Saturday, 7 January 2012

Universities key to high tech future, says Minister

In a speech at Policy Exchange this week, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts argued that that our greatest national assets - our universities, our science facilities and researchers - are the best single hope for making our way in the high-tech world of the future, creating jobs and opportunities and boosting high tech economic growth.

His far-ranging speech may mean that despite the cuts to spending, the government will invest in Lancaster University's planned Science Park, which was given planning permission back in 2009.

The University has long been champion of the sciences and recently opened a new Chemistry Department - the first closed back in 1999.

Last November, Andrew Dobson, head of regeneration and development at Lancaster City Council, one partner on the Park plan, said developers behind similar ventures had assured him the park could still be viable.

Current proposals include a 34,000 square metre park housing technology and knowledge-based businesses and an innovation centre.

"If properly nurtured they can ensure that Britain will be up there as a leading location for research in the physical and life sciences and beyond. Britain can be the preferred location for companies’ R&D," the Minister argued in his speech. "We can have world-class industries using cutting-edge technologies. We can have a prosperous future with a role in the world.”

Building on far-ranging discussion documents that include contributions from Lancaster University staff projecting possible scenarios for Britain's future well into the 21st century, he set out a plan to help Britain become the best place in the world for science and research and announced:

- An invitation for proposals for a new type of university with a focus on science and technology and on postgraduates (although here will be no additional Government funding)
- The creation of a new Catapult centre in satellite applications, providing businesses with access to orbit test facilities, to develop and demonstrate new technologies
- Setting up Leadership Councils in E-Infrastructure and in Synthetic Biology bringing together key players to drive forward private investment and innovation
- An ambition for universities funding from external sources to grow by 10% over the next three years
- An aim to get more universities into the top 100 in the world

He also released reports on the impact of research sponsored by the Research Councils and the Government’s e-infrastructure strategy.

Outline planning permission – effectively permission in principle – was granted for the University's Science Park, which is being developed jointly by the city and county councils back in July 2009.

Detailed permission was granted for a new access to the proposed park, along with an internal spine road and landscaping, but since then, the original government body involved, the Northwest Regional Development Agency, which funded the city council’s £2.3m purchase of the land, has been axed.

The Science Park partners had hoped that the NWDA would contribute towards £7m of infrastructure works including roads, drainage and power supplies. Without that funding, other ways of funding the works is being sought.

- Read David Willets speech in full

- Lancaster Guardian report 'Science Park will happen'

Friday, 6 January 2012

Funding cuts prompt Council look at ways to protect key services

Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet will consider a number of items related to its 2012 budget on Tuesday 17th January - and it looks like car parking fees may rise as well as charges for using some services. Provisional figures show that the council is facing a year on year reduction in Government support of 11.6%, or £1.5million, in the next financial year. Among the items are proposals for small increases in car parking charges and fees related to environmental health services, while continuing to support arts organisations such as The Dukes and developing funding bids for major regeneration projects in Lancaster and Heysham. The items will be considered in context of the council’s continuing commitment to support local people and businesses in light of the uncertainty over the economy and future levels of Government support. “These are difficult times and the current condition of the economy has left us all with extremely tough choices in managing our budgets," says Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of the City Council. “This is not only true of public bodies such as the city council but in our own households as well. We all have to prioritise our spending and look at areas where savings can be made or we can increase income. “It’s a tricky balance for us because we want to continue to offer good services that benefit local people and the economy, while at the same time keeping the charges which help to fund these services at a level which are fair and comparable. “If we didn’t raise charges in some areas then the knock on effect is that we wouldn’t be able to continue to provide services at the same level as we currently do.” More information on the budget proposals being considered by Cabinet are available here on the City Council web site

Co-op looks to the future as Movement regains strength

A talk on the future of the Co-op Movement by a local author takes place next week, organsed by Lancaster Green Party.

Ambleside-based author and Co-op member Robin Martakies describes his recent book, Co-operative Societies in North Lancashire and South Cumbria 1860-2011 as "a mix of facts and figures, gossip, pictures and advertisements looking back on a lost era of good service and good value, where any 'profits' were returned to members.

“It is an enthusiast’s book," Robin, a former media relations officer, told  the North West Evening Mail when the book was released last year. "It will appeal to those who love the Co-op and still remember their ‘divi’ number.

“For those of us who grew up when there was a Co-op on every street corner and a department store on every block – or so it seemed – the Co-op was our provider of choice," he recalls. “It was a comfortable friend that looked after us, ordered our furniture, delivered our milk and paid out our dividend twice a year so that mother could stock up for the holidays and buy dad some socks at Christmas.

“While Co-op department stores continued to provide a home for Santa – along with the fairies who stood by his side in the grotto and handed out presents – all seemed well with the world."

