Friday, 18 March 2011

Red Nose? Red Chest, more like...

The things some people do for charity! Cover Supervisor Keiren Doyle at Heysham High School raised £250 for Comic Relief today by having his chest waxed.

Pupils at the school also brought money in for wearing non-school uniform and Food Technology teacher Charlotte Western sold cakes at break times.

Story: Katherine Beaumont

Hate the cuts? Love theatre? Theatre Uncut takes protest to the next level

Local theatre lovers will be joining a national protest against the cuts tomorrow, 19th March, by putting on plays specially written to highlight the problems the government's spending slashbacks will cause.

Across the country, thousands of people are involved in protests and debates, sparked into action by the largest cuts to public spending since World War Two. Theatre Uncut ( is a national theatre event in response to these cuts, bringing together some of the UK’s leading dramatists.

"Theatre Uncut is a theatrical response to the cuts outlined by the coalition in October," say the Theatre Uncut organisers. "These cuts are the turning point of a generation, undermining the welfare state, state higher education and the arts in one fell swoop.

"By creating a nationwide event, spearheaded in London, we hope to create a theatrical uprising and play our part in the anti cuts movement that is already underway. We are delighted to have such fantastic writers and directors on board to help us achieve something extraordinary."

The Lancaster show, offering new short plays by Mark Ravenhill, David Greig, Dennis Kelly, Jack Thorne, Lucy Kirkwood and others is being staged at 7.00pm at the Storey Creative Industries Centre, Meeting House Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1TH.

There will be no entry fee for the Lancaster event, but please book a place to ensure that you can get in on this site.

• For full details of what's being put on locally, visit Lancaster Theatre Uncut on Facebook

Campaigners warn on third nuclear station for Heysham and safety plan failures for Nuclear Waste plans

A locally-based anti-nuclear campaign group is warning that a third nuclear power station at Heysham will be built by EDF Energy unless local residents unite to oppose the decision.

Lancaster City Council has already issued a response of support to the Government consultation on the National Policy Statements relating to energy which included a proposal for a third power station at Heysham.  Only Green councillors voted against it, and were overruled.

Heysham Anti-Nuclear Alliance (HANA) is a working group of organisations and individuals opposed to the construction of new nuclear power stations in the United Kingdom. It aims to raise public awareness of the issues involved and to campaign against the use of technologies involving radioactive materials that threaten local populations and the environment, both at the Heysham site, and others in the North-West, including Cumbria.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published a revised draft of the National Policy Statements for Nuclear Power last year. Heysham was one of the eight sites nominated for a new nuclear power station, the first of which would be operational by 2018. 

The DECC provides all of the supporting documents online for members of the public to read, which include the siting map that shows the proposed site includes Heysham Golf Course, and an area to the south and west including Heysham Nature Reserve and Ocean Edge Leisure Park. It is proposed a new reactor could be ready by 2019 or 2020 and at the latest by 2025, and a second reactor was also suggested. 

The French energy giant EDF expects to be pouring concrete foundations by 2013 and complete the work by the end of 2017, with commercial operation beginning within two years thereafter.

Responding to concerns about the dangers being caused after explosions at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi power plant in Japan in the wake of the disastrous earthquake and tsunami, HANA, in a measured response to the continuous stock reassurances being pumped out globally by a nuclear industry trying to distance itself from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, notes that all nuclear power stations use vast volumes of water for cooling purposes. (The failure of the coolant systems is what is believed to have in part caused problems at the Japanese plant).

"In so doing, [these stations] release significant quantities of low-energy radiation such as tritium," says HANA, "which is known to accumulate in the environment and the ecosystem. There has been little scientific research to definitely prove or disprove any impact on human health.

"Sellafield’s cooling system is courtesy of the freshwater of Wastwater, and today four million gallons of water were abstracted to cool the nuclear waste. The high-level wastes need to be cooled for decades, and are much too volatile to risk cooling by corrosive sea water.

"In addition, high-level nuclear wastes are reprocessed at Sellafield including spent fuel from Japan’s nuclear plants. Reprocessing is banned in the USA and makes high-level radioactive wastes even more dangerous and difficult to manage safely."

Radioactive 'Deepstore' Planned for Cumbria

In addition to plans for a new station at Heysham, HANA also notes that there are plans in Cumbria to build a repository deep underground to store high-level radioactive waste.

"The Nirex inquiry in the 1990s found that the Cumbrian geology is unsuitable for deep disposal of radioactive waste," the campaign group notes. "The DECC is keen to be seen to have 'solved' the waste problem in order to press ahead with their pro-nuclear agenda. If the government is determined that high-level nuclear wastes are to be subjected to geological disposal, dependent on cooling systems, rather than above ground facilities, then that geological disposal must be in a more stable region and not in Cumbria.

"The current 'Managing Radioactive Wastes Safely Process' is not representative of all its stakeholders," HANA argues, "and it advocates deep disposal as a permanent solution when it is scientifically controversial. The unsuitable geology of Cumbria means that over a long period of time, with natural corrosion, radioactive waste might percolate into the environment.

