Saturday, 26 October 2013

Gagging Law backed by local MPs reaches House of Lords

The House of Lords have started to debate the controversial "gagging law" we reported on earlier this year, which in its current form will put a stranglehold on campaign groups in the run up to a General Election.

Backed by both local MPs (see news story), a huge range of campaign groups including the Countryside Alliance, Christian Aid and the Guide Dogs for theBlind are among those who argue  Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill is a law that would mean ordinary people, campaigning groups and charities would be severely restricted in how they can campaign in the year before an election. 

The bill was rushed through the House of Commons at breakneck speed, without any of the normal public consultation, and although there was a big rebellion, it wasn’t enough to stop it. Groups that include the Royal British Legion and Oxfam have called for the government to stop and rethink the bill, currently to little avail.

With this in mind, dozens of charities and campaign organisations have now set up an independent commission to do the research that the government should have done in the first place.

The Commission on Civil Society and Democratic Engagement has been holding evidence sessions up and down the country listening to how the gagging law will affect a huge range of campaign organisations and charities.  Now they want to hear from you too.

Have a look at the short survey telling the commissioners what you think about freedom of speech and campaigning on 38 Degrees, or contact them via

You don’t have to be an expert to answer any of the questions. You just need to tell the commission what you think.

The government has, so far, declined to involve itself in this charity-led initiative. Earlier this month Andrew Lansley MP, Leader of the House of Commons and the Minister leading the Transparency in Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill,  declined to give evidence to the Commission. This also meant that Tom Brake MP, who had agreed to give evidence to the Committee,  subsequently been withdrawn from giving evidence by Lansley.

Angela Eagle, Shadow Leader of the House, Graham Allen, Chair of the Political and Constitutional Select Committee, and Hywel Francis MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights gave evidence on Monday 14th October.

Previous Stories

Gagging Bill backed by local MPs passes to 'Report Stage' 

Local Tory MPs back "Gagging Bill", Third Reading next week, protest tomorrow in Lancaster

Friday, 25 October 2013

Assembly Rooms: Council outlines past promotion, clarifies 'tea room' option

The Council is considering changes to Lancaster's Assembly Rooms which might see a change of use from a Collectors' Market to a tea rooms, despite the number of existing commercial cafes in town and the precarious nature of the services sector, evidenced by recent restaurant and other closures (see news story).

The Assembly Rooms has been a Collectors Market since 1984, when traders who originally had stalls on the old Lancaster Market balcony moved into the building after the disastrous fire.

After talking to traders in the Assembly Rooms and reading the report that will be presented to City Cabinet on 5th November proposing a variety of alternative uses for the lower floor of the listed building, virtual-lancaster asked the Council about promotion for the existing Collectors' Market.

virtual-lancaster: How much has been spent directly on marketing the Assembly Rooms as a single entity over the past 18 months?

Lancaster City Council: It is difficult to quantify an exact figure as the Assembly Rooms has been marketed as part of the wider Lancaster ‘offer’ and alongside other facilities (such as the Charter Market) rather than individually. To achieve the greatest value for money the council's existing communications channels are prioritised, alongside the use of 'free' media (as referred to below).

A range of marketing activity has been undertaken, using the existing council marketing channels.  The main cost of this is officer time.

Examples include press releases, a feature and mentions in issues of District Matters, the council magazine (distributed to approx 58, 000 households), promotion at student events such as this year’s fresher's fair ( a student discount offer runs throughout October)

We've also promoted via improved dedicated website page - and via various tourism marketing channels such as the tourism site -

The Assembly Rooms has also been promoted via social media. A Facebook page for the market is currently being set up and the Assembly Rooms will feature in the district’s 2014 accommodation guide.

We have also encouraged traders to engage in the council’s Visit Card incentive scheme.

However, whilst the council provides markets in terms of space and environment and promotes their existence, it is also the nature and quality of the individual businesses which determine the success of a market.

virtual-lancaster: Can you explain for our readers the concerns the Council has about the existing offering?

Lancaster City Council: The current offer at the Assembly Rooms is a confused one with no clear customer profile or target market.  It is for this reason,  on reviewing its market provision,  that the council commissioned research to be done on the current offer and identify any other options and opportunities.

virtual-lancaster: Has the Council marketed the Assembly Rooms as a 'Collectors Market' to specialist web sites, specialist press etc?

Lancaster City Council: Yes - The Assembly Rooms has been advertised on the Antiques, Collectables and Memorabilia website.  The Assembly Rooms is also advertised in the Market Trader Year Book  and listed on the Visit Lancashire website.

virtual-lancaster: Regarding the consultation on the building's current state and possible change of use, we don't recall this being the subject of online consultation. Was it?

Lancaster City Council: The exercise carried out evaluated the existing usage of the Assembly Rooms, by talking to shoppers and consumers in and around the Assembly Rooms. This included opportunities for research participants to consider what alternative uses the building might employ, including suggestions of a tea-room, food market, arts and craft gallery, collectables market, and living Georgian Museum.

This led to the concept of a food emporium, which was subsequently tested in a second phase of the research, again with shoppers and consumers in Lancaster. This identified the resulting proposal, including a high quality tearooms which celebrates the history and heritage of both the building and Lancaster, along with a high quality food delicatessen, with possible opportunity for a small range of local quality gifts.

