of the Jedi'. The power vacuum left after the Empire was vanquished has been filled by the 'First Order' who start to control the galaxy with their stormtroopers. The movie tells of the adventures of Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia (Fisher) as they join new characters including Rey (Ridley), a scavenger, Finn (Boyega) a First Order Conscript and a spherical droid BB-8 as they battle the First Order led by the ominous Kylo Ren (Driver). This movie follows the style of the first star wars trilogy and, for this reviewer, was much better than the prequels. Old characters make a welcome appearance to supplement the newer heroes and villains. An excellent movie in all respects and the best Star Wars yet.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The concluding part of The Hunger Games series, based on the novels by Suzanne Colins. The movie continues from the previous film. Katniss (Lawrence) is recovering from battle, but she rejoins her comrades to bring the revolution to the Capital and President Snow (Sunderland). The Capital however is now peppered with booby traps awaiting for them. The film seems to move at a slightly slower pace than the previous instalments as there is a political element to the plot. Acting is very convincing, the special effects are spectacular and the plot has a good number of twists and turns. An excellent and emotional movie that provides a satisfying and worthy conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise.

The Lady in the Van
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
A true story, adopted from 1999 West End Play of the same name and filmed on location in North London. In 1974, Miss Shephard (Smith) is a woman looking for somewhere to park after being moved on the council. Playwright Alan Bennett agrees to her parking her van (which is also her accommodation) in his drive for a couple of days. However Miss Shephard then lived in the drive for the next fifteen years and the film shows the relationship between Bennett and his nuisance neighbour. This is a warm, charming and thoroughly fun movie.

Victor Frankenstein
Director: Paul McGuigan
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Finlay
The film is a remake of Mary Shelly's classic novel Frankenstein, this time told from the point of view of Igor Strausman (Radcliffe). Igor is a hunchback clown in love with trapeze artist Lorelei (Findlay). He starts to assist the genius Victor Frankenstein in his experiments in immortality. Victor becomes increasingly obsessed with his work re-animating different organs and this brings them into conflict with the authorities. Finally they commence the construction of Prometheus, a human being. This is an entertaining film but it brings very little of novelty to the Frankenstein legend. A tolerable film that is rather low on horror but offers something by way of period romance.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Market Square Trees Decision to go before full Council Cabinet early next year

Lancaster Market Square. Photo: John Freeman
After outcry over a proposal to remove the trees from Lancaster's Market Square - and the possibility that the decision would be made by just one councillor - it seems there has been a change of heart, at least as far as the decision making goes.

Earlier this month, Green Party councillors condemned a City Council report recommending removal of all seven mature lime trees from Market Square, a decision that, it was suggested, would be placed in the hands of just one single Labour member of Cabinet - presumably either Janice Hansen and David Smith.

The proposal to remove the trees came after Lancaster City Council approached Lancaster Business Improvement District to consult with the businesses on their experiences of the trees situated in Market Square. Although Lancaster BID claimed the City Council were not proposing to remove the trees in a response to our news story, but to replace them with a more suitable species for the space, Green councillor and Mayor Jon Barry countered that the report he saw did not say that the trees would be replaced.

"It says that seven trees will be replanted at some unspecified place in the district," he commented. "There is some vague notion of planters possibly being used (which will get in the way and grow pathetic trees) but there is absolutely no commitment to re-plant trees in Market Square."

Regardless of who said what, the very idea of the trees being removed provoked outrage from visitors to our news pages, the virtual-lancaster Facebook page and other Lancaster-dedicated social media outlets such as the 3400-string Lancaster Past & Present Facebook group.

Now, Skerton councillor Janet Hall, responding to voter concerns, has delivered the welcome news that a decision is likely to be made in February but that decision will go before the full cabinet.

"That means that not only will the decision be made by eight people, ,but it will be done so in a public meeting, which gives anyone the chance to have a look at the report, recommendations and rationale behind any proposed decision before that decision is made," she said.

"As always, there will be the opportunity for the public to speak at that meeting."

"If It comes to Cabinet, I will then form a judgement based on evidence," commented Councillor David Smith in his response to a voter. "I value the trees... but am aware of real problems of people slipping and falling in the square."

"As a 70-year old who walks down Market Street frequently I want to say that the resurfacing is much better than the old surface - it is only slippery in wet weather when there are seeds or other detritus on it," said one VL reader on hearing of the plan. "The trees add greatly to the ambience of the area and should only be removed if they make it unsafe."

