Friday, 16 August 2013

Witches get set to cast up some treats at Lancaster Castle!

A quick reminder that there's witchery afoot at Lancaster Castle this weekend to mark the 401st anniversary of the Lancashire Witch Trials, during which 19 people went on trial for their lives at Lancaster Castle.

The event will commemorate the 10 men and women who were hanged in the summer of 1612.

A free commemorative event wil take place tonight (Friday), developed by a range of organisations to give people the opportunity to reflect and remember the extraordinary lives, journey and ultimate fate of the Lancashire Witches.

The evening will start with a reflective performance of poetry, prose and music in the atmospheric surroundings of the castle’s inner rooms and will highlight the plight of those victims of a time of persecution. The event will culminate in the lighting of a beacon and a vigil held by charity Stepping Stones Nigeria, which works with modern-day victims of mistreatment.

Over Saturday and Sunday, there will be a number of family-friendly events and activities taking place at the castle. Broomstick racing, witchcraft workshops, street theatre and storytelling will be on offer to entertain young and old alike.

There will also be a chance to visit the castle dungeons where the unfortunate victims were imprisoned.

"There's no doubt that Lancaster has a fascinating history, but no episode in that history is more fascinating or darker than the story of the Lancashire Witches, says Councillor Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for culture and tourism.

“It is important to separate fact from centuries of fiction. We must learn from history and never repeat such dreadful inhumanities.

"The event on the Friday evening in particular will provide visitors to Lancaster Castle with a stirring insight into a story that has captivated people for centuries followed by two days of fun for all the family.”

This event is kindly sponsored by Bay Tourism Association and Lancaster Unlimited and is brought to you by Lancaster Castle, Nice @ The Castle, Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, Litfest and Stepping Stones Nigeria.

• Events take place tonight Friday 16 August 7.30pm – 10pm (free event), Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 August 10am – 5pm (£1 admission charge). More information is available at and or by calling Nice @ The Castle on 01524 848525.

Transport expert warns against 'localisation' of railways

John Whitelegg
Local transport expert Professor John Whitelegg has warned against proposals from Lancashire County Council to get the government to press ahead with plans to hand powers to manage rail franchises to local councils in the north of England, arguing it would make provatised rail even worse than it is now.

Earlier this week, in a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport supporting the proposals, the council arued locally managed rail could boost the economy, and highlighted how Lancashire authorities are already working successfully with the industry.

County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "One of the many opportunities presented by local management of rail would be to ensure future rail development ties in with councils' wider objectives to develop a fully integrated transport system.

"There is potential for rail to - more closely support economic development and transport plans, which could for example mean timetables being better integrated across rail and buses, improving connectivity, and extending opportunities for people to access work or training.

"Councils in Lancashire are already working with the rail industry to deliver this kind of improvement, such as with the reinstatement of the Todmorden Curve to improve links between Manchester and Burnley, and we're well placed to take on greater powers."

But Professor Whitelegg - the visiting Professor of Sustainable Transport at Liverpool John Moores University and Professor of Sustainable Development at University of York's Stockholm Environment Institute - warns that "localisation" would not not solve our rail problems.

"The current rail franchise system is dreadful and needs sweeping away," he told virtual-lancaster, "but handing over the responsibility for dealing with franchises from central government to local governemnt does not solve the problem.

"Rail companies will still 'call the shots' in terms of what they can do for what level of subsidy," he argued, "and will put up the price of fares and it will still cost several arms and legs to re-open stations, build new stations or get a regular 20 minute service between Lancaster and Morecambe with brand new rolling stock. 

The County Council is, admittedly, still cautious about the localisation plans, saying it needs further clarification on how devolution to an organisation provisionally termed Rail North would work.

But they point out other Lancashire successes, including the award-winning Accrington Eco Station, work to increase passenger numbers on community rail lines, and upgrades to the busy Clitheroe to Manchester line.

"In some areas, such as Merseyside, management of transport is already fully integrated," notes County Councillor Fillis, " and it is natural they would have a leading role in any devolution arrangements.

