Friday, 5 March 2010

CCTV appeal after shopper subjected to abuse

ASDA_Supermarket_120210.jpgPolice are appealing for information after a shopper was verbally abused in a supermarket.

The victim was shopping with friends at Asda on Ovangle Road Lancaster at 10.30pm on 12th February 2010 when a group of males who were stood behind him started making homophobic references towards him.

The victim challenged one of the group, who then became aggressive and threw a lime at the victim.

This person was described as a white male, approximately 20 years old, of slim build, with short dark hair and wearing a red Adidas tracksuit top and blue jeans.

PC John Wilson said: “This was an unprovoked attack on an innocent member of the public and these attitudes are not acceptable. Any information will be useful in bringing these offenders to justice.”

• Contact police on 01524 63333.

Pictured: two members of the group, one in an Adidas top and one in a Henleys top.

In Review: Oh! What a Lovely War

lovelywar.gifOh! What a Lovely War

The Dukes
Review by Jane Sunderland

Steeped in irony, Joan Littlewood's Oh! What a Lovely War, a musical dramatisation of the events and development of World War 1, provides a shocking reminder about why we should always, always question the declaration of a war, its execution, and its continuation.

That the playscript does so in a way which is both potentially entertaining and educational (for a cast and audience alike) makes it a hard act for an actual production to follow. But this production at the Dukes Theatre, Lancaster, more than rises to the challenge, as attested to by the evident engagement of the audience, amused and hugely saddened by turn.

Performed by Year 10 and Year 12 students from Lancaster Girls' Grammar School and Lancaster Royal Grammar School, and directed by LGGS's Helen Tozer and Merril Sheen, the production feels more professional than amateur, with swift, smooth scene changes (and there are 25 scenes, or, more accurately, 'sketches'), and impressive acting, meaningfully dischordant music from Jeremy Truslove's on-stage band, and of course the famous, subversive song lyrics (“We're here because … we're here because... we're here because... we're here...”).

The sketches do not hold back from showing in dark-comedic form how the World War 1 soldiers on both sides provided cannon-fodder both for the generals' interesting 'game' and for the capitalists on both sides of the Atlantic and all parts of Europe, for whom the war (and, hence, prolonging it, in part through the stirring up of a misguided patriotism) provided a wonderful commercial opportunity. But just in case we get too absorbed in the vaudeville and forget that this is satire, the slides behind the stage action remind us of the grim statistics and massive human cost of Ypres, Loos, Verdun and the Somme - for little or no gain - interspersed with World War 1 photos of dead and wounded soldiers, the mud and the trenches.

All this is tremendously moving, including a dramatisation of the famous ceasefire on Christmas Day (complete with exchange of an Xmas pudding with a German sausage, when 'Gerry' shakes hands with 'Tommy'). The concluding 'The lads come home' in 1918 is particularly well done, with a nice ambiguity - have a few soldiers actually made it back to their womenfolk, intact, or is this simply what was supposed to (but did not) happen? It doesn't matter - for behind the whoops of joy there is a projected slide of a large, single red poppy.

It is in many ways a pity to single out individual actors for commendation - partly because this production is such an admirable team effort (with many ensemble scenes), and partly, it has to be said, because it offers more interesting and challenging roles for male than female actors. But it would be churlish not to mention Sam Williamson's Sir Douglas Haig, who enacts the sustained and sadistic conviction of a megalomaniac, and Ruaidhri Johnston (Moranneville, Ghillie and the solo chorister), who clearly has a great acting career ahead of him. Sarah Hawksby did a lovely rendition of 'Hold your hand out' in Act 1, and Alice Cooper Dunn and Jamielee Twigge added real pathos as the Nurses in Act 2.

Congratulations to everyone involved for the total dedication and commitment needed to bring this production about.

Days left to run...

• Fri 5 March 2010 19:30
• Sat 6 March 2010 19:30
Ticket prices: £10/£8
Book tickets online at

Box Office: 01524 598500 (Box Office staffed from 10am-8pm Monday-Saturday)
Info line: 01524 598501 24 hour recorded information
Text phone: 01524 380062
Text Message: 07817 212282

Lancaster Royal Grammar School: Oh! What a Lovely War Comes to The Dukes
Internet Movie Database: Oh! What a Lovely War - Film NOtes (1969) film
Oh! What a Lovely War song lyrics

Charley's War: 1 August-17 October 1916 (critically acclaimed comic strip about World War 1 - series currently being edited by virtual-lancaster's John Freeman)

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Dukes funding restored at budget Council meeting

At the annual budget meeting of Lancaster City Council yesterday Labour Councillors Tina Clifford and Robert Redfern successfully proposed motions supporting The Dukes, childrens playgrounds and the service provided by the quick response vehicles.

