Friday, 20 July 2012

Four years for “frenzied” attacker

A Lancaster man who subjected a friend of his ex-girlfriend to a “frenzied” attack was today jailed for four years.

22-year-old Adam Kirkham of Windholme, Lancaster was given sentence today at Preston Crown Court after previously pleading guilty to grievous bodily harm.

In February this year, Kirkham turned up drunk at the Morecambe home of an ex-partner and found a male friend of hers sleeping on the couch.

He then subjected the visitor in an unprovoked attack, punching and kicking the man leaving him with injuries including bruises, cuts and broken teeth.

The police were called to the house soon during the attack and they arrested Kirkham near to the scene and charged him with GBH.

DC Brian Shepherd, of Lancaster CID, said: “Kirkham launched a frenzied and sickening attack on the victim, both inside and outside of the house, resulting in severe dental injuries.

“I hope his sentencing today brings some closure to the victim who was simply staying in the house as a guest and could have never expected such an assault.

“The victim has been left with both physical and psychological injuries; he has been severely traumatised by this unprovoked attack as have his family.

“I would also like to thank the local community for their help in this case and their support in putting this thug behind bars.”

Schoolgirl assaulted on cycle track

Morecambe police are urging witnesses to come forward after a schoolgirl was assaulted by a girl on a cycle track.

The victim was waiting for a friend on a cycle track next to Cartmel Place, Morecambe, at around 7pm on Thursday 12th July when she was approached by three girls. One of them punched the victim in the face before walking off with her friends onto Cartmel Place.

The victim was left with a cut to her mouth following the attack.

The offender is described as tanned, between 15 and 17 years old, with long dark hair. She was wearing a red shirt and black leggings. One of the other two girls had blonde hair but there are no further descriptions of the teenagers.

PC Sam Johnson, from Morecambe Police, said: "This was an unprovoked attack on a young schoolgirl who was simply waiting for a friend. We would urge anyone who witnessed the assault or who has any information about those responsible to contact us as soon as possible as their information could greatly assist this enquiry."

Anyone who has any information on the incident should contact police by calling 101 or alternatively, information can be passed to 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.

Spoltlight Club Cancelled

Tonight's regular Spotlight Club featuring poets, authors and music, scheduled to take place at Lancaster's Storey Centre, has been cancelled.

The organisers apologize for the last minute cancellation owing to "unforeseen circumstances".

The next writer's event will be in September.

Storey Centre: Tenants issue Joint statement

Tenants of Lancaster's Storey Creative Industries Centre have just released this joint statement following the Council's withdrawal of support for the company that runs the building (see news story), which we are more than happy to publish in full:

Dear all,
The Storey is at the 11th hour, and as meetings are taking place largely without tenant involvement as they have done throughout this sorry saga, we wanted the opportunity to give our view. Let’s explain what’s at stake regarding tenants whose businesses and lives are being considered.
Firstly, over 90 people’s jobs and their livelihoods are at stake. This comes from 14 businesses, all successful and profitable, and contributing collectively over £1 million in taxes personal and business this year to the local and national pot.
And who are these businesses? There’s the Lancashire Creative Business of the Year, serving 100 companies in the district and over 500 in the UK and overseas with 42 employees; a renowned training software company serving the NHS, police forces and leading companies across the UK; one of the UK’s top 10 design agencies in the RAR Awards; an internationally renowned writer of comics and graphic novels, one of which was turned into a major Hollywood movie; an incredibly innovative company that’s attracting worldwide interest and investment from venture capital firms; Lancaster’s second highest rated restaurant on Tripadvisor; and two leading video production companies working with clients across the UK.
They all employ local people from Morecambe, Heysham, Lancaster and the rest of the district in highly skilled new industries that this area desperately needs. (There are also weddings, conferences and events booked and paid for in this building over the summer bringing people from afar to our city).
Destroy this and you help destroy the reputation of the building, the City Council and Lancaster as a place to do business. You can do something to stop this.
In our view, we all need the opportunity that we’ve not been given before to plan the way ahead for our businesses, our employees and the future of this great building.
Here are our five key points:
1. The Storey Creative Industries Centre Ltd knows the game is up, and needs to transfer the headlease to the City Council as agreed by councillor’s yesterday.
2. Once completed, SCIC Ltd should be wound up as a company.
3. The City Council should meet with tenants to plan a way forward. We’ve got loads of ideas to make the building break even, not in the future but right now. Talk to us!
4. We’ve only just received invoices for this month, and don’t know who to pay them to. Make these decisions, and we’ll immediately pay our rent and service charge to whoever, whenever and to a level agreed to help keep the building operational.
5. Then let’s plan a way forward for the building using the talent on offer here and across this city to build a self-sustainable future.
We’ve worked hard to create jobs and investment in the Lancaster district. Don’t abandon us now. Let’s work together to create a vibrant and viable future for all these businesses and the Storey.
For and on behalf of the tenants and their 90 plus staff
For more information check out our company websites to learn more about who we are and what we do:
• AccessPlanIT
Developing high-return software for the learning and development industry.
• Andy Diggle
New York Times bestselling comic-book writer.
• Azullo
Agile digital advertising software developer.
• Fat Media
Award-wining internet marketing, branding and e-commerce solutions.
• Hotfoot Design
Award-wining branding, design for print and web development.
• InTune
An international music production and education company.
• Morph Films
Video, web design, motion graphics and animation.
• Natural Ranks
Web development, marketing and project management.
• Workshop Media
Event video and video marketing.

