Friday, 24 January 2014

Christmas Drink Driving in Lancashire shows small fall in positive tests

Over 200 people were caught drink driving in Lancashire during the police’s Christmas drink drive campaign, but the percentage of drunk drivers was down slightly on last year's figures, including in the Lancaster and Morecambe area.

A total of 17,400 tests were administered throughout the month of December with 202 people, or 1.2 per cent, failing the test and 19 people, or 0.1 per cent, refusing to provide a specimen. This means the total number of people who failed or refused the test was 221 or 1.3 per cent.

During the Christmas 2012 campaign, 18,964 tests were administered with 281 people, or 1.5 per cent, failing the test or refusing to provide a specimen.

In the County's Northern Division, which covers Lancaster and Morecambe, in the 2013 Christmas period 2,900 tests were administered; 2,517 passed, giving a 98.2% pass rate. 47 people tested positive or refused to take a test, a 1.8% failure rate.

In 2012 during the same period 2,564 tests were administered; 2,867 passed, giving a 98.9% pass rate. 33 people tested positive or refused to take a test, a 1.1% failure rate.

The annual crackdown on drink driving saw high-profile enforcement activity take place around the clock across the county.

“It is pleasing to see the number of people drink driving on Lancashire’s roads has reduced," commneted Chief Inspector Debbie Howard. "I hope that the message is getting through to people that drink driving is extremely dangerous and the consequences are high.

“221 people caught drink driving is still too many," she added. "We are not complacent and will continue to carry out regular enforcement to take action against those who continue to break the law.”

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw added: "People who choose to drink and drive are not only putting their own lives in serious danger, they are risking the lives of everyone around them.

"That is why this operation over Christmas was so important and while I am delighted the overwhelming majority of people tested were not under the influence, it is disappointing that over 200 people in Lancashire chose to take to the road after drinking alcohol. They have put both themselves and others on the road at serious risk.

"I saw first-hand in Blackpool the effort which goes into the drink drive operation from Lancashire Constabulary's officers, and I am fully behind the Constabulary's ongoing efforts to target those who put lives at risk on our roads. High-profile operations such as this can only help spread the message further and be positive for the county's residents."

County Councillor John Fillis, Lancashire County Council cabinet member for highways and transport, said: "Driving while under the influence of drink or drugs is a risk simply not worth taking.

"The evidence is clear that you're many times more likely to cause a crash if you're over the limit than a driver who hasn't been drinking.

"This operation demonstrates that prevention of drink driving is a high priority in Lancashire and we'll continue to work closely with the police to keep people safe on our roads."

• If you would like to report someone who you suspect of driving whilst under the influence of alcohol or drugs, contact the police on 101. In an emergency, always dial 999

Salt Ayre offers free sport on your doorstep for 13 to 19-year-olds

Lancaster City Council and the University of Cumbria are joining forces to deliver a new Doorstep Sports Club at Salt Ayre Sports Centre.

A doorstep sports club provides numerous sports and free coaching to young people aged 13 to 19 and has proved popular across the UK.

The two hour sessions led by qualified coaches includes sports such as football, dodgeball, cricket, hockey, rounders, netball and basketball. Other sports are also available on request from the young people taking part.

Lancaster’s Doorstep Sports Club starts on Friday 31st January from 5.00 to 7.00pm and is free for all young people. There’s no need to book, just turn up and join in the fun.

The concept of a Doorstep Sport Club was developed by sporting charity Street Games in 2012 and aims to have 1,000 clubs set up across the UK.

The sessions provide vibrant and varied sporting offer to young people in disadvantaged communities that are designed to grow their motivation and ability to adopt a sporting habit for life.

• For more information visit -

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Local Cinema Round-up for 22nd to 30th January 2014 by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day listings every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, official film links and reviews.

 A good time for action based new releases with the thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (12A), the violent and moving 12 Years a Slave (15), and a clash of monsters with I, Frankenstein (12A). An equally good time for the return of old favorites with Saving Mr Banks, Philomena and Turbo all making a re-appearance.

Must see films still being shown are The Wolf of Wall Street and The Railway Man.

For an alternative to the more mainstream movies, there remains a good selection of high culture with The Royal Opera House: Giselle, Globe: The Taming of the Shrew and NT Live: Coriolanus. Also the excellent Gothic Season continues at the Dukes with Jean Cocteau's classic La Belle et la Bete.