"The Council would do well to pay attention to research carried out in Lancaster," commented reader Andrew Walker, referring to Lancaster University research into how trees cut down air pollution.

"Here's an idea. If the leaves cause a slip hazard, sweep them up," added local business man David Chandler.

"I appreciate there are cut-backs to Council services but they find time to plant thousands of flowers on roundabouts, so I'm sure a quick sweep isn't beyond them."


United Utilities bill amnesty for flooded customers

Water bills will be suspended for customers who have been forced from their homes due to storm Desmond, United Utilities confirmed last week.

The North West company will suspend all charges for those who have to move out of flood hit properties, until customers are able to move back in.

The announcement came after floods caused by Storm Desmond devastated Lancaster homes and businesses, despite recent upgrades to the town's sewer system which caused traffic chaos in the city centre for months last year.

Enormous sewer pipes and underground storage tanks the size of Olympic swimming pools were carved out deep underground, what United Utilities described as "one of the biggest engineering schemes Lancaster has ever seen".

The vast £18 million project aimed to enhance the city’s sewer system, in order to reduce river pollution - but not, it appears, flooding.

A number of wastewater treatment sites were affected by flooding, including wastewater treatment works at Carlisle, Kendal, Garstang and Lancaster.

All Lancaster homes had water again after power was restored by 8th December, allowing water pumps to be brought back on line.

Bill adjustments will also be made for customers who need to use more water than usual for the big clean-up.

The support applies to households and businesses in flood affected areas.

The company is asking customers who have been forced to move out to make contact on the following numbers:

Domestic customers: 0800 912 7239

Business customers: 0345 072 6072

Customers will need to supply a temporary address along with the address of their empty, flood affected property.

Sally Ainsworth, Head of Customer Experience for United Utilities said: "The last thing customers forced from their properties need to worry about is paying for services they can't use.

"That's why we are suspending water and sewerage charges for customers who have had to move out of flooded homes and businesses until customers are ready to move back in.

"We'll also adjust bills for customers on water meters to cover any spike in water usage during the big clean-up this month. For example, if customers in flooded areas need to use hoses on paths and driveways, we'll support customers to get these adjustments made to their bills as quickly as possible."

It is estimated that 7,000 households and companies have been forced from their properties by flooding in Cumbria and Lancashire.

Engineers from United Utilities have been working around the clock since the weekend to maintain water supplies in flood hit areas. The company is now engaged in an extensive clean-up and repair process.

• Details can be found at www.unitedutilities.com

Saturday, 12 December 2015

The Really Heavy Greatcoat Review of the Year 2015


The Really Heavy Greatcoat by Virtual-lancaster's John Freeman and Lancaster-based artist Nick Miller was published fairly regularly for about 20 years in alternative Lancaster print titles such as On The Beat and Off the Beat and online on virtual-lancaster.net.

The strip's last regular appearance in print was in the now defunct Comics International, but Nick has recently published a number of RHG-inspired strips on the web platform Tapastic alongside his The Worry Man pocket cartoon. Sadly, both Skid Avenue and The RHG are on hiatus, as is Worry Man - he's a busy man doing stuff that pays (but always open to approaches for work).

John Freeman also works on comics by day - audio comics available on the ROK Comics app for iPad and iPhone and The Beatles Story - and reports on them in his spare time on downthetubes.net

When last seen in a regular strip, Kevin, the current owner of the Greatcoat - a talking garment with transcendentally dimensional pockets - was a student. He was clearly not postgraduate material so Nick and I reckon he's in a bedsit in Skerton, Lancaster somewhere, eking out a life on benefits...

If anyone ever offered to pay us to write it, it might still be running today - but Nick still creates an annual Review of the Year, bless him!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

• John Freeman's comic web site is at www.downthetubes.net
• More by Nick Miller at: http://teamsputnikblog.blogspot.com


Friday, 11 December 2015

Spotlight Club Celebrates 20th Anniversary Tonight - And Renewed Arts Council Funding

Steeve the Poet at Spotlight back in 2008. Photo: John Freeman 
It’s Open Mic night at tonight’s 20th Anniversary Spotlight Club at The Storey, which has just received the great news that it has successfully been granted two years funding from Arts Council England.

The first ever Spotlight was back in December 1995 – and to celebrate, this month's Spotlight is an Open Mic night that includes special guests Steeve The Poet and Mollie Baxter.

Steeve The Poet first appeared on the bill at Spotlight in March 1996 and soon became a big Spotlight favourite.