"But we need to ensure that all partners have a level of influence which enables them to deliver improvements and represent their residents, so we're asking the government to carefully consider how this can be achieved."

Rail North has asked all northern Local Transport Authorities to write to the Secretary of State for Transport supporting a business case for devolution being put forward during August.

"The problem for the rail idustry is that is a very fragmented, privatised rail system and this needs sweeping away," feels Professor Whitelegg.  In his book, Broken Rails, Christian Wolmar notes that it now costs 2.5 times in real terms to do anything on the rail system compared with BR days.

"The answer is the ending of privatisation and the railways would be run by a combination of state railways and private railways (as in Denmark and Germany) which guarantees better value for money. And because the state rail company offers a non-profit taking back up function the privatised companies cannot hold us all to ransom.

"There would also be a regional level of government with elected politicians and their job would be to make sure the rail system operates in a way that benefits the whole community and is under democratic control.

"This can’t happen with a county council trying to run a dysfunctional franchise system.  It would be just as bad as it is now."

• John Whitelegg's Sustainable Trasport company, Eco-Logica:

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Morecambe's David Morris MP Announces Summer Tour Events

David Morris MP will again be touring the Morecambe and Lunesdale constituency over the Summer and he's encouraging as many constituents as possible to visit one of his events.

“Last year’s tour was a success and this year I have included more advice surgeries,"  says the MP, whose recent announcements include opposing the closure of Skerton High (see news story) and backing investment in fracking. "My summer tour is a great opportunity to meet as many people as possible.”

The dates are:

Monday 19th August
10am - Drop in Advice Surgery Tesco Carnforth
11.30am - Meet Your MP Event at the George Washington Pub
12.30pm - Meet Your MP Event at Silverdale Post Office
1.15pm - Meet Your MP Event at the Silverdale Hotel
2pm - Drop in Advice Surgery at Silverdale Library
3.30pm - Meet Your MP Event at Over Kellet Village Hall

Tuesday 20th August
10.30am - Meet Your MP Event on the Mobile Library at the Memorial Hall Slyne-with-Hest
12 noon - Meet Your MP Event at the Royal Hotel in Bolton - le- Sands
1.15pm - Meet Your MP Event at Morecambe and Lunesdale Conservative Association, Bare

Wednesday 21st August
10am - Drop in Advice Surgery at Morrisons in Morecambe

Possible questions you could ask are:

Why he voted against raising concerns about waiting times in Accident and Emergency departments?

Voted against a call to not abolish the Agricultural Wages Board, which will affect many of his rural constituents?

• Why is he backing a scurrilously misleading graphic claiming Labour backs unlimited benefits?

• Why is he supporting the ConDems privatisation of the Post Office, which has been a national institution since 1625?<

>• Why did he tell constituents he opposed the controversial badger cull – and then vote for it?<

• You can follow David on Twitter; on Facebook: or visit his web site -

Labour's candidate for Morecambe gets set to challenge David Morris

Amina Lone, recently selected by the members of the Labour Party in Morecambe and Lunesdale to contest the General Election for Labour in 2015, is getting up to speed on the issues facing the seaside town and the rest of her constituency, which includes Skerton where the High School faces possible closure by the County Council.

“I am delighted to have been selected as the Labour candidate for Morecambe and Lunesdale in 2015, says the 41-year-old mother of four children, who is Co-Director of  Manchester-based Social Action and Research Foundation, which co-produces policy with communities to combat poverty.

Labour's candidate – who is also currently one of three Labour Councillors for the Hulme Ward on Manchester City Council – says she's ready to confront sitting MP David Morris on his record.

“Morecambe and Lunesdale has been badly let down by this Tory MP and his Tory Government.

"This Tory MP is willing to stand up for Greek olive oil interests, but not for our local NHS services," she notes. "He’s out-of-touch.

“We need an MP who will put the people of Morecambe and Lunesdale first, who’ll fight to keep our NHS services and look to bring jobs and growth to our area.