12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Category: 15
Cast Includes: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Sarah Paulson, Michael Fassbender
Set in the 1800s, New York black man Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is drugged, kidnapped and sold as a slave to a New Orleans Plantation. Here he works for slave-master Epps (Michael Fassbender) who is a sadist, dishing out sexual abuse. The film is based on an 1853 memoir by Solomon Northup, the script being co-written by Steve McQueen and John Ridley. This is one of the finest films about American Slavery. It is very visceral, with Northup trying to maintain dignity amidst the atmosphere of violence of the movie. Very well shot and splendidly acted, this is the must see film for 2014.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues
Director: Adam McKay
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Adam McKay, Paul Rudd, Kristen Wiig, Christina Applegate, Steve Carell, Will Ferrell
San Diego's newsman Ron Burgundy returns for the sequel to the original 2004 Anchorman film. The film is set in the 80s at the GNN 24 hour news network. We find Rob little changed; egomanical, blunt and as idiosyncratic as ever and the action again has a strong element of the surreal. The film has a few cringe worthy moments but is a real 'laugh out loud' comedy that is a worthy successor to the original movie.

Devil's Due
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin , Tyler Gillett
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Allison Miller, Zach Gilford
Newly-weds Allison Miller and Zach Gilford return from their honeymoon having conceived a baby rather earlier than they had planned. The husband decides to record the pregnancy for posterity, but finds his wife showing rather odd behaviour. With time her behaviour becomes more extreme and there are suggestions that their baby has a sinister origin as a mysterious cult takes an interest in its welfare. This is a horror film in the tradition of Rosemary's Baby and whilst it does not break new ground with regards to plot, it merits a trip to the cinema.

Free Birds
Director: Jimmy Hayward
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Owen Wilson, Keith David, Colm Meaney, Woody Harrelson, Amy Poehler, Dan Fogler
Two turkeys, Reggie and Jake, use a time machine to attend the first Thanksgiving meal in an attempt to get turkey removed from subsequent thanks-giving diners. Reggie is from a free-range turkey farm and he realises the reason why turkeys are being fattened. It is Jake who has the vision of commandeering the time machine in an attempt to change history. The film has some romantic interest with Reggie falling for Jenny, a turkey he meets during the adventure. In all the plot of this animation seems a little over complicated and the film contains some rude humour that may not be appropriate for the very young. In all an entertaining movie but one that is not destined to become a classic.

Director: Chris Buck
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad,Alan Tudyk, Jonathan Groff
This Disney musical animation is loosely based on the fairy tale 'The Snow Queen' for it is she who has condemned a kingdom to eternal winter. It is up to Anna (sister to the snow queen) and a loner Kristoff to undertake an epic journey to find the Snow Queen and convince her to lift the icy spell. This is a magical movie destined to become a classic. It will appeal to families and children of all ages and makes an movie for Christmas.

I, Frankenstein
Director: Stuart Beattie
Category: 12A
Cast Includes: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto
The Frankenstein monster (Aaron Eckhart) has survived to the present day where he find himself the hero as he battles against daemons and gargoyles who quest after the secret of immortality. A rather lightweight movie owing little to Mary Shelly. However if you want to see lots of computer generated monsters battling each other in a quest to defeat humanity, this is the movie for you.

Director: Stephen Frears
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Judi Dench, Steve Coogan
A quaint and charming film based on the book 'The Lost Child of Philomena Lee' by Martin Sixsmith. Philomena (Dench) plays an Irish woman who had her baby taken from her for adoption in the USA whilst she was forced to live in a convent after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Much later in life she enlists the help of Sixsmith to try to discover the whereabouts of her lost son. Coogan produced the film and co-wrote the screenplay. He plays Sixsmith, the journalist who has fallen out of favour. Both Dench and Coogan give superb performances in this funny and heartwarming if a little sentimental film. Well worth seeing.

Saving Mr. Banks Director: John Lee Hancock
Certificate PG
Cast Includes Emma Thompson, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, Tom Hanks
A film exploring the tribulations as Walt Disney battled to make the musical 'Mary Poppins'. Disney promised his daughters that he would make a film of the book, but the author, Mrs Travers, proves to be difficult to work with and have very fixed ideas regarding the interpretation of her work. She hated the sentimentalization and the use of animation. She only gave grudging approval as she needed the money. This film is more sentimental than accurate, and includes numerous flashbacks regarding Traver's rather troubled life. Acting is great and the friction between Mrs Travers (Emma Thompson) and Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) makes for compelling viewing.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Director: Peter Jackson
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly, Richard Armitage
In this second installment of the Hobbit. We find Bilbo Baggins and his group of comrades continuing in their journey to the Lonely Mountain in order to extract gold from the dragon Smaug whist being pursued by an army of Orcs. This film is a splendid action adventure, more so than the first of the trilogy. It is imaginative, with plenty of special effects and a block buster feel about it. However it again puts action above developing the characters of the protagonists. A great Christmas movie that will leave you anticipating the concluding film in the trilogy.