Council withdraws support for Storey Centre, Tourist Information moved

(Updated 11:51) Lancaster's Storey Creative Industries Centre might soon close, after Lancaster City Council withdrew support for the company which runs the Institute bulding following very recent developments in the company’s operations and its financial position.

The decision has meant that Tourist Information Centre has temporarily moved to Lancaster Library, but business tenants are still working in the building as normal - and have issued a joint statement urging the Council to talk to them in an effort to resolve the situation.

virtual-lancaster understands the Council's decision to withdraw support comes just days after Council staff assured business tenants the project was secure.

In a statement following Wednesday's Full Council meeting which discussed the situation, the Council explains that the building is currently leased to the Storey Creative Industries Centre Ltd, a private company responsible for the tenancies and management of the building.

On Wednesday, councillors voted to withdraw support from the company and, should the company cease trading, seek forfeiture of the lease the company holds.

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “The Storey Institute is an important building and a key gateway for this area of Lancaster, which will become increasingly important as proposals for the future use of the castle come forward.

“The council sympathises with the building’s tenants and the over 100 people who work in the Storey, but it has become increasingly clear that there are fundamental issues with the operations and finances of SCIC Ltd.

“Whilst the council has supported the development of the building for creative industries, the council has a duty to protect the interests of council taxpayers.

“That’s why I supported the proposition put forward to Council that we should withdraw our support for the company and seek a new way forward."

Speaking on behalf of the Storey’s residents, still unclear on the building's future, Michael Gibson, director of Fat Media told the Lancaster Guardian: “Councillors said they wanted to help tenants to find a future. This sadly wasn’t true.

“Today the City Council closed its own Tourist Information Centre that was located in the building and moved it to another council building. They have clear information that presumably jeopardises the future of their tenancy but aren’t willing to share that with tenants and their staff.”

In a full statement, supported by all the building's business tenants, the companies are urging the Council to meet with them, to plan a way forward for the building - pointing out they have just received rent bills but no idea who the rent is to be paid to.

"We’ve got loads of ideas to make the building break even, not in the future but right now," they say. "Talk to us!

"We’ve worked hard to create jobs and investment in the Lancaster district. Don’t abandon us now. Let’s work together to create a vibrant and viable future for all these businesses and the Storey"

Lancaster City Council renews backing for Centros development deal

Lancaster City Council has voted to renew and extend its Development Agreement with Centros, the company proposing a major revamp of the city's "Canal Corridor".

The Council voted by 38 votes to 11 to renew the Development Agreement with Centros at Full Council on Wednesday, the motion opposed by Green councillors and some others.

"As wrong as it is on many levels, the decision was sadly unsurprising," said a spokesperson for campaign group It's Our City, which has been calling for a more transparent discussion about the major development.

"It is another example of the bulk of this city's councillors bending over backwards to accommodate a developer that didn't even bother turning up at the last public inquiry to help the council to defend it's last scheme. 

"We anticipate that next week or the week after there will be a double page splash in the Centros-friendly Lancaster Guardian announcing universal support for the scheme.  Now would be the point at which people should write to the Guardian to try to make sure an alternative opinion is heard."

It's Our City will hold an organising meeting in early September to refocus and to consider to how to respond to the council decision.  They will announce the date and venue for this as soon as they have it.

Anti Fracking campaign to continue

Campaigners against 'fracking' have vowed to continue their fight, despite court judgements against some and support for the technology from Tory-led Lancashire County Council.

On Tuesday, three people from Liverpool and Brighton were found guilty of 'disrupting lawful activity' for occupying Cuadrilla Resource's drilling rig in Lancashire for eleven hours last November.