Based on this exercise, we have a sound basis to consider developing the proposal.  However, it does appear from your article that you have misrepresented this point.

We're not quite sure what the Council's spokesperson means by their last comment.

We stand by the concerns we've raised as regards the feasibility of a tea rooms and feel current traders have raised valid concerns about the consultation's findings.

The agenda for Cabinet on Tuesday, 5th November 2013 at 10.00 a.m is here

Future of the Assembly Room Report (PDF)

Future of the Assembly Room - Consultation Document outlining various alternative proposals and issues for the existing Market (PDF)

We are happy to clarify our original reporting on refurbishment works which took place in March on the Assembly Rooms which the Council argues was "factually incorrect".

"The council did undertake refurbishment works in March to repair the ceiling of the building," says the Council's spokesperson, "but at the same time decided to make some aesthetic improvements including repainting the interior of the ground floor of the building which significantly improved the appearance of it for the benefit of traders and customers as well as significantly adding to the cost of the works."

We are happy to make this clear and have amended our earlier story to include a note of this work.

Appeal after cables are cut in Lancaster

Police are appealing for information after a number of telephone and satellite cables were cut outside homes in Lancaster.

The most recent offence took place in the early hours of Monday 21st October when someone has approached the front of terraced property on Ford Street and cut through the wire from the satellite dish causing a disruption to the television service.

The previous week a resident on Lune Street awoke on Monday 14th October to discover their Sky and telephone wires had been cut, along with two residents on Furness Street who had their telephone wires cut.

Police are also investigating a report of cables for a cooling system being cut at Lancaster Cricket Club sometime between 18th and 21st October.

Sergeant Guy Hamlett said: “We believe these incidents are all linked and would appeal to anybody with any information that could assist with our investigation to call police on 101,

“Not only have these incidents caused considerable inconvenience to the residents affected, I also have grave concerns that someone, including the person responsible, could inadvertently cut a mains electricity cable and be electrocuted.

“Patrols have been stepped up in the area and officers will be conducting stop checks, together with searches of any suspicious persons.”

Anyone with any information about this incident should contact 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.

Countdown begins to Light Up Lancaster

Lancaster’s skies and streets are set to light up with fireworks and an animated arts event like no other.
The four day Light Up Lancaster festival will feature Light Up The Streets on 1st November 1 – and culminate with the city’s fireworks spectacular, Light Up The Skies on 2nd  November.

Light Up The Streets, brought to the city by Lancaster Arts Partners, will animate the city’s beautiful buildings and squares with music, dance, theatre and digital wizardry. This free event, which can be started at any of the various city centre locations, takes place from 6pm-9.15pm.

Among the highlights will be large-scale moving projections in Lancaster Castle Courtyard; the Tower of Salvation in Dalton Square; a musical exploration of the city’s history by young people in Sun Square; a dynamic dance performance with light installations in Market Square and a unique illuminated display of 40 new poems in Lancaster Library.

Information on all the events will be relayed on television screens in shop windows throughout the city centre or Light Up The Streets guides will be available from the stewards.

Lancaster city centre is also the place to be on 2nd November for a range of family friendly events in the run-up to Light Up The Skies, the free annual fireworks spectacular organised by Lancaster City Council.

Fireworks will be launched from the top of Lancaster Castle at 8.00pm and a wristband system will be in place again this year for the two official viewing areas at Quay Meadow and Giant Axe. The deadline for registration for access into these two major viewing areas has now passed and wristbands are being distributed.

Both sites will include refreshments and entertainment and BBC Radio Lancashire will be broadcasting live from Quay Meadow from 7pm with a special programme of co-ordinated music on 104.5FM.

Giant Axe will include fundraising activities in aid of St John's Hospice, Lancaster which many local people will wish to support.

Although the fireworks will be visible from almost anywhere in the city that can see the castle and the accompanying music heard by tuning in to Radio Lancashire, there are three additional official viewing areas which do not require passes.

• Salt Ayre Leisure Centre
• Millennium Bridge and the cycle path alongside the River Lune (opposite St. George's Quay)
• Williamson Park
The Council is reminding onlookers that alcohol and fireworks (including sparklers) cannot be brought to the five official viewing areas.

As in previous years, the castle and priory precinct will be closed during the display.

Free parking is available at the Marketgate Car Park for the Friday and Saturday evening events from 6pm to 9pm.
For the full Light Up Lancaster experience, the Lune Aqueduct is the place to be on the evenings of 29th and 30th October for the festival’s launch event which is now fully booked.

Light Up The Waterways will see aerial artists, wandering magicians, dancers, musicians and stiltwalkers perform against the backdrop of the 18th century Grade 1 listed landmark three times each night at 7.15pm, 8pm and 8.45pm.

The event should be accessed from the city centre via the riverside cycle and pathway where the audience will be met by stewards and issued with tickets.

If you would like to be a volunteer steward for any of the Light Up Lancaster festival events, email Training will be given but previous experience of stewarding and/or a friendly, sensible attitude is sought.

• Light Up Lancaster programmes are available online at or from Lancaster and Morecambe Visitor Information Centres and town halls

Council's bright idea for Lancaster's Assembly Rooms - a tea room

(Updated): The future of the trading area in Lancaster’s historic Assembly Rooms will be discussed by the city council’s Cabinet on Tuesday 5th November, with plans on the table to turn it into a tea room and ditch its unique but poorly managed "Collectors' Market" identity.