"The threat of rising sea levels due to climate change makes storm surges more likely in the future. Sellafield and Heysham, like most nuclear facilities, are on the coastline. Given the 60 year operational life span of the planned new build nuclear power stations, rare natural events become significant risks over longer time periods.

"Therefore when considering all these problems, we believe that the only way to avoid the possibility of another Fukushima or Chernobyl is to abandon this nuclear nightmare and put all that currently wasted money, efforts, and expertise into developing renewable technologies and gradually phase out our nuclear industry as safely as possible."

• Please join other concerned Lancashire and Cumbrian residents and affiliate with HANA online at and sign the petition by Radiation Free Lakeland opposing the geological disposal of nuclear wastes in Cumbria.

• You can download the Geological Study on the proposed site by David Smythe, Emeritus Professor of Geophysics, University of Glasgow.

•  Watch the 2 minute trailer for 'Into Eternity' a documentary about the vast 100,000 year toxic radioactive waste storage facility being built in Finland. (The high level waste is radioactive for 100,000 years - after that it is 'just' toxic.)

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Housing Benefit Cuts - The Knives Are Out

Updated 20 March 2011
Last week Lancaster City Council wrote to Housing Benefit recipients warning them of forthcoming cuts to their benefits. Here is how it works.

Local Housing Authority (LHA) rates used to be calculated so that the cheapest five in ten privately rented properties were affordable to people in receipt of Housing Benefit. From 1 April 2011, the calculation of LHA rates is reducing so that only the cheapest three in ten properties ('the 30th percentile') are affordable to them. Claimants will be protected from this change until 9 months after their claim anniversary date. If a claimant changes their address after 31 March 2011 and has to make a fresh claim they and their household will lose this protection immediately. This can also happen if the number of people in the household changes.

The maximum rent allowances will change as follows:

The rate is capped at a maximum allowance of 4-bedroom accommodation. To qualify for any of the benefit, you must be already in receipt on income support or on a comparatively low income. If the rent you pay is in excess of the rate allowed you must pay the difference.

Lancaster City Council currently has 3764 LHA cases which equates to 7682 individual members - they will all be affected but not all in the first year, due to the 9 month transitional protection.

1904 cases get an excess allowance so they will all be affected on their first anniversary date in 2011/12 when they will lose their excess.

Of those cases which don't get the excess there are 277 cases which have an anniversary date prior to 01/07/2011. They are the only ones who will be affected by the reduction to the 30th percentile in the first year, because transitional protection will apply for 9 months, taking everyone else into 2012/13 before the reduction will kick in.

Income Support Rates:

If you have a child you get an extra £20.30pw and £13.40pw for each child after that.

Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) is paid at the same maximum rate. Where it fails to meet the maximum it is made up with Income Support (IS).

In addition, single claimants under 25 are currently only allowed to claim the 1 Room rate. This will be extended to include all single claimants under 35.

Hard times for thirtysomethings...

In other words, if you are 30, scraping by on JSA and currently paying £90pw for the little bedsit you call home, you will have to find £38 yourself to make up your rent. If you are on Jobseeker’s Allowance / Income Support, this will leave you £27.45 to live on. To pay your bills, clothe, feed yourself and meet all your expenses.

If you cannot manage this you will have to move. Find a house, and people to share it with, where the rooms are no more than £52pw each. (If anyone has such a property available to let, they can advertise it free on our property page.)

Some local lettings agents will milk you £180 a time for fees for reference checks just to apply for properties, whether you get them or not. You will also have to find a deposit up front or find someone to help you out.

-- and even harder times for twentysomethings...

If you are 23, unemployed and living on JSA + IS and currently renting a room for £52, you are probably struggling whilst being made to feel inadequate because you can’t manage on your income of £51.85pw. The only way you’re likely to give up your room for a 30 year-old is when you either eat the rent or they carry you out, or if your parents will keep you.

If you get through all this, by hook or by crook, after you have been on Job Seeker's Allowance for 12 months, your Housing Benefit payments will be cut by a further 10 per cent.

All of this is bad news for the estimated 2,500 jobseekers in the Lancaster LHA -- and thousands yet to be made jobless by Lancashire County Council cuts.

Opinion: No place to live, and no real jobs to find

The right-wing press vilify claimants as scroungers, as if anyone would choose to attempt to survive on an amount so inadequate. How do you even begin to get a job when you are trying to survive on £27.45 pw? You would need to be resourceful. Informed. Connected. You need newspapers, bus fares. You need a telephone. Internet. You need to be clean and look healthy. How would you manage all this while keeping on the right side of the law?

And there must be real jobs for you to get, but paid jobs aren’t the plan in the Con-Dem economy. Workfare is the plan: put two and a half million people on the dole and then compel them to do allocated labour to qualify for their inadequate benefits while they become homeless. A little bad luck for any of us and it’s a short slip to the workhouse. Or Work Experience Residential Facility (Inc). And even then, those bankers and tax dodgers and their pet politicians won’t be satisfied.

