Thursday, 20 January 2011

Drink and drug driving continues to fall in Lancashire

The number of people caught drink and drug driving in Lancashire has fallen again following the Constabulary’s annual county-wide drink drive campaign.

Between 1st December and 1st January, 10,006 tests were administered with just two per cent of people testing positive or refusing to provide a specimen.  This compares to 2.2 per cent for the 2009 campaign.

24 per cent of those tested were aged 25 and under. Failure rate for this group was 2.9 per cent – an improvement on last year when it was 3.1 per cent. The failure rate for over 25s was 1.8 per cent mirroring a national trend which shows that the under 25 age group is more susceptible to driving after taking drink or drugs.

While the drop might also in part have been the result of the bad weather, reducing the number of car journeys made, the festive crackdown saw high profile enforcement activity across the county, including checkpoints at key locations where officers administered drink and drug tests.

Officers spoke to almost 22,000 drivers in total during the campaign.

“It is really pleasing to see the figure fall for the fourth year running," says Superintendant Peter O’Dwyer. “Whilst the figures suggest that there are now less people getting behind the wheel after drinking and taking drugs, one person is too many.

“We will continue to take a tough-line against those who persist on driving after drinking or taking drugs.  We carry out enforcement activity throughout the year – not just during the festive period.

“Any amount of alcohol affects your ability to drive and the only safe option is not to drive if you plan to drink.  Our message is simple – do not drink and drive and do not take drugs and drive.”

In addition to the enforcement activity, a high profile radio campaign and hundreds of posters and beer mats, funded by the Lancashire Partnership for Road Safety, were distributed to pubs and clubs across Lancashire warning of the dangers of drink driving. Lancashire Police also ran a fictional on-line drink drive blog on Facebook as part of its efforts to specifically target the vulnerable 25 years and under group.

These figures show that the key message of the campaign – don't drive if you've had a drink or used drugs – is getting through to people," notes County Councillor Tim Ashton, Lancashire County Council's Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport. 

"We work closely with the police to make the roads of Lancashire safer for our residents, and I would like to congratulate them for the continuing success of their Christmas campaigns."

Students launch new technology help service in Lancaster

Christmas time has been and gone for another year and sitting in its box is a new phone, camera or even laptop, given by well meaning relatives.

Little do they know you can’t even find the power button!

It's hardly a surprise, especially as technology advances at such a pace that it seems to take over every aspect of daily life. While technology can seem to be daunting to those unfamiliar with it, for some it is a practical and enjoyable resource. The benefits of technology can be many; aiding communication, saving time and providing entertainment. But where do you start?

This is where ITea comes in.

Two students from Lancaster University have set up a new, free, drop-in service being provided twice a week. At this session you can learn about technology whilst enjoying a cup of tea or coffee. The idea is to be approachable and patient so that it seems less intimidating.

"ITea aims to provide friendly advice about technology, from using the Internet to learning how to text on a mobile," explains Elena Bennett, the Coordinator of Lancaster ITea. "We don’t claim to be experts and we certainly can’t fix things, but I think the knowledge that we have about everyday technology can be used to improve others quality of life.

"We can help with shopping online, internet banking, cameras, mobiles, webcams, social networking, emails, online dating and many other forms of everyday IT."

ITea was initially run as a week by Age UK but it was recognised that this is something that the community in Lancaster could benefit from all year round, and the service has been extended so it is available for anyone who feels that it might be of use to them.

"Even if you just want to have a chat about how technology affects your life or any concerns you might have then you can come along," says Elena. "You might even make some new like-minded friends!"

The volunteers have technology available that you can use to familiarise yourself with whatever it is you are interested in learning more about. It is however recommended that if possible you bring along the technology that you want to use, for example your camera, so the advice can be more specific and the session be more useful. You can come back as many times as you like until you feel confident with what you have learnt.

• ITea drop-ins will take place in Room B17 at Lancaster University Library (there are signs directing people from the bus station) and run during the university term on Mondays and Fridays from 2pm until 4.00pm (which this term ends 1st April 2011). The service is being supported by LUSU Involve, who can be contacted on 01524 592828 if you have any queries or want more information about ITea.

One Voice moves to new offices

Local support group One Voice Disability Services is moving to new offices next month, which means it will cease its full services at The Cornerstone in Sulyard Street on 28th January.

"From Monday 31st January we will be operating a skeletal service (mainly answering phones) and moving into our new premises," says Disability Access Coordinator Wayne Clinton. "From Monday 7th February we will resume services from our new office."