The ground floor of this 18th Century Grade 2 listed building on King Street in Lancaster currently acts as a market trading hall selling what the Council describes as an "eclectic" mix of items.

The building was originally used as a social space for Alms House residents, possibly including dancing and social activities. It was also thought to have once been a customs house. Until Mitre House was built it was the local JobCentre.

LUDUS Dance, who moved in during the 1980s, currently occupies the upstairs rooms of the building, on a ten year contract signed in 2008. The market was originally established downstairs to host traders whose stalls were destroyed in the fire that brought an end to the original Lancaster Market in 1984.

Traders include First Age Comics, which has run many events encouraging footfall, who operate alongside stalls selling vintage and retro clothing, jewellery and accessories, costume hire, tv/film memorabilia, war gaming and hobby supplies.

A small cafe - currently closed - nestles in the back of the Rooms.

The Council claims that in working to establish the council’s market offer in the district and looking at how to increase the number of visitors "it has become evident that despite improvements being made to the Assembly Rooms market earlier this year, the market continues to experience a high turnover of traders."

In its press release, the Council singularly fails to mention it had to make refurbishments back in March as a matter largely of public safety rather than for marketing reasons.

In a statement in reponse to the original version of this story they told virtual-lancaster

"The council did undertake refurbishment works in March to repair the ceiling of the building but at the same time decided to make some aesthetic improvements including repainting the interior of the ground floor of the building which significantly improved the appearance of it for the benefit of traders and customers as well as significantly adding to the cost of the works."

Various options for the future of the lower floor will be discussed by the Council's Cabinet  – but it's clear that council officers feel that maintaining the venue as a Collectors' Market is not viable.

At this stage, Cabinet is being asked to consider the development of a business case for a possible alternative trading use for the ground floor of the Assembly Rooms as a tea room/food emporium. If approval is given and once a business case is developed, a further report will be brought back to Cabinet for a final decision to be made.

The tea room proposal is inspired by similar ventures such as Betty's Tea Rooms in Harrogate, Davenport Tea Rooms in Northwich and, closer to home, Honeywells Farm Shop at Barton Grange.

The proposal - based on a favourable response to the idea from just 29 people of 82 surveyed in a report by marketing consultancy firm Cairn, costing £2000 - comes as the Council also considers the future of its cafe in Williamson Park, and is the most detailed proposal in the report, despite the large number of tea rooms already in business in Lancaster.

The Council says the report, which was conducted outside term time and includes responses from just eight students, was compiled using money from within a budget allocated to reviewing and improving the council’s markets.

Expert help was used to review what people think and know about the Assembly Room at present, and how they might like to see it used in the future – but only 82 people (the minimum requirement, we're told, for a 'reperesentative sample') responded to the survey and a spokesperson for First Age Comics alone told us that despite the venue's low footfall, it had more customers than the 29 who had backed the tea room idea proposed.

“The Council recognises the value of its markets," claimed Mark Davies, Chief Officer (Environment), perhaps forgetting Lancaster's own market has been closed for over a year with no sign of any new tennants. "This year £50,000 was set aside this year to help make improvements.

"In addition in this year a significant amount of money has been spent on improving the interior of the Assembly Rooms," he claimed, although as we note above much of that was necessary repair work to make the building safe for public use.

"The council has also devoted much time and effort to help attract visitors via various campaigns publicised in the local media and on the website," claims Mr Davies. "Unfortunately this had little impact in terms of turnover of stalls or visitor numbers at the Assembly Rooms."

Existing traders are understandably concerned by the proposed change of use, and Mark Braithwaite, owner of First Age Comics, will be making a presentation to the Cabinet meeting to argue the case for retaining or enhancing the existing "Collectors Market" provision.

"Personally, I contest the findings of the report strongly, said Mark. "They claim the businesses in the Assembly Rooms are in decline and that footfall is down, and yet we've experienced growth year on year.

"There are problems with the building but those are, largely, down to the fact that it hasn't been operated as professionally as it deserves to be. The Council could have actively pursued start up businesses and forged connections with Business Link, the Prince's Trust and Lancaster University Business School. Despite us suggesting this, year on year, they've never actually gone through with it."

Lynn, who owns the BBE Babette clothes stall told virtual-lancaster: "I've been here for about 20 years and I feel there is a future for the Assembly Rooms as a Collectors' Market to house not only vintage clothes but for antiques, collectables, comics and crafts. That has always been the view of the people that shop here."

virtual-lancaster also asked one local coffee shop for their opinion on the opening of a Tea Rooms, and was told the building's location "on the wrong side of the one way system" had to be considered. They pointed out the current problems the existing and previous cafe owners have had attracting customers.

“The Assembly Rooms is a historically important building and if it can be used better," argues Mr Davies. "It is only right that we discuss whether or not we should further explore other options for the future use of the building which might prove more attractive to both local people and visitors to the district.”

Until any decision is made to change the use of the ground floor of the building, the Assembly Rooms Market will remain open for business.

The agenda for Cabinet on Tuesday, 5th November 2013 at 10.00 a.m is here

Future of the Assembly Room Report (PDF)

Future of the Assembly Room - Consultation Document outlining various alternative proposals and issues for the existing Market (PDF)

Silverdale Hoard exhibition opens at Lancaster City Museum

Part of the Silverdale Hoard

A major collection of Viking silver that was buried for over 1,000 years goes on display at Lancaster City Museum from today.