The Railway Man
Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Certificate: 15
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Colin Firth
The story of Army Officer Eric Lomax (Colin Firth), this film is based on Lomax's memoir. Lomax was a POW during world war II, tortured and brutalized whilst was forced to work on the Burma Railway. The film, set in 1980, tells of his meeting, courtship and subsequent marriage to Patti (Nicole Kidman). The background of Lomax is shown in flashbacks as Patti herself learns of his history from one of her husbands fellow POWs. Patti encourages Lomax to face his demons and return to the place of torture. Here he discovers an old Takashi Negase, who was one of his torturers. The acting of Kidman and Firth is excellent and the flashbacks of Lomax's experience as a POW are strong and harrowing. However the end of the film does not quite live up to the tension built up during the movie.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Director: Martin Scorsese
Certificate: 18
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler
The story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Di Caprio) who rose from penny stocks to a life of affluence and corruption as he founded the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont. His life of drugs, sex and ruthless achievement led to his title of Wolf of Wall Street. Scorsese had produced a hard hitting and fast moving film and Di Caprio's acting rises to the challenge of portraying Belfort. However after building up Belfort as a monster the film seems to say little about about the morality of this sort of life and thus ultimately does not come to any satisfactory resolution. Hence the movie seemed to lacked any real depth.

Director: David Soren
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Peña
A DreamWorks animation in which Turbo is a snail obsessed with racing cars who dreams of competing in the Indianapolis 500 race. His hopes start to look more realistic when an accident with a car engine provides him with a magical turn of speed. The animation is expertly done. The snails have cute believable personalities and the whole has a real 'feelgood' factor of an underdog following his dreams. The film follows the DreamWorks hit animation 'The Croods' and whilst it is extremely enjoyable, it lacks twists and subplots that make for a really memorable movie.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

CCTV released in connection with Morecambe shop burglary

Police released CCTV images of men they would like to speak to after a second hand shop was broken into and burgled in Morecambe last year.

Between 12 noon on Friday 29th November 2013 and 7.50am the following morning, somebody broke into The Arcade on Marine Road West.

They stole two bicycles, a stereo system and speakers, an electric drill and two halogen heaters, as well as causing damage to photographs, mirrors and ornaments.

Police have now released CCTV images of men they are keen to trace in connection with this incident.

PC Adele Laffan said: “If anybody recognises the men captured on CCTV then I would urge them to contact police.

"I am also keen to speak with anybody who has any information at all about this incident. I appreciate this happened some time ago, but I would ask people to cast their minds back and contact us if they recall seeing or hearing anything suspicious in the area around the time of the burglary.”

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Future plans for St Leonards House go before Cabinet today

Lancaster City Council's Cabinet is meeting today and will consider the future of St Leonard's House on St Leonardgate.

Discussion is an exempt item, meaning both press and public cannot be attend that part of the Cabenet meeting, but virtual-lancaster understands current tenants of the grade II listed building – who include the Lancaster Community Mental Health Team, One Voice Disability Services, Access Counselling and others – have been served with notice that their leases will not be renewed  for "strategic development reasons and planned major redevelopment and refurbishment".

We also understand that the report suggests the building's use may be changed – at some considerable cost – and the proposals for alternative use include its conversion into flats for students and young workers. 

While the Council would not confirm items in the exempt report, in an official statement Councillor Tim Hamilton Cox, Cabinet member with responsibility for property, confirmed the building's future was under discussion as part of an ongoing review of the Council's properties.

"The City Council’s property portfolio  has to be managed in a  way that ensures value for money so as to protect other council services to the public," he told virtual-lancaster. "St Leonard’s House has not been fully utilised as office accommodation for a number of years and it is no secret that the building's future has been under review for some time.

"The reasons for looking at alternative uses for the building derive from the rents falling a long way short of the running costs and in particular from the very sizeable capital investment required in the building's fabric and services.

"St Leonard’s House is a listed building," he continued, "and the costs of repairs and maintenance reflect both the age of the building and the scale of the  improvements  necessary to meet modern building standards.

"With the city council budget having to be cut year-on-year because of government funding reductions the city council's cabinet is clear that in order to maintain services as far as possible the cost of the council's building estate has to be reduced, placing ‘services before buildings’.

"During the review tenants have only been provided with short term leases," he says of the notices tenants have received, "but as the stage has now been reached where options are being brought forward for alternative uses of the building they have been notified that their leases are being brought to an end.

"These notifications have been sent to give tenants as much time as possible to plan ahead and find alternative accommodation.

"We're acutely conscious that many socially necessary charities and non-profit businesses are based in St. Leonard's House and we'll try to help them find alternative office space.

"The review is being led by Property Group which has been a shared service between Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council since May 2012 and Carillion has been appointed as the county council’s regeneration partner covering the Lancaster district through what is referred to as an Official Journal of the European Union procurement exercise.

"Cabinet will consider an update report at its meeting on 21st January 2014," he confirmed. "This report is exempt as it contains confidential commercially sensitive information.  For this reason we cannot comment further at this time on what the proposals may include."

Latest stage of "Square Routes" project gets under way in March (and the horseshoe will be back!)

£1 million of investment is set to pave the way towards reviving the heart of Lancaster city centre with improvement works beginning in early March 2014.

As part of the Lancaster Square Routes Project, with European Regional Development funding, Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council are working with partners to reinvigorate Market Square and surrounding streets to strengthen the city centre’s position as a quality destination for visitors, residents and traders.>

Back in place: the famous
Horseshoe, currently in storage
Photo: Han Fleet
Works starting in early March 2014 will see over £1 million of investment, including new street surfaces, seating and lighting for the length of Cheapside, Horseshoe Corner (and the return of the famous horseshoe to Horseshoe Corner), Penny Street and now also the long-promised new surfacing for the length of Market Street.

Market Square will gain new surfaces, seating and a new centrepiece, plus improved signs and way-finding information to improve the experiences of residents and visitors.

These works are being led by the city council in close partnership with the County Council and are co-funded by the European Regional Development Fund Programme 2007-2013 and both councils.

During the works the Charter Market will continue but in alternative locations as necessary for the works to proceed. Once the works are completed the city council will introduce a new better long term layout for the Charter Market.

Councillor Janice Hanson, Lancaster City Council’s Cabinet member with responsibility for Economic Regeneration and Planning, said: “Market Square has always been at the centre of Lancaster’s activities and the focal point for civic and ceremonial activities and trade.

“Unfortunately over recent years it has become tired and uninviting and does not portray the image that you would expect from such an important historic city. This investment will both improve the appearance of the city and encourage more activity into the city centre during the day and through into the evening. In turn this will boost the local economy, increase income and profit for local business and lead to more jobs for local people.”

Updated at last: Penny Street's infamous
patchwork of tarmac and paving should
soon be a thing of the past
Complementary to the works will be new experimental traffic regulations from 3rd February to better manage traffic within the pedestrian zone, benefiting all pedestrians and traders. This Experimental Traffic Regulation Order will:
  • Change the period when goods vehicles cannot enter the zone to 10am - 5pm to fit with the main shopping hours.
  • Remove the permit system by which some drivers can access the zone by vehicle for either loading or parking including access for disabled parking.
  • Introduce a new dispensation system by which the zone can be accessed by vehicles for certain purposes including for essential works or events and by market traders (time limited).
To compensate for the reduction in spaces for disabled drivers, four additional spaces have been created on the City Council managed St Nicholas Arcades car park. In addition, disabled drivers can use any council car park for free, and additional spaces are also being looked at for the Moor Mills 1 car park (off Nelson Street).

The improvements should bring many benefits and help make the city centre a much more attractive place to spend time in, to work in, to trade in and to invest in.

Councillor John Fillis, Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport, Lancashire County Council, said: "Creating places that people want to visit, and spend time and money in, is vital to our key urban centres and to the wider economic wellbeing of the county. This investment will help to revive the centre of Lancaster and ensure it offers a high quality experience which continues to appeal to local shoppers and visitors alike.

"Many businesses and people use the area in different ways which sometimes places competing demands on the way the area is used by pedestrians and vehicle traffic. The experimental order will allow us to monitor how the changes to traffic management work in practice and make adjustments if necessary to improve the way they work. We'll work closely with the city council, businesses and local people throughout to achieve the best result for Lancaster."

Jerry North, Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce Director and Lancaster Business Improvement District Steering Group member, said: "Lancaster's businesses welcome this joint initiative to bring significant improvements to not only the fabric of the City Centre spaces but to the traffic controls necessary to both enhance the visitor experience and provide a comfortable and attractive environment for all City Centre users."

The ETRO will initially be in place for 18 months and will be monitored throughout this period to examine its effectiveness.

• For more information on Lancaster Square Routes visit For more information on parking facilities in the city centre, including the changes being brought in through the ETRO, visit

• Did you know? Horseshoe Corner is the unofficial name of the intersection between Penny Street, Cheapside and Market Street in Lancaster. It is so named because of the horseshoe once set into the paving at the centre of this crossroads and due to be restored. Legend has is that John o' Gaunt's horse shed a shoe here when he left Lancaster castle for the last time. This was once the centre of the mediaeval City of Lancaster. More info:

Number One Writer Alexander McCall Smith at the Grand in February

Alexander McCall Smith
There's the opportunity to meet bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency books and one of the world's most prolific and most popular authors, at the Grand Theatre, Lancaster, on Tuesday 4th February.

The author event has been organised by the Kirkham-based SilverDell Bookshop and Lancaster Litfest, and ties in with the release of Alexander's new novel, The Forever Girl, which will officially go on sale 11th February 2014 - but copies of the new book will be on sale at the event.

Edinburgh-based author Alexander McCall Smith is something of a national treasure.  His career has been a varied one: for many years he was a professor of Medical Law and worked in universities in the United Kingdom and abroad. Then, after the publication of his highly successful No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has sold over twenty million copies, he devoted his time to the writing of fiction and has seen his various series of books translated into over forty languages and become bestsellers through the world.

The series include the Scotland Street novels, first published as a serial novel in The Scotsman, the Sunday Philosophy Club series starring Isabel Dalhousie, the von Igelfeld series, and the new Corduroy Mansions novels.

The Forever Girl is a novel about love and following one’s heart, and the unexpected places to which this can lead us.

Amanda and her husband, David, feel fortunate to be raising their son and daughter in the close-knit community of ex-pats on Grand Cayman Island, an idyllic place for children to grow up. Their firstborn, Sally, has always listened to her heart, deciding at age four that she would rather be called Clover and then, a few years later, falling in love with her best friend, James.

But the comforting embrace of island life can become claustrophobic for adults, especially when they are faced with difficult situations. At the same time that Clover falls in love with James, Amanda realizes that she has fallen out of love with David... and that she is interested in someone else...

Through the lives of Clover and James, and Amanda and David, acclaimed storyteller Alexander  tells a tale full of love and heartbreak, humor and melancholy, that beautifully demonstrates the myriad ways in which love shapes our lives.

Alexander is also the author of collections of short stories, academic works, and over thirty books for children. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the British Book Awards Author of the Year Award in 2004 and a CBE for service to literature in 2007. He holds honorary doctorates from nine universities in Europe and North America.

SilverDell Bookshop and Lancaster Litfest presents Alexander McCall Smith: 7.00pm Tuesday 4th February, The Grand Theatre, Lancaster Tickets £5, fully redeemable against the purchase of the book on the night and are available from the box office 01524 64695

SilverDell Bookshop:

• LitFest:

Appeal for missing Skerton man

Police are appealing for information to try and find a man who has been reported missing from home.

33 year old Gareth Parker has not been seen since the 15th January when he left his home address on Barley Cop Lane in Lancaster at around 10.00pm that evening.

When he left the house, he was wearing a thick, padded white hooded top, grey tracksuit bottoms with bright orange stripes on the sides and black trainers. He was also carrying a grey and black duffel bag, potentially containing an unknown change of clothes and some other personal belongings.

Gareth is described as white, of stocky build, with brown eyes and around five feet eight inches tall.

Sergeant Mark Turner said, “Gareth’s family are growing increasingly concerned for his welfare and so we would urge him to get in touch with either his family or the police to let someone know he is safe and well. Similarly, if anyone thinks they have seen Gareth, then we would ask them to contact police on 101.”

Monday, 20 January 2014

Transport Solutions winds up but new group to rise from ashes

Supporters at last week's Transport Solutions for Lancaster and Morecambe Information Night and Review of the Year congratulated the campaign group for battling to the end to prevent the destructive waste that will be the Heysham M6 Link road.

The meeting of the local campaign group at the Vale of Lune Rugby Club on Wednesday heard that the arguments against the road were as strong as ever.

“Lancashire County Council admits that the road will not solve Lancaster’s traffic problems” said David Gate, Chair of TSLM. “It will not relieve congestion. The journey time savings (five minutes, at peak times only), will be insignificant. The forecast of new jobs is an illusion.

“It will encourage car use and pollution, and worsen global warming,” he added, “at exactly the time we should be reducing it.”

The meeting agreed that the time had come to wind up TSLM, and move forward to another community group that will aim to make sure the Council carries out its undertakings, and not forget the promises it made to get the scheme approved; hold the Council to account to collect and publish the information so that the public can assess whether the benefits it promised (congestion relief, jobs) actually happen; and campaign for better, sustainable transport measures that will really benefit the people of the area.

People volunteered to organise a meeting to set up this new community group. Details will be announced.