Mollie Baxter. Photo: Jonathan Bean/litfest
Mollie Baxter first appeared on the bill at Spotlight in August 1998 as a singer-songwriter and has since been a regular Spotlight performer as writer, musician, actor and compere.

This celebratory event includes music from The Low Countries, one of Spotlight's favourite bands. Primarily ElsD'hooge (vocals, accordion, melodica, glockenspiel) and Nigel Parrington (vocals, guitar, harmonica), they have been regulars at Spotlight in various guises since 2007.

The event is compered by Simon Baker, who first appeared on the bill at Spotlight in May 2003 and became a regular compere in December 2007.

Founded in December 1995 Lancaster Spotlight works in association with litfest.

• Spotlight Club: 20th Anniversary Open Mic Night Friday 11th December 2015 The Storey, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster (always second Friday of the month!). Doors Open 8.00pm (£5 / £3 students/unwaged/concessions ). Web: www.spotlightlancaster.co.uk 

Thursday, 10 December 2015

ENW's Goodwill Payment Scheme - and why power cut residents should claim it

If you lost power for more than 24 hours (which a lot of us in the Lancaster and Morecambe did) you can claim a one off payment from Electricity North West of £70.

You need to fill in a claim form called a goodwill payment from here.

Here is an example of what the team have been doing at CItizens Advice in filling in the form: date power went off - 5/12/2015, time power went off 22:30, date power back on 7/12/2015, Time the power came back on 5.30.

All in 24 hour clock and you must use : between the hour and minutes. Try and work out the total amount you were without power for some were 31 hours others were 36 or more.

It's been suggested by some people that we shouldn't make a claim from Electricity North West because the nice engineers worked so hard, but Virtual-Lancaster reader Michael Gibson has pointed out that ENW is the subsidiary of a Jersey based company established for tax avoidance purposes.

"The owners are JP Morgan," he notes, "an American bank fined billions for its role in the 2008 banking crisis, and Commonwealth Bank of Australia.

"In 2014/15 they had a turnover of over £500 million on which they made a gross profit of £300 million. However they paid their Jersey subsidiary and lenders £200 million in interest, which cut their profits and income tax considerably. They have £161 million in cash in the bank."

"They are a monopoly that we used to own that now sucks millions out of the country to wealthy investors overseas. They are also insured to the eyeballs.

"You owe them nothing."

Michael suggests claiming and giving the money to charity.

"If we all claimed and got £70 per household we could collectively donate £4.2 million to a charity of our choice," he points out - and he has some suggestions, too.

"Marsh Community Centre needs funds urgently to avoid closure," he notes. "The Dukes needs £3 million to repair its buildings. The Lancashire and Cumbria flood appeals need money.

"Or if you've lost out and want to keep it, do so. Help redistribute money from the rich to the poorer."

Work to switch customers back to the power grid begins tomorrow

Work to switch around 23,000 customers in Lancaster and surrounding areas back to the power grid  tomorrow (Friday 11th December) - but there will be short power cuts in the process.

More than 70 generators have been providing power to customers in the area since the River Lune burst its banks and flooded the main substation.

Repair works are still ongoing at the substation and once completed engineers will be onsite tomorrow evening working to switch customers back to the power grid and back to a normal and reliable power supply.

Customers will be switched back to the grid between 5.00pm-midnight tomorrow (11th December).

Mark Williamson, operations director for Electricity North West, said: “Engineers have worked day and night to repair the extensive damage at the substation and have made great progress over the last couple of days.

“We provided generators to ensure homes and businesses had power and tomorrow evening we will be able to start reconnecting all our customers back to the main grid and back to a normal robust supply.

“We are contacting customers in advance and we understand that there is never a convenient time to be without power, but this work is being carried out at the earliest time possible and will ensure customers are fully reconnected.

“We would like to thank customers for their continued patience this week, we know this has been a very trying time for people and the support we have received has been incredible.”

When switching customers back tomorrow they will experience a short power outage for up to 30 minutes. Engineers will be on site and power will be reconnected very quickly.

If customers experience a power cut longer than an hour between 5.00pm and midnight they must notify Electricity North West on 0800 195 4141 or on Twitter @ElectricityNW and engineers will be dispatched to investigate.

In Cumbria around 1,000 properties remain without power due to flooding and engineers have to do door-to-door safety checks on our equipment before being able to safely restore power.

This is an incredibly complicated coordination exercise as it needs customers to return to their flooded homes to get access but engineers are working as quickly and safely as possible.