The super-rich become exponentially richer, beyond any rational imagining, and the suffering this causes isn't an issue for them. Instead their pet newspapers and TV channels foment bigotry and division between decent people to distract us from their thefts. They isolate us, alienating us from our own society, which they show us as overwhelmingly shallow, venal, clonish and mockable. It's how they paint us, not who we are.

They talk about 'growth' but there hasn't been any growth in our economic system since the last century. There has been unregulated credit and false accounting, creating an illusion of growth. The paper profit has gone to the bankers' private pockets. The paper debt has been nationalised (the only thing that has been), forced onto the poorest taxpayers. The most vulnerable and their children are to be pushed to the wall, without mercy, to feed the futile, massively destructive games of rich men and their political entourages, who play without rules or ethics, but rule over our lives and our means.

An economic system that resists progress and change and depends on 'growth', i.e. perpetually being able to sell more and more useless tat, weapons or middlemen at profit amid diminishing resources and falling wages isn't sustainable, hasn't been for a while now, and that is what we are feeling. Now there is just a scramble of unregulated theft, looting and asset-stripping: the elite rich go on raiding pensions, mugging the weak, and every little pot of savings, every public asset, every fragile safety net, every year of life, of health, every public service for our care, or advancement, is fair game to them.

Whatever we don’t fight to hold onto, they will take. They are taking. There is no point in continuing to give ourselves and our children over to their avarice just because we have done so before, so docilely. If we are to be a civilisation, they must be stopped.

You cannot have a political democracy without an economic democracy.

The cuts are administered by Lancaster City Council – but the rules under which these benefits are paid are made by the Con-Dem Coalition and local authorities have little discretion in their application. Seeing their constituents, people they know, struggling against overwhelming odds will go hard on them. It is the Coalition government that is directly attacking us, on every front. It's them or us.

• Demonstrate for a Fair Alternative at the National Anti-Cuts March & Rally in London on Saturday 26 March. Fight Back!

• Visit the Lancaster & Morecambe Against the Cuts Facebook Page for more info.

• Visit the March for the Alternative website.

In Review: Cabaret

The cast of Cabaret, this year's joint musical show from students of Lancaster Royal Grammar School and Lancaster Girls' Grammar School. Photo: John Charles Taylor (
Liza Minelli and Michael York are a very, very hard act to follow. But the actors in the Lancaster Girls’ Grammar School and Lancaster Royal Grammar School production of Cabaret, directed by Timothy Hall, do not disappoint. And while there is all the glitz of the seedy, anything-goes Berlin Kit Kat Klub, complete with glamorous Kit Kat dancers, live music from the joint school orchestra (with musical director David Prescott), and those wonderful songs, the insidious Nazism of late 1920s Berlin is not subordinated, and the tone of the production is overall a dark one.

When young American writer Clifford Bradshaw (the very well-cast Ben Ashbridge) arrives in Berlin, a place to live is found for him, he is pointed in the direction of the Kit Kat Klub, and the next day Sally Bowles (Eleanor Boyle) has moved herself and her suitcases into his room. This sets the scene for the political events which, similarly, spiral out of control. While the early part of the production felt just a little wooden (this was the first night), soon it began to give and flow, and we sit back and enjoy Sally and Clifford’s ‘Perfectly marvellous’.

Of course, this happiness is not to last. The older Herr Schultz (Jamie Ranson) and Fraulein Schneider (Divolka Ganesh), Clifford’s landlady, enjoy their engagement party, and these are touching and sensitive performances. But Fraulein Schneider breaks it off the next day, realising that her fiancĂ©’s Jewishness, which yesterday had been irrelevant, was to be so no longer. The choreography of the engagement party is very good here, with Ernst Ludwig (Ruaidhri Johnston), whose swastika has only just become apparent – and shockingly so, both to Clifford and the theatre audience - circling menacingly and uncomfortably round the rest of the guests.

Young Sam Porteous’ beautiful solo rendition of ‘Tomorrow belongs to me’ is taken up by other characters, and the end of Act 1, with its dominance of Nazi salutes, is chilling. Sleepwalking is used as a metaphor, hedonism preventing so many from seeing what is really going on, and the production concludes with the Kit Kat MC taking off his Kit Kat costume to reveal his pyjamas.

The choreography overall is in fact excellent, in particular at the Kit Kat Klub, where flirting and more are the order of the day, and where there are a lot of people on stage a lot of the time. And so is the use of the stage. With the need to alternate frequently between the Kit Kat Klub and Clifford’s room, the front of the stage comes into play a lot. But rather than being clunky and full of irrelevant diversions, this device is used adroitly and well: people move (in greater and lesser states of sobriety) to and from the Kit Kat Klub, in ones and twos, with witty snippets of talk, and an increasing use of swastika armbands.