As a result, The Dukes will now have the original £20,000 reduction in their grant restored; many threatened playgrounds will be brought up to the required safety standard; and a second quick response vehicle will take to the road across the whole district.

“These are three significant improvements to the service provided by the City Council," commented Leader of the Labour Group Councillor Eileen Blamire. "They will greatly add to the quality of life for residents all over the Lancaster District."

Local PubWatch scheme warning over ‘Bubble’

Members of Lancaster’s PubWatch scheme are warning drinkers about the consequences of bringing new drug ‘Bubble’ into the city’s bars, clubs and pubs.

As we've previously reported, Bubble is street slang for the substance mephedrone – more commonly used as plant fertilizer. It is also known as Meow Meow or MMCAT.

It's currently not illegal to possess mephedrone, but it is illegal to sell it for human consumption.

Police and members of the city’s PubWatch scheme have now joined together to alert those visiting licensed premises to the dangers of Bubble, and to the potential consequences if they are found to be carrying an unknown substance.

Posters are on display in the city centre venues warning customers that staff carry out random drugs searches; any unknown substances will be confiscated; the police will be called and this could lead to a person’s arrest.

“We want to make the city centre bars, pubs and clubs safe, friendly and welcoming," commented Tim Tomlinson, chair of the PubWatch scheme and licensee of the White Cross, Penny Bank and Merchants.

“No one knows the full effects of Bubble, but when combined with alcohol they can be damaging. We want people to be aware of this and for them to know that there is a common approach between all the venues in the city when it comes to anyone being found with tablets or powder on them.

“We will not be assuming it is Bubble – we will treat it as an illegal drug and the police will be called.”

“There are obvious health risks to taking something when you cannot be absolutely sure what it is," notes Sgt James Martin of Lancaster Police. "Bubble is essentially a chemical that is used as plant fertiliser. The consequences of combining it with alcohol could prove fatal.”

He added: “Aside from the health risks, if you are found to be carrying drugs you may be arrested and will be under investigation until it is determined exactly what that substance is.”

Lancaster Market: City Council Statement

Lancaster MarketThe City Council has issued the following statement on Lancaster Market:

Lancaster City Council has deferred a decision on Lancaster Market pending the consideration of alternative options for the future of the site.

On Wednesday (3rd March) Full Council agreed that the city council’s Cabinet should set up a special working group to look closely at detailed options on reducing the market’s current deficit of more than £400,000 a year.

These options will include, amongst other options, consideration of a business plan from the market traders, the alternative of a single storey market, alternative market sites and the option of a single trader.

In considering the options the working group will also seek evidence from the existing market traders, the National Federation of Market Traders, the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of British Market Authorities.

The working group will then report to Cabinet, which will make recommendations to a special meeting of Full Council before 31st March 2010.

Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of Lancaster City Council, moved Cabinet’s budget proposals.

He said: “We all want to see a thriving indoor market in Lancaster but at the same time everyone accepts that the current deficit is unsustainable and is not value for the tax payers of this district.

“The deficit is the result of a number of factors and has grown over the years since the market opened for business in 1995. It is no one’s fault, and to make it clear I do not blame the traders for this situation, but it now falls to us all to make sure that it is sorted out once and for all.

“Council’s decision will allow Cabinet to carefully consider the issues further and involve all those who wish to make a contribution.”

Lancaster Market has a substantial deficit, currently identified as £461,000 2009/10, rising to £492,000 in the next financial year.

The city council, along with other public services anticipates a reduction in the amount of Central Government funding it receives.

More than 60% of the council’s budget is funded by Government grants and, whoever forms the next Government, there is a very real likelihood that the money received in grants will be reduced.

Lancaster Market debacle nets another casualty


Above: Lancaster City Council Leader Stuart Langhorn accepts the 13,000-strong petition against Market closure from Market Trader Peter Corker on the steps of Morecambe Town Hall. Photo: Jim Graham

Lancaster City Council has deferred a decision on the future of Lancaster Market - and another councillor has resigned from Cabinet in protest over the handling of the proposed closure, and other cuts to services.

After a long debate at Morecambe Town Hall yesterday, Council agreed to work with Market Traders toward delivering a "viable working option" on the Market's future by 31st March. "Something," says campaigner and trader Keri Christmas, "that is hopefully achievable."

Also involved in the discussions will be the National Association of British Market Authorities, which has successfully promoted the interests of its local members for over 80 years.

One market trader told virtual-lancaster they hope their involvement would help smooth out any possible problems over proposals that include turning the ground floor of the Market building over to a single retailer and moving all existing stallholders to the upper floor.