SchNews reports that the trial, which lasted for four days, saw prosecution witnesses from Cuadrilla Resources, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Lancashire County Council, cross examined on the legality of Cuadrilla's earthquake production operations in Lancashire. Evidence from a number of expert witnesses from the US and UK was presented to demonstrate the massive threat posed to the global climate, local communities and human health by the expansion of fracking for shale gas around the world.

Despite admitting that the defence had painted "a picture of an Armageddon that no-one would wish to contemplate" the District Judge sentenced the three defendants to two year conditional discharges and £750 costs each.

Initially, the District Judge was also considering curfews and restraining orders to keep the defendants away from Cuadrilla sites. Two of the defendants were also convicted on a spurious charge of common assault stemming from one of them being pushed over a steel beam and pinned by a security guard in the early stages of the action.

The District Judge however seemed to consider the £20,000 that Cuadrilla claim to have lost as a result of that action the major concern and didn't tack on any extra sentence as a result of the assault charges.


While the convictions are a setback to the anti-fracking lobby, the trial again served to highlight concerns about the the technology, and prompted Green Party county councillors to raise the issue at a council meeting on 12th July.

Since the embarassing earthquake incident at their first site in Lancashire, Cuadrilla have drilled two further wells but have been holding off fracking while they work with the government to solve their PR problem.

Cuadrilla currently has sites in Elswick, Weeton, Singleton, and Westby, as well as a site near Banks in West Lancashire. It seems likely that they will attempt to start drilling at one of their sites in Lancashire soon and may begin fracking their second well within the next couple of months.

Their eventual plan is to frack 400-800 wells in Lancashire alone.

Earlier this month, the company, which has hired a former local newspaper editor as its local community advisor, announced it has commenced work to install sensitive monitoring technology so that it can undertake comprehensive seismic monitoring.

In line with the company’s commitment to best practice, Cuadrilla will adopt a number of early detection systems to prevent a level of seismic activity that could give cause for any concern.

The monitoring technology was recommended in an independent scientific report into the minor tremors last year and by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in their expert’s own review.

But the many clearly remain unimpressed by assurances on safety. Green County Councillors Chris Coates and Sam Riches proposed a motion to Lancashire County Council on Thursday 12th July calling for a moratorium on onshore and offshore exploration, development and production of Coal Bed Methane, Shale Oil and Shale Gas.

While the motion was defeated, with County Council leader Geoff Driver describing the Green Party's stance as "shameful", the Greens gained backing from worried Labour Party Councillors.

Coun Janice Hanson said she shared the concerns of the community regarding tremors, property values and told thevmeeting the people of Lancashire are worried by the technology.

Conservative councillor Michael Greaves argued Lancashire County Council is a strategic planning authority and must not make statements which could pre-judge future proposals.

He said there was no evidence of water pollution if fracking is done properly and reports had shown that risks are very low provided best practice, better co-ordination and mandatory Environmental Impact Assessments are applied. he recommended a vote against the motion, arguing its passing would jeopardise the role of the County Council as a Planning Authority.

When put to a vote, 21 voted form 48 against, with nine abstentions.

"Although the motion was defeated by the Tory administration, it was really important that concerns about fracking, and especially the lack of regulation of the industry, were aired in the Council chamber," feels Chris Coates.

"There is a widespread lack of understanding about the shortcomings in the current regulatory framework.," he added. "We can’t afford to cross our fingers and hope for the best, especially when the results of a well blow-out near to a community could be catastrophic."

Sam Riches said, 'We were pleased to be supported in the debate and at the vote by Labour councillors. The Lib Dems abstained and only the Tories voted against our motion. We will now enter into discussions with both Labour and the Lib Dems about how we move forward on this issue – the strength of feeling amongst residents of Lancashire is clear, and this issue is certainly not going away."


Commentators on the recent legal proceedings have described the sentences as a "rigged judgement" with campaign site SchNews arguing that despite the self-righteous air of the judgement, the trial showed up the fact that in some ways fracking in the UK is even more of a wild west activity than in the US.

"The back to back testimony from DECC and local council bureaucrats demonstrated a staggering level of buck passing with no one willing to take responsibility for regulating the industry," they argue. "In the US the notorious 'Halliburton Loophole' passed in 2005 exempted the industry from the majority of environmental laws. In the UK, rather than change the law to fit in with this new technology, the government seems to have adopted the strategy of studiously ignoring any issues that this new practice raises.

"Given the poor repulation of fracking it is perhaps not surprising that they are not particularly keen to expose the issue to the sort of public debate. The general PR strategy appears to be obstinately deny that fracking is fundamentally different from traditional extraction methods."