• If you're already back on the grid there should be no loss of power. Most of Morecambe is on the grid. If in doubt try this fault checker site on the ENW web site - but we suggest you assume there will be power cuts unless you have been told differently by ENW staff direct, and don't start cooking a three course meal!

• All latest updates are being posted online at www.electricitynorthwest.co.uk, Twitter @ElectricityNW and on Electricity North West's Facebook page here


St Michael's Residents Meeting Tonight after flooding disaster




Flood defences at St. Michaels. Photo: Environment Agency North West via Twitter

There will be a residents’ meeting held at The Grapes public house in St Michael's village centre at 6pm this evening (Thursday 10th December).

Representatives from the emergency services and our partner agencies will be at the meeting to provide the latest information to residents who have been affected by the flooding.

Please note the meeting is not a press conference and the main purpose is to give residents an opportunity to ask questions and address any concerns or queries they may have.

Lancashire Police, along with their partner agencies, will continue to provide residents with regular updates as and when there are any.

For updates find Lancashire Police on Facebook | On Twitter @lancspolice | Web: www.lancashire.police.uk

Lancaster & Morecambe Floods: Advice for insurance claims

affected by the recent flooding in the United Kingdom
The British Insurance Brokers' Association has published advice for those affected by the recent floods and (as we previously reported) Lancaster City Council has set up a Business Recovery Centre in CityLab.

Insurance Advice to those affected by the recent floods and the many problems they brought in their wake includes:
  • Contacting their insurer or insurance broker and informing them before conducting any emergency repairs
  • Leaving dangerous work such as fixing the roof to professionals
  • Turning the power off, if safe, in a flooded home
  • Ensuring homes are safe and secure before leaving to prevent further loss
  • Keeping damaged items for evidence of a claim, including samples and photos of carpets, and receipts for any emergency work
Many business insurance policies cover damage to premises and stock, but loss of trading owing to interruption is usually only covered if firms have paid an extra premium as an add-on to their policy.

Council opens Business Recovery Centre

A Business Recovery Centre has opened in Lancaster City Council’s CityLab building in Dalton Square to provide help and advice to flood hit businesses to get back to normal operations as soon as possible. 

The centre will be open on week days from 10.00am to 4.00pm as long as it is required. Any businesses that cannot access the centre can access advice by emailing econdev@lancaster.gov.uk or telephoning 01524 582032.

Advice will be on offer from Lancashire County Council, Lancaster City Council, the fire service and other public agencies.  Included in the advice on offer will be access to business compensation schemes that may be available to those affected, how to dispose of contaminated food/equipment safely, and returning to normal business.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service are advising local businesses to ring their local fire safety department for practical business support in regards to fire risk assessments within their workplaces. There will be a representative at the CityLab building and the department can also be contacted during office hours (9am- 4pm) on the following numbers - Morecambe 01524 230104 / Lancaster 01524 32311. 


What about the train tickets?

Virgin Trains, which operates on the West Coast Mainline, said that anyone who was unable to travel would be eligible for a refund, or could use their ticket at a later date. Those whose journeys were disrupted by more than 30 minutes would also be entitled to compensation.

Those passengers who booked their ticket through the Virgin Trains website for a specific train will receive their refund automatically, but others will need to fill out a form on the website.

Subsidised insurance scheme in the pipleline

A new scheme, known as Flood Re (almost 'Relief' but not quite:-)  has been agreed between the government and insurance industry and is planned to start in April.

Under the scheme, residential homeowners in areas with the highest flood risks should be able to shop around for insurance, because the extra risk involved will be passed from the insurer to the new industry body called Flood Re, which is sponsored by the government.

We hope to see a competitive new market for people living in flood-risk areas with more realistically achievable deals for low-income and single-person households.

Recovery Appeal Fund

Local people and businesses can donate to  the Community Foundation for Lancashire Recovery Fund’s Public Appeal online via a dedicated MyDonate webpage at https://mydonate.bt.com/events/lancsfloodappeal
Alternatively text LFLD15 and the amount you would like to donate to 70070

If you have been affected by the flooding in Lancashire you can apply to the fund now. Guidelines for funding and an application form can be downloaded or completed online at http://www.lancsfoundation.org.uk/

Lancashire Flood Recovery Fund Appeal launched

Photo by Lancaster MP Cat Smith (via Twitter)
A Lancashire Flood Recovery Fund Appeal has been launched by the Community Foundation for Lancashire.