The Lancaster Guardian reports that the group is also likely to include input from the National Federation of Market Traders, the Chamber of Commerce and other relevant organisations.

The Council meeting proved long and fractious: in his budget speech for the Conservatives, Councillor Roger Mace was harshly critical of the leadership of Cabinet and the way key decisions had been discussed behind closed doors.

He has now resigned in protest and declared the Conservatives the "official opposition". (Read the full text of his budget speech here).

Elaine Blamire, leader of the Labour Party was also critical over the way that Cabinet was asked to make a decision of the future of the Market last month, while fellow Cabinet member and Skerton councillor Abbot Bryning - who opened the current Market many years ago - told Council he would not have supported the plans had he been at that meeting.

"We have now agreed to work together to find a solution," market trader Peter Corker told campaigners via the Save Lancaster Market Facebook group.

"It was an an interesting and very long day in the council meeting," added Keri, "but there needs to be lots of hard work before i's are dotted and t's are crossed."

She is adamant that public support proved a key factor in the Council's decision on the proposals. "It was you guys who made the difference today," she enthused. "You who signed the petition, you who have joined the goup and every man, woman, and dog who walked, skipped... all the way from Lancaster Market to Morecambe Town Hall. You are the most amazing bunch of people."

With a way forward hopefully now in the making, questions are being raised on all sides about how the proposed closure was conceived and presented to both Cabinet and Council. Serious questions about insistence on commercial sensitivity, which prevented the discussion of the full potential cost of the closure and relocation proposal, have caused particular concern from both councillors and public alike.

"From a personal point of view major questions need to be asked about the council officers," suggests Keri Christmas. "Maybe we need to be asking for answers [as] to how these well paid civil servants are able to turn this into a fiasco.

"These are peoples' jobs and lives at stake."

Campaign supporters are now suggesting ways for the Market to attract new custom. "We should save it, and spend money on the place to make it more attractive to shoppers," urges Tim Procter via Facebook. "Do that and the public will come, stalls will be taken up and rents paid to the council, jobs created and a landmark and 'institution' saved."

The financial problems the Market faces also need to be addressed. "It is all well and good to say 'keep the market', but nobody seems to comment on the £500,000 a year cost of keeping the present arrangements," says Bowerham resident Michael Mumford. "There are several alternatives, and (apart from the Conservatives, who put forward no constructive proposals at all) all parties are actively searching for workable answers."

Lancaster Market Matter March: Video (Facebook, membership required)

Save Lancaster Market Facebook Group

Lancaster Guardian: Market Research - Background and comments about the current Lancaster Market

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

March to Save Lancaster Market

Peter Corker hands Stauart Langhorn the 13,000-signature strong petition protesting the proposed closure of Lancaster Market

Over 100 people, including Market traders, Green councillors and Gina Dowding, Green Party Parliamentary Candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood, marched on Morecambe Town Hall earlier today, part of a wider bid to save Lancaster Market from closure.

Market trader Peter Corker personally handed a petition of some 13,000 signatures to Council leader Stuart Langhorn objecting to the proposals (pictured above, photo courtesy "Zoe C").

Gina Dowding and Peter Corker at Morecambe Town Hall"It's great to see so many people on the march supporting the market," commented Gina Dowding. It's also good news that the other parties appear to be doing a u-turn."

The Conservatives and Labour also chose to oppose the proposal from the Council's Cabinet which included plans for the Market building to be turned over to a single retailer and the relocation of existing stall holders in the face of mounting costs for the rent on the building.

"It's a pity," she adds, "that just two weeks ago all the parties apart from the Greens appeared ready to sell the market off for good. The Greens in Lancaster have been committed to the market for decades."

We'll bring you the outcome of today's meeting, which was also discussing local community pools and cuts to the Dukes, as soon as we can.

Pictured above: Gina Dowding and Market Trader Peter Corker on Morecambe Town Hall steps.

Related News items elsewehre...

The Morecambe Visitor: Market Madness

The Morecambe Visitor: Council's 'golden hand-shake' could be risky business

Lancashire Evening Post: Oppostion mounts over market closure plan

Council joins the 'Big Swap' for Fairtrade Fortnight

Lancaster City Council, along with retailers and businesses throughout Lancaster district, are taking part in ‘The Big Swap’ for Fairtrade Fortnight 2010 (22 February 7th March).

Employees at Lancaster City Council are joining ‘The Big Swap’ by swapping their usual hot drinks for Fairtrade tea and coffee throughout Fairtrade Fortnight.

The aim is to contribute to the British people making one million and one swaps and changing the lives of at least one million and one farmers and workers around the world.

“It's really easy to change to drinking Fairtrade tea and coffee," enthuses Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of the council. It tastes great and you know that you're helping those in most need – the farmers and producers.

