Saturday, 29 January 2011

Locals unite to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

Over the last 10 years, the National Coalition Building Institute have organised a Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration in the Memorial Gardens by Lancaster Town Hall, with appropriate community events, displays, food and more in the Town Hall itself. Sadly, their funding was cut by the Coalition Government last year and it was unable to fund a similar event this year, due to other financial commitment.

Despite this, locals circulated news of an informal gathering to mark the Day. Michael Nunn reports...

Over two dozen people with candles or torches assembled on a cold January night last Thursday, the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, for a brief and informal candle lighting event to commemorate those who were persecuted, tortured and killed by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945.

After a welcome a minute’s silence was observed, followed by the intoning of the Kaddish, a traditional Jewish lament. Then some people representing some of the communities which were targeted by the Nazis – the Jews, Gays, the Disabled, Travellers/Romanies and ‘people of conscience’ and even children – spoke of the tragic losses suffered.

Some pledged to fight prejudice and hatred of any kind, others questioned whether anyone could actually ‘stand up and be counted’ today for the same principles. There were calls to remember and honour the victims, and that we should ‘never forget’.

A representative of Amnesty International spoke about the work of his organisation, which this year marks the 50th anniversary of its founding, which campaigns against political warfare, torture, oppression and persecution.

The intimate and very moving event concluded with further solemn reflection, and a brief final prayer. 

Copyright © 27 January 2011 Michael Nunn. Published with permission

Friday, 28 January 2011

In Review: Quicksand

Curtis Cole as Leo and Cristina Catalina as Elka in Quicksand

Produced by The Dukes and Theatre by the Lake, written by Zosia Wand and directed by Joe Sumsion, Quicksand is the story of blood-ties and non-blood ties, and of events which challenge this simple categorisation.

It tells the story of Renata (Sarah Parks) and Ula (Eithne Browne) who emigrated to Ulverston in Cumbria from Poland many years ago. With Ula's emotional and practical support, the strong but dominating (and damaged) Renata makes a reasonable living with which she supports herself and her son Leo (Curtis Cole) through 'helping' more recent emigres with accommodation and work.

But Ulverston is on Morecambe Bay, famous for its quicksands and, as we know, the site of the tragedy of the Chinese cockle-pickers, whose living conditions were not so far removed from those of Renata's own tenants.

Enter Elka (Cristina Catalina), fresh to Ulverston from a comfortable life in modern Poland. Why? When Elka meets and is attracted to Leo, he tells her he is called Daniel and disguises the fact that his mother owns the cramped and over-populated house Elka has found herself in.

The audience can enjoy this dramatic irony for a while, but the secret is quickly exposed - to reveal a more shocking, and complicating development (but one which this reviewer at least had not guessed). But that's not the end - Wand takes her characters for a final picnic up Hoad Hill, which allows a sort of shared resolution. The optimism is vodka-fuelled, however, and we know this means it is also fragile.

The metaphor of the threatening quicksands works well, and the scenes on the sand with Elka and Leo provide a continual sense of menace as well as beauty. All credit goes to Jonny Hate for his choreography here (but do check out the photography in the programme t00).

Zosia Wand's script is impressive. With the exception of Elka's stereotypical 'foreigner talk' - an irritating dropping of English articles and errors of tense and number which jar with her fluency - the dialogue is gripping, and moves the production on. The characterisation of Ula, Elka, Leo and Renata is thoroughly nuanced and there is no reliance on stereotyping.

All four characters are well cast and the acting is excellent, in particular for their consistency of accent (Sarah Parks certainly sounded Eastern European to me) and facial expression, so important when audience and actors share the same small space, as in 'The Round'. Cristina Catalina, in particular gave a superbly 'natural' performance.