Worryingly, fracking for shale gas is part of a tidal wave of much more extreme methods of energy extraction that are threatening to become widespread as a result of the increasing scarcity and rising prices of fossil fuels. Over 25,000 shale gas wells have been drilled in the US during the last decade, particularly in western states such as Texas. More recently, as these practices have moved into higher population density states such as Pennsylvania, it has resulted in a backlash as much larger numbers of people have been affected.

In the UK, in addition to shale gas, coal bed methane (natural gas extracted from coal seams) and the even more insane underground coal gasification (setting fire to coal seams and piping the resulting gases to the surface) are also serious threats. All these methods involve much more effort and environmental destruction than conventional fossil fuels.

"Since we cannot afford to burn half the remaining conventional fossils fuels and avoid catastrophic climate change exploitation of these unconventional fuels is suicidal," say anti-fracking campaigners, who are determined to keep up their fight against the technology.


Determined to counter concerns about the technology, Cuadrilla Resources is now being advised by former newspaper man Steve Singleton, who left his job as editor of the Lytham St Annes Express in June.

Mr Singleton, 56, has joined communications consultancy PPS to take up a role as Fylde local community advisor for Cuadrilla.

“As a local resident I know that people do have questions about Cuadrilla’s operations and future intentions," he said. "What impresses me about Cuadrilla is their openness with the community and the fact that top-level management get personally involved in site visits, information days and meetings.

"I think that it’s important for Cuadrilla to see things from a local’s perspective. Being Sandgrown and living in St Annes all my life, I am as keen as anyone to see that all the facts are made available to the community and questions continue to be answered.”

“We are really pleased to welcome Steve as another local working for the Cuadrilla team," commented Mark Miller, who has recently taken up a new Lancashire-focussed role as Cuadrilla’s Director of Bowland Operations. "As a respected member of the community I’ll be listening carefully to his advice.”

Sounds like he's got a lot of work ahead.

- For more on the local campaign against fracking see Ribble Estuary Against Fracking:

- For more on the national fight against extreme energy abuse

- For more information about Cuadrilla’s community involvement, or to request site visits or talks, please contact Steve and the rest of the Cuadrilla team by freephone, operated on weekdays between 9.00am and 5.30pm, on 0800 170 1115 or through Cuadrilla’s website at


Thursday, 19 July 2012

Lancaster Market Traders on the Move

(Updated 16/8/12): Despite the impending closure of Lancaster Market on Tuesday 11th September, we're pleased to report many of the stall holders have now found new premises from which to continue trading.

Several former traders have already established themselves elsewhere in Lancaster, some a while back, such as Burts Butchers (who have been successfully trading on Market Street for a few years now), some more recently, such as Gregory's Butchers and the last of the Market's fishmongers, R & P Shaw, who are now both located in Marketgate. The Chinese food shop has also successfully relocated to Common Garden Street in recent months.

Here's a list of the most recent "Market Movers", who will take up new premises soon:

• African Caribbean Foods - will share unit in King's Arcade with Rose and Sharon hair salon
• Barbers - Sir Simon's Arcade (joining the picture framers who moved there some time ago)
Bay Pets & Jesters Fancy Dress - Common Garden Street 
Burgess Cheese - moving to Ffrances Passage 
Gillisons Fine Leather Goods and Bag Stall - Bamboo Gardens, New Street 
Hester's Haberdashery - Gage Street
Hartley Electrical Services - King Street/Sir Simon's Arcade 
The Terrace Cafe - New Street (taking over Lewis' Cafe)
NHS Stop Smoking Shop - returning to St. Nicholas' Arcades
The Market Cobbler - Marketgate (into the former mobile phone accessory shop)
Polish Delicatessen - Brock Street

Sadly, not all market traders will be moving to new premises, unable to afford Lancaster's oft-criticised business rates in comparison to Market stall rents. Carpet stall M Green and  Son, which has been trading in Lancaster for 50 years, is one casualty, as is the Balcony Bistro and KBS Trading. Chaepasmokes is still looking for a retail unit.

Cool Trader, which was reported to be moving to Penny Street, changed its plans and will no longer have a store in Lancaster as of  25th August 2012.

"We have scoured the town for an appropriate replacement unit and we have several options but despite our best endeavours we haven't been able to secure a new shop yet," Managing Director Andrew Errington told virtual-lancaster.

Although Lancaster Market is set to close at close of business on Tuesday 11th September, the town's Charter Market will continue to trade in Market Square in Market Square and Penny Street every Wednesday and Saturday, and the Council continues to run the Assembly Rooms on King Street, originally home to some market traders who moved there after Lancaster's original market burnt down in the 1990s.

Morecambe also has its own Festival Market, run by the Council.

There is now word as yet on which, if any, business, is likely to take over the Market building once vacated, although rumours that clothes chain Primark have expressed an interest have been circulating for some months.