One Voice is a Disability Information Service offering information and advice to people living in the Lancaster and Morecambe district. They offer a number of projects working around the issues of disability which you can find details of on their site.

• One Voice are moving to Room B22, St Leonards House, St Leonards Gate, Lancaster,  St Leonards Gate Lancaster LA1 1NN. Tel: Information 01524 34411. Ground Floor Tel: General 01524 382764 Email: Web:

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Bikeability Gives Kids (And Parents) Cycling Confidence

Bikeability, the modern equivalent of cycling proficiency, has been hailed a resounding success.

Over 2000 children in the Lancaster district have taken part, and a national survey into the scheme has revealed that children who participate are cycling more and have more confidence in cycling than those who don’t. And their parents feel more confident in them too.

Bikeability, launched in March 2007, was created in consultation with leading road safety campaigners and cycling experts.

Qualified instructors teach children, often in participating schools, to learn to ride in a fun, safe environment.

The Bikeability scheme is open to people of all ages, however the survey focused on children aged nine to eleven and their parents.

Nearly all the children interviewed cycle on a regular basis, riding their bikes at least once a week and over half say they have ridden their bikes more since taking part in Bikeability.

Bikeability gives children the skills to ride safely and to respond to the dangers of cycling on the road – which is a major concern for parents. 86 per cent of children who have taken part (over 1700 of our local kids) feel more confident when riding on the road, and 87 per cent of parents feel more confident allowing them to do so.

Children who have participated are also more likely to make new journeys on their bike, such as cycling to a friend’s house or to the shops, than those who have not.

• To find out more about Bikeability and cycling in the Lancaster district visit

Lancaster City Council invites you to become a planner for an evening

Lancaster City Council is inviting residents and other interested people to become a planner for an evening by taking part in a series of events.

At the events, participants will be asked to decide how they would meet and manage the district's future housing requirements.

This will help the council prepare two important planning documents which will form part of the Lancaster District Local Development Framework - a planning framework which will shape the future growth of the district between 2011 and 2021.

The Development Management document will set out a series of policies that guide and influence future development  to make sure it is well designed, appropriately located and sustainable.  This will be used by the city council's Development Management Team for determining planning applications.

The second document, entitled 'Land Allocations', will seek to allocate land for future development needs including housing, employment, leisure and retail. This document will also protect sites which provide a specific value or purpose, such as the protection of the natural environment, historical areas and important recreational spaces.

“The future development of our district is something that affects us all," says Coun Abbott Bryning, Cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, "and the council wants to hear the views of residents on where and how they would like to see any future housing or other developments take place.  I would encourage anyone interested to attend one of these consultation events to find out more and get involved.”

The events will take place in the following locations:

Lancaster: Storey Creative Industries Centre, Wednesday 9th February, 7-9pm
Morecambe: The Platform, Tuesday 15th February, 7-9pm
Carnforth: Carnforth Railway Station, Wednesday 23rd February, 7-9pm
Heysham: Youth and Community Centre, Wednesday 2nd March, 7-9pm
Lune Valley: Hornby Institute, Wednesday 9th March, 7-9pm

Places are limited and therefore booking is essential.  To ensure opportunities for a range of participants each person will only be able to book two places per event. To book a place, please contact Michelle Burrough on 01524 582383 or

Following the consultation events, papers for both documents will be prepared in the summer which set out a range of options that could be used to deliver planning policies and land allocations. These papers will also be subject to public consultation.

A preferred approach for determining planning applications and the allocation of land will then be made available for public consultation in early 2012.

• Further information on the preparation of the Lancaster Local Development Framework can be found via the city council's website - or on the Lancaster Local Development Framework Facebook pages.

Question mark over Link road as Dublin ferries sail away

A local transport campaign group is again questioning the County Council's determination to push through the Heysham link road, despite the bad news for workers that more ferries will now no longer operate at the ports.

A review of Irish Sea Roll-on Roll-off freight ferry services by the Danish DFDS shipping line has resulted in it axing its Heysham-Dublin route, despite saying last month that the route would be kept open.

It was to have taken three months to decide the future of both its Dublin to Heysham and Birkenhead routes but a decision to axe them was announced this week and the Heysham service ends at the end of January, when three DFDS ships leave the Irish Sea.

In December, DFDS sold their Northern Irish routes, which they inherited when they acquired Norfolkline, to Stena Line who also took over the office facilities and some staff who worked alongside retained DFDS employees whilst keeping their existing conditions of employment. The Handy Shipping Guide reports unions claim that ending the two services will result in up to 200 staff being laid off, 140 crew and around 50 shore based employees in Dubin, plus additional cancellations to existing supply contracts.

In a statement, DFDS told virtual-lancaster no UK staff are affected by the closure, saying it has not been possible to develop a business plan that would lead to a significant result improvement within a reasonable period of time that could have saved the route. Likewise, it has not been possible to achieve a sale of the activities.

The Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union met with members this week and said in a statement they viewed this as a most serious development for the Dublin Port and Docks and its workforce and for the crews and other employees of DFDS. 

DFDS blames a sharp fall in revenue mainly on "overcapacity between Britain and Ireland", a view supported by SIPTU. "This decision is a direct result of the policy of over-issuing licences to shipping companies which has resulted in ship owners driving down wages and conditions below the legal minimum wage and safety standards," feels SIPTU official Ken Fleming. "DFDS and its employees in Ireland appear to be the latest casualty of this race to the bottom.”

“It is with deep regret that we close these routes," said Niels Smedegaard, chief executive of DFDS. "Despite an impressive effort from employees and a very comprehensive analysis of the market and evaluation of turnaround scenarios we have not succeeded in developing viable solutions for the routes.”

Now, Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe is urging Lancashire County Council and the government to look again at the viability of the proposed Link Road.

"It's madness throwing scarce public money at the fortunes of Heysham Port when there is overcapacity on the north sea routes,” said David Gate, chair of the group. “It shows how pie in the sky Lancashire County Council’s economic case for building the Heysham M6 Link road really is.

"The County is reportedly slashing £180 in services and jobs, and yet it can miraculously find millions to speculate on an HGV-generating road scheme.

"Interestingly, the port owners have not sought to develop their existing rail connection," he notes. "DFDS have evaluated turnaround scenarios, presumably including what if the Link road were built, and they still can't see a viable solution.

"The £140 million Link road has expensive white elephant written all over it. Let’s hope the coalition government will focus on north Lancashire and sail away from funding the Link road."

A £30 million integrated package of transport measures, prepared by expert consultants Faber Maunsell, to address traffic congestion in Lancaster and Morecambe, remains gathering dust on council office desks.

Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe

HM6L Review and Proposal 10th September 2010 (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 1 FM measures summary (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 2 Additional Comments (PDF)
HM6L proposal appendix 3 Rail Improvements (PDF)

Last chance to find Lancashire’s Young Citizen of the Year

The last call is being made for entries for the High Sheriff’s Lancashire Young Citizen of the Year award.

The awards take place each year and involve the search for a young person, aged up to 21, who has helped either their local neighbourhood, an individual, family member or local organisation.

Last year, the award was presented to 17-year-old Sufyaan Patel, from Blackburn, who  completed more than 260 hours volunteering since he started in February 2009.

The closing date for entries is 31st January 2011 and High Sheriff Dennis Mendoros is eager to hear about projects that help make local communities safer and better places to live; those which help to regenerate deprived areas; or those which help people to build confidence and unlock their true potential.

The awards are sponsored by BAE systems. The winner and runners up are selected by the High Sheriff and a panel of judges from LANPAC, Lancashire Constabulary, BAE Systems and former High Sheriff Rodney Swarbrick, who initiated this award.

All finalists will be invited to attend a presentation in spring 2011 and the winner will receive £250 plus a specially commissioned trophy and certificate. Two runners up will also receive £100 and certificate each.

Approval of a parent or guardian is needed for the nomination, subsequent publicity and any future events involving the finalists. Any entries involving crime prevention work may be considered for entry into further awards in 2011.

• Application forms are available online at; alternatively people can contact the LANPAC office direct for an application form on 01772 412372.

Community Pools saved from cuts by joint Council deal

Lancaster City Council will continue to run three community pools following the outcome of successful talks with Lancashire County Council.

As we reported last week, the decision comes after positive discussions between the two councils over the last year about ways they can share a number of services. This has released enough funds to allow the city council to continue running the pools.

Lancashire County Council owns pools next to schools in Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham but they are managed by Lancaster City Council and in 2010 were subsidised  to the tune of £155,000. The pools are mainly used to provide  swimming for schools and swimming clubs.

As a meeting last January, the city council’s Cabinet agreed to give the county council 12 months notice to end the partnership -- but following that decision both authorities agreed to work together to explore options with a view to finding a way to ensure that the community pools could remain open for the benefit of local residents under the management of the city council.

“From day one we’ve always said that we wanted to see the community pools remain open," expalins Coun Stuart Langhorn, leader of Lancaster City Council, "but it was clear that the cost of running them placed a great burden on the city council’s limited resources.

“Our colleagues at Lancashire County Council also recognised this and we have worked together to find the necessary funding to ensure that the city council is able to continue running them.”

"I'm delighted that local people will still be able to use these community pools," adds County Councillor Geoff Driver, leader of Lancashire County Council. We're very pleased that a solution has been found that helps both councils.

 "It's important in the current financial climate that councils make savings by considering new ways to fund services, including some closer working with the city council to deliver services for the people we serve."

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Work begins on demolishing Morecambe's Dome

Following its closure in March last year, work has started on demolishing the Dome in Morecambe.

The decision in December 2008 to close the building was taken after considering its age and the potential future redevelopment of the central promenade, which would mean its demolition in any event.

A condition survey in 2008 also found that, over a five year period, the building would need a refurbishment and repairs programme costing £561,000.

In addition to this, in its last year of operation the Dome cost £89,000 to run.

Since the closure Lancaster City Council’s other event venue in Morecambe, The Platform, has gone from strength to strength, taking many of the acts which had previously been hosted by the Dome.

This has led to a particularly strong performance by the venue, leading to the nomination for a prestigious award from the Association for Public Sector Excellence in December. This strong performance has led to further revenue savings of £9,000.

Forthcoming events include Dave Spikey, Frank Carson, Joe Longthorne, Geno Washington, Voulez Vous and Dr Feelgood. Details of the full programme can be found at

Lancaster City Council is also working closely with partners including Morecambe Town Council, Morecambe Bay Tourism and More Music to provide the district with a packed diary of events all year round at a variety of other venues.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Big canal clean up in Bulk ward

25 volunteers turned up and gave Lancaster Canal a thorough clean up between the Moor Lane bridge and the Ridge Lane bridge this weekend.

Organised by Green Party Councillor Andrew Kay, the clean up came after concerns that the canal has been looking very bad indeed over the past few months, with large amounts of litter on the tow path, grass verges and in the water itself.

The canal clean up was organised by with the assistance of the city council who provided equipment for litter picking and rubbish bags and took them away at the end of the pick.

"I was absolutely delighted with the turn out on Saturday," says Councillor Kay. "The weather was dreadful and yet we had the biggest turn out ever for a litter pick.

"I want to thank all those who turned out and helped. They were magnificent."

virtual-lancaster contacted British Waterways North via their Twitter page earlier in the month, after concerns from VL readers about litter on the canal, which were perhaps more evident when the canal was frozen. They told us they are trying to set up more volunteer "picks" for the canal and planned to publish details soon.

"We are always looking for volunteers to get in touch," they commented. 

• There's a web page for volunteers working with British Waterways at: and their Twitter page is at

Appeal after 14 year old boy is assaulted in Lancaster

Lancaster police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a 14-year-old boy was assaulted in in the city centre on Christmas Eve.

The incident took place around 3.30am on 24th December when the boy was stood outside Subway on Church Street. He has been approached by a man who after speaking briefly with him has punched him twice to the face causing him to fall to the floor and rendering him unconscious.

He was taken to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary but fortunately only suffered minor injuries.

Police do not have a description of the offender at this time, but the victim is described as 5ft tall, slim build with blonde hair and was wearing a black coat and black jeans at the time.

PC Faye Tinker from Lancaster Police said: “This is a serious and unprovoked assault on a young boy and I would appeal to any witnesses to come forward with information."

• Anyone with any information can contact police on 08451 25 35 45 or can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Police warn drivers and horse riders on road safety after accidents

Local motorists are being urged to take extra care on the roads when passing horses and their riders to avoid potential accidents, after two serious accidents involving horse riders in the north of the county in the last five months.

Riders are also being advised to consider their own safety, and that of their animals, when out on country roads where visibility may be poor.

Last September, a 14-year-old girl was placed on a life-support machine following a road accident in Caton, Lancaster. She has since made a full recovery, but her horse had to be destroyed. A 30-year-old woman also sustained head injuries as a result of a road accident in Kellet Lane, Slyne, outside Lancaster, on Boxing Day. Her horse also had to be put down.

“The roads around Lancaster are very popular with horse riders," notes PC Iain Moneagle of the road policing unit. "Horses can get spooked by cars that pass too quickly, or by loud noises, and this can lead to an accident. Both riders and motorists are responsible for the safety of themselves and other road users and there are a number of measures that can be taken to ensure this.”

The police advise that Horse riders should wear high visibility clothing and approved head protection;
attach lighting to themselves and the animal during night rides or inclement weather; ride in single file; and consider routes used. Try and keep to quiet routes and not roads that are at the national speed limits.