Curtis Cole as Leo and Cristina Catalina as Elka in Quicksand

There is a lot more that could be said about this play and this production: for example, Eithne Browne's interpretation of Ula the peacemaker, the use of song, and the way Curtis Cole treats Leo's discovery of who his new-found love really is, but it's probably best just to recommend that you purchase a ticket. As the blurb says, this is 'not a typical love story', and it's also a rather unusual play, but it certainly meets the high standard of theatre we expect from a production at The Dukes.

Remaining performances

Quicksand runs until 12th February before transferring to Theatre by the Lake at Keswick. (not Sundays or Mondays), 7. 30 p.m.


Wednesday 2nd February, 10.30 a.m.
Saturday 5th February, 2 p.m.
Saturday 12th February, 2 p.m. (BSL interpretation)

Post-show talk-back

Tuesday 1st February

Audio-described performance

Tuesday 8th February


£7.50 - £16.00 ( + £5.00 standing)

Box office 01524 598500

The Dukes
Moor Lane
Lancaster LA1 1QE

Green Councillor leaves City Council Cabinet

Green Party councillor Jane Fletcher has stepped down from her position on the City Council's cabinet and a new member, again from the Greens, will be elected at a full Council meeting next week.

In a statement, the Green Party told virtual-lancaster Jane has recently started a full time course training to be a solicitor and does not feel she has the amount of time to give to Cabinet as the role deserves.

Regrettably, she is stepping down so that a colleague with more time can take over for the next few months until the local elections in May.

"I will be very sorry to lose Jane," says Jane's Green Party colleague on cabinet, Coun Jon Barry. "Over the past two years, she has worked well in her roles in the Council's Leisure Services and with the voluntary sector organisations. She is a very good communicator and she will be a big loss to cabinet."

The election of a new Cabinet member is just part of a busy Council meeting that will also discuss a proposal to reduce the number of local councillors from 60 to 40, the council's budget and finances, and a Leader's Report from Coun Stuart Langhorn which includes the information that last November's much re-organised Fireworks display generated an estimated £400,000 for the local economy.

Council Meeting Agenda and Documents

Thursday, 27 January 2011

20mph Speed Limit on roads across Lancashire announced

After years of campaigning for lower speed limits by the Green Party and health professionals, and, more recently, by a local 20s Plenty group, the County Council has implemented a blanket 20mph limit on residential roads across Lancashire.

Conservative County Councillor Tim Ashton, who is responsible for highways, has announced a blanket 20mph limit for all residential streets in Lancashire for 2013 at a cost of £9 million, in an effort to reduce the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on our roads.

Green City Councillor and transport expert John Whitelegg has welcomed the news.

"This is an enormously significant contribution to improving quality of life, helping all of us to walk and cycle more and reducing the totally unacceptable grief and misery associated with death and injury on the roads of Lancashire," he argues.

Statistics show that people in the North West are more likely to be injured on the roads than anywhere else in England. Figures for 2008 were 269 killed, 3,055 seriously injured and 26,137 slightly injured. More than 80 per cent of child casualties occur on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph.

"A child hit at 20 mph has a 95 per cent chance of survival but this goes down to 45 per cent at 30 mph," John notes. "I want to live in a 95 per cent and not a 45 per cent city and one death or one serious injury is not acceptable.

"Green councillors have campaigned for a 20 mph speed limit for many years," he adds. "We've taken two proposals to council meetings which were not well received by the other parties and argued consistently for this massive reduction in danger on our roads.

"20 mph has been fully supported by Directors of Public Health and by the World Health Organisation and we can now look forward to a safer and happier Lancashire."

It's argued that lower speeds have several benefits: people feel safer and therefore more able to walk and cycle - leading to health benefits such as fighting obesity and heart disease; communities are quieter and more pleasant; and there's lower pollution levels and lower fuel use (12 per cent less in one study in Germany).

It's also much cheaper to implement a blanket speed limit than impose than piecemeal 20mph zones, as no bumps and chicanes are used, relying instead on public honesty.