• With thanks to Peter Corke, head of the Market Traders for his help compiling this list

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Morecambe Necklace Snatch: Man Sought

Morecambe police are appealing for information after a woman had her necklace snatched from her as she was walking home.

The incident happened at around 3:00am on Monday 16th July on Billy Hill when the victim, a 22 year old local woman, was walking home from a night out.

As she reached the top of the hill she has seen two men on the other side of the road and asked them if they had a light for her cigarette.

One of the men has given her a lighter before snatching her necklace from her neck and running off with it.

The necklace is described as a thin gold chain with a teddy bear pendant on. The arms and legs of the pendant move. A gold ring with a black stone in the centre of two clear stones was also stolen as it was also on the necklace.

Detective Constable Ian Wright from Lancaster CID said, “I would appeal to anyone who has information about this offence to come forward and contact the police.

“Understandably the victim has been left shaken following her ordeal and she is obviously keen to be reunited with her stolen jewellery. Anyone with information should get in touch.”

Witnesses are asked to call Lancaster CID 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.

Police release CCTV image in hunt for shoplifting suspect

Police appealing for information following a shoplifting incident in Carnforth have released a CCTV image of a man they want to trace.

The offender entered the Tesco store in Lodge Quarry, Carnforth, at 2.50pm on 18th June  as a prospective customer and filled the trolley with goods before leaving the store without making any payment.

The offender is described as white, about 25 years old, 5ft9ins tall, with short brown hair and wearing a dark T-shirt with Nike written in gold on the front and wearing dark trousers.

The suspect was accompanied by a woman and anyone with information is asked to call Lancashire police on 101 or 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.

Storey Centre future to be discussed at Full Council today

The future of the Storey Creative Industries Centre will be discussed at Full Council later today, after several councillors raised questions about decisions to take its management into City Council control.

The Council's Overview and Scrutiny committee considered the call-in of the Storey Institute decision of 3rd July at its meeting last night.

The end result - when Cabinet subsequently met to consider what Overview and Scrutiny had recommended - was an unexpected referral of the decision to Council, where it will be considered as urgent business this afternoon.

Elected members will receive the report which has previously been considered by Cabinet, along with updated information.

The meeting will also be considering a resolution passed at the City Council Budget and Performance Committee, calling for a report to the committee to answer a number of questions about the Centre.

In particular, this Committee wants to know if any contact taken place between representatives from sub-tenants of the building and the City Council as ultimate landlord (owner of the building); did the City Council pay the insurance bills and a utility bill for SCIC in mid 2011 and if so, why and on what authority; and has asked why did the City Council not take further action to protect its interests at that time.

Councillors also want to know why the decision taken in December 2011 to grant a loan to the SCIC was made without democratic accountability, pointing out that opening it up to scrutiny could have saved at least four more  months of losses and inaction.

They have also asked what processes of due diligence took place before the loan was agreed in principle in December 2011, when was the loan paid over to the company, and what due diligence took place between the agreement in principle, and the payment of the loan to the company.

Finally, in what way and at what date did examination of the annual accounts of the company contribute to due diligence.

The Full Council meets at 2.00pm at Morecambe Town Hall. The meeting is open to the public but some parts of the meeting may be 'restricted'.

• A copy of the public report on The Storey and appendices can be found at:

Live and Unsigned winners CoCo and The Butterfields join Lancaster Music Festival line up

Performers gather for a 'Final Shout' for Lancaster Music Festival 2011
CoCo and The Butterfields, the overall winners of Live and Unsigned’s 2012 national battle of the bands contest earlier this month, are to be part of the Lancaster Music Festival in October.

The Festival has been chosen to host CoCo, plus the four North West regional finalists – Hannah-Nicole Gorge, Katie O'Malley, Freerunner and Kaitain – joining an already packed weekend of top notch local and global musical talent at Lancaster’s fourth, and biggest, music festival so far for a packed weekend of 12th October.

Coco and the Butterfields beat more than 10,000 other acts to eventually win Live and Unsigned, the biggest competition for original performers in the UK. As well as winning £10,000 to spend on development they will receive £10,000 worth of publicity investment, and an animated music video worth £10,000 courtesy of Gavdude.

From folk (Americana, Celtic, English, Neo), funk (jazz, Latin, blues), grunge, punk, pop (indie, alternative, mainstream), contemporary classical, choral, jazz (Latin, swing, piano, trad.), rock, avant garde, soul, blues and even peddle powered PAs and more the Festival's organisers expect everyone to find some outstanding music that they will enjoy in a bubbling and festive atmosphere.