Almost every street corner had a Co-op shop or department store, and locally-based Co-operative Societies with thousands of members provided a range of services including libraries, public halls and even cinemas. (The Co-op was a pioneer from 1898 in the use of film to promote its products, with films shown in the many Co-op public halls and cinemas up and down the country).

Co-ops proved to be a success as by 1930 a million of the five million people in Lancashire were members - but now, only a handful of the Victorian town and village Co-operative Societies retain their independence in a trading world dominated by the likes of Asda and Tesco. 

“The poor old Co-op embarked upon a long and painful cycle of decline," says Robin. "Local societies closed or amalgamated with bigger ones – which routinely amalgamated with even larger ones a few years later – shops closed, services disappeared from view and – horror or horrors – the dividend stopped.”

That policy has now been reversed and the Co-operative Movement is making something of a comeback and there is now renewed interest in the Co-operative movement. So what are the prospects for Co-ops to make a comeback in the 21st century?

"As a Co-op member for years I support the mutual structure that binds The Co-operative to its membership and allows profits to be reinvested to benefit the Society," says Robin, talking about his aspirations for the Movement. "The Co-operative must continue to listen to its members and address their needs and concerns. It must be fair minded, open and accountable to the community through its ethical and charitable practices and diverse range of businesses. It must truly involve its members and staff from grass roots upwards."

• The Co-operative Movement - Past, Present and Future: Talk and discussion with Robin Martakies, hosted by North Lancashire Green Party, Tuesday 10th January, 7.30pm at the Quaker Meeting House, next to Lancaster railway station. Free admission. Refreshments provided.

Council gets back to work on Market Square improvements

Lancaster City Council will restart work on its Square Routes initiative next week, an innovative project aimed at revitalising Lancaster's City Centre.

Work on Lancaster’s Market Square, the first stage of the project, will begin on Monday witth the completion of resurfacing work. New lighting columns will also be installed at the centre of the square.

New building mounted lights along Market Street to Horseshoe Corner, Penny Street to Ffrances Passage and Gage Street will also be installed, work  expected to take three to four weeks to complete. During that time, the stalls forming Lancaster’s Charter Market will be relocated along Market Street.

The vision for the square is to replace part of the area previously occupied by the fountain with a platform area for sitting, public performances and events.  Provision of this platform is subject to future funding.

Ffrances Passage, which is regarded as a major pedestrian gateway into the city centre will also receive new surfacing and drainage.  This work will take place during the evening and is scheduled to start at the end of January and take four to five weeks to complete.

Because of the work, Ffrances Passage will  be closed to pedestrians from 6pm to 6.00am, Monday to Friday from Monday 30th January.  Some Sunday work may also be required.

• For more information on the Square Routes initiative visit or pick up a copy of the latest newsletter from Lancaster or Morecambe Town Hall.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Police appeal following huge coal theft

Police are appealing for information after over a large quantity of coal was stolen from a Lancaster industrial estate.

The incident took place over the New Year weekend, between Saturday 31st December and Tuesday 3rd January.

The offender approached the unit belonging to E & S Fuels on the Lune Industrial Estate and stole over 200 bags of coal that were on pallets worth over £1,000.

PC Nicola Hayton from Lancaster police said, “A vehicle must have been used in order to transport the large bags of coal. I would appeal to anyone who was in the area and witnessed any suspicious activity to come forward and contact the police.

“If anyone has been offered cheap bags of coal, I would also be keen to speak to them in order to try and identify the people responsible.”

Anyone with information is asked to call Lancaster police on 101.

• People with information can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

NHS fears drop in blood donations through 2012 sports events and holidays

NHS Blood and Transplant is warning that a ‘perfect storm’ could be created by this year’s bumper sporting calendar and extra bank holiday, severely affecting blood donation levels in the North West in 2012. In addition to the Olympics and Paralympics, 2012 will bring Euro 2012 and a double Spring bank holiday in June for the royal jubilee.

NHSBT statistics show that 93% of donors give blood during the working week and that when there are big sporting events or a string of bank holidays national donation levels drop:
The bumper bank holidays around Easter and the Royal Wedding Week in 2011 resulted in 3500 fewer donations.

Last year on one day alone there were 851 fewer donations than the previous year, constituting a 12% drop due to the combination of particularly warm, sunny weather, the World Cup Quarter Final and Andy Murray’s Wimbledon Semi Final.

Approximately 2 million units of blood will be needed by hospitals throughout 2012, and the equivalent of 500 extra donations will be needed each week in the first six months to help us build blood stocks and cover extra potential need from Olympic visitors.

Barbara Blanche, Donor Relations Manager for the North West said:
"We’re calling on the public to make regular blood donation a New Year’s resolution. Whether you’ve never donated before or haven’t done for a while please book your appointment and help save lives in 2012.”

A significant drop in donations could have a massive impact on the thousands of people in England who require blood.  Blood ‘products’ are not just for road traffic accidents, they are used to treat people with cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, sickle cell disease, for new mums and babies, and during surgery.

Renowned comedian and writer Dave Spikey (pictured above) is supporting NHSBT’s ‘Gift of Life’ campaign. Until 2000, he was chief biomedical scientist in the haematology laboratory at Royal Bolton Hospital, where his wife, Kay, also worked. Dave said:
“With over 20 years experience in the NHS, I have seen first hand how vital blood supplies are.  People may have busy social diaries over the festive period, but giving blood is such a quick and simple thing to do and is the ultimate gift you can give. I urge anyone that can give blood to do something amazing this Christmas and make an appointment to donate. In fact, why not donate on a regular basis and make it a resolution to keep in 2012?”

You can start donating from the age of 17. So do something amazing this New Year and call 0300 123 23 23 or visit the website to find out about your nearest blood donation session.

For more information about blood donation or to make an appointment locally visit, call 0300 123 2323 or follow NHSBT at or

About being a blood donor:
- Over 4% of the eligible population are active blood donors
- The NHS needs 7,000 voluntary donations of blood daily
- A unit of blood is measured as 470mls (or just under a pint)
 - Whole blood donors can give every 16 weeks. That’s three times per year
 - First time donors should be aged between 17-65, weighing at least 50 kg (7 stone 12lbs) and in general good health. If they have donated before, they can start again up to their 70th birthday and there is no upper age limit for donors who have donated in the last two years

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Police lock up bikes to cut down on theft

Police are locking up bikes that have been left insecure as part of a drive to reduce cycle thefts in Lancaster, Lancashire's Cycling Town.

The city has seen an increase in the number of thefts of pedal cycles, with bikes being taken after they have been left insecure outside shops, homes or in unlocked sheds.

Officers from the local neighbourhood police teams have been using bicycle locks to secure any cycles which look as though they would be an easy target for thieves.

The owners have been left a note asking them to contact the police station in order to collect the keys to the lock, which they can then keep. They are also being given crime prevention advice on how to keep their bicycle, and other personal property, safe in the future.

“Opportunistic thieves find an unlocked bike very tempting and unfortunately we have seen a slight rise in the number of reported thefts," says Sergeant Jane Anderson from Lancaster police.

“Coming back to find your bicycle locked up by officers may be an inconvenience – but it would be more of an inconvenience, and a greater cost, to have to replace a stolen one.”

“I would advise cyclists to always secure their bike when they leave it – even if they are only nipping into a shop for a few minutes," she added. "Attach your bicycle to a sturdy object using a good quality bike lock and if possible put the lock through the frame rather than the wheels – as these can be removed by determined thieves.

“When you are finished with your bike for the day secure it properly, preferably in a locked shed or garage.

"The message is clear – lock it or lose it.”

Stand Up For Celebrity Mastermind winner Andi Osho at The Dukes

Award- winning stand-up comedian Andi Osho will bring her straight talking wit to The Dukes next month.

Fresh from her sold-out national tour and sell-out run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Andi presents her latest solo show – All The Single Ladies – in Lancaster on 1st February 2012.

A familiar face on top television comedy shows including Live At The Apollo, Mock The Week and Stand Up For The Week, the comedian was most recently seen on television winning an episode of Celebrity Mastermind, much to the comdeienne's obvious delight on her official Twitter feed.

Originally an actor, Andi has been on the comedy circuit for three years, making a name for herself with her distinctive individual style and appearance.

• Live comedy at The Dukes is recommended for anyone aged 16 plus. To book tickets priced £12/£10, ring The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500 or visit

National Protest on rail fares today

Yesterday, rail passengers faced inflation-busing fare rises in the UK. Today is a national day of passenger protest organised by the Campaign for Better Transport, who are urging commuters not to pass up the opportunity to voice your views on rip-off fares.

Commuters crowded into rail carriages across Lancashire - perhaps on their way to Preston or Manchester from Lancaser - are being asked to text, tweet or call Chancellor George Osborne to let him know how much their fare has gone up by and what this will mean to them.

The Campaign for Better Transport has published train fare comparisons which highlight the scale of the gap between rail fares in the five biggest European capitals, revealing how, for example, Italian commuters pay a tenth of the UK price. The French have the second most expensive fares and yet still only pay less than a third of the fares paid by passengers in the UK.

In the North West, season ticket price rises have varied but many show a six per cent increase, while some on some routes - for example, between Manchester and Bolton - the rise is over seven per cent.

If this was not bad enough, UK rail fares have risen above inflation again this New Year, and Government policy means even steeper rises in 2013 and 2014. By 2015, our fares will be 24 per cent higher than in 2011.

"UK rail fare rises are a scandal," says Richard Hebditch, Campaigns Director for CBT, "and it’s time passengers stood up and had their voices heard."

Rail companies continue to argue that the higher fares are being used to pay for rail improvements and insist everything is being done to bring overheads down.

"We understand times are tough for many people," says Edward Welsh from the Association of Train Operating Companies. "That's why we are working with our partners in the railways to bring down the overall cost of the railways because in the long term is to do just that."

The Government is apparently examining the whole issue of fare rises and there were reports on Tuesday that commuters might be spared the full horror of an Retail Price Index plus 3 per cent rise next year.

The January 2013 rise will depend on the RPI inflation figure for July 2012 which could be much lower than July's 2011 RPI, which determined this month's rise - and ongoing protest could sway the governement to act in commuters' favour.

To take part in the CBT campaign, you can:
  • Tell the Treasury how you feel by tweeting: @hmtreasury I am paying £xx more for my rail fare. I'm angry because . . .  #railfail
  • Send a text with the keyword farefail to 88802
  • Call the Treasury direct on 020 7270 5000 to complain about the rises
  • Retweeting a message from CBT's Twitter account @fairfaresnow
• If you use Twitter or have a Facebook account, CBT is urging peple to spread the news about how to to take part in the protest.

• Campaign for Better Transport: 

Monday, 2 January 2012

Workplace deaths on the rise in Lancashire

Eight people lost their lives while at work in Lancashire last year and 661 suffered a major injury, according to the latest statistics - including two in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.

The Health and Safety Executive - Britain's national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to prevent death, injury and ill health - has issued a fresh warning about workplace safety after the number of deaths rose across Great Britain in 2010/11.

The Executive is again urging employers to make the safety of workers their top priority for 2012, and is reminding them of their legal responsibility to ensure lives are not put at risk.

A total of 171 people were killed at work in Great Britain last year, compared to 147 deaths during 2009/10. More than 24,700 workers also suffered a major injury in 2010/11.

Locally, in April 2010, construction worker James Sim died after he became trapped when a trench he was working on collapsed in Morecambe.

In July, 26-year old Chris Cowan, a former soldier who worked at Heysham Power Station, was killed when he fell 30 feet from a balcony.

Across the county, the eight deaths and 661 major injuries in Lancashire compare to three deaths and 716 major injuries in 2009/10. Another 2,404 workers suffered an injury or ill health which required them to take at least three days off work in 2010/11, compared to 2,471 in 2009/10.

The latest provisional figures show that, on average, six in every million workers were killed while at work between April 2010 and March 2011.

High-risk industries include construction which had 50 deaths last year, agriculture with 34 deaths, and waste and recycling with nine deaths, making up more than half of all workplace deaths in Great Britain during 2010/11.

Speaking after the death of her partner Chris Cowan, Lucy McCarthy told the Lancashire Evening Post: “You never imagine something like this will happen to you."

“The families of the eight workers in Lancashire who lost their lives last year had to face Christmas without them," notes David Sowerby, HSE's Regional Director for the North West. "Hundreds of other workers have had their lives changed forever by a major injury.

“These statistics highlight why we need good health and safety in British workplaces. Employers should spend their time tackling the real dangers that workers face rather than worrying about trivial risks or pointless paperwork.

“It’s important to remember that we still have one of the lowest rates of workplace deaths in Europe, but one death is still one too many. I’d urge businesses to help cut the number of deaths in 2012.”

• Information on tackling health and safety dangers in workplaces is available on HSE’s website at

• The following table lists the numbers of deaths and injuries across Lancashire during 2010/11 and 2009/10. Three-day injuries are injuries where workers had to take three or more days off work to recover.

Local Authority Area 2010/11 2009/10
Deaths Major injuries '3-day' injuries Deaths Major injuries '3-day' injuries

Blackburn 1 67 275 1 68 261
Blackpool - 56 251 - 64 214
Burnley - 35 152 - 55 164
Chorley - 52 177 - 41 177
Fylde - 34 88 - 41 102
Hyndburn - 35 124 - 33 116
Lancaster 2 67 218 1 69 255
Pendle - 38 137 - 34 131
Preston 1 83 304 - 98 346
Ribble Valley - 31 99 - 24 101
Rossendale - 21 92 - 29 72
South Ribble 1 43 179 - 59 190
West Lancashire 1 62 200 1 67 221
Wyre 2 37 108 - 34 121
Total 8 661 2,404 3 716 2,471

  • A list of the deaths reported to HSE during 2010/11 is available at The information is updated on a monthly basis, and does not purport to be a formal statistical release. Subsequent investigation may determine that some are not reportable as workplace deaths, for example deaths due to natural causes.
  • Further information on workplace statistics can be found at
  • Based on available data (2007), Britain has the lowest rate of fatal injuries to workers among the five leading industrial nations in Europe - Great Britain, Germany, France, Spain and Italy.