This very competent production is also graced with some fine performances. Jason Whittle, as the seedy and ambiguous MC, is a natural, and the famous ‘Two ladies’, sung by Jason Whittle, Sophie Allen and Daisy Whalley, is one of the highlights of the production. Olivia Clark’s Fraulein Kost, a tenant in the house who pays her rent with the assistance of a series of sailors, has attitude and conviction. Ben Ashbridge both looks and sounds like the idealistic young writer who is left sadder and wiser by his brief love affair with Sally and with Berlin. And Eleanor Boyle’s rendition of ‘Cabaret’ at the end is well worth the wait.

Jane Sunderland

Still to run: Friday March 18th, Saturday March 19th (7.00 p.m.)
Tickets: £9.00/£6.00
Venue: Lancaster Grand Theatre, St, Leonardgate, Lancaster LA1 1NL
Box office: 01524 64695

'Enzo' tagger plagues Lancaster Castle area residents

Lancaster police are appealing for information after areas around the Castle area of the city have become the repeat target for graffiti.

Residents have complained to police about the 'tagging' over the last month, with bins, lamp posts, garden fences, telephone kiosks and bus stops all sprayed with the same graffiti tag 'enzo'.

The tag is a general one, as this page on the graffiti site RobotsWillKill reveals, originally used by the son of London barrister Zen Slocombe who was found guilty of criminal damage for his activities back in 2002. London police told the Evening Standard they believed he had caused £1 million worth of damage to trains and stations in a criminal career that started when he was 15.

It took police several months to determine that a rash of graffiti appearing on Tube trains was his work. He was eventually caught on CCTV defacing a train at South Wimbledon station and then went on the run after he failed to turn up in court.

The use of the 'enzo' tag is often considered homage to Zen's activities and it's been emulated across the globe.

PCSO Amy Knott works closely with residents in the area and is appealing for anyone who may have any information to come forward.

“This graffiti is making the area appear untidy and is costing local residents time and money to have the damage removed," she says.  “We have made a number of enquiries around the local area and I am now appealing for the help of local people to report any suspicious behaviour to us.

“If anyone thinks they might know who is responsible then I would ask then to come forward and contact police.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 01524 63333 or on 08451 25 35 45.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Steve Gribbin headlines latest Comedy Club at Borough Club

Steve Gribbin
Sunday 27th March sees another array of  world class comics appearing at The Lancaster Comedy Club at The Borough in Dalton Square.

After a childhood in Liverpool spent idolizing the likes of Les Dawson, Tommy Cooper, and The Singing Nun, Steve Gribbin set out for London to study. Whilst at Goldsmiths’ College, he discovered sex, drugs and a small island off Perthshire.

It all went really wrong when he started to perform stand up comedy alongside the likes of Alexei Sayle, Jo Brand as part of the burgeoning 'alternative comedy' movement.

Steve has been unable to get a proper job since so contents himself with travelling the world, making people laugh. He has performed for audiences as diverse as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and at Glastonbury Festival. The former Gorrilagram specialises in topical political sniping and short sharp songs that go for your jugular, despite not really being sure where that is.

Although highly respected by audiences and peers, he's had his fair share of bad gigs including a man dressed as Jesus Christ trying to strangle him at the aforementioned Glastonbury Festival; a heckler using a police bullhorn; and once had to break up a fight onstage between someone dressed as Andy Pandy and Andy Capp (absolutely true!)

Perhaps his proudest achievement to date is a parody song of Oasis he performed that resulted in Noel Gallagher sending word via his management that he was really upset about it!

As usual the Club's support acts are something to shout about; Canada's Marty McLean, who has performed at numerous Improv venues and the World Famous Comedy Store in Los Angeles and London's irrerverent Paul Ricketts. The night is compered by Ireland's Andrew Ryan.

More info:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Cash machine stolen from Lancaster supermarket

Police are appealing for information after a cash machine was stolen from Booths supermarket in Lancaster.

Around 11.25pm on Sunday 13 March 2011, two vehicles approached the Booths supermarket on Hala Road. A number of people got out of the vehicles and smashed the glass surrounding the cash machine before attaching a rope or strap to it, pulling it entirely out of the frame.

They have then made off with the cash machine in what has been described as a white Transit van and a hatchback type vehicle.

Detective Sergeant Colin Forsyth said: “This offence shows some degree of planning and determination and the offenders were clearly intent on getting away with this cash machine; unfortunately for them, it didn’t contain any money at the time.

“We would appeal for any witnesses who saw any suspicious activity or similar vehicles in the area around the time of the offence, or anybody who has information regarding this incident, to contact police.”

• Anybody with any information should contact police on 01524 63333 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Lancaster Market move to Museum building - 'investigations' continue

Despite intense opposition to the proposal, Lancaster City Council is to press ahead with its investigation into a plan to move Lancaster Market to the Museum building in Market Square.