Amina has spent 20 years working with under-served communities throughout England and is passionate about empowering people to realise their full potential.

"I will work with Labour Councillors and local businesses to develop a regeneration programme to revitalise Morecambe as an attractive seaside resort," she says. "I will work with other MPs and councils to build a strategic alliance of North West coastal towns to fight for inward investment to create jobs and apprenticeships and boost economic growth.

"I want to hear members of Labour's Shadow Cabinet talking about saving our local hospital in Parliament, not focusing on London," she says. "I will bring senior Labour figures to Morecambe and Lunesdale, I will use my media skills to give our constituency the national attention it deserves and I will champion our seat at every opportunity."

As part her commitment to give back, Amina volunteers with marginalised groups, women's groups, young people's organisations and within working-class communities.

A life-long lover of the arts, she aspires to be a patron of the arts one day.

“I look forward to meeting more people of Morecambe and Lunesdale on the doorstep and listening to their views," she says. "I’ll always do what is best for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

"Tory cuts have hit Morecambe and Lunesdale hard, taking hundreds of pounds out of people’s pockets. I will fight for our most vulnerable residents especially the elderly.

"I will challenge David Morris at every opportunity, on the doorstep and in the local press."
 • Official web site:

Follow Amina on Twitter • On Facebook

Skerton High School: Local MP David Morris opposes closure

(Updated 21st August to correct information about Hornby High): Sitting MP David Morris has announced he will campaign against the closure of the Skerton High Community School, joining oppostion from parents, local councillors and Labour's candidate for the Morecambe and Lunesdale who have also raised concerns at the possibility.

As we previously reported, Lancashire County Council has confirmed it is to consult on the possible closure of Skerton High Community School, citing  low pupil numbers and teaching standards – provoking an angry repsonse from some parents of children at the school.

“I was disappointed that the first I heard of the potential closure was from parents," Mr Morris said in a statement. "It is usual protocol and common courtesy for the County Council to inform the MP. After I wrote to the County Council they have confirmed there is a statutory procedure, the first stage is a consultation that lasts no longer than twelve months and a minimum period of six weeks during term time is recommended.”
Skerton's Labour councillors have begun a campaign to oppse the school's closure, canvassing some parts of the ward to solicit support.

School governor and County Councillor Karen Leytham said she was deeply saddened and frustrated that Lancashire County Council had seen fit to announce the decision to consult on the future of the school immediately prior to the summer holidays.

"This extremely ill-timed decision has caused much anxiety and distress to pupils, parents, staff and governors alike," she said.

Amina Lone, Labour’s candidate in the next General Eelction for Morecambe and Lunesdale, is encouraging affected parents to get invovled in the consultation on the future of Skerton High Community School.

"I am still getting up to speed on Skerton High's proposed closure," Amina Lone told virtual-lancaster, "but I am very keen to encourage as many people as possible to respond to the consultation – residents and parents."

This is not the first time Lancashire County Council has attempted to close Skerton High School. A similar consultation was announced back in 2007 and another one in 2009 when the County Council consulted on the closure of Hornby High School and Skerton High School.

Note: Our original version of this story quoted from David Morris' web site, where it was stated "Hornby High School was later saved when David Morris and the Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove MP intervened." This is not the case. As former head Caroline Jackson told virtual-lancaster, Hornby High was closed as a state school four years ago and is now run as a private school by the Exclusive Brethren Christian group.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Seven arrested in Galgate drugs raids

Seven people have been arrested on suspicion of drugs offences after a number of warrants were executed in Galgate.

Police searched four addresses in Galgate on Wednesday morning (14 August): two on Main Road, one on Chapel Lane and one on Chapel Street.

Four men, aged 20, 21, 22 and 22, and two women, both aged 21, all from Galgate, have been arrested on suspicion of importing a Class B drug and being concerned in the supply of a Class B drug (cannabis resin).

A third woman, aged 20 from Great Harwood, has also been arrested on suspicion of the same offences. All seven people are currently in police custody.

A number of items relating to drugs supply have been seized and enquiries are continuing.

