Friday, 11 November 2011

Lancaster Market to close as councillors give up fight to save it?

(Updated 12 November 2011): Lancaster Market looks set to close after group leaders for each political party and the independent groups on the city council issued a joint statement today.

Behind the scenes, it also appears the Council is trying to secure funding to negotiate a surrender on its lease with the Market building owners, Allied - although they will not confirm this - leaving the way clear for a major retailer to move into the building after the Market traders leave.

A catalogue of errors

The joint closure proposal, which will be discussed at full Council next week (Wednesday 16th November) will come as no surprise to all who have watched Lancaster City Council's mis-management of the Market spriral out of control down the years, from the point at which the original Market burnt down and it was discovered to be under-insured, to its movement around the town while the new market was built, to a new market design that was condemned by many, leased under terms that were commercially unviable.

Finally, more recently, there was the proposal to hand it over to the dubious and now moribund and derided ASCO company, a decision which certain top level council staff and some now ousted councillors have successfully avoided being investigated for, despite concerns and complaints raised by market traders and local taxpayers.

The proposal to be discussed next week comes after a case hearing in October at the County Court which gave the council until 12th December to present it with firm proposals for the Market building's future. Trader's leases are now up for renewal and new leases being negotiated by the council include a disputed 'break clause' which could mean that traders could be turned out at short notice.

After the Council decided at its September meeting to defer decisions on the Market until its next meeting this November, traders went to court arguing under the Landlords and Tenants Act that the council's vacillation and uncertainty over the Market's future was creating an impossible business climate.

Now, many tenants seem resigned to the closure of the Market - with some already moving out - and we gather they are seeking compensation for the loss of premises.

"The Tenants are currently disputing the terms of the new lease we have been fighting for in court," one market trader told us, "but when this proposal is passed Council will be forced to pull their argument from court and issue leases. This should in turn give the traders extra protection and greater leverage."

This means that the way is open for the Council to offer tenants compensation for the loss of their tenancy, should the Market close.

"Each trader will be negotiated with individually," virtual-lancaster has been informed. "The Council officers will then have to add up all amounts, to then report back to full Council for a vote as whether to pay the costs.

"This could be a bit of a drawn out process but I suppose it depends on how keen they are to relieve themselves of the market and also how keen [market building owners] Allied are for their payment in return for surrender of lease, so anything could happen."

We have also been informed that the City Council is seeking to raise perhaps £8 million pounds to secure funding toward securing surrender terms - the equivalent of three years rent on the market. We wish to make it clear that the Council has chosen not to respond to our questions about this claims.

The Closure Proposal

Having fully considered the report and associated papers, the Labour, Green, Conservative and independent groups' leaders decided on Thursday that they would be making the following joint proposition for consideration and full debate on the future of the Market by Members of Council:

1) In light of the options outlined in the report and the information contained in the financial appraisals appended to the report on Lancaster Indoor Market, Council cannot support in the long term the continuation of the indoor market operation.

2) Members therefore request that officers negotiate both the terms of a surrender with the Landlord and, considering the timescales for that surrender, undertake negotiations with traders to seek early surrender of trader tenancy agreements offering assistance with relocation and/or suitable compensation as appropriate.

3) A further report be brought to members to consider the progress of the above negotiations and to establish a financial framework to allow subsequent implementation of the proposals.

4) Should Council agree to this proposition then the intention would be for traders to be relocated to new trading premises and/or compensated, with a view to this being completed by the end of 2012.

Traders blame poor decision making for closure

The closure of the Market without any clear indication of a new site is, says Peter Corke, chair of the market traders "a sad day not just for the traders but for the people of Lancaster who use the Market."

Lancaster City Council fell into a £567,000 deficit on Lancaster Market last year and this year's budget projected costs of £553,400. However, uncertainty over the future of the building has led to more tenants leaving while new tenants are hard to find, and a report presented at the last Council meeting in September projected that this deficit might increase by a further £89,000.

"This all stems from the Council failing to carry out their own recomendations following the ASCO fiasco," he told virtual-lancaster. "The council were actually going to give this 'firm' £1.5m when a chimpanzee with access to Google could have told tham this was not really a good idea!" (See previous story from 17th June 2010 - Asco: Council's response on Cushman & Wakefield contract).