As we previously reported, the Council's Cabinet proposed an investigation into moving the Market from its current rented location after considering a lengthy report into how it could be better marketed and improved. The Friends of the City Museum, Conservative and Labour councillors have all expressed concern at the proposal to move it to the City Museum, which would mean refurbishing and extending the building and, potentially, moving the Museum out of the building completely, and into Lancaster Castle.

The proposal became the subject of a "call in" by the Council's Overview and Scrutiny Committee (see news story) but an amended proposal, calling on the Council to consider other locations for a Market move, was defeated.

"Unfortunately the resolution was lost by five to three," Councillor Roger Mace, who felt he was effectively "gagged" when the proposal came to Full Council, told virtual-lancaster.

"[Councillor] Jon Barry's verbal remarks at the Cabinet meeting on 15th February about potentially using the upper floor of the City Museum as well as the lower floor for re-locating the market tenants were the spark that triggered my question to the [Council's] Chief Executive," Roger explains. "I have an e-mail exchange with Jon which confirms that he is expecting the upper floor of the Museum to be included in the investigation (excluding only the Regimental Museum).

"These views were also the basis for Jon's remarks at the call-in - but are clearly different to the views [Council leader] Councillor Stuart Langhorn expressed - a difference which remains a poor basis for a Cabinet decision," Roger argues.

"Investigating 'the possibility of developing and extending Lancaster City Museum, in Market Square, to provide an improved museum and indoor market' is one idea - and there is nothing against investigating possible enhancement of the City museum's offering on its present site - but it seems cabinet is doing this in the same report as one designed to solve the problem of the City's outlay in renting and servicing the Market Building.

"Combining the two issues in this way does not offer clarity of objective to justify spending public money on yet another report from outside consultants," the Conservative councillor continues, "especially when it is so clearly the case that there is no consensus between cabinet members as to the near term future of the permanent exhibits and temporary exhibition space at the City Museum."

Commenting on the suggestion that the Museum might ultimately be moved into Lancaster Castle, Roger feels the long term future of the City Museum in the context of the potential for changes at the castle is yet another issue, but points out "The castle is not the property of the City, and changes at the castle are no present justification for assuming that the City Museum building might cease to be used as a museum."

"A misconceived proposal"

As for plans to extend the Museum building, local architect David Morgan gives the proposal short shrift.

"The mystic thinking of the Council has plummeted to new depths in its attempt to resolve the problem of the market, whose present demise is a direct result of their previous failings," he feels. "This relocation proposal breaks the golden rules of retailing that you ignore at your peril."

Mr Morgan notes several problems:

  • Pedestrian access has to be an easy transition from pavement to interior and in this instance is simply not feasible
  • Open sight lines to the interior are fundamental and this is not feasible with a cellular building. Any alteration to this building would decimate the interior. The present market presents a good example of how, with no control, visual chaos can ruin a building
  • Goods delivery and waste could induce more large vehicles through pedestrian areas and create an 'eye sore' to the rear of the building.
  • Any extension would present a significant challenge to an architect of national standing for it to sit in comfort on such an important site. It would mean the removal of disabled parking to facilitate.
  • This is a listed building and as such should be untouchable

"We are presently witnessing the erosion of standards to our historic city and this proposal would make a significant contribution to a failed legacy," he feels. "It is not necessary to waste more tax payers' money on yet more consultants' feasibility studies on a misconceived proposal."

"David's advice suggests to me that the idea of extending the Museum Building at the back is unlikely to be achievable,' feels Councillor Mace, "and if achievable, is unlikely to be at acceptable cost, or suitable for the intended purpose of accommodating market traders.

"Spending more money on consultants just looks like throwing good money after bad - especially if the idea of using the Museum space to house the Market traders is basically 'a non-starter', which a desk-top study by officers should be enough to confirm.

"The idea of re-housing the traders somewhere may be a pre-requisite for any sort of significant renovation or improvement to the Market building - and it would in my view be essential to relocate them somewhere if the ultimate aim is to create a 'white box' for a single tenant. Hence the recommendations put forward to Overview and Scrutiny for consideration at the call-in."

"A high risk adventure"

Joining the critics of the proposal is Councillor Ron Sands, whose long involvement in promoting tourism in the Lancaster area gives him a unique perspective on any changes to the Museum's location.

"An argument that should weigh heavily with the Cabinet is one based on an analysis over many years of the respective success of the museum versus the repeated failure of the market," he notes. "The museum has a splendid record of high achievement and strong public appreciation. The market has enjoyed neither of these valuable qualities.

"Can we afford to take on a high risk adventure on behalf of the market (with its long established failings) and simultaneously shoulder the burden of relocating the museum with all the perils and uncertainties of replicating that success in a different location?

"Year after year, the museum has consistently performed well whilst the Market has consistently floundered. The public have never convincingly demonstrated that they wish to support the Market. But they have repeatedly demonstrated their strong support and affection for the Museum.

"Why jeopardise the Museum's success by moving it to an untried, untested and unidentified new location, in return for the dubious hope that an hitherto unregarded Market can suddenly flourish against all the evidence?"

Frankenstein stalks The Dukes...

If you've tried and failed to get tickets for Danny Boyle's hugely popular version of Frankenstein at the National Theatre, then The Dukes has the solution - because on Thursday, they'll be screening a live performance of the sell out show direct from London.

Oscar winning director Danny Boyle swapped screen for stage with this new take on Mary Shelley’s classic, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller switching between the roles of the monster and the doctor.

The show is currently rated as the London theatre's top sought after ticket, according to

NT Live is an exciting initiative that broadcasts live performances of National Theatre plays onto cinema screens worldwide. The Dukes has been screening NT Live since it began and all performances have proved very popular so advance booking is recommended.

Frankenstein will be screened on March 17 at 6.45pm. Tickets cost £12/£11(concessions) and can be booked in advance from The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500 or online at

Music and comedy Ensembled in Lancaster for Comic Relief

Popular teenage musician Nancy Kent appears at St. Thomas Church as part of the Esemble@StTs line up on Friday

A new series of cafe caberet evenings launches at St Thomas Church on Penny Street, Lancaster on Friday 18th March – and are set to prove as popular as previous events.

Offering a great line up of talent from around the country and close to home, Ensemble @ St T’s will be showcasing three great acts during the evening, providing a great mix of music and comedy.

Local girl Nancy Kent will be performing with her band and singing a selection of self-written thoughtful songs. Blending ballad and up tempo numbers, Nancy is rapidly making a name for herself as the area’s rising star. She claims that the things which happen around her are the things which sway her music the most: local music magazine Ark Magazine says her music is "girl-next-door and down to earth, something people can relate to".

Accomplished singer/songwriter Dave Woodman has broken his busy schedule to be in Lancaster on the night. Based in the sub-tropical plains of Lancashire, UK, David Woodman has noodled his way into the musical DNA of a diverse array of artists, including Breakspear , Indie rock legend, Doug Walker, US-based gospel Diva, Elaine Hanley and the "odd but satisfying" acoustic combo, Lonesome.

He recently provided music for the Breakspear film, Valerie's Orchard - visit to see the trailer.

Comedy comes courtesy of Andy Kind who is the perfect choice to round up this Comic Relief night event. Andy is a full-time stand-up comedian and is one of the pioneers behind the new wave of Clean Comedy hitting the UK comedy circuit. He has performed all over the country, winning awards and acclaim as he goes. Since winning ‘Anything for Laffs’, he has gone on to be recognised as one of the warmest and most engaging talents in British comedy.

• Ensemble @ St T’s takes place at St Thomas’s Church on Penny Street Lancaster on Friday 18th March, Doors open 7.30 pm with Diversity 103.5 FM's Duncan Moore hosting the evening. Tickets are £6 and available through St Thomas’s office on 01524 590410.

A fairtrade licensed bar will be offering a selection of beers, wines and soft drinks.

Council tests flood protection measures

Lancaster City Council will be testing its preparations for potential tidal flooding with an exercise next week.

On Monday 21st March, storm boards will be put in place on Morecambe's promenade so staff can practice their deployment in case they are needed for a real life situation.

The exercise will coincide with the highest tide for a number of years, but it is not currently expected that any flooding will occur as high tides alone do not cause any problems.

The Council says completion of the rock armour defences has greatly increased the level of protection, but high tides in combination with severe weather conditions require the storm boards to be in position to complete the effectiveness of the sea defences.

High tides occur in every month of the year and weather conditions for all tides above a certain level are monitored to determine if the storm boards need to be in place.

“Morecambe’s coastal defences provide a high level of protection from tidal flooding and the storm boards are therefore rarely used," explains Councillor David Kerr, Cabinet member with responsibility for Civil Contingencies.

“Because they are so rarely deployed exercises such as this provide us with the opportunity to practice their deployment so staff can refresh their skills.

“The exercise will cause some minor disruption to normal access to the promenade and we’d ask for patience as we carry out this essential exercise."

More about the Council's Flood contingencies plan here on the City Council web site

Council PDFs

District Severe Weather Plan Version 2.0
Preparing for a flood
During a flood
After a flood
Lancaster District Flooding Plan Version 2.0
District Flooding Plan Version 2.1 (Public) (PDF - 7.3MB)

SAFE centre funding secured despite cuts gloom for Lancashire police

Despite news of cuts to Lancashire's police announced yesterday, there is some good news among the doom and gloom as public services come under increasing assault from the ConDem government.

Lancashire Constabulary has confirmed that funding for the SAFE Centre, Lancashire’s specialist centre for victims of rape and serious sexual assault has been secured.

The SAFE Centre offers support services for men, women and children who are victims of sexual assault. Based at Royal Preston Hospital, which provides the building and utilities, and up until now funded by Lancashire Constabulary, Lancashire’s five primary care trusts have now offered to help fund the £1.2million needed to run the centre.