Detective Inspector Bev Foster said: “Today we have taken action to disrupt the activities of those we suspect of being involved in the importation and supply of controlled drugs within the area.

“We have executed a number of warrants under the Misuse of Drugs Act and we hope that this shows residents that we are taking action to deal with the problems that are affecting their neighbourhoods.

“Drugs can blight our communities. Not only do they bring obvious dangers to a person’s health, but they also lead to further anti-social behaviour and crime such as burglary, robbery and car crime, which are often committed to fund a drug habit.

“Today we have acted on intelligence and information is the key – we want people to come forward with their concerns so that we can clamp down on people believed to be involved in drug dealing. If you have any concerns or information about drug dealing in your area please contact us.”

•Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line

University of Cumbria Clearing hotline opens tomorrow

The University of Cumbria opens its Clearing hotline tomorrow (Thursday 15 August) to support students receiving their A Level results.

The call centre opens at 7.00am and will be manned by trained university staff and current students who can offer advice to students on their options.

Guidance will be offered around availability of courses, eligibility, interviews, course details and signposting to other support services.

The university has recruited very well for the 2013/14 year but there are still some spaces left on a range of courses for students who meet the entry requirements.

These limited places are on courses in subject areas including Primary Teaching, Business, Sport, Arts, Outdoors Studies, Policing, Social Work, Psychology, and English.

Helen Fleming, Director of Marketing and Recruitment, said: “Results day is a stressful time for students and parents so if things haven’t gone to plan it is important to remain calm and contact our call centre for guidance or support.

“We have a large team of staff and student ambassadors to help you through this daunting process.”

Course vacancies will be kept up to date on the university website ( and you can follow the university on Twitter (@Uocrecruitment) or Facebook (University of Cumbria) throughout the day.

A number of cash scholarships are also still available. To find out about eligibility visit

The Clearing call centre number (08080 024 024) will be open from 7.00am-7.00pm on Thursday 15 and Friday 16 August, 9.00am-5.00pm on Saturday 17 August and Sunday 18 August, and 9.00am-5.00pm weekdays from Monday 19 August.

There will also be opportunities to visit the university's campuses on Saturday 17th August.

• For more information visit to see top tips for surviving clearing as well as a video to help you through the process.

Carr House Lane attack on cyclist

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forwards after a 38-year old-woman was assaulted by a man as she cycled along a path in Lancaster.

The assault took place between 6pm and 6.15pm on Thursday 8th August on Carr House Lane, near to the Piccadilly garage, when an unknown man has grabbed at the woman’s arm and pulled her off her bike before starting to kick her bike.

The victim kicked out at the man in self-defence and the man then walked off.

The offender is described as a white man, aged late 40's to early 50's, 5ft 7 to 5ft 8 tall with short grey hair and glasses.  He was wearing a suit with a blue shirt and tie and was carrying a rucksack. 

PC Byrony Fell said: “This was an unprovoked assault which has left the victim with bruising to her arm. I’d appeal to anybody that was in the area at the time of the incident that witnessed anything that could assist with our investigation to come forward and call 101.

“I’d also appeal directly to the man involved to contact police so we can establish the circumstances of exactly what has happened.”

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.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Fairhurst Stone fined for planning permission breach

A local businessman has been ordered to pay a fine and costs totalling £11,204.60 after pleading guilty to breaching planning controls.

Edward Fairhurst, 31, of Kirby Lonsdale-based Fairhurst Stone, was served with an Enforcement Notice by Lancaster City Council in 2012 for erecting a large external saw in the business' yard without the benefit of planning permission.

The notice required Fairhurst to remove the saw which was deemed to be causing nuisance and having an impact upon the satisfactory containment of the business' activities within the boundaries of the site.

Fairhurst appealed the Enforcement Notice but this was dismissed by a Government Planning Inspector.

Fairhurst failed to remove the saw within the timeframe allowed by the Planning Inspector and was taken to court as a consequence.

The hearing took place at Kendal Magistrates Court on Thursday 8th August when Fairhurst pleaded guilty and was ordered to pay a £10,000 fine, £1,084.60 costs and a £120 victim surcharge.

Councillor Keith Budden, chairman of the council’s planning committee, said: “Planning permission is not an ‘optional extra’ and is needed to ensure that people do not carry out works which have the potential to have a detrimental effect on the local amenity.

“This case should serve as a warning to other people that the council will have no hesitation in enforcing the law and will take action against those who breach planning controls."

60 years on, Mechanical Elephant marvel returns to Halton Mill

On 31st August 2013, Halton Mill will open as a low carbon enterprise hub and the guest of honour will be Rajah, a seven foot high mechanical elephant who was created there more than 60 years ago.

When Halton Mill was owned by Luneside Engineering, many high specification components were produced within the Mill’s old walls. Perhaps the most original and surreal product were the (almost) life-sized mobile mechanical elephants that Luneside Engineering made from the late 1940s for the tourism firm Macadese Entertainment Ltd. The elephants were powered by 250cc petrol engines, could carry six children and soon became a fixture on the Morecambe promenade.

Luneside Engineering applied its passion for precision to the manufacture of these elephants, using plaster workers from Paris to create a realistic facade to conceal the mechanical innards.

Demand for the elephants grew and soon children all over Britain were enjoying the surreal thrill of riding an elephant down a windy promenade. This demand sometimes took its toll on the patience of the Luneside Engineering staff. Its founder, Mr Benirski, once spent the night in a Portsmouth jail because all the hotels were full.  Each winter elephants returned to Halton Mill for maintenance before returning to the seaside.

Then Britain discovered the joys of the Mediterranean spelling the decline of the great British seaside holiday and of the elephants. Luneside Engineering closed in 2004, and the site was bought a few years later by Lancaster Cohousing for their pioneering eco community.

“We got Halton Mill as part of the deal,” said Chris Coates, one of the original members of Lancaster Cohousing who has managed the renovation of the Mill.  “We decided to create a low carbon workspace for small enterprises, local people, community organisations, freelancers, artists and crafts people, and to give it a community feel.”

One day Chris was talking to a tree-surgeon who said he had been an apprentice at Luneside Engineering. The former apprentice told Chris about the elephants and that a photograph existed of an elephant walking out the Mill’s double doors.

A quick Google search led Chris to the website cyberneticzoo, which provided a brief history of the elephants.

“What was truly exciting was a picture dated from 2010 showing a mechanical elephant used by the Crosby Lions, a charity involved in the Crosby Carnival,” said Chris, “I wondered whether this was one of ours.”

So Chris emailed the Crosby Lions to ask whether they still had the elephant. They did, an elephant called Rajah, but they were uncertain of his history. Chris sent Ivan Swainbank, the Crosby Lions “elephant handler”, patent blueprints for a Luneside elephant, and Ivan confirmed that Rajah was indeed made by the Lancashire firm.

At the end of August, Ivan has agreed to bring Rajah back to his birthplace, as the guest of honour for the official opening of Halton Mill where he will meet both former employees of Luneside Engineering and the future tenants of Halton Mill.

He will also be offering elephant rides, for children aged between 5 and 15 depending on their height. Everyone is welcome to the opening.

• Halton Mill online:

Police appeal for missing Fife man last seen in Morecambe

Officers from the Fife Division of Police Scotland have renewed their appeal for information about a High Valleyfield man who has been missing since 16th July.

Andrew Millar, 66, suffers from a number of medical conditions including angina and diabetes, and his family are now concerned that, even if he took medication with him, that will have now been used up and he is at serious risk of developing complications.

Mr Millar was last seen on 16th July in Morecambe where he had travelled by to train, he has no known connections to there.

Chief Inspector Chris Stones, of Police Scotland’s Fife Division, said: "It is a mystery as to why Mr Millar left his home and travelled to Morecambe, as he had no previous connections with the town.”

"Given his medical conditions, and the need to take regular medication, his family and ourselves are now very concerned for his welfare and I am appealing for anyone who has seen him, or knows where he may be, to call the Police on 101 or tell us anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”

Monday, 12 August 2013

Local Maritime Volunteer Service ask - Have You got a New Motor?

The local Lancashire unit of the national Maritime Volunteer Service charity is urgently seeking help to continue its vital work training people in nautical skills and assisting emergency service in Morecambe Bay.

Morecambe Bay MVS use their skills and equipment to assist our local community, but now they're looking to see if anyone out there might be able to help them.

"The engine on our unit vessel is getting rather old and tired, and whilst it's good practice for our members to keep tinkering with it, we've got big ambitions and ideally need a new engine to fulfill them," explains a spokesperson

"Our current 40hp engine is over 40 years old and suitable for river work but a newer, more reliable, and more powerful engine would allow us to take part in more varied events around the Bay - assisting in conservation, training, patrols and increase our partnership working to he more involved with organisations like Bay SAR, Morecambe Bay Partnership and NCI.

"A new engine will cost in the region of £6000. If you have a spare second-hand 50-60hp outboard engine, or can help us to finance a new one, then please get in touch with us at and help us to help your community."

For more information visit the Morecambe Bay MVX web site ( or follow them on Twitter

Fill a gap in the market for free

Ever fancied having a go at running your own small business but don’t know where to start?

Lancaster City Council is inviting budding local entrepreneurs to give running your own business a try with the offer of free pitches on Lancaster’s historic Charter Market.

Lancaster's bustling Charter Market can be found along a number of pedestrianised streets in the heart of Lancaster City Centre every Wednesday and Saturday from 9.00am to 4.30pm.

Throughout September and October, an opportunity awaits anyone wishing to sample running their own business or wanting to test their ideas in a market trader environment. Perhaps you can bring a unique craft to the market or add a new and interesting commodity to the range of products already found amongst more than 40 stalls currently trading on some some of the city's busiest streets.

Anyone wishing to take up the offer will also be able to tap into the expertise of established traders as well as benefit from both regular customers to the market and those visiting Lancaster for the day to combine shopping with sightseeing.

"Lancaster’s historic Charter Market will give local budding entrepreneurs a real taste of what it’s like to be their own boss and to run their own business in a busy outdoor environment," says Councillor Jon Barry, Cabinet member with responsibility for markets.

"As well as being popular with local people, the market also benefits from those visiting Lancaster for the day and we are delighted to be able to give people the opportunity to bring something fresh to the market as well as to provide what might prove to be the first step on the ladder to a successful career running a small business."

Applicants must not have traded on the Charter Market in the last two years. Commodities currently represented on the market or widely available in City centre shops will not be considered. The offer is limited to two free pitches per applicant (one Wednesday and one Saturday in any one week) and is dependent on availability. Applicants must provide their own stalls and gazebos. The council reserves the right to refuse applications for this offer without explanation.

• More information and a registration form is available at Alternatively you can call the Markets Office on 01524 414251 or send an email to

Police appeal for witnesses after woman's body found on Morecambe beach

Detectives are appealing for witnesses after the body of a 51 year old woman was found on the beach at Morecambe at 5.30am on Saturday morning (10th August 2013)

The woman was discovered by a passer by just beneath the high tide line on the beach near to the Clock Tower. Officers believe the woman, now identified as being Susan Alston from Lancaster, had been out with friends in Morecambe on the evening of Friday 9th August 2013.

"This has been an absolutely tragic incident for all involved," said Detective Superintendent Neil Esseen who is leading the investigation.

"Following a number of enquiries, we are happy that there was no third party involvement in Susan's death and so, although police are continuing to investigate, it is not being treated as suspicious in anyway. We are however still trying to piece together exactly how Susan came to be in the water, so I would continue urge anyone who saw her in the early hours of Saturday morning in the area to contact us."

Susan is described as being white, around 5’2 with fair hair. She was wearing black trousers, black wedge platform shoes, a blue ‘sparkly’ top and a beige jacket. 

Anyone with any information is asked to contact police on 101.