The Recovery Fund’s Appeal will raise funds to  contribute to clean-up costs, emergency repairs, clothing, food and drink, heating and heating equipment,  childcare equipment and basic furniture, especially in North Lancashire.

It will directly support individuals  and families already struggling and vital community organisations and resident groups in the areas affected  by Storm Desmond.

Chancellor George Osborne has promised that the government would match up to £1m collected by the Cumbria Community Foundation to help recovery from the floods. So far more than £600,000 has been raised.

If you have been affected by the flooding in Lancashire you can apply to the fund now. Guidelines for funding and an application form can be downloaded at
http://www.lancsfoundation.org.uk/

Ground floor Council flats in Lancaster's Water Street, housing a number of vulnerable tenants, went a foot deep in water. We at virtual-lancaster can only offer the most heartfelt salute to those ground floor residents, some in poor health themselves, who prioritised helping their frail elderly neighbours rather than taking time to rescue their own most valued possessions. And to the 'lovely' unnamed gentleman who sat playing  'The Times they are a'changin'' on his guitar by candlelight to two  disabled ladies (one had already rescued the more elderly other to her own next door flat) while they were marooned on a bed waiting for the Fire Service to come for them.

A monumental cleanup has been underway, but many flood-hit residents throughout the affected areas who have lost so much of their most valued and essential belongings are uninsured.

Any help you can give towards getting them back on their own feet again will be vastly appreciated.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam 

And admit that the waters
Around you have grown....


• Local people and businesses can donate to  the Recovery Fund’s Public Appeal online via a dedicated MyDonate webpage at
https://mydonate.bt.com/events/lancsfloodappeal | Alternatively text LFLD15 and the amount you would like to donate to 70070

Lancaster City Council to decide on combined authority



Lancaster City Council will decide whether it wants to join forces with other local authorities to create a Lancashire Combined Authority at a council meeting on Wednesday December 16.

Councillors will be asked to note the progress made so far and decide on whether they want to agree in principle to the Combined Authority and take part in a public consultation early in the New Year.

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: "Councils in Lancashire have been of the view for some time that we need to decide if we are able to take advantage of the opportunity to receive extra powers and funding from Central Government particularly in terms of the economy, skills, transport and housing.

“In any case a Combined Authority provides the opportunity for the city council to extend its influence on matters including transport and on how funds are allocated by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).”

A combined authority is a legal body that means councils across a designated area, in this case Lancashire, can work together better and be more accountable to residents.

Individual councils would continue to exist, and retain their individual powers, but would work more closely together in a more structured way on the matters that affect the local economy.

If agreement is reached a formal consultation would start in January.

• For more information visit www.lancaster.gov.uk/combined-authority

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 9th to 17th December 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

As a consequence of the recent storm and floods, the Vue is closed today (9th December), with the possibility of opening from tomorrow onwards. In addition, the full program for the Reel was not available at the time of this posting.

There are five new releases in our region during this period. We have romance with Carol (15); drama with McFarland (PG); and comedy with Sisters (15) and Tangerine (15). However the big event is the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (12A) due in the cinemas on the 17th December in good time for Christmas.

We have lost the movie Brooklyn but see the welcome return of Minions; Steve Jobs and the excellent The Martian.

Family entertainment abounds with Christmas with the Coopers; Hotel Transylvania 2; Inside Out; Pan; Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanut Movie and The Good Dinosaur. In addition we have an abundance of drama in Black Mass; Bridge of Spies; The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2; Spectre and The Martian.

Horror is represented with Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension; Victor Frankenstein and the somewhat tongue in cheek Krampus. For adult comedy see Sisters and Tangerine. For romantic drama Carol is recommended.

High culture during this period comes with the operas Cavalleria/Pagliacci and The Nutcracker.

Reviews

Bridge of Spies
Director: Steven Spielberg
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, Austin Stowell
A cold war drama, based on a genuine incident. Rudolf Abel (Rylance) is a spy working for the Soviet Union who has been captured in the USA. He is to be put on trial and James Donovan (Hanks), an insurance lawyer, is given the job of acting as his defence. Meanwhile, a secret American Spy plane is shot down in Soviet airspace and the pilot, Francis Gary Powers (Stowell) is captured by the Russians and convicted of espionage. Neither America nor Russia want their respective officers interrogated by the other side and hence Donovan is tasked with organising a prisoner exchange. This is a fine spy drama, more dialogue and politics than action but it succeeds in building the tension. Both Hanks and Rylance give excellent performances and Spielberg masterfully created the ambience of the cold war period.

Minions
Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders.
The film is both a spin off and a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise. The Minions have always existed on earth and the movie begins by tracing their evolution. They have the purpose of serving the most despicable of masters though not very successfully. The race finally retired to the Antarctic where they fare badly. Hence Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob decide to seek a new master for their race to work for. In a villain convention in Orlando they decide to serve the super-villain Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) who is planning to overthrow the Queen of England. The film, using skits and Musical numbers follows this plot. The Minions were the best part of the Despicable Me franchise and so it is fitting that they have their own film. The movie is very entertaining, inoffensive and funny and will delight all ages. However this reviewer would have liked more minions and fewer super-villains.

Pan
Director: Joe Wright
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Hugh Jackman, Levi Miller, Amanda Seyfried, Kathy Burke, Garrett Hedlund
A prequel to the story of Peter Pan. Peter (Miller) is abandoned by his mother and brought up in an orphanage run by Mother Barnabus (Burke). He is captured by pirates and taken to the magical world of Neverland where he is forced into slave labour by Bluebeard (Jackman). Peter and his friend James Hook (Hedlund) manage to escape to the forest where Peter befriends the fairy Tinker Bell. The fairies fight and defeat the pirates and Hook becomes captain of the Jolly Roger ship. A rather bland and somewhat contrived movie.

Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Director: Gregory Plotkin
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Chris Murray, Brit Shaw, Ivy George, Dan Gill
This is the sixth instalment in the Paranormal Activity series and it opens with a scene from Paranormal Activity 3. Ryan Fleege (Murray) moves into a new home in California along with his wife Emily (Shaw), daughter Leila (George) and his brother Mike (Gill). The two brothers discover a box of old VHS tapes filmed by a previous inhabitant of the property, starring two girls Katie and Kristi. These girls start to communicate with the current family by means of the TV set and various supernatural phenomena manifest within the house. Ryan brings in a priest to perform an exorcism, but things don't go to plan, leading to an unsettling conclusion.

Spectre
Director: Sam Mendes
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Andrew Scott
The latest James Bond Movie. M engages in a political battle to keep the secret service, in the light of a plan by Max Denbigh (Scott) to replace the 00 program with computer surveillance. Bond meanwhile is trying to locate Franz Oberhauser (Waltz), the suspected head of the evil organisation 'Spectre'. The movie starts in Mexico during the Day of the dead celebrations and thence the action continues in London, Rome and Morocco. There are numerous over the top action sequences, car chases, a good assortment of scary villains and exotic love interest. However amid this harshness, the movie contains a good level of humour. Tension builds from the very start, though some of this starts to dissipate as the film progresses. This is James Bond from the classic mould and Daniel Craig delivers a great performance.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
Director: Francis Lawrence
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Donald Sutherland
The concluding part of The Hunger Games series, based on the novels by Suzanne Colins. The movie continues from the previous film. Katniss (Lawrence) is recovering from battle, but she rejoins her comrades to bring the revolution to the Capital and President Snow (Sunderland). The Capital however is now peppered with booby traps awaiting for them. The film seems to move at a slightly slower pace than the previous instalments as there is a political element to the plot. Acting is very convincing, the special effects are spectacular and the plot has a good number of twists and turns. An excellent and emotional movie that provides a satisfying and worthy conclusion to the Hunger Games franchise.

The Lady in the Van
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Maggie Smith, Alex Jennings
A true story, adopted from 1999 West End Play of the same name and filmed on location in North London. In 1974, Miss Shephard (Smith) is a woman looking for somewhere to park after being moved on the council. Playwright Alan Bennett agrees to her parking her van (which is also her accommodation) in his drive for a couple of days. However Miss Shephard then lived in the drive for the next fifteen years and the film shows the relationship between Bennett and his nuisance neighbour. This is a warm, charming and thoroughly fun movie.

Victor Frankenstein
Director: Paul McGuigan
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe, Jessica Brown Finlay
The film is a remake of Mary Shelly's classic novel Frankenstein, this time told from the point of view of Igor Strausman (Radcliffe). Igor is a hunchback clown in love with trapeze artist Lorelei (Findlay). He starts to assist the genius Victor Frankenstein in his experiments in immortality. Victor becomes increasingly obsessed with his work re-animating different organs and this brings them into conflict with the authorities. Finally they commence the construction of Prometheus, a human being. This is an entertaining film but it brings very little of novelty to the Frankenstein legend. A tolerable film that is rather low on horror but offers something by way of period romance.