The SAFE Centre has a dual purpose – to collect forensic evidence for a future prosecution and to provide counselling, help and support to victims both after the report of an attack and throughout any consequent court case.

“We are pleased that an agreement has been reached regarding the future funding of the Centre," says Dr Alyson Jones, clinical director at the SAFE Centre. "The service we provide to victims of rape and serious sexual assault is often vital to any possible prosecution and central to the victim’s rehabilitation.”

“The SAFE Centre is a really important service and we are happy to help fund it," a spokesperson for Lancashire’s five primary care trusts said. "The police approached us a few months ago to ask for funding for the healthcare provided at the centre to ensure the service stays open.

“Each primary care trust will pay a percentage of the costs based on where people using the centre are from.

“This funding will be via block payments, not payment by results as has previously been suggested.”

The new funding arrangement means that the police will continue to pay for forensic examination and investigative costs while the primary care trusts will pick up the bill for healthcare.

Detective Superintendent Ian Critchley, head of public protection for Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Coming forward as a victim of rape or sexual assault can be incredibly daunting so the SAFE Centre offers the help and support they need both mentally and physically.

“The aim of all those involved is to provide a first class service that focuses on the victim’s needs and I am pleased that funding is now in place to secure the centre’s future.”

Lancashire Constabulary will have 102 fewer police officers dealing with urgent calls from the public at the end of its cutbacks and the force will axe £6m from its “response policing” budget, losing 102 out of 1,096 PC jobs and 18 supervisors in the process.

The Lancashire Evening Post reprted that they are among 550 police officer posts which will go as Lancashire Police fights to reduce its budget by almost £42m over the next four years due to government cuts.

Describing it as the “biggest change” the police force had seen, Chief Constable Steve Finnigan said: “We’re now at the stage where we can’t leave the front line untouched.”

The chairman of the Police Federation in Lancashire is critical of the cuts, saying they will lead to an increase in crime.

""You cannot take police officers off the street and expect criminals not to return to them," the BBC reported. "People will see less police officers on the street and less availability of police officers."

Monday, 14 March 2011

Scotforth residents give supermarket plans the red card

Scotforth residents protesting at new supermarket plans on Saturday.
Photo courtesy Councillor Emily Heath

Scotforth residents are "seeing red" over proposals to build two huge supermarkets and staged a demonstration outside Booths on Saturday.

Dressed in red, the protestors, who included elderly people, parents with young children, and residents of streets which will be badly affected by extra traffic if the supermarket plans go ahead, say they are alarmed by the proposals.

The proposed site of the new Booths
between Scotforth and Lancaster
First submitted for consideration to the Council's planning committee last Spring, the proposals include a hotel, petrol station and large areas of car parking on the Lawson’s Bridge fields on the edge of Scotforth.

The proposals will be considered by Lancaster City Council’s planning committee within the next couple of months.

One of the proposed supermarkets would be Booths, with the possibility of another supermarket operator taking over the existing Booths store in Scotforth.

The other, much larger, superstore is proposed by a developer called Commercial Estates Projects for the fields further south. They have refused to say which company will operate the store, but residents believe that it will be Tesco or Asda because they usually able to make the highest bids. Over one third of the retail space will be for ‘comparison goods’.

“If these proposals are approved, we could soon have three supermarkets in Scotforth, which together would add up to nine times the retail space of the current Booths store," says
Green Party Councillor Emily Heath, who represents Scotforth West ward. "Lawson’s Bridge would become a large out-of-town retail park which would suck trade away from the City Centre and local shops. 

"I’m also very concerned about the severe traffic congestion which would be generated," she added. "The developers’ traffic assessments predict that by 2019 the afternoon 'rush hour' will be more like three hours long, with queues of 235 vehicles at the Boot & Shoe crossroads heading north.

"That would stretch almost as far as the entrance to the University! Buses will get stuck in these huge traffic jams, as well as cars and commercial vehicles. It will be chaos.”

Lancaster University is not opposing the plan for a new Booths, but in a response to the planning application it says it is concerned that the Traffic Assessment for the plan claims the proposed development will not have any material adverse effect on the surrounding highway authority.

"I would consider that statement to be unrealistic and misleading," noted Mark Swindlehurst, the Univerity's Director of Facilities in a letter to the City Council back in June last year. "The provision of a car park with a greater number of parking spaces than at the present Booths site on Hala Road will lead to increased car journeys being made in connection with Booths (Lancaster) as the local customer base increases.

"Furthermore, a new signalised junction on the A6 at the site entrance will certainly have an adverse effect on A6 traffic flows. This will affect the University's bus services and other commuters travelling between the University and the city centre along the A6."

Challenging the Council to reveal exactly when the Assessment was undertaken (since, if it was during University vacation, this would skew traffic estimates), the University also argues the it fails to take into account the impact its own Science Park, which has already been given planning permission, will have on traffic.