The exhibition, called 'The Silverdale Hoard – The Story so Far', runs from Friday 25th October until Saturday 21st December. The exhibition showcases the remarkable hoard in the condition in which it was discovered and is accompanied by a full programme of family-friendly events starting on Saturday 26th October, detailed below.

Known as the Silverdale Hoard, the collection is made up of more than 200 items believed to date from around 900 AD. The pieces include beautifully crafted jewellery together with coins from several Viking kingdoms of Britain, from Europe and even Arabia.

Also included are 141 fragments of arm-rings and ingots which had been chopped into smaller pieces. These are known as hacksilver, which the Vikings used as money.

The hoard had been buried in a lead pouch under a field in Silverdale, where it was discovered by a local metal detectorist in September 2011. The following December it was declared Treasure in line with the Treasure Act 1996. It was later valued at nearly £110,000.

Following the valuation, staff from Lancashire County Council's museum service, supported by colleagues at Lancaster City Council, made successful bids for funds from national arts and heritage organisations to buy the hoard and make sure it stays in the county.

The hoard has been acquired by Lancashire County Council's museums service thanks to a grant of £45,000 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which aims to save the most significant and outstanding parts of our heritage for the nation, along with £33,000 from the Art Fund and £18,000 from the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund.

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, said: "This superb exhibition in Lancaster will be the first chance for everyone to see one of the largest collections of Viking silver ever found in Britain.

"I should like to thank our museum staff, together with our colleagues at the city council, for their hard work and their commitment to keeping this historically important collection here in Lancashire.

"We are especially grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Victoria and Albert Purchase Grant Fund without whose generous support, none of this would have been possible. Our exhibition has also received support from the Art Fund and The Headley Trust."

Councillor Ron Sands, Lancaster City Council's cabinet member with responsibility for leisure, culture and tourism, added: “The Silverdale Hoard is a unique reminder of our rich heritage. It gives us a fascinating glimpse into the history of the district.

“I’m delighted that this exhibition is taking place at Lancaster City Museum. I would urge everyone to take up this fabulous opportunity to visit this wonderful local find while it is available to vie! w right here on our doorstep."

Dame Jenny Abramsky, Chair of NHMF, said: “This is wonderful news for Lancashire and the nation. The Silverdale Hoard offers a unique window into the lives and craftsmanship of the Vikings who inhabited Lancashire over 1,000 years ago. The National Heritage Memorial Fund exists to make sure historic gems such as this are not lost from this country and so our trustees felt it was vital it should be saved for future generations to learn from and enjoy.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “As one of the largest Viking hoards to be discovered in Britain, this collection comprising! 200 items of silver coins, jewellery and ingots is not only important for Lancashire, but for the nation as a whole.

"Now part of the museum's collection, we are pleased to have supported the acquisition and an imaginative engagement programme that will enable the local community as well as the region’s many visitors to celebrate and learn about Viking culture in the north west.”

Julia Brettell, V&A National and Grants Officer, said: "The V&A Purchase Grant Fund is pleased to support the acquisition of the Silverdale Hoard, as it will enable Lancashire County Council's museum service to tell the story of the people of north Lancashire and Cumbria during the pivotal Viking period."

After previewing in Lancaster, the hoard will move to its permanent home at the Museum of Lancashire in Preston. It will then be on show from 15th February 7th December 2014, before further research and conservation work takes place.

• Lancaster City Museum is managed by Lancashire County Council on behalf of the city council. Opening times are 10.00am to 5.00pm, Monday to Saturday. Admission is free. For more information about events and activities visit or phone the museum on 01524 64637

Tie In Events

The Vikings come alive
Saturday 26 October
11-12.30pm, 1-2.30pm and 3-4pm
To mark the opening of the exhibition our Viking re-enactors will be on hand to give you a taste of what life was like. They will be reproducing coins similar to those in the Hoard, doing some tapestry work and talking about the food the Vikings ate. There will be the chance for you to get involved too with hands on activities, including braiding.
Admission Free. Drop in

Viking Early Years session
Friday 15th November
Join us for this pre school activity aimed at 3-5 year olds. Our Viking will be telling you the story of Hiccup, and with activities and singing too this will be one not to miss.
Admission Free. Drop In

Sven's the name… invasion's the game
Saturday 16th November
11-12.30pm, 1-2.30pm and 3-4pm
Meet Sven our Viking warrior as he takes you on a hands on journey exploring Viking weapons and battle tactics. Handle Viking weaponry and if the gods favour you, maybe you can stand in the famous Viking shield wall.
Admission Free. Drop In

Warriors of the Sea
Saturday 23rd November
11-12.30pm, 1-2.30pm and 3-4pm
 Join Sven our Viking warrior as he guides you through a hands on experience exploring Viking navigation, exploration and longboats. Learn to use a sun compass and make a Viking Longboat.
Admission Free. Drop In

Olaf: The Teller of Tales
Saturday 30th November
11-12.30pm, 1-2.30pm and 3-4pm
Come and join Olaf the saga teller in this hands on and immersive session. Learn all about Viking life, handle Viking artefacts and then sit and listen to Olaf as he tells the tales of his people.
Admission Free. Drop in

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Salt Ayre Sports Centre services under review, Butterfly House future uncertain as cuts bite

Uncertain future ahead for Council services. Photo: Lancaster City Council
Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet is to receive proposals for reviewing a number of the council’s services as it looks to tackle its bleak financial future, including Salt Ayre Sports Centre and facilities in Williamson Park.

Although no decisions have yet been made, the area's already much-curtailed events programme is also under further threat as Government continues to cut back on council funding.

The council is faced with having to make estimated annual savings of £3.5million by 2015/16 due to Government funding reductions and is looking at all of its service areas to identify where savings can be made.

At its meeting on Tuesday 5th November Cabinet will be asked to approve proposals to review three of the council’s service areas:

Salt Ayre Sports Centre and Leisure Services

A review will investigate the current provision at the sports centre and how savings can be made, as well as the longer term future of the sports centre and community pools.

The review would include options to reduce the amount of subsidy required to run the centre by generating ongoing savings.  In 2013/14 it is estimated that the cost of running the centre will be £971,200 and options will be developed for efficiency savings and service reductions.

Options will also be developed for alternative delivery models.  As well as keeping the centre in-house, this could include partnering with a private operator, charitable body, social enterprise or creating a leisure trust.

Management of parks, open spaces and public realm
The management of parks and open spaces would be merged with the council’s Environmental Services department, creating efficiency savings by removing duplication, and economies of scale. 

Options will also be developed for considering the future of Williamson Park’s café and Butterfly House.

Regeneration and Planning (including communications, marketing, tourism and events)

Specific areas to be reviewed will include the provision of events, the district’s Visitor Information Centres, communications and marketing activity, as well the impact of not providing officer time to support regeneration projects and economic development.

Councillor Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Without a doubt this is the toughest challenge we have ever faced and we have to look at every area of our budget. Over the coming weeks and months we will be looking at further areas where we can make savings and by the end of the process there will be no area of the council that has not been reviewed.

“I have to stress that at this stage no firm decisions have been taken on any of the service areas – we are simply asking for more work to be done and a series of options developed for us to look at further.

“But I also have to be clear that the options will need to be radical and lead to large scale savings.  We have to take decisive action if we are to set a balanced budget.”

Appeal after cyclist injured in Morecambe

Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward after a cyclist suffered extensive injuries after being involved in a collision with a car in Morecambe on Wednesday night (23rd October 2013).

The 44 year old pedal cyclist from Heysham was travelling along Fairfield Road toward the junction with Oxcliffe Road when she has been involved in a collision with a Vauxhall Insignia.

She sustained suspected head injuries and extensive bruising across her body and was taken to Royal Lancaster Infirmary where she was detained overnight.

Sergeant Tracey Ward said: “I would appeal to anybody that witnessed this collision or with any information that could assist with our investigation to contact Lancashire Police on 101.”

A road closure was put in place for two hours to allow accident investigation to take place.

Phil Halsall leaves role as chief executive of Lancashire County Council

The employment of Lancashire County Council's chief executive, Phil Halsall, has been terminated by mutual consent following an investigation into possible large-scale corruption at the heart of the County Council. The outcome of the investigation is not yet known.

Mr Halsall joined the county council in 2009 as executive director of resources and took up the role of chief executive in 2011, but in August he was suspended from work pending the outcome of a disciplinary investigation.

His leaving comes after an investigation was launched into how a fleet maintenance contract was given to BT, which runs Lancashire's One Connect IT network, as it does the very similar 'Liverpool Direct' (LDL) contract awarded when Mr Halsall was Finance Director for Liverpool City Council.

Part of the disciplinary investigation that was being conducted into Phil Halsall also focused on who authorised payments of more than half a million pounds to LDL boss David McElhinney, who was also acting as chief executive of One Connect. The payments were made without the knowledge of Lancashire’s county treasurer Gill Kilpatrick and were referred to Lancashire Police when they came to light.

According to the Liverpool Echo,  former county Tory leader Geoff Driver, the man behind the One Connect deal to save £400m over 10 years, disputed the need to reveal the payments. However Ms Kilpatrick said government rules on disclosing executives’ salary left her no choice but to reveal them publicly.

Mr Halsall said, "The decision to leave has not been an easy one. I want to take the opportunity to say how much I have enjoyed my time in Lancashire."

The Leader of Lancashire County Council, Jennifer Mein said, "I would like to take this opportunity to wish Mr Halsall the best of luck for the future."

VL has asked Lancashire County Council to comment on the current status of the investigation into Mr Halsall, into the BT/One Connect tendering process and into the payments made to Mr McElhinney and we await their response.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

10 tips for a warmer winter in Lancashire

As if it wasn't obvious from the pouring rain, leaves on the pavements (cleared up more slowly these days - have the Council cut back on street cleaning?) winter is on its way.

 Even though it is still relatively warm, a snap of bad weather could be just around the corner and it's a worrying fact that in Lancashire alone last year, over 500 people died because of winter-related illnesses. There were also more than 45,500 emergency hospital admissions.

These figures are much higher than the national average but there are ways people can help those they look after and Lancashire County Council is urging people to take simple steps to protect elderly friends and relatives and those they care for against the cold.

County Councillor Lorraine Beavers, lead member for health, said: "People are always going to be affected by illnesses in the winter months more than at other times of year, particularly if they are elderly or have other health concerns.

"However, the number of deaths related to winter illness and emergency hospital admissions are higher than the national average here in Lancashire. That's why we want to encourage people to do all they can to help friends, relatives, neighbours and those they care for to keep healthy in the winter months.

"There are simple things you can do to help. Keeping warm is the most important. People are also concerned about heating costs which is understandable, but there are steps you can take to save money on heating bills."

These 10 tips can help you keep yourself and the people you look after warm over the winter months:

Heating your home

As a general guide, living rooms need to be around 21 degrees C, and bedrooms around 19 degrees C. Of course, the huge increases in utility bills might make this impossible, but a change of government, but if you can afford to turn your central heating on then it's a good idea to check heating systems are working properly before the cold weather sets in.

Insulating your home

Loft insulation can save up to £180 and cavity wall insulation can save up to £140 a year on your bills. Grants are available from utility companies. Call your gas or electricity company or speak to Help Direct Lancashire to find out more.

Keep moving

It's important to keep moving, even if you're housebound. People who have difficulty walking can also exercise in a chair. (Of course, leaving your house in icy conditions may not be an option, especially as pavements have usually left as ice rinks in sub zero conditions by cash-strapped local councils. Buy salt and cat litter now to scatter on your front step).

Wrap up

Make sure you or the people you look after wrap up before going out in bad weather. Several layers are better than one thick layer.

Flu Jab

It's important for everyone in an 'at risk' group to get a flu jab – this could mean you as well as the people you look after. Check with your doctor if you need more information.

Eat for heat

Eat for warmth, regular hot meals and drinks provide both warmth and energy.

Look for financial help

Make sure you are receiving all the financial support you are entitled to, which will help towards heating bills. Contact Help Direct for more information.

Keep an eye on the weather

Make sure you check the weather forecast regularly.

Be prepared

It's a good idea to keep a range of basic food, including vegetables, in the freezer and cupboards – and don't forget to stock up on pet food!

Keep a couple of bottles of clean water in storage in case of frozen pipes. Ensure you have a good supply of all the medication you take each day plus basic cough and cold remedies. Keep a snow shovel, rock salt, torch, spare batteries and a first aid kit handy.

Keep in contact

Look out for friends, family relatives or neighbours who may be more vulnerable to the cold, especially if they have long-term medical conditions.

• For more information about preparing for the winter, call Help Direct on 0303 333 1111

Imran Yusuf, Raymond Mearns headline Lancaster Comedy Club

Imran Yusuf
This Sunday sees Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow's Imran Yusuf open the latest Lancaster Comedy Club show with a long overdue return of the venue's favourite Raymond Mearns to close the show

If you were a fan of Peter Kay's Phoenix Nights then we have both Archie Kelly and Steve Royle here in November and other acts to look out for include Channel 4's Rob Rouse and 'Borscht belt' superstar Sol Bernstein.

• You can see all our line ups for the next few months at as well as biogs and video clips of the acts

Appeal after collision in Garstang supermarket car park

(Updated): Police are appealing for information after a collision on a supermarket car park in Garstang yesterday.

The male driver of a Toyota Avensis, who was from Cabus, has sadly passed away at Royal Preston Hospital earlier today.

The collision happened at around 12.10pm in the afternoon (22nd October) when a Honda Civic and the Toyota collided on Booths car park on Park Hill Road.

It is believed that the Toyota driver, who was in his mid 60s, may have fallen ill at the wheel but officers are appealing to anyone who witnessed what happened to come forward.

After the accident he was taken through to hospital in a critical condition. The driver of the Honda was unhurt.

Sergeant Dave Hogarth from the Road Policing Unit said, “I am keen to hear from anyone who was in the car park at the time and witnessed what happened to contact police on 101 quoting log number LC-20131022-0468.

Pet shop boy has money snatched in Lancaster

Police are appealing for information after a young boy had money stolen from him as he was about to enter a shop in Lancaster.

At around 3.30pm on Thursday 17th October, the 13-year-old boy was about to walk into ‘The Animal Zone’ on Ullswater Road in Lancaster carrying a £5 note when a young man approached him snatched the money out of his hand and ran away.

The offender, described as a white man, of slim build, around 20 years of age, dressed in black jogging bottoms and a grey hooded top then ran off towards Moor Lane.

Officers investigating are appealing for any witnesses to come forward

PC Nikki Kay said, “This was clearly upsetting for the young boy and we are very keen to trace the person responsible. If anyone has any information then I would ask them contact us on 101 and quoting log number LC-20131017-0882.”

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, 22 October 2013

First Age Comics Hallowe'en Comicfest!

Lancaster's very own comic shop, First Age Comics, will be celebrating Hallowe'en on Saturday (yes - they know they're slightly early!).

The annual First Age Comics Halloween Comicfest celebration starts at 10.00am in the Assembly Rooms on King Street. There are plenty of free comics up for grabs, a selection of candy treats and many, many costumed characters coming along for the fun.

The comic selection this year includes Batman: Li'l Gotham, Ultimate Spider-Man Adventures, a Cartoon Network Sampler, Adventure Time, Itty Bitty Hellboy, My Little Pony and many more. Something fun for all the family.

Get along (in costume or not) and have a spooktacular time!

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Local Mums Do Know What’s Best when it comes to MENDing kids' diets

Dee, Sam and Zoe
Local teenagers Sam and Zoe Heron, age 14 and 11, Ryan Cooke age 12 and Lewis Ellison age 14 are pupils with a lot in common. They all started high school with a much healthier future, thanks to the tough (and unpopular at times) decisions made by their mums –
Dee, Gemma and Diane.

In November, more parents are being encouraged to make the same positive choices at a special free event at Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

Over the last three years, they and their families have participated in the MEND healthy weight management course designed for youngsters aged seven – 13 at YMCAs across the North Lancashire and they are the living proof of the positive impact their mums hard decisions have made.

Dee Heron’s children Sam and Zoe graduated from the free 10 week course held back in January 2012. Dee says: “It was hard to acknowledge that we needed advice and guidance about what we were all eating and our lifestyle. My children needed to be a healthier weight and more active and I knew I had to do something for them both before it was too late.”

The British Heart Foundation’s latest UK figures released in August 2013 stated that in 2011/12 36% of boys and 32% of girls age 10 – 11 were obese or overweight. Locally this breaks down to 30% of year six children being either overweight (15%) or obese (15%) in the Lancaster area.

Diane and Lewis
In April 2011, Diane Ellison was already taking action to make sure her son Lewis was not included in any more childhood obesity statistics. And Lewis’ healthy achievements on graduation of the 10 week programme are testament to this. Lewis lost 1.6kg in weight and his recovery heart rate improved by 14 beats per minute.

Two and half years on, Lewis now 14 is making Diane very proud: “The sessions did a lot of good for Lewis’ health but also for him personally. He had become more conscious of his weight and I thought he would take more notice of the advice from someone else. He takes more of an interest in food now and fully understands the need to eat healthily.

"He plays rugby and has joined his local YMCA to train in the gym. He’s realised even more the impact that a balanced diet has on his health and energy levels.”

Steve Brown, YMCA’s MEND Co-ordinator explains: “MEND which stands for Mind, Exercise, Nutrition, Do It! helps families make small changes to their lifestyle that improves their health in the long-term. MEND encourages children to be more active by giving them the opportunity to try out new activities in a fun and supportive environment. The programme helps children to become more confident, healthier and happier.”

The MEND sessions cover a wide range of subjects, presented in an interactive and informative way. Together families learn a simple method of how to understand the nutrition labels on food packaging, kids get a chance to try some new foods at the Fabulous Food Fest and a tour of a local supermarket gives families a chance to see how healthy eating can be achieved with a tight budget.

Gemma Cooke attended the programme with her 12 year old son Ryan (pictured left) in April this year and his brother James (12) and sister Sammy (10) wanted to join in too. She agrees with Steve.

“The whole family have really benefited," she feels. "I have reduced the portion sizes and the family is more conscious of what they are eating. The kids still use the lessons learned during the supermarket tour so they now identify healthy foods on their own when we go shopping and play Mend Detectives.

“Ryan has really come out of his shell and is noticeably more confident and comfortable with himself.

"He used to wear layers of clothes when playing out, even in summer, but he doesn’t anymore. And his sister now eats more because she understands the need for balance and the minerals and vitamins gained from eating the right food.”

In addition to discovering about food, MEND also provides the chance for kids to get active with fun and energetic sessions designed to raise the heart rate and a smile. Families discuss how to reduce sedentary time, moving away from the TV and games consoles and getting outside where the whole family can play and have fun together.

All of the mums agree that taking action and participating in the MEND programme has been one of the best decisions they have made for their children’s future and their joint message: “do it now!”.

• This Autumn, Fylde Coast YMCA have partnered with Lancaster City Council to bring the MEND programme to Salt Ayre Sports Centre, with a new programme starting on the Monday 4th November. There are two session each week on a Monday and Thursday from 16:30. To book your families free place call now on 01253 882105

Fracking films screening set to stir campaigners

Two films being shown at Lancaster's The Borough on Thursday night offer insights into the issues of fracking – and action against the technology which campaigners fear will not only damage the local water table but is also an inefficient energy source whose actual costs are being covered up by big businesses and government.

An hour of short films aims to get enable people to get more informed about the risks of
fracking and the growing resistance against it. The screenings will be followed by a short
update on the situation since the films were made, and chance to think and share ideas and suggestions on what could be done to stop it.

Risky Business is a hard-hitting Al Jazeera documentary showing the health and environmental impacts following the introduction of fracking in Australia and the broad-based campaign against it; from farmers locking their gates against fracking companies to massive public demonstrations.

Doreen's Story is a short animation, which you can also view on Youtube, outlining the current situation in the UK, with a particular focus on Lancashire.

There will also be screenings of film clips showing how police responded with violence during protests against Cuadrilla in Balcombe, where hundreds of people from around the country joined local people in direct action against fracking this summer.

The screenings will be followed by a discussion on tactics for fighting fracking.

"This won't be a forum for a debate on the pros and cons of fracking," say organisers.

• Fight Fracking Film Night, The Borough, Dalton Square, Lancaster. 7.30pm Thursday 24th October. More info here on the Frack Off web site

Police issue fresh appeal in Sugarhouse rape investigation

The detective leading the investigation into a rape in Lancaster has issued a fresh appeal for information – three weeks after it happened.

At around 12.30am on Tuesday 1st October, an 18-year-old student was confronted by a man as she left a toilet cubicle in The Sugar House and was pushed back inside where she was raped.

The woman managed to fend off her attacker before running from the toilets to raise the alarm. She described her attacker as a white man, about 6ft tall, blond hair, aged 18-30 years.

He was wearing a light coloured short sleeved top with no collar, but he may also have been wearing a long sleeved shirt or jacket and darker trousers.

Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilbert said: “I have a dedicated team of detectives working on this case as we continue to try and find the person responsible.

“This would have been a very busy evening and was just one of the Fresher’s events being held that week. It was open to County, Longsdale and Graduate students but I cannot guarantee that the wider public did not have access to the Sugar House so my appeal goes out to anyone who was out that night.

“I want people to reflect on who they were out with that night, was there anyone in the group who fits the description of the person we need to trace.

“The offence was committed between 12.30 and 12.45am – did anyone in your group leave you ate that time and say they were going to the toilet? Did anyone matching the description leave the venue suddenly? Do you know of anyone who had sex in the club that night or have you heard anyone bragging? If anyone can help with these questions or who has any information I’d appeal with them to contact us.”

Officers are still keen for a man captured on CCTV and heading towards the ladies’ toilets (moving footage attached) to come forward along with other potential witnesses, including a woman who seems to be coming out of the ladies’ toilets (still attached).

Detective Chief Inspector Gilbert added: “We are also still keen to speak with a second year female student who is believed to be studying law at Lancaster University and possibly spoke with the victim in the ladies’ toilets around the time of the incident. If this was you please come forward.

“There were around 1400 people in the club that night and once again I would like to reiterate our appeal to speak to any women who remember a man walking into the ladies’ toilets, or who saw a man in there, or who heard any shouting. If any men were in the ladies’ toilets for any reason we would also like them to come forward so we can speak to them and eliminate them from our enquiries.

“We are continuing to support the young woman who has suffered a particularly distressing ordeal and once again I would like to reassure people that sexual assaults of this nature are rare.”

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 quoting log number 0028 of 1 October or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at

CCTV appeal after men are assaulted in Morecambe

Police have issued CCTV images of a man they need to speak with after two men were subjected to a racially aggravated assault and robbery in Morecambe.

The incident took place around 3.00am on Wednesday 9th October when the two victims, one of whom is Indian, were walking separately along Queen Street at the junction with Nelson Street when they were approached by three men who racially abused them before attacking them.

The first victim, aged 30, was thrown to the floor and then kicked in the head where he was knocked unconscious.

The men then stole cash and ID from the victim whilst he was on the floor and then assaulted the second man, before leaving the area.

Enquires are underway to find the men responsible. A 25 year old man from Morecambe has been arrested on suspicion of robbery and is currently on police bail pending further enquires.

Police have released a CCTV image of a white man wearing a blue Adidas top they are hoping someone will recognise.

DC Trevor Walker from Lancaster CID said: "This is a nasty and completely unnecessary attack which left a man unconscious on the pavement. The attack later continued along the promenade but fortunately he only suffered soreness and grazing. I would very much like to speak with this man and would ask anybody who knows who he is to come forward and let me know either anonymously or otherwise.

“I would also like to speak with the second man who was assaulted. This victim, who is Asian, has not come forward to speak to the police at this time and i would be extremely grateful if he could make contact with us."

• Anyone with any information about this incident should contact Lancashire Police on 101 

Silverdale to stage new Art & Craft Fair

The Silverdale Art Trail and Leeds Children's Centre have combined to present a very special fair to promote local art and craft in the village on Sunday 10th November, and raise funds for this worthwhile charity.

Get along and and see original work for special gifts - jewellery, paintings,books, glass, mosaics, ceramics, textiles, cards, and much more.

The event will include a Charity Art Raffle, homemade refreshments and offer everything from pocket money gifts to original artwork.

• Art & Craft Fair, Sunday 10th November, Leeds Children's Centre, Cove Road, Silverdale, LA5 0SJ. Free parking - Disabled Access - Children's play area

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Trading Standards warn: don't drink Zam Zam water

Lancashire County Council Trading Standards is advising against drinking bottled water described or labelled as Zam Zam water amid concerns it may contain high levels of the poison arsenic.

Zam Zam water is sacred to Muslims and comes from a specific source in Saudi Arabia. Under Saudi law, it cannot be exported from Saudi Arabia for sale. Any water on sale in the UK labelled as Zam Zam is therefore of uncertain origin.

Tests have shown Zam Zam water sold in the UK, or brought into the UK for personal consumption, may contain high levels of arsenic or nitrates.

Paul Noone, chief trading standards officer said: "We have recently been made aware of a large consignment of Zam Zam water being import! ed into Lancashire.

"We are working with the businesses involved to ensure that it is not sold on for human consumption. However, we also want to remind people of the risks associated with this sacred water."

Tests carried out on water described as Zam Zam in the UK over the past few years have found levels of arsenic almost three times the legal limit.

The Food Standards Agency advises that drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic could contribute to increasing people’s risk of cancer. People should consider avoiding drinking any water described as Zam Zam because there is no completely safe level of arsenic in water – and the more arsenic consumed the greater the risk. However, if anyone has occasionally drunk small amounts of this Zam Zam water, the risk to health for adults and older children would be very low.

Infants may also be sensitive to the level of nitrate present so it is not recommended they are! given the water to drink.

• If consumers find any water on sale that is labelled as Zam Zam, they should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 040506