"Buying Fairtrade means that the farmers are paid a decent living wage and there is investment in things like schools for their children. So swap what you are drinking this week.”

Residents and visitors in Lancaster district are encouraged to join ‘The Big Swap’ by swapping an everyday item in their shopping basket for one of the 4,500 plus products which have been licensed to carry the FAIRTRADE Mark. You can register your swaps at

Fairtrade Fortnight is an annual nationwide campaign to promote awareness of Fairtrade and encourage people to buy products which carry the FAIRTRADE Mark in order to help producers in developing countries.

• Lancaster district is a Fairtrade District – for more information please visit or

Conservative Candidate backs saving Lancaster Market

Eric_Ollerenshaw.jpgEric Ollerenshaw, Lancaster and Fleetwood's Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate, has backed the campaign to save Lancaster Market.

Proposals to close the Market and relocate stallholders elsewhere in the District will be discussed later today by Full Council. A major demonstration is expected to take place in protest, with campaigners marching to Morecambe Town Hall from Lancaster Market at 12.15pm.

"There is no escaping the Council’s present financial problems," Mr Ollerenshaw told virtual-lancaster, "and these have been underlined by the absurd terms of the lease they entered into 10 years ago for the Market Hall, when I believe it was a Labour-led Council.

"It now appears that this Liberal-led Council has managed to make a bad situation even worse and I fully respect Malcolm Thomas’s decision to resign and high light this absurd situation." (see news story).

Mr Ollerenshaw is also clearly concerned by the apparent secrecy surrounding some aspects of the Cabinet's proposals for the Market, which the Morecambe Visitor today reports include approaching new supermarket chain ASCO, which it also says understands has been offered a £400,000 'golden handshake' to take on the Market building.

The Green Party has also issued a press release naming the supermarket chain.

The Visitor has published a mock up image of how the Market might look, released by ASCO, effectively confirming their involvement which has, until now, apparently been considered "commercially sensitive". Council officers have been stringent in maintaining what they describe as the required confidentiality of discussions, but several claims about the deal have been circulating both locally and online.

"I am opposed to the market being closed and I am fully behind the Conservative group’s attempts to get all the facts about what has been going on into the open," says Mr. Ollerenshaw.

"At the same time, I support the Conservative Councillors’ move to get any decision delayed so we all have time to review the facts and also finally enable time for the market traders themselves to present their case regarding the future of this building and their livelihoods."

Mr Ollerenshaw, a tough no-nonsense campaigner, was selected by Lancaster and Fleetwood residents in an ‘Open Primary’ as their Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate last year. A History teacher by profession, he taught the subject at several comprehensive schools for nearly thirty years.

• Two other prospective parliamentary candidates - the Greens Gina Dowding and Labour's Clive Grunshaw - also support keeping the Market in its current location and oppose closure. The Liberal Democrats prospective parliamentary candidate is Council leader Stuart Langhorn.

Brewery Malthouse gets listed

Mitchells Brewery, Lancaster

The Secretary of State has listed the malthouse of the old Brewery on Lancaster - a derelict complex threatened with demolition by owners, Mitchells, last year.

Although the designation is specific to this part of the brewery, campaigners against the Brewery's destruction - who argue it should be restored, perhaps for community purposes - say the fact that the rest of the complex is fixed to the Malthouse means that any demolition will require listed building consent.

Experts Alan James and Tim Hamilton-Cox who helped the campaign are being creditted with playing a major part in saving the Brewery, along with many local people and a sustained campaign waged by SAVE Britain's Heritage to get the building listed and eventually re-used.

"We also thank the technical expertise of English Heritage, specially the use of dendro dating, which made it possible for EH to recommend to the DCMS the listing of the old Brewery here in Lancaster," say campaigners.

"This is a huge step forward and we must now campaign for a conservation led, smaller scale re development of the Canal Corridor North site."

Victim of knife point robbery receives jail apology from attacker

A local woman who was robbed at knifepoint has visited her attacker in prison to receive an apology from him as part of a restorative justice project.

Police offered 26-year-old Zoe Harrison the opportunity to meet 18-year-old Aaron Burns at Lancaster Farms prison in a bid to help her gain closure following her ordeal.

Restorative justice projects are designed to bring victims and offenders together to decide on a response to a particular crime. It not only gives victims the chance to move on by speaking to the offender about the incident and why it happened, but also encourages offenders to face up to their actions by hearing how their behaviour affected another person’s life.

Zoe had been walking through Lancaster in November last year when Burns grabbed her and held a knife to her throat, then repeatedly punched her in the face before taking her phone and handbag. He was later sentenced to 40 months in prison for the attack.

