Friday, 23 October 2009

Motorists on Mobiles fined in police crackdown

A day-long crack down on motorists using mobile phones while driving has led to eleven people being fined by police in the Lancaster area.

Road policing officers carried out the clamp down on mobile phone use as part of Operation Pathway, an ongoing force wide campaign that sees high profile action days being carried out with the aim of saving lives and protecting people on the county’s roads.

“It’s scientifically proven that reaction time is greatly reduced when you are using a mobile phone while driving," commented Sgt Nigel Ralphson of road policing. “Reaction time is slowed by 30 per cent on average - which is greater than someone slightly over the drink drive limit.

“We also see many drivers reading texts or texting and they can drive several metres without looking at the road ahead. The dangers of this are obvious.”

The 11 motorists were given £60 fines and three points on their licences.

Motoring laws can also see offenders taken to court, if, perhaps, a policeman thinks the offence so bad that a fixed penalty fine is inadequate, or because the driver refuses to accept the fixed penalty. If this happens, fines will almost certainly be larger and disqualification is possible: the maximum fine in a court is £1000, or £2500 if the driver is driving a bus or a goods vehicle.

The AA estimates that, despite the potential penalties for using your mobile while driving, if there are 10 million cars on the road at any time during the day and the government says one per cent of drivers are at the wheel holding a phone, then one hundred thousand drivers are breaking the law at that moment.

Commenting on mobile phone use back in February, a spokesperson for the company said motorists need to understand the dangers and consequences of misusing a mobile phone whilst driving.

"The ultimate danger is death and consequences can be anything from jail, penalty points to a driving ban and higher insurance premiums."

• It's not just car drivers who seem blind to the dangers of mobile phone use while you're supposed to be concentrating on something else. Research carried out in the US at Western Washington University, published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology, suggests people chatting on mobile phones are oblivious to their surroundings and can pose a risk to themselves and others.

This research found that people who used a mobile phone while walking were less likely to notice their surroundings than people using an MP3 player, walking with a companion or walking alone. (See news story here on NHS Choices)

Mitchells Protest: Pictures

Mitchells Brewery Protestors

A group of local campaigners for more community-inspired development gathered outside Mitchells Brewery to protest at its planned demolition.

The Brewery, which is set for demolition next month unless it gets listed or other protection, is in a poor state of repair, like many other empty and disused buildings owned by the local hotel and pub company, such as the old Tramway public house on St. Leonardsgate. (Indeed, we're informed the City Council has already taken Mitchells to task over the condition of that particular building).

Campaigners argue the buildings could form the basis of a much more community-oriented development scheme that that proposed by Centros, and that the Brewery should not be torn down until the Inquiry into that controversial scheme has reported back.

Mitchells Brewery, Lancaster

Mitchells have appointed Todmorden-based firm N & R Contractors Ltd to carry out the demolition, with a planned start date of 23rd November. However, as we previously reported, the presence of bats in the buildings may delay the destruction (see news story).

N & R's previous contracts include several shopping developments, according to one of their web sites, although of course we should not read anything into that and the levelling of buildings on a piece of prime real estate in the city centre....

Williamson Park launches new children's activities

venue_ashton_memorial.jpgLancaster's Williamson Park is launching a special four week ‘junior zoo keeper’ course, giving children aged 8 to 14 hands on experience of caring for the park’s collection of animals, insects and reptiles.

The course will run on Sundays between 1st - 22nd November and costs £20.

Bookings are also now being taken for children’s birthday parties at the park.

Groups of between 10-15 children can have an exclusive tour of the mini beast area and a behind the scenes view of what is involved in caring for all the animals. This will be followed by other party activities and party food in the pavilion cafe.

“We're very excited by the launch of our new children’s parties," enthuses Sharon Wilson, the park’s manager. "Children will get hands on experience of what’s involved in caring for the animals.

“They will get to meet Babs our royal python, George the water dragon and Sparky the parrot, to name a few.”

• Parties take place between 4.30pm to 6pm Monday to Friday, and between 2pm to 3.30pm and 4pm to 5.30pm Saturdays and Sundays. Contact the park for more information and to book a party.

• Contact the park for further details by telephoning 01524 33318 or by email to

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

New Support for Local Business Start-Ups

isus_team_300px.jpgAspiring entrepreneurs in the Lancaster district can now take advantage of the Intensive Start-Up Support (ISUS) Programme, a free business support service that offers a combination of start-up advice, coaching support, networking opportunities and workshops.