Along with all the music, there will be street theatre, mini ale festivals, dance workshops and plenty of food both in the venues and in market stalls.

Most of the music will be provided by the outstanding talent and variety of acts that perform in Lancaster district (for example, Get Carter Experience with Madness ex-keyboardist James Mackie, singer songwriter loop sensation Alex Hulme, Celtic fiddle virtuosity from Hard Times, mod punk boogaloo mayhem from the Convulsions and award winning Latin guitarist Howard Haigh with his new project “Men of the Hour”).

There will also be acts from as far away as Australia, Austria, Italy, USA, all over the UK (even Yorkshire) as part of the Festival.

The Festival is sponsored by Mitchells of Lancaster, the Chamber of Commerce, Bay Tourism, Lancaster City Council,, CME Artist Services, St. Nicholas Arcade, Choctaw Media and Lancashire Treasure Trails. The festival is also made possible by contributions from all the participating venues.

• The full calendar of events will be available after 31st August on the official web site ( A few of the events are ticketed and tickets can be obtained after 31st August online from the festival website (, at Lancaster’s Visitor Information Centre and the venues themselves.

• Please note, the Festival is no longer taking band applications – those acts wanting to apply last minute for 2012 can email the organisers

Appeal for stolen horsebox

Police are appealing for information after a horsebox was stolen from a farm in St Michaels last Thursday (12th July).

The bright blue 18 tonne horsebox was stolen from Paddock Farm Stud on Blackpool Road sometime between 9.30am and 7:30pm.

PC Rachel Bibby said: “Despite the area being rural, the horsebox was stolen in broad daylight and I am convinced someone must have seen it in transit.

“The horsebox has a hole in the rear of the van on the ramp where the words ‘Horses’ are written. I’d urge anybody that thinks they may have seen this vehicle or with any information about its whereabouts to contact Lancashire Police quoting crime reference BC1202881.”

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Rail upgrades no real benefit to Lancaster, says expert

Local transport expert Professor John Whitlegg has welcomed the news that the North West's transport links will be transformed by a £9 billion national programme of rail investment announced by the government yesterday - but the upgrades won't do much for local rail services, or users.

His view appears to be shared by Lancaster MP Eric Ollerenshaw, based on some of his commentts in the House of Commons yesterday.

Announced by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and Transport Secretary Justine Greening, the government says the rail upgrades will deliver faster journeys, more seats and more frequent trains across the North West and beyond.

"This is all good news and long overdue," says John, who is Managing Director of transport planning company Eco-Logica and the Green Party's Sustainable Development Spokesperson. "It will give passengers on the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds-York corridor a much better service."

The landmark package, described as the biggest expansion in railways in over 150 years,  includes completion in full of the “Northern Hub” cluster of rail enhancements with the approval of more than £300m of outstanding track and capacity upgrades including; around £200m for the Castlefield Corridor scheme to increase capacity across central Manchester and provide two additional through platforms at Piccadilly station; and capacity enhancements of around £50m on the Chat Moss route between Liverpool and Manchester; and extra capacity around Manchester Airport and Rochdale.

These are in addition to almost £500m of Northern Hub schemes already approved across  Northern England such as electrification of the North Trans Pennine route, allowing two new fast trains per hour between Manchester Victoria and Liverpool, two extra trains per hour between Manchester and Leeds, a reduction in journey times between Leeds and Manchester by an average of 15 minutes and between Leeds and Liverpool by an average of 35 minutes.

There will also be a new direct service through Manchester city centre to Manchester Airport.

Extra peak train capacity for the 6,200 more passengers forecast to travel in and out of Manchester. The rail industry will now work out how best to provide this and what further changes (such as platform lengthening) this may require.

Despite the announced improvements, John is disappointed they offer little for North Lancashire rail users.

"It's a shame," he told virtual-lancaster. "There is a very strong case for rail investment between Lancaster-Morecambe-Heysham which should include electrification and enhancements so that rail freight can get to the port of Heysham.

"There is still no joined up thinking in central or local government on transport in this area," argues John, who has worked on sustainable transport projects for 30 years. "Government is happy to spend over £120 million on the Heysham M6 Link road justified largely on the back of the importance of the port of Heysham.

"Lancashire County Council has made it clear that this link road is not seen as a solution to Lancaster’s traffic problems so it remains a port project and European experience shows that rail freight can contribute massively to the success of a port.

"A huge boost for rail freight to Heysham on an electrified line would also make it much easier to give us a German or Swiss style rail passenger service," John feels, "with a 20 minute frequency of state of the art trains running between Lancaster, Morecambe and Heysham with bus connections at all station that actually meet trains and with combined tickets that cover trains and buses and are reasonably priced.