"The TA fails to mention the approved Bailrigg Science Park or any future development
possibilities at the University. The combined traffic implications of these will be significant and the TA has not considered these at all in the proposed 2015 traffic flow forecast for the A6 outside the proposed site, which again is unrealistic and misleading."

Booths claims the response to its proposals have been encouraging. In covering letter to a report on its Public Consultation, conducted in February last year, the supermarket's agents claim that out of a total of 429 replies, 85% were in support of the proposal - but even many of its supporters expressed concern at increases to traffic. Over 15,000 questionnaires were distributed within the Lancaster area.

A design for Commercial Estates Projects proposed supermarket and hotel complex on the A6, south of Lancaster.
In revised plans for its huge supermarket and hotel development, submitted earlier this month, CEP has included an economic assessment suggesting that its plans could create just over 300 jobs, arguing the area needs to reduce its reliance on public sector employment and boost provision for tourism. The company argues the scheme should be brought forward as soon as possible to help stabilise the local economy, claiming that construction stage of the development alone would inject over £22 million into the local economy.

As usual, of course, the proposal does not include any assessment of how many jobs might be lost elsewhere should the project get the go ahead.

• There is still time to comment on the planning applications. All of the documents, including the consultation responses submitted so far, can be viewed online at, and comments can be submitted there too. Enter the application reference number 10/00251/FUL (the proposed new Booths store) or 10/00366/OUT (the CEP development, further south).

Lancaster Green Party Lawson's Bridge Campaign Page

Lancashire’s roads ‘safest they have been in years’

The number of people killed or seriously injured on Lancashire’s roads is at the lowest in 30 years, according to latest figures.

Police say more work is needed to bring them down further, while the County Council argues its soon to be introduced 20 mph speed limits on residential roads will help that downward drop in tragic accidents.

Lancashire Constabulary reports that during 2010, 798 people were killed or seriously injured on the county’s roads.  This compares to a yearly average of 1,704 between 1981 and 1985 – 906 less people or a 53 per cent reduction.

“Let’s be clear – one person killed or seriously injured on our roads is one too many," notes Superintendant Peter O’Dwyer. "We are not complacent and are working hard to reduce this figure even further.

“These figures do however highlight a significant improvement and suggest that the county’s roads are now the safest they have been in years.

“We have been working with other agencies to educate road users about staying safe on the roads and we have been working tirelessly to enforce legislation.

“We are dedicated to continuing with this work to help keep the roads of Lancashire safe.”

In the past five years, the number of people killed or seriously injured has decreased year-on-year, with 1,139 in 2006, 1,000 in 2007, 929 in 2008 and 852 in 2009.

Lancashire Constabulary regularly runs Operation Pathway, which sees high profile action days to support the daily road policing activity, and is aimed at saving lives and protecting people on the county’s roads.

"It's very encouraging to see that our hard work to make Lancashire's roads safer is having a real impact on reducing casualties," notes County Councillor Tim Ashton, Cabinet member for highways and transport. "Every death or serious injury on the roads is a tragedy and has a terrible effect on the lives of those affected.

"I'm determined to do everything I can to maintain this downward trend.

"A whole range of activities have contributed towards the reduction in casualties, from education, to safety schemes on the highways. Last year, for example, around 26,000 school children were trained in pedestrian and cycling safety.

"Following the trials of residential 20mph speed limits in three areas of the county, we'll also be introducing them to all residential roads and outside schools over the next three years, which will increase safety without adding to people's journey times and help to make Lancashire an even safer place to live."

• Advice for staying safe on the county’s roads can be found at

Sunday, 13 March 2011

William Penny's Residents Bless Parking Scheme as Flat Blazes

Residents of the William Penny's sheltered housing scheme block of flats in Regent Street, Lancaster, were evacuated today as fire broke out in a basement flat.

Fortunately the elderly resident of the flat where the blaze started was out visiting her daughter for the day and no-one was harmed.
Residents took shelter with friends and helpful neighbours as the Fire Brigade brought the fire, which gutted the apartment, melting door and window fittings and causing extensive smoke damage throughout the building, under control. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

Several residents mentioned the new parking scheme, which has only been in operation for a few weeks, as being a great advantage as emergency vehicles enjoyed instant access to the property. At a previous serious fire in the street, teams of residents had had to physically lift cars, parked on both sides of the narrow street, out of the way to allow the fire engines to pass, while people lay trapped and unconscious on smoke-filled upper floors. With the new scheme the cars may only park on one side. Kudos is due to the Green Party councillors, particularly Cllr Anne Chapman, who represents this ward, for their long and complex struggle to bring the scheme in.

Having already survived a world war and all the other challenges that the best part of a century of life inevitably brings, residents were in brave spirits despite being shut out without their handbags. Sally, (90), looking ready for anything in a borrowed leather jacket, told me 'It's the people in Japan you have to feel for, when you think what they've to cope with.' Respect.