Leading support organisations from across Lancashire have come together to provide a comprehensive package of assistance, which is designed to give new and pre-start businesses the best possible chance of early success.

Funded by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and the European Regional Development Fund, the Intensive Start-Up Support (ISUS) programme is being delivered locally by Enterprise4All – a not for profit organisation that has been helping entrepreneurs to launch new businesses in and around the area for the last four years.

The programme, which is backed by Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council, will run for three years and offers free support to a wide range of eligible businesses and individuals. Those that can benefit from the scheme include – amongst others – women entrepreneurs, the over 50s, people with disabilities, social enterprises, people from minority ethnic communities and anyone currently registered for Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Those seeking assistance from the ISUS programme can request a one-to-one visit from a professional business adviser or they can arrange meetings at the newly refurbished Storey Institute in Lancaster, where Enterprise4All staff will have a satellite office. In either case, would-be business owners can receive help with a wide range of issues – from cash flow, grants and financial control to marketing, training and employment law.

The ISUS programme is the successor to the NWDA’s Business Start-Up initiative, through which Enterprise4All previously helped more than 1200 new firms to start trading. E4All Chief Executive, Ilyas Munshi is therefore confident that the new scheme is based on a winning formula.

“The Intensive Start Up Support programme is designed to give new and potential business owners all the support they could need to achieve sustainable success,” he explains. “If someone has a good business idea, our advisers will help them to develop it, to build a viable business plan and then to set about making their new venture a reality.

“Most of the support is tailored to individual needs. If confidence is an issue, we can organise confidence-building sessions; if skills are an issue, we can host workshops and seminars; if the challenge is to bring a new product to market, we can provide help and advice about things like branding, marketing and copyright protection. We’ve been providing this kind of support for years, so we’ve got a very clear understanding of what new businesses need and how we and our partner organisations can best support them.”

“It is always important to nurture our new and small businesses as key components of a dynamic local economy," added Councillor Evelyn Archer, Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet Member for the Economy, "but it becomes essential at a time of economic downturn. This service will provide invaluable support to budding entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

"The development of the service is a great example of how the City Council and County Council are working together to support local businesses and I’m delighted that it will be based in the Storey Creative Industries Centre."

The support is available throughout the district, which encompasses Lancaster, Morecambe, Heysham, Carnforth and surrounding rural areas.

• More information about eligibility and the support that is available can be obtained by calling Carolyn Hayes on 0845 607 0786.

Pictured above: 4All’s ISUS team near the Storey Institute, together with Bill Kindon, Principal Economic Development Officer at Lancaster City Council. Left to Right: Usman Patel, Farzana Khan, Bill Kindon, Rosemina Mohamed, Howard Bentley, Carolyn Hayes

Could Bats Save The Brewery?

mitchells_brewery.jpgAs concerns and protest mount at local company Mitchells intentions to level the old Brewery on Lancaster's Brewery Lane, perhaps in the next two weeks (see news story), it's just possible local bats could fly into rescue the building ahead of the bulldozers.

Empty for years and unprotected from destruction thanks to Lancaster City Council's earlier failure to issue a Buildings Protection Notice, investigations carried out in the run up to the Public Inquiry into Centros plans for the area revealed bats are present in the buildings. By law, all species of bat and their breeding sites or roosts are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

It is an offence for anyone intentionally to kill, injure or handle a bat, to possess a bat (whether live or dead), disturb a roosting bat, or sell or offer a bat for sale without a licence. It is also an offence to damage, destroy or obstruct access to any place used by bats for shelter, whether they are present or not. (More information here on the Council's web site).

The Council has made little official comment on Mitchells' demolition plan, first announced 9th October. Local ward councillors, who are furious about the scheme, argue this silence is effectively giving comfort and encouragement to the hotel and pub chain to get on with demolition.

"A responsible local authority with strong environmental and sustainable development polices would move immediately to protect these buildings whilst the matter of bats was sorted out definitively which means a survey and a discussion with Natural England," says Councillor John Whitelegg.

"This can only be done with a Buildings Protection Notice... It can, of course be withdrawn at a future date if evidence is provided that such protection is no longer necessary.

"Unless a BPN is issued Mitchells will move in and demolish within the next two weeks and if that happens our silence and inaction as a Council amounts to gross irresponsibility, lack of prudence and disregard for the proper discharge of an overall duty of care."