Motorists should give horses a wide berth when passing and decrease speed when overtaking horses. They must also not use horns or have radio at loud level when passing in order not to spook the horse.

What do you think about local culture?

Lancaster City Council is inviting comments from members of the public and businesses on its draft Cultural Heritage Strategy.

The strategy is a guide to investment in the district’s cultural heritage over the next ten years, and is accompanied by an assessment of the economic impact that investment in our heritage could achieve.

Development of the strategy was overseen by a steering group of officers from Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, the Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board and the North West Development Agency. It sets out a number of key objectives for Lancaster’s heritage that all partners need to work towards, including managing Lancaster’s Georgian buildings, improving the existing heritage offer and developing the castle as a must-see attraction, raising the profile of Lancaster and promoting it as a modern heritage city.

The strategy also recognises the value of heritage to the identity of Morecambe and the district as a whole.

A draft action plan has been drawn up which also considers the sources of funding available to implement each of the schemes or projects identified within the strategy.

“Lancaster currently has a low profile as a heritage destination," notes Coun Abbott Bryning, cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration "and the Cultural Heritage Strategy highlights the need for improvements to the public realm and heritage offer in order to encourage more visitors to our district, as well as making it a more attractive place to live and work.

"This is a chance for local people to have their say on an important issue that could bring huge economic and social benefits to the Lancaster district”.

The council is keen to hear the views of residents, businesses, and visitors on the draft strategy.

Funding for the strategy development was provided by Lancaster District Local Strategic Partnership and the North West Development Agency.   

• The strategy and supporting documents are available to view online at and in customer service centres at Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls and central libraries.

• Comments can be made either by email to or in writing to: Cultural Heritage Strategy, Regeneration and Policy Service, Lancaster City Council, PO Box 4, Town Hall, Dalton Square, Lancaster LA1 1QR.

• The closing date for comments is Friday 4th February 4 2011

Married to the Sea and FTSE 100 head for Yorkshire House

Three bands gig organisers say will appeal to fans of Weezer, Pixies and Pavement are playing the Yorkshire House this Friday (21st).

Married to the Sea, who've opened for bands like Ra Ra Riot, the Futureheads and The Thrills, formed in 2006 and are based in Liverpool. Having played together in various bands, the members set out to create rowdy pop that people could dance to.

The band draw as much influence from the bittersweet sounds of Abba and Motown as they do from the off kilter dynamics of bands like The Pixies, Built to spill and Grandaddy. More info at

Manchester-based The FTSE 100 offer "financial funk" from former and current members of Burnst, Germany and the Freezing Fog. Full on awesome and genuinely jaw-droppingly great instrumental rock akin to lazy descriptions like Don Caballero and Faraquet. More info:

Finally there's Lancaster's Jonny Valentine, offering tales of drunken nights, stolen moments and bad moods in a Northern town, set to an oddly incongruous music that mixes up straight-indie rock with americana (at times resembling the Pixies' more countrified moments) and something closer to Celtic folk. More info:

• At the Yorkshire House, Lancaster - kicks off around 8ish. £4 in.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Green councillors urge Lancaster prison closure rethink

Green councillors have reacted angrily to the announcement last week that Lancaster prison is to close.

The government announced that the Category C mens' prison at Lancaster Castle would close on cost grounds in March on Friday (see new story), although the final closure might come later in the year. Staff will be reallocated to nearby prisons and prisoners transferred.

But local councillor Chris Coates (pictured), who represents Castle Ward, says the closure makes no sense.

"Lancaster prison has been recognised for its high quality education and rehabilitation role," he argues, "and it makes a significant contribution to the local economy through direct employment and the purchases of goods and services.

"This latest blow to Lancaster by a Conservative-LibDem government that is oblivious to the scale of damage it is causing to local communities is totally unacceptable."

Some have welcomed the news, seeing the closure as an opportunity to make the Castle a key tourist attraction - but the costs could be considerable at a time when the County Council, which leases the buildings from the Duchy of Lancaster, is trying to save money after the government Spending Review.

"It's not just a matter of converting the prison areas into a tourist attraction," one local tourism  expert told virtual-lancaster. "The problem is, you can't just wheel out suits of armour from storage to redress the place because it's never been an 'ancestral home' like other castles."

virtual-lancaster understands that many of the recent improvements to prison facillities, such as its health care centre, has been built in a 'modular' way, apparently meaning it can easily be removed and relocated at another prison, so the costs of building it will not have been wasted.

One possible use for the Castle sans prison might be a key location for television and film companies, given the impending move of many BBC productions to Manchester's Media City, followed by other independent media companies.