“I was not sure if I wanted to do it at first, but I wasn’t scared of him anymore and I wanted to know why he did it," says Zoe. "I thought it would benefit me and other people too, because it might make him less likely to reoffend.

“I tried to plan what I was going to say, but I couldn’t think of anything," she continues. "Then when I saw him I knew what I had to say.

“I asked him what was going through his head; why he had pulled out a knife because he could see I was already scared, why he had picked me. He didn’t know me from Adam when he did it. Now I know he wasn’t targeting me – I was just there at the wrong time.

“I feel better for venting my feelings at him, and for listening to what he had to say in return.

“He told me about the things he has been reflecting on and that he was sorry and wouldn’t do anything like this again. I hope that is true.

“After the attack, I was left with the memory of him covered in my blood, of me screaming," Zoe recalls, "of him taking my bag and punching me.

"I thought that image in my head would never go away. Having seen him in prison, and as nervous as me, that image has now changed. I felt much better about it all now.”

Detective Sergeant Simon Coates, who organised the prison meeting, said: “Incidents like this are rare in Lancaster, so not surprisingly Zoe’s confidence was affected by it.

“The aftermath of the meeting has been very positive for her, and she feels as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. She now feels she has closure and also that justice was done.

“The restorative justice meeting was carried out in connection with the probation service and the prison service. Burns was very remorseful for what he had done – so the meeting will also hopefully reduce the possibility of him reoffending when he is released. Restorative justice has previously been shown to have a positive effect in this way.

“When you are made to face up to your actions, and you actually get to see the devastating consequences they have had on another person’s life, then it should make you think twice about your future behaviour.”

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Labour councillors back saving Lancaster Market

Labour councillors will not back the proposal to close Lancaster Market at tomorrow's Full Council meeting, where plans to offer the building to a single retailer and relocate stallholders is to be discussed - along with many other proposed cuts to Lancaster and Morecambe services.

"The Labour Group supports the public view that every effort should be made to keep the market open, says Councillor Eileen Blamire, Leader of Lancaster City Council Labour Group. "We believe that the current proposals before the Council are unacceptable because of the huge costs and risks involved.

"We should enter into realistic negotiations with the market traders immediately in order to create a viable commercial enterprise.

"Lancaster has always been a market town and every effort must be made to retain this important historic feature."

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site

Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market

Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Honey Bee workshop aims to cut losses

Bee.jpgNorth West beekeepers are being urged to attend a free day long seminar organised by the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) in a bid to reduce the rate of honey bee colony looses.

Up to a third of colonies are being lost every year in the region, with the figure for parts of Cumbria probably nearer 50 per cent.

One of the main culprits is the varroa mite, which first arrived in the UK in 1992 and which carries numerous viruses deadly to honey bees - but participants at the workshop to be held at Fera near York on Saturday (6th March) will hear that better bee keeping can have a dramatic impact in cutting losses.

“Our aim is to help beekeepers understand how they can combat the current range of problems which bees are facing," says Ian Molyneux, Bee Inspector with Fera for the Northern Region. "We hope that beekeepers who are serious about improving bee health, particularly those who don't normally come to such events, will attend and discuss the issues and solutions.”

The workshop, which is funded by Defra as part of the Healthy Bees Plan, will be led by beekeepers from the National Bee Unit including Regional and Seasonal Bee Inspectors and Extension and Learning Officers.

There are as many as 20,000 amateur beekeepers across the UK and Defra is trying to make sure that they are aware of the need to alert the National Bee Unit (NBU) to bee health problems and encourage them to register on BeeBase, its database of beekeepers. This will help ensure that new or existing health problems are identified.

Adding extra urgency to the need to raise bee keeping standards is the severe winter weather following three poor summers, which may affect the survival of colonies.

“We know that improving standards of bee keeping will result in fewer colony losses," says Ian Molyneux, "so I would urge the region's beekeepers to sign up for this event.”

• Places must be booked in advance by contacting Ian Molyneux on 01204 381 186, or email The event runs from 9.30am to 4.30pm

Find out more about the National Bee Unit's Healthy Bees Plan

Man assaulted on Lancaster Canal towpath

Lancaster Police report that a local man was assaulted on the canal towpath at the weekend.

The 30-year-old man, who the Lancaster Guardian reports is now being treated in Royal Lancaster Infirmary, was attacked near Penny Street bridge (near the Water Witch pub) between 4.30am and 5.00am on Sunday. His injuries are said to be serious but not life-threatening.

• Anyone with any information about the assault is asked to contact Lancaster police on 01524 63333.

City Council's Chief Exec explains secrecy on Market plans

Lancaster City Council has just issued a new statement about Lancaster Market, clarifying its position on keeping some details of the plans confidential, clearly concerned that leaks about the plans may damage its relationship with private business.

This morning, the Green Party published a press release confirming that the new supermarket operation ASCO had been approached to be the single retailer that might take over the Market building (see news story).

Until now, although questioned, no-one from the Council had officially confirmed or denied ASCO had been approached, even though a council officer had mentioned the retailer at a meeting with market traders last Monday, and other correspondence from the Council - some of it issued by solicitors - appeared to confirm other speculative questions about the Council's plan for the Market, which will be discussed at Full Council on Wednesday.

Since proposals for the possible closure of Lancaster Market broke, the Council says it has received a number of questions and enquiries, despite issuing a statement and publishing of a "Questions and Answers" document. Now, the following statement has been prepared by the council's chief executive, Mark Cullinan, in response to these enquiries.

“Proposals of the sort involving Lancaster Market are put before Cabinet only after they have been rigorously scrutinised using professional means by the council’s officers, including the taking of external expert advice where necessary.

“These officers have years of experience in dealing with such matters and rumour and innuendo from the internet do not form the basis for providing sound alternative advice," he adds. “To enable them to make their decision, Cabinet members were presented with details of the company involved and a full analysis of the benefits and risks, both financially and legally, to the city council of letting the building to this single retailer.

“This remains confidential in nature at this time due to commercial sensitivities.

“Whilst cabinet was provided with the detailed report on the day, Cabinet members were given the option of adjourning the meeting, for example for a week or so, but on balance decided to deal with the matter on the day in the knowledge that the report would be referred to Full Council 15 days later as some of the financial implications needed the approval of Full Council.

“When dealing with transactions of this sort the council needs to keep the details confidential to ensure that it is in a strong negotiating position.

“Companies also expect and require confidentiality.

“To reveal details would put the district in a weaker position to attract other private enterprises which may be interested in developing their business in this district in the future.”

• Several online groups are discussing options for the future of the market: this Facebook group has the highest membership, but there are others. A petition is also being circulated around Lancaster Market for people to sign. Over 7000 people have signed so far.

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site

Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market

Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Local election "Waste" condemned by Liberal candidate


Harry Armistead, the Liberal Democrat candidate for John O'Gaunt in the upcoming City Council by-election, has criticised the Greens for demanding it be held separately to the general election, describing it as costly to both the environment and local taxpayer.

"The local by-election is on the 1st April 2010, only five weeks from the widely anticipated general election," he notes on his blog.

"There are five polling booths in the John o’ Gaunt ward and all of these will need to be staffed by at least two people from 7.00am to 10.00pm when pollings close.

"Turnout for a local election is usually low – about 1200 people voted at the last John O’ Gaunt by-election in 2005," he adds. "The additional paperwork, campaign materials, heating of buildings, travel of residents, and personal inconvenience are all uneccesary extras that will need to be accounted for when conducting a separate election campaign."

Harry, who is a Lancaster Business Management graduate, is puzzled by the demands he says the Greens made, pointing out that Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party had recently spoken in favour of holding both the general election and the local elections on the same day at the Greens spring conference.

Despite the early local election, Harry has been busy campaigning for the seat vacated by Labour's Jim Blakeley, saying that like his party he is "determined to develop Lancaster as a competitive and attractive city to live, work and visit."

Responding, Councillor Chris Coates, leader of the Greens on the Council, told virtual-lancaster he was "somewhat appalled that the Libdems think that spending resources on the exercise of democracy is a 'waste'."

• Harry Armistead's Blog:

Greens push for revamped, smaller Lancaster Market

Lancaster MarketGreen councillors will argue that Lancaster Market should not be closed tomorrow when a cabinet proposal is put to Full Council - arguing it should continue, albeit as a smaller operation in partnership with a new single retailer.

The Green Party proposal is based on suggestions from the market traders that they're moved to the top floor of the Market building and that a single trader would then take over the building's ground floor.

"The Council has been looking for a single trader for the whole market for two years now," explains Coun Barry, "and has failed to find one except for the current candidate, ASCO, who I and many others fear would be too much of a financial risk.

"The idea suggested by the market traders has the advantage of reducing the financial burden of the market but also keeping the traders in business."

The proposal also has the support Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate Gina Dowding, who argues the market is an important provider of local jobs.

"It's the heart of Lancaster," she feels, "and should be something that the Council and city should be supporting and be given every help to thrive and prosper."

The text of the motion is as follows:

1.  Because of the concerns about:

The financial viability of the proposed sole trader to occupy the full market; The loss of existing businesses and jobs in Lancaster Market and; The current market deficit

Full Council does not approve the revenue budget and capital programme proposals specifically relating to the letting of Lancaster Market hall to a single retailer and therefore does not approve the closure of the market.

2. Instead, Council recommends  that Cabinet  considers the following proposal:

a) That works are undertaken to make the ground floor of the existing market suitable for a sole trader;

b) That work is undertaken to allow the first floor to be occupied by the existing market traders, which may involve filling in of the central void, repositioning of the escalator and glazing of the new entrance from Marketgate shopping centre

c) That new leases are given to tenants to occupy the first floor at a revised market rate

d)  That all of the above proposals should be the subject of a sound business case which will need to be brought back to members before 31 March 2010.   

3.  That any decision in line with recommendation 2 above that falls outside of the budget and policy framework be subject to Council approval, for consideration at a future meeting.

4. Recommendations 2 to 4 on page 10 of the agenda would need to be "as amended" for the above.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Lancaster Market Story - In Video

virtual-lancaster urges everyone to support the Stallholders of Lancaster Market. Help save the market from closure contact your Local Councillors and Member of Parliament:

Conservative Quits City Cabinet over Market Closure Plan

coun_malcolm_thomas.jpgConservative Councillor Malcolm Thomas has submitted his resignation from the Cabinet of Lancaster City Council, earlier today in protest at the handling of a proposal to close Lancaster Market that will be put before Full Council on Wednesday.

"I am resigning from the Cabinet," says Coun Thomas, who held the position of Cabinet Member and Portfolio Holder for Finance. "I believe that there are serious financial risks in going ahead with the proposals for the Lancaster Market Building."

Coun Thomas, who voted for the closure proposal at Cabinet last month, has now reversed his support for the plan, which would hand the building over to a single retailer and relocate and compensate current stall holders.

"Publicly available evidence highlighting the risks involved in this proposal was not included in the exempt report delivered to Cabinet at short notice during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 16th February 2010," says Coun Thomas, although he does not specifically state what "publicly available evidence" he is referring to in his statement.

"Had that information been included I would not have supported the proposal at that Cabinet meeting.

"I am unable to support this proposal when it comes to the Meeting of Full Council on Wednesday 3rd March 2010. It is untenable for me to remain in the Cabinet."

The virtual-lancaster 'straw poll' of councillors about the closure plans published earlier today has, so far, had limited response from individual councillors. Although both the Conservatives and Green Party have made general statements on the proposals the Liberal Democrats and Labour seem to have chosen not to make a statement at this time. So far, only two councillors - Jon Barry and Emily Heath - have responded to our questions directly, both opposing closure and relocation.

"I support the relocation of the market to the top floor of the existing Market, with the bottom floor to be used for a single trader," Councillor Barry told virtual-lancaster. "This is the position adopted by the market holders themselves.

"This would allow the Council to gain extra rental income but would keep the market in the heart of Lancaster," Jon argues. "The space on the top floor would be expanded by filling in part of the 'hole' in the middle of the market."

Gone for a Burton...


Lancaster's Burton store is the latest Arcadia-owned store to close in the city, despite having seven months left on its lease.

Last year, another Arcadia store, Wallis, closed on Penny Street but the business moved into space in the BHS store on Market Street.

The nearest Burton is now in Preston.

Sir Philip Green, owner of the Arcadia Group, the largest privately-owned retail empire in the UK, announced plans to merge BHS into the Arcadia Group to make the business more efficient in 2009. The decision related to the cost of store space in city centres, with a proportion of the 200-300 Evans, Burtons, Wallis and Dorothy Perkins outlets being moved into BHS stores.

This latest closure in St. Nicholas Arcades means it currently has three major vacant units, all on the approach to Boots and Superdrug. Meanwhile, although saved from closure last year, childrenswear Adams went into administration in January, although it's reported elsewhere that there are no plans to close the store in Lancaster at this time.

In other high street news, Lancaster's Ethel Austin store has been spared the axe after that Liverpool-based chain went into administration. More than 1,000 staff at Ethel Austin lost their jobs after the fashion retailer’s administrator was forced to close 114 stores last month. The Morecambe store will also remain open, but branches in Kendal and Poulton-le-Fylde are among those to close.

Straw Poll on fate of Lancaster Market

virtual-lancaster has asked every City Councillor with a valid email address if they support the closure of Lancaster Market. The responses are being published as a GoogleDoc here.

If you have already know how your local councillor has said they will vote in the Full Council meeting on Wednesday, please let us know via - thanks! - and we will be more than happy to update this list.

We have asked the councillors following questions:

1) Do you support the closure of Lancaster Market?

2) Do you support the relocation of Lancaster Market?

This is, we know, a "straw poll" and we appreciate the issues are complex. We have also told councillors we are more than happy to note any expanded response.

