Friday, 1 April 2011

Police seize vehicles in Morecambe crime crackdown

Police placed what they termed "a ring of steel" around Morecambe on Wednesday, to crack down on offenders coming in to the town to commit crime.

Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology was used on the roads into the town so that officers could use intelligence to target travelling criminals.

The lockdown lead to 42 vehicles being stopped and checked over by police. As a result, eight motorists were found to be operating scrap metal businesses without the correct licence  - three of whom then had their vehicles seized for being unroadworthy.

14 motorists were given fixed penalty notices – six for using mobiles while driving, one for having poor quality tyres, three for not wearing their seatbelts and four for document offences. Officers also seized a further eight vehicles for being unroadworthy.

The activity took place as part of Operation Belevedere, which is aimed at reducing serious acquisitive crime.

Chief Inspector Ian Dawson, Lancashire Police, said: “The ring of steel we created using the ANPR system highlights the fact that we will use all the tools available to us to stop criminals from travelling into the area to commit crime.

“People can be reassured that if they come to Morecambe to go about their legitimate business they will be welcomed – but criminals intent on travelling to Morecambe to commit offences will be caught and dealt with appropriately.”

Litfest calls for support after Arts Council funding loss

Lancaster litfest director Andy Darby has issued a more detailed statement on its loss of Arts Council funding (see news story), which we publish in full below.

"In October, Arts Council England (ACE) had its budget cut by £100m. Yesterday they announced which organisations they would continue to fund. Sadly, Litfest was one of over 200 organisations which was not offered funding after 2012.

"We're disappointed. Since ACE funded us to grow our organisation and to move into the refurbished Storey building, we have run more events, published more new work from the region and worked with more partners on literature development projects. We have done what we promised we would.

"Last night, our Metamorphoses storytelling event sold out, with 100 people packed into The Storey Auditorium. 

What we are doing, and how you can help

"We really appreciate your support and your enjoyment of what we do. We believe that Lancaster deserves inspiring literature events and we intend to keep providing them - just as we have for over 30 years. Only hours after we received the news, we were on the phone booking new events for our storytelling series.

"Lancaster has taken a beating in these cuts. The Storey Gallery and Folly have also lost their funding; the Dukes Theatre and Ludus Dance have had their funding reduced.

"We think that ACE's decision to cut our funding is not a reflection of the value of our work to Lancaster, but of the changed priorities and demands being made of and by Arts Council England."

If you'd like to support litfest, there are a number of things you can do:
  • Send Litfest  an email telling them why the organisation is important to you. "Tell us, for example, about an event that has uplifted you," says Andy, "or a writing workshop that has made a difference.
  • Book a ticket for one of Litfest's events, or pop in and buy a book from our Poetry Bookcase. As hundreds of British arts organisations are being cut, now is the time to show your support for the arts. Vote with your feet. 
  • Tell your friends about Litfest - face-to-face or online. 
  • Get involved - volunteer some of your time to staff Litfest's Poetry Bookcase, help with our leaflet and poster distribution, or join our Front of House team at events.
 Upcoming litfest Lunchtime Classics events:

Grey Striped Tabby Cat Twiggy Missing From Regent Street

Updated: 4/4/11. Readers will be pleased to know that Twiggy has been safely returned. Thanks for your help!

Have you seen Twiggy? She is a small grey striped tabby cat who has been missing from her home in Regent Street, Lancaster, since Wednesday. Twiggy was a rescue kitten nursed back to health by her lifetime sidekick Jeff, who is worried sick about her. Because of her difficult start in life she is small, and often mistaken for a kitten (she is 7).

She is very friendly. She is also very curious and agile and loves to visit where she finds an open door, window or vehicle! It's possible she may be shut into a shed, garage, empty house or cellar, or may have hitched a ride with an unsuspecting driver, so please could you check if you have any of these.

She has a white tummy and was wearing a yellow collar with a medal giving her address and phone. She can be handled safely and gently as she doesn't bite or scratch (she can be a bit wriggly tho). If you think you have seen her or you know where she is, please can you phone xxx so she can be collected, wherever she is. There is a reward for her return.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Idiot Johnson Interviewed by Tom Bramhall

Idiot Johnson is the stage name of Mr Jonathan Tansley, Lancaster based singer / songwriter and general music lover responsible for 2010's debut CD Girl On A Train.
In preparation for his Yorkshire House show on Sunday 10 April with Lancaster’s New Zealand Story and my own po)))nies, I interviewed Jonathan and spoke about writing and recording, listening to pop records.

Since it was apparent early on that Jonathan was someone versed in and devoted to popular music (see below for an eclectic personal playlist), I began our interview by asking who he thought a singer / songwriter sets out to write for…

‘Do you mean all of the songwriters? There's an awful lot, but let's see... Paul Weller writes to impress Ray Davies. Kirsty MacColl wrote to impress her dad. Guy Garvey writes to impress Simon Armitage and vice versa. Billy Bragg writes to impress Joe Strummer. Are there any more I've missed?’

Jonathan surmises than he may be writing to impress his 11 year old self … ‘when I first realised that music is, like, dead brilliant’, listening to Cat Stevens and Ralph McTell coming out of his sister's bedroom (‘not literally, at least I don't think so’) and to the The Cure and The Sex Pistols from his brother’s - ‘and an amazing little DIY band who produced cassettes with hand coloured inserts called The Cleaners From Venus … I loved all of them’.

When I remarked on how small a distinction he seems to draw between popular and more obscure recordings, he replied by describing Idiot Johnson’s own criteria for pop perfection …

‘Well, a choon is a choon is a choon, innit? … The democratisng effect of the ipod age is that when any song comes up on shuffle, it doesn't matter whether the record got to number one on both sides of the Atlantic or whether it never made it beyond the artist's circle of friends - all that matters is whether you like it or not … Popularity versus Obscurity don't mean diddly when you're sitting on the train or walking down the road and a tune comes on which just clicks perfectly with whatever mood you happen to be in. A great New Zealand Story song is every bit as valid an artistic entity as a great Donny Osmond song’

Claiming for himself ‘the likes of Elvis Costello and Squeeze and most of all Kirsty MacColl’ it’s arguable that you can hear all these influences on Girl On A Train. Across the five tracks sit’s a similar balance of pathos and the prosaic you could tack to all the above.

‘"They Don't Know" and "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" perfectly encapsulate the Perfect Pop thing - just so thrilling yet at the same time really sad. It's that mix of hopefulness and weariness she captures so brilliantly: how else could a young boy feel but exhilarated and confused to the point where he thought his head was going to fall off, which did in fact happen to me and kids like me ALL THE TIME back then’.

Girl On A Train sounds both emotive and precise. There’s a moment on 'She Is Gone' where Jonathan is singing about ‘magazines and airport books’; seemingly everyday subject matter - though when I heard it the line and its delivery put me right there in the scene of the song - flipping forlorn in some ghostly airport lounge.

When I remark on this gift of being able to take the common-place and open it up for a visceral connection to the listener, Jonathan advises me listen for inspiration from Kirsty MacColl, ‘(who’s) songs drive home the point that if you're going to try and write your own songs then you have to make them as visceral, as alive with emotion as you possibly can, because otherwise what's the point?’.

This emphasis on the visceral, emotional impact of a song ran through our whole conversation:

‘I know a lot of people say knowing the backstory of an artist or a recording enhances your enjoyment of it and makes you form a stronger bond with the music. I can see that, but I also really love it when you hear a song on the radio or wherever, and you've no idea who or what it is or where it came from, it's just come out of nowhere and knocked you for six. That's my favourite kind of musical fix - when it's out of the blue and you least expect it’.

For all the emphasis on the emotive, Girl On A Train plays for equal emphasis on meticulous production. A self confessed perfectionist, rigorous attention has been paid to the recording; allowing GOAT to sound both luscious and precise. When I tell him this, Jonathan confesses to his ideal role being that of producer - being able to tinker endlessly with an arrangement until it achieves its own ‘Perfect Pop thing’.

Sharing his admiration for the diamond cut arrangements in Goldfrapp and Fountains of Wayne, but equally a love of sloppy, guttural melody; Jonathan explains that the future for Idiot Johnson may promise a stripped down ‘grungy punk record’ a la The Lemonheads - another band he confesses to admiring for their particular brand of slacker-type perfection.

More recently Jonathan’s been lending an occasional lap steel to The Existence of Harvey Lord’s otherwise rich psych-sonic tapestries. With the possibility of his featuring on future Existence recordings in tact, Jonathan remarks on how different the approaches are to one another. Whilst Harvey works with any number of musicians, throwing everything into the mix and carving outward into some very singular sonic sculptures; Jonathan tends to work alone and schematically - 'I wouldn't build a house to live in without having some plans drawn up'.

Since it’s been of interest in previous interviews, I ask Jonathan if he has an ‘ideal listener’ in mind when he writes …

‘You try to write a song that you yourself would want to hear, but … I'm very conscious of the listener. I want a song to be something the listener will enjoy, but at the same time if you try to second guess what that listener might actually like, then you're on a hiding to nothing. Different people like different things and it's hard enough to write something one person can connect with. The problem is learning what works for an audience and what doesn't.
And it's not as if there aren't precedents. The world is full of amazing and wonderful songs but trying to learn from them so you can go off and write your own amazing and wonderful songs, well, let's just say it's something I struggle with…

Most of the songs I've written I've never shared with anybody. Not because I didn't think the songs were finished or ready to be heard, but because,
you know, you're asking a lot of somebody to sit there and listen to your attempts at making music. In the modern parlance it's A Big Ask’.

As Jonathan notes, the utility of the song-writer seems deplete in a world so full of them. In spite of this, it seems of little importance to him where Idiot Johnson will arrive in the immediate future. As noted above, emphasis seemes to lay more with working to create the kind of songs he would like other people to hear - taking cues from popular song.

‘My gut feeling is that I've not entered my Visceral Period yet …
I'm too close to tell. I try to write from the heart but by the time I've made it scan and written a second verse it's already starting to sound overthought to me. So I dunno. I suspect - for me anyway - the songs that are written in an hour are better than the ones that take a year to finish, but there's no hard and fast rule’.

Following our discussion, the lasting impression I got of Idiot Johnson was that of someone trying to stay faithful to the spark of inspiration they got from listening to music for the first time, irrespective of where it led them:

‘I have an older brother who back then would write poetry like a boy possessed, ring-binders and ring-binders of the stuff every month. We'd sit together with a guitar and cassette recorder and I'd set his writing to music and we were PROLIFIC. Not by any means any good but what we lacked in quality we more than made up for in prolificness. He may still have the tapes we made, I don't know. I wouldn't especially care to hear them now, but you know, that's what got me started and I'm grateful for that start.
He once sent a compilation of the best stuff to Sounds, which older readers may remember as a Rock Periodical from Victorian times, and one week we made it to number one in The Obscurist Charts. Obviously, it wasn't a sales based chart. They were whimsical times and I haven't stopped writing since’.

Drawing on a diversity of private loves, from Elvis Costello and Kirsty MaColl to Goldfrapp, his debut release Girl On A Train offers five songs deep of emotive song writing paying debt to some of the more hum drum, pathos soaked pop of the past thirty years. Released on Jonathan’s own Castle Hill label in late 2010, Girl On A Train is a labour or love and investment, each track a careful balance of emotion and craft.

As a parting gesture, I asked him to list the records he’d come across in 2010 which left a particular mark. The following, in no apparent order of importance, I hope will give a lasting sketch of one man listening, writing and working meticulously to create his own brand own emotive pop perfection.

The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
Y. Niwl - Y. Niwl
Tracey Thorn - Love & It’s Opposite
Teenage Fan club - Shadows
Sufjan Stevens - The Age of Adz
Stealing Sheep - What If The Lights Went Out
Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin - Let It Sway
Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
Phosphorescent - Here’s To Taking It Easy
The National - High Violet
Midlake - The Courage of Others
The Low Countries - A Brown Café At 3am
Laura Viers - July Flame
Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
Jonsi - Go/Go Live/Go quiet
John Grant - Queen of Denmark
I am Kloot - Sky At Night
Horse Feathers - Kill Rock Stars
Goldfrapp - Head First
Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Four tet - There Is Love In You
Foals - Total Life Forever
Everything Everything - Man Alive
Eels - End Times
The Divine Comedy - Bang Goes The Knighthood
Dan Haywood’s New Hawks - Dan Haywood’s New Hawks
Ben Folds - Way To Normal
Belle and Sebastian - Belle & Sebastian Write About Love
Admiral Fallow - Boots Met My Face!

Idiot Johnson will be performing live April 10th at the Yorkshire House, Lancaster.
Girl On A Train is available for CD/digital purchase @

Tom Bramhall writes for po)))nies

Historic Prison HMP Lancaster Castle closes this week.

After 56 years as a category C prison, accommodating between 200-300 prisoners, depending on the policies of the day, HMP Lancaster Castle is closing this week. Conservative Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has plans to reduce the prison population by 3000 over the next 4 years. Clarke's view that 'prison isn't working' has angered Tory rightwingers but tallies with the views of reformers that locking up increasing numbers of people, US-style, is not the solution.

The current UK prison poulation numbers around 83,000, with a full prison capacity of around 88,000. Labour had plans to build enough prisons to house 96,000 prisoner by 2014 and the Conservative manifesto carried the same pledge. The Lib Dems planned to stop the building programme and place a greater emphasis on community sentencing.

Clarke backs them on this with an additional option for some foreign nationals to escape jail if they leave the country forever, and for judges to have more latitude in sentencing murderers.

Castle Prison officers have been promised redeployment or voluntary redundancy.

Clarke's plans to privatise the prison system are likely to result in numerous job losses, however, and are currently being hotly debated, as the running of Birmingham Prison has today been awarded to a private contractor, making it the first UK prison to be privatised. Strike action is illegal for Prison Officers but the Prison Officers Association has a two-year-old mandate to take industrial action, up to and including strike action, in the event of any prison being privatised. Up to 3,000 troops have been put on standby to run any prison hit by industrial action.

See full report on HMP Lancaster Castle closure: Castle prison to close in March, says Clarke

City Council backs cut local arts groups

Lancaster City Council has voiced its support for local arts organisations - including those whose funding has been cut by the Arts Council this week (see news story).

 “We recognise the huge value of arts and cultural activities in the Lancaster district and the important role the local arts sector plays in contributing to the local economy," Heather McManus, Deputy Chief Executive of Lancaster City Council, told virtual-lancaster, "attracting visitors, providing jobs and improving the quality of life for local people.

“We support the Arts Council’s core commitment to those organisations it is continuing to fund. We will continue to work in partnership with the Arts Council and other organisations in the district in reviewing future provision of local arts and cultural activities and how these can be best supported in the future.

“At budget council this year, Lancaster City Council allocated more than £195,000 to local arts organisations including More Music Morecambe, Litfest, The Dukes, Ludus, The Storey Creative Industries Centre and the Storey Gallery.”

Missing Morecambe man could be in Blackpool

Missing: Morecambe man
Darren Shenton
Police are appealing for the public to report any sightings of a missing Morecambe man who is believed to be staying in Blackpool.

As we previously reported, Darren Shenton, 41, was last seen at his home address on West End Road in Morecambe on Friday morning (25th March) and police and his family are growing increasingly concerned for his welfare.

Darren is described as being of slim build with short, fair hair with a short beard. He has a tattoo on his left arm saying Jackie and a tattoo on his knuckle saying MUFC.

When he was last seen, Darren was wearing blue jeans, a Blue Reebok jacket and white Reebok trainers.

It is believed Darren attended Whitegate medical centre in Blackpool on 29th March to collect a prescription.

Inspector Chris Airey from Morecambe Police said: “I would urge anyone that thinks they have seen Darren or who may have any information as to his whereabouts should contact police on 01524 63333.”

litfest, Storey Gallery and folly lose Arts Council funding

Lancaster's long-running litfest, the Storey Gallery, the digital arts organisation Folly and LUDUS Dance are among the high profile victims of cuts in funding by Arts Council England, which unveiled its new National portfolio of funded organisations earlier this week.

Neither The Storey Gallery, litfest - one of the oldest literature organisations in the country - or Folly will be supported by the Arts Council for the next three years, with funding ending in April 2012, giving them 12 months to secure alternative income.

LUDUS Dance has also had its budget cut for the next three years by over 60 per cent.

Other local arts organisations such as The Dukes have also had their budgets cut, but Morecambe-based More Music and Lancaster University's Nuffield Theatre have been awarded increased funding.

The Arts Council funding cuts could bring further bad news for the most affected organisations, as funding by other entities, such as Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council, is often based on the level of Arts Council support they are given.

In a short statement, litfest director Andy Darby said he was "disappointed" that Arts Council England did not support their application to be a part of their new "National Portfolio" of arts organisations.

"This we take to be a reflection of the changed priorities and demands being made of and by Arts Council England," he commented, "and not a judgement regarding the value locally of our work.

"We intend to continue to work with organisations across the sector through the Lancaster Arts Partnership to deliver excellent arts experiences for the people of Lancaster and beyond."

Overall, funding changes mean the Arts Council has completely withdrawn support for 23 arts organisations in the North West, with Lancaster hard hit - but 15 organisations in the region are being offered portfolio funding for the first time.

Commneting on its funding withdrawal, the folly Board of Trustees and Chief Executive, Taylor Nuttall also said he was disappointed by the Arts Council decision.

"We wish to express our commisserations to our fellow arts sector colleagues who were unsuccessful and also our conratulations to those that were in this process," he said. " The coming year will be one of readjustment and strategic development in the sector."

Previously regarded by the Arts Council as a "leading digital arts organisation", it was supported to deliver a high quality programme of creative digital media work. Instead of funding folly, the Arts Council, which says it is is "building on the North West's strength in digital arts", is continuing to support similar organisations such as FACT in Liverpool and in Cornerhouse in Manchester, established leaders in the field of digital and media arts "both of which form part of the national backbone of digital arts organisations.

"There is also increased investment in FutureEverything in Manchester, as well as portfolio funding for the first time for Octopus in Barrow and Manchester Craft and Design Limited who all demonstrate how those new technologies can further artform and market development."

The Dukes, which has been very successful over the last two years, are surprized by the funding cut, after it effectively re-invented itself after a major Arts Council cut three years ago, and staging nore events than ever before last year.

"The quality of our work has risen dramatically as has our earned income," they say. "Like any other arts organisation receiving a cut, we now have to consider a measured response.

"Whilst The Dukes’ situation is difficult, we are even more concerned for the broader picture in Lancaster.  Colleagues at Ludus Dance, Litfest, The Storey Gallery and folly have all received bad news and we wish them well."

Local Arts Funding in Detail

The Dukes has a grant of £254,714 in 2011/2012, and the same for 2012/13, £260,572 in 2013/14 and £267,347 in 2014/15 - a 2.3% cut

The Dukes provides a mixed programme of performing arts, cinema and youth theatre.

The Folly has a grant of £142,486 in 2011/2012, but will no longer be supported by the Arts Council.

Despite its funding cut, folly Chief Executive Taylor Nuttall clearly hopes the organisation will survive. "folly has always been an organisation that embraces change," he notes, "seeing this as a key part of its own innovative approach and looking forwards to the future.  In this folly has always followed the lead of artists and will continue to do so.

Litfest has a grant of £65,530 in 2011/2012, but will no longer be supported by the Arts Council.

Lancaster Litfest was founded by local people in 1977. The annual festival has promoted a wide-ranging programme of poets and prose writers from the experimental, overlooked and local, to mainstream international literature. The Arts Council funded the organisation to deliver the high quality annual literature festival for Lancaster and related development and outreach projects in Lancaster and, in partnership with other organisations, across Lancashire.

Ludus Dance has a grant of £280,958 in 2011/2012, and  £95,000 in 2012/13, £97,280 in 2013/14 and £98,809 in 2014/15 - a cut in funding of 66.9%

Ludus Dance is one of the key dance development agencies in the region. It has a touring company, offering one-week residencies and touring issue-based work to schools, community and venues nationally and internationally; and a community dance team working at grassroots level. Arts Council funding this year went towards the creation of a new dance performance for touring to schools, venues and community settings and the development and delivery of associated education outreach programmes and resource materials.

More Music has a grant of £61,084 in 2011/2012, and £105,00 in 2012/13, £107,415 in 2013/14 and £110,208 in 2014/15 - a 68% increase

More Music in Morecambe is a community music organisation with its own building in the centre of Morecambe. It provides training, performances and opportunities for people to take part in a range of music genres, with a special emphasis on combating social exclusion and on culturally diverse music. The Arts Council funds the organisation to deliver its programme of high class education and training classes, workshops and community projects that involve ethnically diverse communities, young people and people that, traditionally have not had access to music.

The Nuffield Theatre has a grant of £92,359 in 2011/2012, and and £102,359 in 2012/13, £104,816 in 2013/14 and £107,541 in 2014/15 - a 8.4% rise

The Storey Gallery has a grant of £31,006 in 2011/2012, but will no longer be supported by the Arts Council.

The Storey Gallery is an established, independent artist-centred gallery in Lancaster that promotes and presents the work of national and internationally significant contemporary artists. Alongside the exhibition programme, Storey Gallery offers an education programme and participatory outreach projects, which was supported by the Arts Council.

Beyond Lancaster, there's some good news for Blackpool:  Blackpool Grand Theatre has received arts funding with a grant of £120,000 for 2012/13 and 2013/14 and 2014/15. It's one of several organisations to gain Arts Council support, while others have lost theirs.

Other arts organisations of local interest are:

The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal has a grant of £237,077 in 2011/2012, and and £320,00 in 2012/13, £327,360 in 2013/14 and £335,871 in 2014/15 - a 31.9% increase

Cumbria Theatre Trust has a grant of £479,808 in 2011/2012, and £600,000 in 2012/13, £614,400 in 2013/14 and £630,374 in 2014/15 - a 22.3% increase

Grizedale Arts has a grant of£122,616 for 2011/2012, and £162,616 in 2012/13, £166,356 in 2013/14 - a 29.6% increase in funding

Kendal Arts International has been awarded a grant of £290,00 in 2012/13, £296,670 in 2013/14 and £304,383 in 2014/15

Lakeland Arts Trust has a grant of £77,564 in 2011/2012, and £120,00 in 2012/13, £122,760 in 2013/14 and £125,952 in 2014/15 - a 51.2% increase

The Wordsworth Trust has a grant of £76,360 in 2011/2012, and £76,360 in 2012/13, £78,116 in 2013/14 and £80,147 in 2014/15 - a 2.3% cut

Overall, Arts Council funding will see theatres, galleries and other arts organisations in the North West receiving just under £77 million in funding over three years from April 2012. 85 "National portfolio organisations" in the region replace the existing 108 supported through the regularly funded organisations programme.

The funding announcement follows the Arts Council's decision in 2010 to introduce a new funding system and an ambitious 10-year strategic framework for the arts in England, and takes into account a significant cut in the Arts Council's budget from government.

Fewer organisations will be funded but, set in the context of the Arts Council's 10-year vision for the arts, the aim is to fund organisations who will get great art to even more people and work collaboratively to make the most of the available funds.

"The National portfolio is one of the ways in which the Arts Council supports artists and arts organisations," the Arts Council says. "Money will continue to be awarded through our Lottery-funded Grants for the arts programme and other Lottery-funded programmes will be announced later in the year.

"The application process for the new National portfolio began in November 2010 and the new portfolio will come into operation in April 2012.

"The new portfolio has been shaped by the goals of the Arts Council's new strategic framework – Achieving great art for everyone – and by the challenging economic backdrop of a 29.6% grant in aid (GIA) cut to the Arts Council's 2011-2015 budget from government. 14.9% of this cut has been passed on to the budget for portfolio organisations.

"All existing regularly funded organisations (RFOs) who were unsuccessful in their applications have 12 months of remaining Arts Council funding to allow them to explore alternative sources of support or adapt their business plans."

 • A full list of all the national portfolio organisations which will be funded in the North West can be found on our website

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

'Operation Belvedere' action to target theft and driver crime

Police executed warrants, visited second hand shops and carried out checks on vehicles this week as part of an ongoing crack down on serious acquisitive crime.

The activity was carried out yesterday (Monday) as part of Operation Belvedere, which is aimed at reducing crime in the north of the county.

The crackdown has already paid dividends: a warrant carried out in Brock Close, Lancaster, lead to the recovery of two stolen Xboxes, a lap top and a DJ mixing unit.

A stolen lap top was also recovered from a city centre second hand shop.

Officers also visited all the city’s second hand jewellers to ensure that stolen property was not being sold through the stores. Visits were made to licensed premises to monitor if the responsibilities of licensees were being met.

Road side check points were set up in Lancaster and Morecambe, with over 80 vehicles being stopped by police. Three people had their cars seized for driving with no insurance and nine had theirs taken from them for being unroadworthy, and 18 people received fixed penalties and three points on their licences for using their mobiles behind the wheel. 10 were given fines for failing to wear seat belts.

Four cars and their passengers underwent drugs searches.

“We are using a number of tactics to disrupt criminality in the north of the county and we are already starting to see results, with stolen items being recovered from premises," says Chief Inspector Ian Dawson.

“The vehicle checks incorporated not only a crack down on road safety – with over 33 motorists exhibiting behaviour or using vehicles that were dangerous to other road users - but a significant part of yesterday’s police activity was also aimed at targeting those travelling in to the area to carry out crime.

“We will continue to disrupt criminal activity to ensure that crime remains low in Northern Division.”

Hammerton Hall Lane accident prompts Police clampdown

Police will be clamping down on motorists incorrectly using ‘access only’ roads following a collision involving a car and a motorcyclist.

The rider needed surgery to a broken leg after his red and black Vulcan motorcycle was involved in a collision with a green Ford Focus on Hammerton Hall Lane, between Barley Cop Lane and Slyne Road, Skeron, at around 6.32am on Monday 12th March.

Hammerton Hall Lane is a narrow single track road, governed by ‘access only’ signs. Although the cause of this most recent collision is still being investigated, there have been a number of accidents on the lane as a result of motorists using it as a short cut.

“The layout of this road means that at times it can be difficult to see vehicles travelling in the opposite direction," says PC Peter Black from the road policing unit. "Hammerton Hall Lane is access only and those motorists who ignore this are adding unnecessary traffic onto a single track road, which can lead to accidents.”

He added: “Motorists who disregard that fact that the road is access only can be issued a fixed penalty ticket for non-compliance.”

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Appeal for missing Morecambe man

Missing: Morecambe man
Darren Shenton
Police in Morecambe are appealing for information about a man who has gone missing from his home in Morecambe.

Darren Shenton, 41, was last seen at his home address on West End Road in Morecambe on Friday morning and police and his family are growing increasingly concerned for his welfare.

Darren is described as being of slim build with short, fair hair with a short beard. He has a tattoo on his left arm saying Jackie and a tattoo on his knuckle saying MUFC.

When he was last seen, Darren was wearing blue jeans, a Blue Reebok jacket and white Reebok trainers.

Anyone who may have seen Darren or who may have any information as to where he might be are asked to contact police on 01524 63333.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lancastrians In London TUC Anti-Cuts March: Personal Report

They say it was half a million at the Great TUC Anti Cuts Protest March in London last Saturday. Half the march never even made it to Hyde Park. For that to happen it would've had to start off at about 9am, not noon. It was a miracle we made it as far as Trafalgar Square, three and a half hours after the march began. 'Why are you stopping?' asked a copper, kindly. 'You're doing this for us too, you know.' We had a special NUT train to catch and it took us two hours to get back to the station, through the endless sea of people with placards throughout the streets and Underground. People were still arriving in Trafalgar Square for hours after, with aching feet. It was a natural place for a second rally.

On the way to Victoria Embankment to join the March I noticed 3 police vans in front of the Vodaphone shop and about 10 policeman inside the doors of TopShop. Who is paying for this? Not them, the tax-dodgers.

We'd heard there might be a bit of direct action. It seemed more than likely. A million people marching peacefully didn't change anything back in 2003. It's a lesson paid for with the blood of thousands. We don't discount the possibility of getting kettled. A friend gave me a lemon on the train. 'I have been tear-gassed twice,' she said (she hails from overseas). 'It is not so bad'. Lemon juice protects the skin and throat, I learn. I emphatically do not want to get caught up in anything of the sort. My mum has voluntarily gone into a care home while I come on this protest. Delays getting back will cost a fortune.

I stand alongside fire-fighters in uniform. And a street band from More Music in Morecambe. The Embankment is packed from end to end with thousands upon thousands. From every sidestreet they pour steadily in. Overhead Waterloo Bridge is packed end to end with crowds bearing placards, all marching our way. Above our heads at the parapet suddenly appears a giant Postman Pat, waving down at us. The postal workers are here! (My local postie works hard for his keep). More Music strike up the Postman Pat theme song, and we sing along and whistle our whistles in our thousands as Pat opens his arms in a giant embrace and conducts us. The kids are thrilled to bits. It's glorious.

Leaflets pass inviting us to a ruck, with instructions and directions to tax dodging business premises. Vodaphone. Top Shop, Boots, banks. I have no idea where these addresses are. For all I know they are on the route of the march. Whatever. I'm with the Fire Brigade and thousands of teachers, nurses, doctors, carers, parents, children, community workers, bagpipers.... I've never been safer.

I'm marching with Lancaster Women Against the Cuts. Women are getting the worst of the cuts dumped on us. We hear there's a Women's Block but they are long gone, miles away in another section of the march. Later I hear that an Ann Summers sex shop got its window smashed along with the tax dodging retailers and banks. I sincerely hope that no innocent rabbits were harmed.

We march and sing and roar and march. 30 and 40 abreast. More Music have stamina as well as rhythm, and songs about politicians who get away with fiddling their expenses. We march with the Lancaster & Morecambe NUT, in the shelter of their banner. We blow our whistles. A lot. There are massive vuvuzela waves that pass up and down the march like a great tidal bore flowing up a river. We are history and whatever the outcome, this day will be remembered and I am a living part of it.

Why I Am Marching

I am marching against the cuts. I do not believe that the deficit is a result of public spending. I believe that it came about because New Labour were too cosy with the banks and let them run up a real estate bubble from which they took, and are still taking, a massive rake-off. This they connived in exploiting to the bitter end, even to betting on its crashing, safe in the knowledge that they were protected from market forces by a human wall of taxpayers. Who were driven to panic, thinking they would lose their life-savings, so much that they ended up allowing a bail-out that cost billions more. I am marching because Fred Goodwin's pension deal was cast-iron but no-one else's is. Because to the coalition government, bankers' bonuses are sacrosanct, but Sure Start centres and libraries are tossed away like rubbish.

I am marching because this is my last chance. After 1st April the cost of respite care for mum will be beyond reality.

I am marching because I was born in a council house on a rubbish-strewn estate and went to a good comprehensive and to university, and have lived my life safely housed and free from debt and abuse and I want that possibility for every child, no matter how scruffy or 'common'.

If Vodaphone paid their taxes, the NHS could be safe. But Vodaphone is generous to the Tory party and Cameron is intent on destroying state support for public welfare. He makes lists of the 'good' and the 'bad' and thinks that we will be so keen to believe that we are on the 'good' list that we will just keep abandoning the people on the 'bad' lists, until one day we finally realise that we are all 'bad'. We didn't inherit millions or go to Eton. We cannot 'negotiate' our taxes and benefits. Cameron talks about democracy whilst he makes arms deals with despots. His arms dealing mates get easy tax breaks but we have to pay for hundreds of missiles at $600,000 a pop to clean up the mess and there's endless random collateral dead people on every side who were just trying to get on with their lives, just like me.

I'm sick of hearing the endless catalogue of bogeyman his media paint. Benefits scroungers, asylum seekers, immigrants, unions, teenage mothers, public sector 'fat cats'. While they keep quiet about their own offshore corporate tax arrangements.

I'm marching because housing benefits are being cut and unemployed people are to be systematically punished for being poor. Because we have crossed a line from being a society that tried to ensure that everyone could eat every day and sleep in a safe bed, to being a system that will ensure that many don't. From being a society that intended to care for the elderly and frail to being one that resents them. Because a quarter of the nation's children are being raised by single parents who are not valued for their crucial contribution but instead knocked back at every turn. Because the rich are still getting richer beyond imagining. Because a society that provides no benefits is just a racket.

I'm marching because I can't find a new electric kettle that won't break within a year. I'm marching because I want to see green industries, green jobs for a healthy society and sustainable and progressive social evolution, not just monetary games and casino finance. Because I believe that you can't have political democracy without economic democracy. Because a hundred years from now I want people to look back with respect rather than contempt at how we dealt with the global and social challenges we face.

In Cameron's dream we are all just one life-changing event away from ruin. We have this to deal with, whether we like it or not. Half a million people marched up and told him, on Saturday, that he is not our leader, that he has no mandate for his policies and that we will resist them. His party got even fewer votes than Labour, and the Lib Dems only got their votes for promises they have openly broken. They are a tissue of spin.

Vote In May
The city council elections take place on Thursday 5 May, and present a peaceful opportunity to sort this out by sending a message at the polls that parties with anti-social, anti-progressive policies will not be tolerated. The last day for registering to vote is on 14 April. I'd like to see some good candidates stepping up. Let's hear from you. Nomination papers must be delivered to The Governance Service Meeting Room, Town Hall, Dalton Square, Lancaster, not later than noon on Monday 4 April 2011.

36 motorists fined during young driver safety clamp down

Local young motorists driving at excessive speed, without tax or while failing to wear a seatbelt have been given fines during a road safety crack down.

Throughout March, police officers in the county’s Northern Division, which covers Lancaster, Morecambe and Wyre, have been attempting to raise awareness amongst young drivers about the dangers they face if they drive irresponsibly or illegally.

In a bid to reduce the number of collisions involving younger drivers, two days of action were carried out. These saw officers operating road side check points to monitor the roadworthiness of vehicles and to ensure that cars have not been modified to boost their speed – which then voids insurance.

As a result, 36 motorists were issued with fines for a variety of motoring offences and a further 68 young drivers were given advice about their driving. One person was found to be driving while disqualified; three people were searched for drugs and two people were arrested in connection with the theft of a pedal cycle.

Throughout the month, members of the neighbourhood police teams also visited schools and colleges to speak to youngsters and deliver road safety messages. New drivers were also warned that they face losing their licence if they get six points within their first two years on the road

“Crash statistics show that young drivers are amongst those most at risk of being killed or seriously injured on the road," notes Sergeant Nigel Ralphson of Northern Division’s road policing unit. "This is largely due to their inexperience behind the wheel, coupled with a false sense of invincibility.

“Young drivers need to be aware of their responsibilities when it comes to road safety – losing your licence is a real risk, as is leaving behind a devastated family if you are hurt or killed in a crash.”

More businesses leave Lancaster market as Council dithers over fate

(with thanks to various virtual-lancaster readers) As Lancaster City Council continues to ponder the fate of Lancaster Market - one year after councillors voted in droves to stop its closure and local people marched to keep it open - virtual-lancaster has learnt that more tenants are to leave, some fed up with its continued mis-management.

A meeting of city centre retailers will discuss the Market's future and other retail concerns tomorrow (29th March).

Gone from the Market in recent weeks is butchers Wilsons, a long established business which was bought by new owners about two years ago. The Chinese Food Stall is moving to Common Garden street in the next few weeks.

Also leaving is John Glassock's picture framing stall, with John now focusing on his shop on Sir Simons Arcade.

There are rumours circulating about another long-established business leaving too, but we have yet to confirm this.

The departures mean the Market will be at the lowest capacity than it has ever been once these next two leave.  Market tenants Christopher and Roger Dean, owners of M Green and Son, say they have never seen it as empty - and their business is in its 49th year this year.

Part of the reason for these departures may be down to behind the scenes changes in the way Lancaster City Council charges rent on units. virtual-lancaster understands the Council are now issuing monthly bills instead of quarterly for rent and service charge from 1st April, which is worrying some tenants as it may weaken the stall holders' position under the Landlord and Tenants act. When paying quarterly the tenant must have six months notice to quit. If tennants are expected to pay monthly this may mean a reduction in notice required if payment is late.

Quaterly rents allow tenants a longer period to generate the sales needed to pay rent.

virtual-lancaster also understands that the new leases proposed by the Council are now being considered by the market tenants solicitor. One worrying part of the new lease, according to Roger and Christopher Green, is the 'break clause', which would allow the Council to move tenants into a building which would have much much smaller units (anything down to a pasting table).

Under the Landlord and Tenants Act, the Council would only be able to move them into 'suitable premises', ie units of a similar size. It would seem the only reason they have put this clause in is to get round the act by having tenants sign it away.

Once again, despite its public commitment to keeping the Market open, elements within the Council appear to be doung their utmost to make it unviable and some tenants are voting with their feet in response.

"It is a really worrying time," one stall holder told virtual-lancaster, "Especially since the museum idea started the market has got quieter.

"With these tenants leaving it creates an even larger deficit."

A Retailers Meeting will take place tomorrow (Tuesday 29th March) to discuss several options to boost trade, including the possibility of creating a Business Improvement District for the city centre, the possible re-location of the Market to the Museum building, the street market and potential promotion days.

• If you are a Lancaster city centre retailer and would like to attend the Retailers Meeting, call Paul at Joseph and Co on 01524 63981 to reserve your place.

• More about Business Improvement Districts at