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