So far, only two political groups - the Greens and the Conservatives - have issued public comment on the planned closure. The Greens oppose the plans while the Conservatives are waiting to see the actual proposed budget proposals on Wednesday.

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Campaigners will march from Lancaster Market at 12:15 prompt to Morecambe to vent their anger at the closure plans. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site

• Several online groups are discussing options for the future of the market: this Facebook group has the highest membership of 4000 people, but there are others. A petition is also being circulated around Lancaster Market for people to sign. Over 7000 people have signed so far.

Lancaster City Council Statement on Lancaster Market

Lancaster City Council: Lancaster Market Q&As (PDF link)

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Arson attack on old Lancaster Brewery

Mitchells Brewery, Lancaster

An arson attack took place on Lancaster's old Brewery on Saturday. The smoke was spotted by passersby and brought under control by the fire brigade.

Although the fire was soon brought under control, virtual-lancaster understands the arson attack could have been far worse because it was set in a store for keg beers.

"The officer in charge said it could have been far far worse had the arsonists not been amateurs," we have been told.

The old Brewery has been the focus for much debate after owners Mitchells announced plans to demolish it last year. Campaigners argue it should be saved. Mitchells has warned on several occasions that the site has been a target for vandals - one of its reasons for seeking demolition.

Conservative Councillor gets backing for swimming pool 'leaks'

swimmer_stock.jpgThe Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council has given his public support to City Council Conservative leader Roger Mace after he was relieved of duties for allegedly leaking details of a proposed deal between the city and county councils over three community pools that could save them from possible closure.

While the proposed closure of Lancaster Market is grabbing the headlines when it comes to this week's Full Council meeting - with a huge demonstration planned in protest - the fate of Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham's community swimming pools will also be discussed.

The city council's Cabinet has proposed handing back the management of the three pools to Lancashire County Council next year, but two alternative plans - one calling for reinstatement of city council funding until 2013, another calling for further negotiations with the county council to ensure the continued running of the pools - are to be debated.

Behind the scenes, just as with the future of Lancaster Market, there is anger on both sides at the secrecy and exemption notices that are hamstringing public debate on major issues facing the district as it again faces further reductions in government funding and demands that Council Tax rises be kept to a minimum - putting many services at risk.

Conservative Councillor and leader of the Conservative group Roger Mace has fallen victim to the consequences of allegedly leaking 'confidential' information - the latest in a long line of elected councillors who have had their knuckles rapped for breaking the ever-increasing number of rules and regulations that appear to prevent elected members from representing the electorate, pitted against Council staff who often cannot be named or held to task for imposing these 'rules'.

Lancaster City Councillor Roger MaceLast week, the Lancaster Guardian reported Roger had been relieved of his responsibilities for human resources and legal services following an allegation that he had leaked details of discussions between the city and county council (the report, "Fury as future of pools put at risk" does not seem to have been published online).

Lancashire County Council leader Geoff DriverNow, Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council, has stepped into the fray to defend Roger.

"The claim that you leaked confidential information is utter nonsense," says Coun Driver in a letter to Councillor Mace. "I gave you that information without saying that it was confidential. Indeed, I gave it to you in the certain knowledge that you would make it public."

"Geoff Driver and I wanted the County Council's 'offer' to be in the open to ensure that the public knew exactly what was happening and why," explains Roger, who represents Kellet on the Council. "Lancashire County Council has most definitely made an 'offer' to Lancaster City Council that would enable them to keep the pools open for community use but the make up of this 'offer' involves several parts which could, albeit very loosely, be described as 'options'."

The possibility that the pools may be closed outright has been met with outrage from users. The Lancaster Guardian reported this week that for 69-year-old Anne Midgeley, chaining herself up in her bathing costume outside Hornby swimming pool would be a small price to pay if it secured the continued use of its facilities.

"For obvious reasons of setting expensive precedents across the county, we cannot simply say we will take over the running of the pools," says Coun Driver, "but we are prepared to work with the city council to enable them to make the savings necessary to enable them to keep the pools open. This would include, inter alia [for example], their taking on some of our 'public face' functions (for which we will pay) and our renting some of their spare accommodation."

"The suspicion is that City Council Leader, Coun Stuart Langhorn thinks that he can accept the County Council's 'offer' and use the savings/extra income for other purposes in the hope that the County will keep the pools open for community use," suggest Roger Mace.

"City Councillors should be under no illusions that our 'offer' is to enable them to keep the community pools open," says Coun Driver. "Our 'offer' will be conditional upon their keeping the pools open for community use.

"Surely that is what co-operation and joint working between Lancashire County Council and District Councils is all about!"

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site