In 2010, the council voted to budget £150,000 for investigating ways that the Market could be made more profitable. virtual-lancaster asked the council how much of that budget remained unused, but they declined to comment.

"In March this year, due to the council's or should I say council officers, not carrying out the resolution to improve the Market with the £150,000 set aside by the Council to do so, two core traders left directly because of the uncertainty caused," Peter Corke reveals.

Traders were hoping that the Council would relocate all the stalls to the ground floor of the market and find a single trader to take on the entire upper floor. The council estimated the cost of moving the remaining stalls downstairs at £271,000 (see previous story) although the traders believed it could be done far more cheaply.

"Because the cost for this came back at £271,000 it took the decision out of the hands of the council's Cabinet and it had to go to full Council," Peter Corker explains. "Surprise, surprise - at that meeting there were numerous options to again close down the Market.

"I contacted a local firm of building contractors to give me a quote for the cost of these works and was quoted £98,700 - a third of the cost!" he tells us. "This would have kept the cost of the move within the exsisting budget and would not have had to be put before full Council, and the move would have gone ahead. Why did this happen when all the traders wanted was for the council, within its budget, to carry out what it had declared it would do in 2010?"

Market Hall owners set to benefit when traders move out and new retailer moves in

While the Market is a popular cause the building's 99-year lease from Allied (Lancaster) Ltd is undoubtedly less popular. Although the terms under which the council leases the building from Allied are shrouded in secrecy we understand that the rent cannot ever be renegotiated downwards, only upwards.

No-one else appears to want to lease the building or part of it from the Council, and the recent financial instability of the arrangement has deterred traders, leaving the building half-empty. The building design is poor for its purpose, impeding foot passage rather than encouraging it, and the rents traders could pay, in the current economic climate, if they did fill it will not meet the cost of the lease.

As we noted above, virtual-lancaster asked the Council last week if it was making any investigation into buying its way out of the lease with Allied, which we speculate might cost between £7-8 million, but they declined to comment.

Although it now seems the Market will close, there are still several things that need to happen - not least being the actual level of compensaton the Council will offer traders.

"I have received assurances from the leaders of the Labour, Conservative and Green groups that all traders will be compensated fairly," sasy Peter Corke, "and help and support will be given to relocate their businesses."

"If the Council are going to be fair with traders for once, then the traders in the most will be fair to the Council," one trader told virtual-lancaster. "That's not to say this is a done deal though. I don't think any of the traders will be prepared to walk away from their livelihoods for just any offer.

"I don't mean that to sound greedy but the offers will have to be realistic, reasonable and reflect the value of each business individually, as we may find we're better off staying put until 2015 (end of lease date) and fight for another lease renewal then (possibly into 2016).

"Some of the tenants have been in the Market for decades and some for a couple of years so it's not going to be a walk in the park for the Council."

As for the building itself, there are also rumours that Allied have already lined up a major clothes retailer to take on the lease. We'll report further on this next week.

Report compiled by John Freeman and Satori

Thursday, 10 November 2011

University opens doors again to meet national demand

The University of Cumbria, which has a campus in Lancaster at St. Martins, is holding an additional open day due to large numbers of students applying to visit the campuses.

The Friday 2nd December open day has been added to the calendar for students making their undergraduate course applications in January for September 2012 entry.

Nationally, more people are attending open days than before, spending time on campus and talking to lecturers and other staff to find out about course content, employability rates, student support and other aspects of student life at the university.

“The additional open day has been added at this point in the recruitment programme due to popular demand” said Professor Sandra Jowett, Pro Vice Chancellor Academic. "Our open days so far this year have seen large numbers of students and families visiting our campuses across Cumbria and Lancashire

“We want to give everybody the opportunity to come along and find out more about the opportunities available at Cumbria," she added. "Having the open day on a Friday makes it easier for anybody who can’t come along on our usual Saturdays. It also gives prospective students a real feel for the atmosphere on campus and what they can expect if they apply for a course with us.”

Changes to the fees system come into effect for students in September 2012 and have been named as the main reason for the increase in attendance at open days across the country.

The University of Cumbria will use the open day as an opportunity provide information to students and other visitors about the new fees regime and how much they can expect to pay back once they are employed. The team are also advising students about the loans, grants and awards available to widen participation and access to university courses.

Students attending the open day in December can expect a welcome talk from a member of the Senior Management Team as well as application support workshops, tours of the campus including classrooms and accommodation and a chance to learn more about their courses of interest and the content they would study from the course leaders and lecturers.

Access to Higher Education open days are also being held in November to inform students currently studying on Further Education courses at local colleges.

Visit days are also being held in November specifically for students on Access to Higher Education courses at local colleges. Other twilight events to support applications are also taking place in November and December to offer support to those in the community returning to education and who do not get advice from a school or college.

• To book a place on the open day or any other event at one of our campuses visit

Autonomads, Robb Johnson at the Yorkie

Manchester band The Autonomads make their Lancaster debut at the Yorkshire House this weekend. Their lyrics are a mix of the personal and political and they play tight and energetic punked-up ska with a decent splash of dub, set off perfectly with some nice upfront sax and crowd-pleasing singalong choruses. (They also recently released the brilliant "No Man's Land" album)

Also on the bill are Eastfield whose unique three chord urban rail punk combines politics, trains and catchy lyrics, in a style that is guaranteed to have you up on your feet with a smile on your face.

Black Star Dub Collective are also playing Lancaster for the first time. The squatted terraces of Dickenson Road and the bitter winter of 2009/2010 provided fertile ground for the formation of Black Star Dub Collective. Influenced by bass soaked sound system culture,
radical politics and the reality of the social situation of todays youth, they set out to take their socially concious reggae sounds to the ears of the underground.

The evening begins with protest folk legend Robb Johnson, who's widely recognised as one of the UK's finest and most consistent songwriters. His songs feature in the repertoires of a wide variety of musicians, from folk legend Roy Bailey to acclaimed cabaret diva Barb Jungr, and he enjoys a similarly diverse spectrum of critical acclaim. Dirty Linen described him as “a modern-day Dostoyevsky”, Mojo made the double CD Gentle Men Folk Album Of The Month, while The Daily Telegraph made it their Folk Album Of 1998, and politician Tony Benn says Johnson’s “Winter Turns To Spring” is his favourite song!

• The Autonomads / Eastfield / Black Star Dub Collective / Robb Johnson.
Yorkshire House - Saturday 12th November 2011. Doors open at 8.30pm - £5 entrance.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

North West Seas at risk as government waters down protection plans

Photo: Doctor Alex Mustard (yes, that's name of the seal, apparently)
Wildlife in North West England’s seas is facing a serious threat, warns The Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside.

Plans for Marine Conservation Zones - the long-awaited network of marine protected areas promised by Government for 2012 - are in danger, says the Trust, which has been instrumental in marine campaigning and research.

After years of pressure from NGOs and with huge public support, the Marine and Coastal Access Act of 2009 promised a coherent network of protection around the coasts by 2012. Now 127 marine sites around England’s coast, including 15 in the North West, have been recommended by four regional stakeholder groups to become Marine Conservation Zones next year.

The recommendations are the result of two years of consultation – costing the Government £8.8m to date - with more than one million stakeholders involved including fishermen, conservationists and businesses.

This has been the first ‘Big Society’ experiment where local stakeholders have decided together which areas of the sea should be protected, but ow, there is concern that Government’s Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee) will recommend to Government that only a fraction of the 127 recommended sites are designated. This would result in a much smaller and less effective network of Marine Conservation Zones, leaving vulnerable and precious areas unprotected.

The Turst is now urging the public to write to Under-Secretary for Natural Environment and Fisheries, Richard Benyon MP, in support of Marine Conservation Zones.

“It would be a disaster if all 127 recommended sites weren’t designated," says Cheryl Nicholson, Marine Conservation Officer for the Trust. "A huge amount of work has been done to get a broad agreement on this network of sites, all are needed for the health and future productivity of our marine environment.

"Now, however, in the final stages the Government has completely lost its direction and is proposing to over-ride the recommendations of local stakeholders and cut the 127 sites down to an unrealistic 30 in contradiction with the aims of the new Marine and Coastal Access Act.

"Our seas are a shadow of their former selves we must act now to protect them before it’s too late.”

The recommended sites off the Lancashire coast are: the Sefton Coast and Fylde Offshore, th latter highly productive sand and gravel seabed supports a diversity of marine life including rich bivalve populations which is an excellent food source for seabirds.

The animals living within the seabed support populations of flatfish, rays and gurnard, as well as swimming crabs, hermit crabs and other crustaceans.

“With Wildlife Trusts all around the UK, we are lobbying hard for the successful completion of a process that will make the difference between the life or death of our seas," Cheryl added. "We need to demonstrate the weight of public support for Marine Conservation Zones to Government.

"This is a once in a lifetime chance. We can’t afford to let it slip away.”

• The Trust is urging people to write to Richard Benyon and ask for Government to create the proposed network of 127 in England. It has produced some guidance on writing to the Minister, which can be found at

Morecambe teenager in prison after assaultng police officer

A Morecambe man has been jailed for four years and 10 months for a vicious attack on a police officer earlier this year.

19-year-old Jamie Joss, of Needham Avenue, Morecambe, appeared before Preston Crown Court this week after he attacked a police officer following a street brawl in the town.

Officers were dispatched to Morecambe’s Queen Street in the early hours of 18th June , after reports of a fight involving a large number of people. Sergeant James Martin was patrolling the area in his liveried car when he saw Joss covered in blood and stopped to check on his welfare.

Joss then produced a broken bottle from behind his back and thrust it through the car window at Sergeant Martin’s face and neck.

Fortunately, the officer was able to roll onto his side and pull up his stab vest, preventing any injuries, even though Joss continued to run alongside the car, jabbing the bottle through the open window.

Despite the violence being shown towards him, Sergeant Martin gave chase to Joss on foot and due to his continued violent demeanour, Joss had to be restrained using pava spray.

At the time of the attack, Joss was subject to a 32-week suspended sentence, following an incident on Marine Road, Morecambe, on 16th October last year, where he assaulted a 42-year-old man, breaking his leg.

Appearing at Preston Crown Court on Monday, the suspended sentence was applied and, having earlier pleaded guilty to assault on a police officer, possession of an offensive weapon and attempted grievous bodily harm, Joss was sentenced to a total of four years and 10 months imprisonment.

On sentencing, Judge Altham described Sergeant Martin as "showing outstanding courage" when being attacked with a "ferocious weapon."

Chief Superintendent Richard Bayly, divisional commander for the north of the county, said: “At the time of the incident Sergeant Martin was in full uniform and in a liveried vehicle. This was not a personal attack but one on a police officer and what he therefore represents.

“This was an extremely violent experience for Sergeant Martin to have to go through but he showed real courage in carrying out his duty to protect the public  - going on to arrest Joss even after he narrowly missed serious injury during the attack.”

“Our officers patrol the streets to ensure the safety of our communities," he added. "Violent assaults on them will not be tolerated and as this sentence shows, such incidents will be dealt with strongly by the courts.”

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

£500 worth of cannabis seized following Lancaster drugs raid

Police seized £500 worth of cannabis after executing a drugs warrant at a house in Lancaster.

Officers swooped on the property in Beaumont Place, Lancaster, shortly before 2.00pm on Wednesday 2nd November. A 19-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply a class B drug. He has been released on bail pending further inquiries.

A police spokesperson said: “Drug dealing can have a real impact on our local communities and feeds other forms of crime. We are committed to tackling this problem and urge residents to come forward if they have any concerns about drug dealers in their neighbourhood.”

• Anyone with information about drugs or drug dealing is asked to contact police on 0845 1 25 35 45. In an emergency always dial 999.

Firework Spectacular a record success, say Council

(Updated 1633 8/11/11) Record numbers turned out to enjoy Lancaster's Firework Spectacular on Saturday, 5th November - which perhaps contributed to some considerable disappointment about the management of event, noted in our review earlier this week ("Kettled on Quay Meadow: City Fireworks spark health and safety overkill").
The Council reports some 16,000 people (up 60 per cent on last year), made their way to the four free official viewing sites at Quay Meadow, Giant Axe, Williamson Park and Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

It's claimed last year's event brought almost half a million pounds to the local economy and it is anticipated this figure will be beaten this year with record numbers attending daytime events in the city centre, restaurants fully booked in advance and takeaway food outlets kept busy catering for the masses.

"Feedback from city centre retailers on the day's events has been very positive," says Paul Cusimano, Chairman of the Lancaster City Retail Group. "The town was very busy all day and there was a great atmosphere.

"Many businesses did very well, especially the food outlets, as visitors and locals arrived early to join in the celebrations leading up to the firework display."

The programme of daytime activities was well attended with more than 180 people taking part in the Pendle Witches Guided Walks from as far away as Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  The series of lantern making workshops at Lancaster City Museum were fully booked with many of the children taking part in the lantern procession through town during the evening.  Storytelling activities also proved popular at Williamson Park and the Maritime Museum.

Lancaster Visitor Information Centre reported Saturday being the busiest day since it moved to The Storey in 2009 showing an increase in people calling into the centre up by 57% on last year.

The success of the event saw unprecedented numbers and a last minute flood of visitors to St. George's Quay during the evening to watch the firework display which forced a difficult but necessary decision to close Quay Meadow just before firing leaving last minute spectators disappointed. The treatment of spectators on the Meadow has attracted fierce criticism, with our review of the event prompting several to criticize the way it was managed.

Despite this, Coun Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for tourism and culture, argues says the rise in the number of spectators  is tremendous news for the local economy .

"It proves what a massively popular event this is," he says. "Its popularity is incredible and means thousands of people were not only able to enjoy all Lancaster has to offer but also do so in safety.

Responding to concerns over the way the Quay crowds were handled, he says: "I would extend my commiserations to those last minute arrivals to the Quay but stress that with such enormous numbers, event organisers must be concerned for the safety of all.

"For no public incident to occur during such a large and difficult event to manage is something council staff are to be commended for.

"I would like to thank Lancaster businesses and residents, especially those along St George's Quay for their support. We will continue to work with emergency services and businesses to ensure the continued development of Lancaster's most highly attended event."

"There was an unprecedented attendance at this year’s festival" added Inspector Geoff Tagg. "The Quay Meadow site proved to be very popular and the council had to take the decision to close it to prevent over crowding. We fully supported the council throughout the evening and again the whole event appeared to be a great success.”

Neither have commented on the part closure of the Meadow itself, which meant viewing options for the Fireworks proved limited for many in the crowd.

Lancashire Chief Fire Officer, Peter Holland, said:  "The spectacle and scale of the bonfire and firework events that we have been encouraging people to attend, such as Lancaster's, has been magnificent and has ensured that people have enjoyed Bonfire Night in safety.  My thanks go to all those who have made that happen, not least to the people of Lancashire for their overwhelming support."

“It’s important to recognise that safety concerns remain a priority at events such as this and that appropriate measures are in place to minimise risk and prevent injuries occurring," feels Accident and Emergency matron at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary Graeme Nicholson. "As a result, this year’s event passed off without any incidents relating to the firework display coming through our Accident and Emergency Department.”

Update: Commenting on concerns from spectators, the City Council says they issued hundreds of evaluation forms on the night and will use that feedback to assist them in the development of the event.

"Regarding Quay Meadow - with any fireworks event of this scale, it is essential to have 'contingency areas' on viewing sites in case of emergencies if there is a need to quickly and safely move the crowd to a different part of the field," said a spokesperson.

"The cordon was extended, as had been planned, to increase the size of the spectating area, but an emergency space was still necessary for the reasons outlined."

Event sponsors were Hotfoot Design, Signs Express, BBC Radio Lancashire, the George and Dragon, Quite Simply French and Taylors Funfairs for their support.

• See also: Kettled on Quay Meadow: City Fireworks spark health and safety overkill

Clean up local bathing water, council urges

Lancaster City Council is calling for everything possible to be done to improve the quality of bathing water in Morecambe Bay ahead of the introduction of new water quality standards.

Two of the district’s bathing beaches – Morecambe North and South – both passed the current standards for water quality. But Heysham's Half Moon Bay failed to make the grade after twice failing to meet minimum standards in a total of 20 samples which were taken throughout the summer, meaning that it failed overall.

With more rigorous standards due to be introduced in 2015 through the revised Bathing Water Directive, the bar for water quality standards will be raised even further - which mean  all three of the district’s beaches are under threat of failing tests for bathing water quality in the future.

Morecambe Bay is one of the most environmentally important areas in Europe, as well as a seaside resort and a centre for a growing number of water activities. To protect these interests, Lancaster City Council is now renewing its call for more to be done to improve water quality in Morecambe Bay ahead of the 2015 deadline.

“Millions of pounds have been invested in Morecambe over the last 20 years, including the creation of new sandy beaches which, during the summer, are teeming with tourists," notes Coun Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for tourism.

“We are seeing increasing numbers using our waters for pleasure based activities, all of which are important to our local economy. It’s therefore vital that everything possible is done to meet the new standards.

“Ultimately that’s the responsibility of the Environment Agency and we will be making the strongest possible case to them in order to ensure that the cleanliness of our bathing waters remains a top priority and to secure the necessary improvements.

“However, we can all do our bit to protect our waters. One of the reasons the quality failed at Half Moon Bay was because of the dog excrement found it the water. Dogs are already banned from the other two beaches which passed the tests during the summer months and dog waste bins are provided.

“Residents, local businesses and those involved with agriculture all have their part to play – if we all act together we can preserve our waters and support our local economy.”

The revised Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) is an updated version of the current Bathing Water Directive (76/160/EEC) and the Environment Agency says it poses a number of challenges for Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Environment Agency, Local Authorities and Beach Operators.

Aiming to set more stringent water quality standards and also put a stronger emphasis on beach management and public information, it came into force in March 2006 but the government's plan to respond to the new Directive is being rolled out over many years.

The overall objective of the revised Directive remains the protection of public health whilst bathing, but it also offers an opportunity to improve management practices at bathing waters and to standardise the information provided to bathers across Europe.

Within the revised Bathing Water Directive, the main changes that the Environment Agency will be responsible for implementing, and communicating, include:
  • Changes to the microbiological parameters measured and a reduction in the general parameters currently monitored.
  • A change from measuring compliance using the pass/fail approach to classification based on four classes: poor/sufficient/good/excellent.
  • The requirement for all bathing waters to be classed as ‘sufficient’ by 2015.
  • The development of bathing water profiles for all bathing waters, and a general description based on the profile to be displayed at the bathing water location.
  • The possibility of daily water quality predictions at bathing waters to warn people of poor water quality.
  • The ability to supply more information so the public can choose where to bathe.
• More information on bathing water quality and the steps people can take to help to improve our waters is available from the Environment Agency website at

Monday, 7 November 2011

Police appeal after fatal collision in Hambleton

Police are appealing for witnesses following a fatal collision on the A588 yesterday.

At around 2.40pm yesterday afternoon (Sunday 6th November) police received reports of a collision between a silver Yamaha motorbike and a blue Vauxhall Corsa at the Junction of Carr Lane and Sower Carr Lane.

50-year-old David Redman, from Preesall received serious head injuries as a result of the collision but sadly died a short time later at Blackpool Victoria Hospital.

The driver and passenger in the car were shaken but uninjured.

Sergeant Alan Baron from the Road Policing Unit said, “I would appeal to anyone who was in the area at the time of collision to come forward if they have any information that could help with our investigation.”

The road was closed at the junction for three hours to allow for accident investigation to take place.

• Anyone with any information can contact police on 08451 25 35 45.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Kettled on Quay Meadow: City Fireworks spark health & safety overkill

Hundreds of Lancastrians who came out to see the City Fireworks 'spectacular' trudged home disappointed last night after being subjected to a frenzy of health & safety regulation that saw a few hundred kettled in a corner of Quay Meadow while the rest were turned away minutes before the display started.

Although Quay Meadow had been advertised as a viewing area, most of the wide, flat, empty field was cordoned off, with only a section of it accessible. Unfortunately it was a corner where much of the firework display was actually screened off by trees. Kept from the tauntingly moonlit meadow and caged behind barriers, huddled the people, cheek by jowl. Pallid under glaring electic lights and so blasted by the speakers from the Radio Lancashire Roadshow that they couldn't have socialised even if they hadn't been busy desperately keeping track of their toddlers. The organisers seemed to have taken all their ideas from the Guantanamo Bay Party Book.

Sparklers were banned. Stewards and police watched suspiciously for any signs of pleasure breaking out. Anyone who had the temerity to go use the loo at the pub was refused permission to come back on the field, leaving separated parents frantic at the barriers.

On the Quay, hundreds of disbelieving parents and kids trooped around without a hope of getting to Giant Axe (even worse view) in time, where they were being sent by the police. While warehouses completely blocked the view from the road (and, mercifully, the music), both pedestrian bridges were packed and the far river bank inaccessible. A few took the 'Lune Resistance' route, through the trees, only to end up trapped in the Quay Meadow Kettle.

The fireworks display itself was clearly very much reduced from previous years, with about the half the show happening below the height of the tree line surrounding the launch site, teasingly invisible from most locations. Strangely, the music climaxed some time before the fireworks did, the finale happening in silence.

On the whole, it would have been more efficient to just put the money in a bucket and set fire to it. A few thousand people could have found a better use for the evening and the police could have gone home to their own families. Instead, we spent public funds to be made to feel like potential criminals, watched, regulated, herded, caged, restricted.

I realise it probably wasn't meant to be like that. It's just that the central planning priority seemed to be to forstall the possibility that we might all go mad and try to set fire to ourselves and each other in an alcohol-fuelled frenzy. This was clearly seen by the organisers as a very real threat at every point of the proceedings, and we were treated accordingly. It wasn't actually planned to prioritise the possibility of a community getting together in a relaxed and comfortable way as friends and families to enjoy a show.

So where's the love? Where's the community? Where's Bonfire Night? Up on the Ridge, the Gregson Bonfire Night went with a swing, with friends and neighbours and families getting together. Catching up with people they hadn't seen for ages. Sharing toffee. Lighting the blue touch paper and standing well clear, and so on. But for most communities, the legislation is unfathomable, so in most places bonfires are Not Allowed. Where Firemen were once seen as every child's natural hero, now, to many children, they are the spoilsports who come and put out your bonfires, which, as we sadly know, has led to distress and bitterness on both sides. Once, kids used to collect wood for their bonfires. Now, some just set fire to property.

A few years ago, bonfire night used to happen on the Quay Meadow too. A huge fire with a rope barrier to keep you mindful, and pretty much everyone you'd ever met could be found in the circle of fire-lit faces around it. You were there for the evening and there would be flasks of tea, coffee, soup or chocolate, or the odd bottle of wine or a hip-flask and plenty made trips to the two pubs as well. I remember, from my childhood, vendors selling black peas kept warm on paraffin stoves. Children from toddlers to pensioners wrote their names in sparkler-fire. People handed round boxes of treacle toffee and parkin. Much later, if you were still around when the fire burnt down, there were blackened potatoes in tinfoil, melted marshmallows and joints surreptitiously passed in the shadows.

Dads were in their element. With their cave-man fire building and keeping skills and innate knowledge of the safe handling of deadly explosives. Of course, most of our dads had fought Hitler and actually did have some basic skills, the foremost of which was knowing to read and follow the instructions on the fireworks box. Dads teamed up, making rocket launching sites, deputising the older kids to pace out the safety distances, as the smaller kids watched, learned the names of the different types of fireworks, had the safety basics dinned into them a hundred times and danced hysterically to firecrackers.

Back in the 1980s, the Farm collective and the kids from New Planet City made huge paper edifices to burn. I recall a rocket in which astronauts fought aliens and escaped down a chute as it blew up behind them. Yeah!

Bonfire Night is about friends, families and neighbours getting together in the dark and having fun with fire. It's not just about danger - it's also about trust and care making something lovely, and special. The City Fireworks Spectacular seems to be intended to replace that. As we trudged home last night, in silence, I realised we hadn't seen a single friend. I'd come a few minutes before the fireworks started and left at the end. There wasn't time, space or light to go meeting anyone. No warmth. Nothing. Just police and barricades. Stressed out people being watched for infractions. A few coloured lights and bangs through the trees.

I don't want to sound ungrateful, I know people have worked really hard, I'm really sorry about that. But the Fireworks Spectacular used to be fun. That's why it became popular. Now it isn't and no-one in their right mind would come back for a repeat of last night. Can we please fix the rules so we can just have Bonfire Night back?