"This would be real progress but we are being ignored in all the hype about the northern hub and in the meantime the obsession with high speed trains will mop up all rail money for the next three decades and see a reduction in Lancaster’s train services to London."

While welcoming the rail investment news, local MP Eric Ollerenshaw has also been critical of local rail development, noting in the House of Commons yesterday that Fleetwood has seen "13 years of rusty railway lines and still have no trains on them."

The improvements will be delivered under the Government’s High Level Output Specification for the railways for 2014-19. The rail industry will now carry out further work to determine the scope of works required and the likely start and completion dates of the schemes. It will publish its plans in January 2013.

The Northern Hub project is a programme of rail enhancements based in and radiating from Manchester. It is designed to stimulate economic growth by improving train services across the North of England. The potential services and economic benefits run as far as Newcastle and Hull in the east to Chester and Liverpool in the west.

The Government previously announced that the go-ahead for the Ordsall Chord, line speed and capacity improvements between Manchester and Sheffield and line speed improvements between Manchester and Preston and Manchester and Bradford parts of the Northern Hub scheme.

Commenting on Fleetwood's rail woes raised by Lancaster's MP, Justine Greening told the House of Commons the town's problems were "really a local matter for my honorable Friend’s regional passenger transport executive.

"As he will know, we are electrifying the Manchester to Blackpool railway line, which will provide real benefits. I am keen, as colleagues across the House know, to understand what people want next. If I know what they want next, I can set about seeing whether we can provide it."

Perhaps the citizens of Fleetwood might like to drop her a line...

• The High Level Output Specification (HLOS) statement can be found at:

• Maps of how HLOS is benefitting each region can be found at:

Monday, 16 July 2012

Morecambe police hunt card fraudsters who robbed pensioner

Police have issued CCTV images of three people they want to speak with after £600 was withdrawn from a Morecambe pensioner’s bank account without her permission.

The offence is believed to have taken place between 27th June and 1st July when the bank card was removed from the 73-year-old victim’s purse at her home address on Delamere Avenue in Heysham and was used to withdraw money from a cash machine in the Morecambe area.

Police have issued CCTV stills of three people they need to trace in connection with the offence.

PC Ben Hanley said: “I would urge people to take a close look at the CCTV images and if anyone recognises any of the three people pictured if ask them to contact me at  Lancashire 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.

Campaigners seek open review of city development plans

Lancaster's old Tramway pub, part of the
area earmarked for development.

Campaign group It's Our City will be lobbying councillors in advance of this week's Full Council Meeting which will discuss developments plans for Lancaster - with most of that discussion taking place behind closed doors.

On Wednesday, Lancaster City Council will decide whether to extend the Development Agreement with preferred business partner Centros to develop the "Canal Corridor". Previous plans from the company were rejected after an inquiry but a new proposal is now in the works (see news story).

Although documents relating to the proposals have been published by the Council, many of them – and much of the discussion about the plan, which may see a large part of Lancaster signed over to a private company for 250 years – are hidden from all of us in the commercial interests of Centros.

It's Our City has decided the theme for Wednesday's lobby will be 'Pirates of the Caribbean Tax Haven: The Curse of Crinkly Bottom'  reflecting concern not just at the proposals but the Council's past mistakes over local development.

"The Development Agreement prevents any other developer from taking an interest in the Canal Corridor site," a spokesperson for the group told virtual-lancaster. "IOC takes the view that the Council should not extend the agreement with Centros but should instead seek proposals from several developers.

"They should give the people of Lancaster a say in which proposals go forward. 

"We're calling on people who want to see an open process to find a suitable development proposal for the Canal Corridor site to lobby the Council on Wednesday asking them not to extend the agreement with Centros."

IOC hope the the lobby will draw attention to the fact that in their view, there has never been an open process for selecting a developer for this site and that Centros have been given an unfair advantage by the Council from the start. 

"We hope that it will also raise the question as to whether the City Council should be doing a deal with a developer whose controlling partner has its legal residence in the British Virgin Islands - a so called tax haven," they say. "As we know, this City Council has a checkered history of doing deals without proper consideration which then return to haunt the city: Blobbygate, Lancaster Market, and now, it appears, the Storey."

While the development is still being discussed, some of the buildings earmarked for development - many left to rot for several years by their former owners - have been sold, including the old Tramway public house on St. Leonardgate.

• The Full Council meeting takes place on Wednesday 18th July at Morecambe Town Hall at 2.00pm and the lobby will begin at 1.30pm.

Thousands of valium tablets seized in Carnforth raid

Police seized several thousand valium tablets after carrying out a raid at a Carnforth home.