While car drivers are bound to concerned that the limit will increase journey times, it's been found that the limit adds only about one minute extra for a 15 minute urban journey.

Despite criticism, Portsmouth introduced a city-wide scheme in 2008, using 20 mph signage on all side streets (major trunk roads kept their 30mph limit) and did away with speed bumps. After two years, an evaluation found that on streets which had an average speed of more than 24 mph there was an average reduction of seven mph; the number of recorded casulties had fallen fell by 22 per cent; and just under half of residents were satisified with the scheme, with under 15 per cent registering their dissatisfaction.

Reaction to the new limits has been mixed but past surveys show that the majority of people are in favour of lower speeds, particularly if they can be achieved without speed bumps.

• More information: Local 20s Plenty Group:

The Lancashire Telegraph is running a poll to vote for (or against) Tim Ashton's proposals here

County's bypass cost cutting flaws exposed

Two Green Party County Councillors have voiced serious concerns about the way that Lancashire County Council is proceeding with the vexed issue of the Heysham-M6 Link Road, arguing proposed cost cutting measures have changed the approved scheme to such an extent that it could go to yet another costly public inquiry to gain approval.

Central Government has still not agreed to fund this road and has asked for serious cuts to the funding it would be asked to provide. The final decision on whether or not the road will be funded by Whitehall is due soon (on 31st January) and depends on how much the County Council can re-design the road to make it cheaper. It also depends on how much of the Council's own resources it will take away from Burnley, Preston, Ribble Valley, South Ribble and West Lancashire to support four miles of very expensive road in the Lancaster district.

Although the County Council is refusing to release details of its plans, even to its own councillors, it has revealed that it can reduce the cost of the road by £8 million, by raising Shefferlands roundabout at the north end of the new Lune Bridge by around 13 metres to reduce the amount of excavation here and in the cuttings between the roundabout and the A6.

Commenting on this proposal, Lancaster Green councillors Chris Coates and Sam Riches argue that this would invalidate all the calculations about noise reduction which have been put forward in the past to help get the scheme approved.

Other cost cutting measures revealed include deleting lighting from sections of route between junctions, even though County said at the public inquiry that lighting would be installed for safety reasons; adjustments to southbound slip road at J34 of the M6, saving £2 million; and reduction in site supervision cost estimates from £6.23 million in 2007 to £1.5 million. Such action could potentially, of course, result in a truly worrying reduction that could be paid for in the lives of construction workers.

It has been calculated that the impact of these and other changes means that the County Council will expect to receive £111 million from the Government to build this road and not the full cost of £137 million.

"As far as we can tell from the limited documentation we have been able to access, this exercise has seen massive changes in the road design," says Coun Riches. "It's no longer the same road that went to public inquiry in 2007, and it is almost inevitable that the whole scheme will have to go to yet another inquiry - an incredible waste of money when the County Council is making savage cuts to its services.

"If the road could be built at a lower cost now then it should have been costed in the same way four years ago.

"As things now stand the link road will swallow over £20 million of additional County Council resources and this will reduce the money available for transport projects everywhere else in the county for years to come."

Lancaster Employability Event announced

Help Direct, a service designed to provide local people with practical support, is running an Employability Event in Lancaster next week.

If you are you out of work, facing redundancy or fancy a career change, Help Direct's 50 Forward team is holding a free employment event for all ages in The Borough on Dalton Square, in response to increasing numbers of redundancies in the area.

Local business support agencies and general support groups are getting together to offer a ‘hub’ of employment advice for one night only on Thursday 3rd February. Enterprise for All, Bay Business, Adult College and Fast Forward will be offering advice and guidance at the event.

• For more information contact Anne Oliver on 01524 387844 or

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Consultation on future of Lunesdale East development announced

Lancaster City Council is asking residents living in and around the Luneside East area of Lancaster for their views on how the site should be redeveloped.

The council has been working to bring forward a redevelopment of the Luneside East site for almost ten years, which could see the creation of a new mixed use neighbourhood with housing, offices, local shops, new high quality open spaces, walking and cycling routes and could include leisure outlets.

In the early stages of the project, the local community was consulted, and people’s views helped shape the development proposals.

To make way for this and after securing funding, the council acquired the site and removed the operational gasholder.

However, following the banking crisis in 2008, adverse market conditions meant that the council’s chosen developer (CTP Ltd with Development Securities plc) was unable to proceed.

"Even though the project to regenerate this largely vacant and derelict area has been affected by the economic downturn, the council has continued to work with its developer and funders to find a way forward," feels Coun Abbott Bryning, Cabinet member with responsibility for regeneration, "and believes that there is now a real prospect of getting a first phase of commercial development underway."

Residents in the area have been invited to two drop-in sessions where they can ask questions and give the council their views.

These are taking place on Tuesday 25th January from 1.30pm to 5.00pm in the Marsh Community Centre, Willow Lane, Lancaster and on Monday 31st January from 5.30pm to 8.30pm in the Friends’ Meeting House, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster.

Suspected heroin and crack cocaine seized in Lancaster

Police have seized over £1,000 worth of suspected heroin and crack cocaine after stopping a car in Lancaster.

The car was stopped on Caton Road by officers from Lancaster’s neighbourhood police team and road policing unit last Thursday morning.

A 39-year-old man from Liverpool was arrested on suspicion of being concerned in the supply of class A drugs. He has been released on bail pending further investigation. A 37–year-old man from Liverpool was also arrested but was released without charge.

“The stop-check of the vehicle led to a significant amount of drugs being prevented from making their way on to the streets of Lancaster," says PC Peppe Agliolo, community beat manager for Skerton East.

“Drugs, and the associated crime and anti-social behaviour that come with them, have a really negative effect on our communities. We are listening to the concerns of residents and taking action. If anyone has any information about drugs in their community then I would urge them to get in touch with us.”

• Contact police on 0845 1 25 35 45. Dial 999 in an emergency.

Morecambe’s Festival Market extends its opening hours due to popular demand

Due to popular demand, Morecambe’s Festival Market has extended its winter closing time from 4 to 4.30pm.

The Festival Market which is managed by Lancaster City Council is a traditional covered market with over 100 stalls and shops including two cafes.

The market is situated on Central Drive, Morecambe, close to Morecambe Promenade and open Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and all Bank Holidays from Easter to August.

• The opening times are: Winter (1st November to 30th April) - 9am – 4.30pm; Summer (1st May – 31st October) - 9.00am – 5.00pm

Monday, 24 January 2011

Morecambe MP backs woodland sell off

Art: Smuzz

(Updated 27th January 2011) Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris is backing the government on its plans to sell off England's public woodlands for some £250 million, despite an opinion poll published this week, suggesting some three quarters of the public are opposed to the plans and Liberal Democrat MPs threat to rebel against any vote.

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph, 100 public figures wrote to oppose the plans, which could result in the biggest sale of public land in England since World War II, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, author Bill Bryson, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and actress Dame Judi Dench.

The sell off could have a big impact locally: Lancashire County Council says over 60 per cent of Lancashire's woodland is found in the districts of the Ribble Valley and the Lancaster area - and the Forestry Commission owns just 2000 hectares of the 14,000 ha total for the county.

Some 80 per cent of England's woodland is already in private hands and campaigners such as the Woodland Trust are urging government to ensure 20,000 hectares of ancient woodland currently owned by the Forestry Commission is not lost.

The Department for the Environment is due to publish a consultation this week setting out plans to privatise forest, although in a letter sent to several constituents Mr Morris appeared to think it had already taken place. (Update - it hadn't. The consultation in fact launched on 27th January)

Art: Smuzz
Under the proposals, responsibility for managing huge swathes of woodland and forest pass from the state into private hands. The Government has already said it will sell off 15 per cent of the estate and is expected to increase this number, and also reduce the the of the Forestry Commission as part of its cost-saving measures.

"I am 100% committed to protecting the wooded areas of Morecambe and Lunesdale and beyond," Mr Morris says in a letter sent to one campaigner protesting at the plans. "That said, I am not convinced that the only way to preserve these historic areas is to keep them in public ownership.

"The Government are committed to shifting the balance of power from ‘Big Government’ to ‘Big Society’ by giving individuals, businesses, civil society organisations and local authorities a much bigger role in protecting and enhancing the natural environment and a much bigger say about our priorities for it," he argues. "As such this bill proposes to alter reform (sic) the status of the 18% of UK Forests that our governed by the Forestry Commission: the ownership of the rest is by private individuals, companies and trusts.

"By including enabling powers in the Bill we will be in a position to make reforms to managing the estate," he claims. "The Government has consulted the public on its proposals and has invited views from a wide range of potential private and civil society partners on a number of new ownership options and the means to secure public benefits.  The Government envisages a managed programme of reform to further develop a competitive, thriving and resilient forestry sector that includes many sustainably managed woods operating as parts of viable land-based businesses."

The main concerns of campaigners are that once privately owned, woodlands will no longer be accessible to the public. Mr Morris disagrees.

"The Government will not compromise the protection of our most valuable and biodiverse forests," he insists. "Full measures will remain in place to preserve the public benefits of woods and forests under any new ownership arrangements.  Tree felling is controlled through the licensing system managed by the Forestry Commission, public rights of way and access will be unaffected, statutory protection for wildlife will remain in force and there will be grant incentives for new planting that can be applied for.

"When publishing our proposals we will explore further the options for securing and increasing the wide range of public benefits currently delivered by Government ownership and how they might be achieved at lower cost.

"This will be a new approach to ownership and management of woodlands and forests, with a reducing role for the State and a growing role for the private sector and civil society," Mr Morris argues. "At the same time, it reflects the Government’s firm commitment to the continued conservation of the biodiversity and other public benefits which forests and woodland provide. It is important to understand that these changes will not lead to the destruction of the woodlands, nor will it stop people being able to enjoy them."

Challenged on his declaration that consultation had already taken place, Mr Morris would not be drawn on indicating who had been consulted, preferring instead to focus on his support for private ownership.

"My point is that we need to protect the woodland, not the agency that happens to run them at the moment. The letters I have received on this equate private ownership with destruction, and I just don't accept this is the case.

"Experience has proved that we can put in place protections that ensure the owners of historic sites preserve them for future generations without significant cost to the taxpayer."

Scotland and Wales have already ruled out privatisation of their woodland.

Save our Forests: 38 Degrees Petition

DEFRA Consultation: Future of the public forest estate
This consultation is about the future ownership and management of the public forest estate in England – land managed by the Forestry Commission on behalf of the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Woodland Trust

A Landscape Strategy for Lancashire (available as a PDF download from the Lancashire County Council web site)

Related News Stories on the Web

The Guardian, 27/1/11: Forests sell-off: Government outlines plans
Environment secretary launches three-month consultation on intended £250m sale of England's forests and woodlands

The Independent, 27/1/11: Lib Dem MPs threaten rebellion over forests sale Liberal Democrat MPs are threatening to rebel against controversial plans by the Government to sell off part of England's forests

Daily Mail, 27/1/11: Anger as government announces sell-off of England's public forests to raise £250m
Plans for a £250 million sell-off of England's public forests were announced today - sparking anger from Liberal Democrat MPs who are threatening to rebel.

Daily Telegraph - Forest sell-off: some questions answered

Press Association, 27/1/11: £250m forest sell-off plan outlined
Plans for a £250 million sell-off of England's public forests have been announced, but the Government insisted it would allow communities continued access and greater involvement in their woodlands.