A senior council officer has responded to John's concerns, saying that they have examined the Inquiry's Environmental Statement in relation to protected species and note that whilst the bat survey found evidence of roosting in some buildings on the site, roosting evidence was not found in the brewery.

"Notwithstanding this there was evidence of some bat activity," he admits, "and the firm advice from Natural England was that prior to any demolition a full survey of each building should be carried out. If roost are found there will be a need for Mitchells to obtain a licence from Natural England."

Council staff have now been in contact with the relevant officers at Natural England to alert them to the potential demolition and virtual-lancaster can report they immediately e-mailed Mitchells' owner Andrew Barker to warn them about their risk of breaking the law. We understand that Mr Barker will now contact the environmental consultants direct to open discussions on how to proceed with Natural England, who are responsible for enforcing the legislation.

Many local people are concerned by Mitchells demolition scheme, citing concerns that in a city that likes to call itself historic this sort of thing can happen so easily. They are urging people to contact the company and make their concerns known.

• Write to Mitchell's Hotels, 11 Moor Lane, Lancaster, Lancashire LA1 1QB. Telephone: 01524 596000. E-mail form at:

Lancashire Songs and Stories at The Platform


Norman Prince and Paul Johnston will perform another evening of Lancashire songs and stories at Morecambe's The Platform venue on Friday 30th October.

Norman Prince was the front man and leader of the country’s top comedy folk group, The Houghton Weavers, for over 24 years and his humour and tales were a major part of the Weavers’ success. Their TV series Sit Thi Deawn is still the definitive example of North West life in songs and humour. He left the band nine years ago and is now one of the country’s top after dinner speakers, working at venues as far apart as Aberdeen, The Dorchester Hotel in London and L’Horizon Hotel in St Helier, Jersey.

Paul Johnston was a member of the legendary folk group, The Fivepenny Piece. He currently performs with is own group, Cracked Flag, and, like Norman, has amassed a tremendous knowledge of songs and stories over the last 20 years or so.

After meeting some of the old ‘Weavers’ fans at the dinners Norman was speaking at, they reminded him how good the nights had been and how much enjoyment his humour and song had given the fans. So, after chatting with his old mate Paul Johnston, he and Paul decided to get together every so often and return to their roots and Norman’s first love – the folk, comedy and music of his beloved Lancashire.

The combination of their talent and experience gathered over the years guarantee the audience an evening of fun and laughter unsurpassed in the theatres of today. The pair first performed at the Platform in October last year to a very enthusiastic audience so early booking is advised.

• The show will start at 7.30pm and tickets cost £11 adults, £10 concessions, from the box office on 01524 582803.

Take Up Swine Flu Vaccine, urges HPA

The Health Protection Agency North West is strongly recommending that anyone who is offered vaccination against H1N1v (swine flu), available from today, should seize the opportunity to protect themselves and their families from what has the potential to be a serious illness.

“Most people with swine flu have comparatively mild symptoms and recover quickly," notes Dr. Steven Gee, the HPA’s influenza lead for Cumbria and Lancashire, "but like all types of influenza, H1N1v can have a severe affect on some people.

"In extreme cases people die, so no one should assume that they will escape with mild illness. Vaccination is the best line of defence against swine flu.”

Swine flu is a respiratory illness caused by the type A flu (H1N1) virus. The current influenza pandemic (commonly known as swine flu) in countries around the world has been caused by a new version (strain) of the virus named as Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The first batches of swine flu vaccine have been earmarked for NHS hospitals. Every hospital in England will receive its supplies within the next three days. The vaccination programme will be rolled out to GP surgeries, Ambulance, Mental Health and Primary Care Trusts from Monday 26th October.

Frontline health and social care workers will be the first to be vaccinated because they are at increased risk and because they risk transmitting infection to vulnerable people in their care. Hospital patients with risk factors for flu will also be vaccinated in the first wave. Others with risk factors will be prioritised as follows:

• People aged over six months and under 65 years who qualify for normal seasonal flu jabs because they have risk factors such as heart conditions, kidney disease, chronic asthma or diabetes that requires medication

• Pregnant women

• Household contacts of people with compromised immune systems, such as people on cancer or steroid treatments and people who are HIV positive

• People aged 65 and over with heart conditions, kidney disease, chronic asthma or diabetes requiring medication.

• More info on Swine Flu from the national HPA site: