Friday, 29 April 2011

Every little hurts? Tesco's tactics to get their way revealed

As Lancaster City Council prepares to consider not one but two supermarket proposals next week, campaigners are again reminding us of how the 'system' works in the favour of some projects getting the green light.

We are all now pretty familiar with the standard process for supermarket development planning - the company in question attempts to bribe the council into submission with promises to build
houses, community centres, sports clubs, install street lighting or mend roads. While espousing nonsense about how local businesses won't lose out from their arrival, they know that they will quickly recoup and exceed any paltry sums paid out in the name of community engagement.

But for a cash-strapped council unable itself to fund anything to toss to the electorate, it's a difficult offer to turn down - just gloss over the fact that for the rest of time the enterprise will be sucking money out of the local economy, and piping it to your new friends at the international HQ of the supermarket - via its network of tax avoid offshore subsidiaries, of course.

Tesco, who recently opened their first Lancaster store on King Street, to the dismay of local market traders (those few that are left, at least) have been the masters of this technique, championing the complete corporate takeover of their consumers lives - out to sell them their housing, everything they ever need to put in it, providing their recreation facilities, the financial services to afford it all and, of course, stuffing them full of food.

And yet they are still upping the ante. To the above list you can now add paying for the means to keep everyone in their place on the Tesco-treadmill: As part of the bribe needed to secure the rights to build the biggest Tesco in the country in West Bromwich, the supermarket is not only building a cinema, restaurants, a hotel, a petrol station, shops and a new ring road but also, for the first time, a police station.

The £7 million new Tes-copshop is nearing completion and one presumes her majesty's grateful constabulary will be only too willing to crack down on anything anti-social going on in the new development in return.

Corporate cops on the beat, patrolling the privatised town centres of Britain to make sure everyone behaves like a good consumer should? Well, Every little helps...  

Tesco are of course believed to be one of the interested parties in the proposed supermarket development near Lancaster University, being discussed next week by the Council.

* For more on Tesco being off the trollies, checkout

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Open house at Melling sheltered housing

Lancaster City Council is holding an open day at Melling House Sheltered Housing Scheme for people to have a good look round before applying for a place.

A number of flats are currently available to let in this scheme on Hala Road, Lancaster and the event will will provide the opportunity for people to see the facilities, have a look around some of the flats available and meet the scheme manager.

Staff from the council’s Health and Housing Service will be on hand to answer any questions, help fill out application forms and show people round.  Family and friends are welcome to come along, and refreshments will be provided.

The city council provides retirement housing throughout the district, which offers an excellent standard of rented accommodation and a range of properties depending upon individual needs and requirements.

Sheltered or retirement housing is a popular choice for many people, normally of retirement age, including people who live outside the district and want to be nearer to their family or friends.  It combines an independent lifestyle with security and round the clock emergency support.

• The open day at Melling House will take place on Monday 9th May from 11.00am to 2.00pm. 

• Anyone who is interested in sheltered and retirement accommodation but unable to come along to the open day can find out more by contacting Lancaster City Council’s Needs Assessment Section on 01524 582929.

Fake DVDs seized from Morecambe Market stall

PC Rob Brookbanks and PCSO Philip Meeks with some of the counterfeit DVDs seized from a Morecambe Market stall at the weekend.

Police seized over 800 counterfeit DVDs from a stall on Morecambe market on Sunday, including copies of recent blockbuster movies, some of which are still only on show in cinemas.

The items have now been passed on to Trading Standards, who will continue the investigation.

PC Rob Brookbanks, community beat manager for Morecambe town centre, said: “Selling counterfeit goods not only rips off the customer, who receives shoddy or poor quality goods in return for their cash, but it also impacts on the reputation of other traders operating on the market.

“We work closely with Trading Standards to try to prevent sales of counterfeit goods and to preserve the integrity of our markets so that the whole community can enjoy them.”

• Anyone with information about should contact police on 0845 1 25 35 45, or Trading Standards on 08454 04 05 06.

Gillow lands top folk act Gren Bartley for May line-up

Gren Bartley
Lancaster's Robert Gillow has lined up more fine folk music for May, and we have the full details. Included in the line up is top act Gren Bartley, a well known musician on both sides of the Atlantic, and the superb Hard Times.

Thursday 5th May: Gren Bartley

A "phenomenal guitarist and singer", Gren Bartley is deeply rooted in old folk and blues traditions whilst stamping his own style on the genre. Whilst the first thing you'll hear is his virtuosity on guitar, it is his mature vocals and poetically crafted lyrics that ensure the longevity of this young musician's career.

His first full solo album Carry Her Safe is a collection of original songs and tunes, played on guitar and banjo. His second CD e°g° with fiddle sensation Tom Kitching, led to a record deal with folk stalwarts Fellside Records.

He's often compared to the likes of Richard Thompson, Nic Jones and Kelly Joe Phelps - an emerging talent not to be missed.

Thursday 12 May: Keith Davis

Keith is a firm favourite at The Robert Gillow, coming all the way from Bristol to play in Lancaster.  He's a classic blues singer and a simply amazing guitarist – technically the most accomplished bluesman in the country – performing a mixture of “straight” blues, ragtime/ hokum styles and slide/ Dobro guitar and is widely regarded as one of the great British acoustic entertainers.

Thursday 19 May: Hard Times

Hard Times comprises Geoff Wilkinson (bass), Gordon Johnston (banjo, mandolin, guitar) and Laurie Johnston (everything) – all superb musicians playing a mixture of traditional and modern tunes and songs from the UK, the US and Europe.  They are some of the finest acoustic musicians around, the band is simply brilliant!

Thursday 26 May: Phil Saunders

New to the Robert Gillow, Phil is a solid, stonkin’ blues player and busker who will entertain and delight. He plays guitar and harmonica and sings, and whether he's playing his own material or rejuvenating classic blues numbers his music is down to earth, genuine and heartfelt.  He says "just like the weather I'm a bit under the moon" (although we don’t know why) and his autobiography reads “after diddling about on guitar and harmonica since my early twenties I decided to try open tuning to entertain myself for the evening. So I twiddled the knobs until it sounded good and enjoyed the freedom of having no idea of what I was doing, years later I’m still enjoying myself.” You’ll love it!

• There's folk music every Thursday night at the the Robert Gillow, 64 Market Street, Lancaster, LA1 1HP. Tel: 01524 36092 Web:

Morecambe Council condemns Heysham Link as "completely inappropriate"

Geoff Marsland says the proposed
M6 Link is "completely inappropriate"
Morecambe Town Council has voiced its opposition to the planned Heysham M6 Link, passing a strongly-worded resolution against the proposed road last week.

The Council supported a strongly-worded resolution againt the road proposed by Morecambe Bay Independent Geoff Marsland, who is also a City Councillor.

The Council's criticism of the project, backed by the County Council, both local MPs and many business interests, came in response to a request for comments on the scheme from the national Infrastructure Planning Commission.

The resolution passed declares the proposed Northern Route of the M6 Link Road as "completely inappropriate" to the needs of the residents of the District.

It also notes that Lancaster City Council agreed in 2007 that although the District required a road that this road was not supported by Lancaster City Council.

"The reasons are clear to the majority of residents," the resolution states. "It will not solve the current traffic problems in the District and will probably exacerbate them. However, leaving aside this important consideration, the environmental impact on the area will be devastating and the Town Council does not believe that the negative short, medium and long term effects can be mitigated successfully. Further we consider that anything which is designed to save costs is unlikely to lessen the environmental damage which a more expensive scheme might cause. The Council will reserve its judgement until it has time to fully explore the implications of such changes, however."

The Council is concerned not just by the route but the disruption and pollution building the road will cause, arguing it is likely to be very disruptive and polluting, creating "a non-stop convoy of lorries bringing materials to the site, noise issues, particularly at night, increased traffic congestion and disruption of local services, dust pollution and light pollution."

Once the project is completed, the Council argues, most of these conditions will continue. "A road on pillars is bound to cause more noise than a road built on solid ground," they noted. "Further, as pillars degrade with age, the noise problem will increase. Road surfacing material must be used that will limit noise levels to a minimum. Street lighting on ths road will be damaging. Tree planting along the full length should be used to limit noise, light and C2O pollution."

The Council also feels that if the road is to be built, it is pointless without accompanying bridges across the Lune since without them "this route could become a rat-run causing possible congestion on the M6."

The resolution - sent to the IPC - is further condemnation of the controversial and badly-conceived project, which will leave, campaigners fear, the County Council and local taxpayers exposed to milions in potentially open-ended over run costs.

Counting the Cost of 'Big Oil'

Oil'd from Chris Harmon on Vimeo.

Last year's Gulf Oil Spill released 205 million gallons of oil — such a huge amount, it's hard to get your mind around. To help conceptualize it, animator Chris Harmon created this amazing animated infographic - and it's such a salutory lesson in the need for more careful use of resources that we have no qualms about re-posting it here on virtual-lancaster.

Consider it as one of those old public service announcements the BBC used to show...

To be honest, we don't know what's more staggering: the sheer amount of stuff we make from oil, or the fact that even without the spill, that quantity of oil still would have led to massive amounts of environmental destruction.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

People's Picnic Party Planned for Priory Green

A People's Picnic Party is planned on the Priory Green (by the Headless Woman statue) for egalitarian fun and frolics this Friday afternoon.
While the national media goes into a collective swoon over the celebrity wedding of the decade this week, Lancastrians facing job losses and public service cuts are more prosaic about the costs of the Windsors' state wedding - £20 million of taxpayers' money for security on the day for a start.

However, it's not all treats for the rich and bills for the poor. Under the title 'Axe the Wedding, NOT Public Services', fancy dress on a revolutionary theme is the order of the day, with festivities beginning in Market Square at noon and then parading up to Priory Green for the picnic proper at 1pm. We hear it's a local party, with local music for local people, friends and children, who are invited to bring more instruments, food to share (or hoard;-) and games and a rug to sit on. There will be prizes for the best fancy dress (adult and child categories) and a bit of street theatre knocked up by the locals is also on the menu.

Good quality unwanted items are welcomed for the FreeShop, and local anti-cuts campaigns are invited to set out their stalls.

And we can reveal what the David Cameron dummy will be wearing for this event (after the usual chopping and changing) - Barbeque skewers!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Stone the Crows - It's Wray Festival

Yet again the famous Wray Scarecrow Festival takes over the picturesque village with scarecrows of all sizes, scary, comical and satirical populating the streets, gardens and greens. And during the day you can find delicious refreshments served by enthusiastic volunteers at the Village Institute, as well as at the hospitable pubs and tea rooms.
One of this year’s themes will be “Royalty: Past and Present” (including, of course, That Wedding). In the interest of balance the other theme will be “Austerity Measures” which provides a good mix of lavishness and thrift.
The Festival culminates with Wray Fair on Monday 2 May. Events accompanying the festival are:
Wednesday 27 April: John O'Gaunt Morris Men (from 7:00pm)
Friday 29 April: Giant Scarecrow Parade (8:00pm) - with Hog Roast
Saturday 30 April: Lune Valley Voices (2:00pm)
Sunday 1 May: Scarecrow Balls Race (2:00pm)
Monday 2nd May: Wray Fair and Wray to Caton Moor Fell Race (11:30am)
The fair is a grand traditional event with Country craft displays including wood turning and hedge laying, Classic cars and military vehicles, Great kids’ games, Rare breeds on show, Book and plant stalls, Delicious local food and refreshments... plus the popular return of the ducking stool.
The Wray to Caton Moor Fell Race sets of from Main St at 11.30am. Give yourself plenty of time as traffic controls will be in place during the day.
Entry to the Fair is £3 adults, £1.50 pensioners, kids under 16 free. Car parking: £1.50. Superb souvenir programmes are available from local outlets for just £1.50. They included further details of the attractions at this year’s fair, many interesting articles, a map of the village and a quiz for the kids.
PS. A word to the wise for visitors from out of town; stay well clear of the big wicker dude out on the back field.
(only joking;-)

Remembering Chernobyl: 25 years on

25 years ago this week I and thousands of others got caught out in the Chernobyl rain that fell on Lancaster and much of Northern Europe and came home with our hair and clothes full of gungy nuclear disaster fallout to a contaminated water supply.

Of the 9,800 UK holdings and more than 4,000,000 sheep originally placed under restriction following the accident, due to radioactive contamination, the Food Standards Agency notes there are still 330 farms in North Wales, and eight in Cumbria remaining under restriction today.

In the Ukraine and across Europe the consequences have been unprecedented,  leading not only to increases in cancer and birth-defects (details in PDF form on here) , but also to a reduction in the number of male births that still prevails (info here on Science Direct).

Lancaster and District CND will be holding the following commemorative events on Tuesday 26 April to mark the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, and also those affected by the continuing disaster at Fukushima in Japan.