Support unit officers executed a drugs warrant at West View, Carnforth, shortly after 11.30am on Thursday 12th July.

The tablets were found inside the property.

A 34-year-old woman and a 28-year-old man were arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply class C drugs. They have been bailed pending further inquiries.

“Taking tranquilizers like valium can be risky, and especially dangerous if they are mixed with other drugs or alcohol," says Sergeant James Pinder of Morecambe police. "The amount seized by officers was significant and we have prevented these tablets from making their way on to our streets where they could have caused harm to our communities.

“We also know that many offenders who commit crimes like burglary and robbery do so to fund a drugs habit and this seizure will hopefully have an impact on them being able to source such drugs.”

Police investigate kayak theft in Carnforth

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after thieves stole a kayak from a secluded canal bank in Carnforth.

The distinctive, 9ft by 2ft, kayak was left tied to the bank by the owner in Towpath Walk, Carnforth, between 2pm and 2.30pm on Sunday, July 8. When the owner returned 15 minutes later, the kayak had been stolen and its paddle left neatly stacked on a remaining boat.

PC Ben Hanley, from Carnforth Police, said: “The missing kayak is 9ft long and would have been extremely difficult to remove discreetly from the area without somebody noticing. One possible line of enquiry is that the kayak was removed by another boat on the canal and we continuing to look into this possibility.

“Anyone who saw anything suspicious in the area or who has any information to help with this enquiry is asked to contact officers as soon as possible.”

The kayak is described as a blue Dagger ‘Fiesta’ 9.2 with the word ‘Freedom’ written in permanent marker on the front left hand side.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Last chance to air the pros and cons of Link Road?

After a week of “Issue Specific” hearings into the proposed Heysham M6 Link at Lancaster Town Hall, Lancashire County Council has had to admit much that harms the case for this damaging road, say campaigners for alternatives to the planned £123 million pound scheme.

Local people are now being given an opportunity to talk directly to the Examiner at the Inquiry into the Heysham M6 Link Road. Formerly the IPC, the national planning forum has just been renamed as the National Infrastructure Directorate and is continuing the examination of the case for and against the proposal.

During proceedings, say Transport Solutions for Lanaster and Morecambe, the County Council has revealed the Link road is not intended to solve Lancaster’s problems; the traffic forecasts used at the Public Inquiry in 2007 got it wrong by 20-30 per cent, and there is no guarantee that they are right this time.

In addition, the latest traffic forecasts are based on 2008 data. It is not acceptable for a project costing £123 million of public money to go ahead based on information that is so out of date. Carbon emissions, which are closely related to traffic, went down 10 per cent in Lancaster in the period 2005-09.

It's also been acknowledged that overall, the planned road will increase pollution in the area and prevents progress on reducing emissions to stop climate change.

The Council has also been taken to task because non-road alternatives to thevLink project must be properly described and evaluated - and they have not been.

Campaigners argue this makes it all the more important that those who have raised concerns about the County Council plans come to the “Open Floor Hearings” and tell the Examiner, Mr Robottom, what you think are the damaging impacts of the road on your community and the Lancaster and Morecambe district.

It is believed people will be given up to 15 minutes to make their points to the Examiner and there will be no cross-examination, making it a much more comfortable experience for people to put over their views.

TSLM is urging residents of Torrisholme and any other affected areas to turn up on the day and show the Examiner the strength of feeling about what is seen by many people as this expensive, unnecessary and damaging road.

The campaign group says that some people feel that the result of the Inquiry is a foregone conclusion (which is certainly what Lancashire County Council would have everyone believe) but TSLM warns against complacency and states that there are already opportunities for the principal supporters and objectors to have their say on a range of specific and important subjects. However, the “Open Floor” hearings are not intended for those organisations.

"This may be your last chance to influence the decision," urges TSLM chair David Gate.

"It's very important for those people that feel strongly about this road to come along and make the Examiner very aware of how strongly local people oppose the road.

"We want the Examiner to know that it is not just vested interests that can have a say but that local residents can play an important and influential role in the new planning process.”

Those registered as “interested parties” will have priority, but others may be able to speak too at meetings scheduled at 9.30am on Tuesday 17th July; and at Torrisholme Methodist Church on Wednesday 18th July at 2.00 and 6.30 pm.

If you are registered, you should tell the IPC that you intend to speak, and briefly what about. Contact the Case Officer, Kathrine Haddrell, by telephone 0303 444 5043 or by email:

Quote project Reference TR010008 and your Unique reference number.

If you are not registered, it is a public meeting, please come and you may be able to speak, if you wish.

- M6 Link alternatives and other information in the M6 link plans can be found at: