Friday, 4 April 2014

North West employers in line for Employment Allowance cashback

An estimated 137,000 business owners in the North West will be able to benefit from a new government initiative which allows employers to reduce their National Insurance costs by up to £2,000 a year.

The new Employment Allowance will be introduced on Sunday 6th April and will mean 53,000 businesses in the region will no longer have to pay any employer National Insurance contributions at all as they usually pay less than £2,000 annually.

In a letter to employers, Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“Businesses are saying to us they want to invest, grow, and take on new people. The Employment Allowance is about helping you to do that, whether you are taking on your first employee or your fiftieth.

“The Allowance will cut up to £2,000 from your employer NICs bill. This means £2,000 cashback on the cost of jobs that you can choose how to spend. I hope you will consider using it to take on more employees.

“The Employment Allowance starts on 6th April. I urge you to sign up so that you can benefit from a cut in the cost of employing someone and help to grow our economy.”

Up to 1.25 million businesses and charities will benefit from Employment Allowance across the UK and around 450,000 businesses and charities won’t have to pay any employer National Insurance contributions at all.

Nearly all employers that pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions on their employees’ and directors’ earnings will be eligible including businesses, charities and community amateur sports clubs

Employers can use an online calculator to see how they could benefit

Plain tobacco packaging plan gets County Council backing

The Government's move to introduce plain tobacco packaging has been welcomed by Azhar Ali, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for health and wellbeing.

After writing to MPs encouraging them to support the introduction of standardised plain packaging, County Councillor Ali said this will make cigarettes less appealing to children.

"Smoking is the biggest killer here in Lancashire," he says."The shocking fact is that two-thirds of people start smoking under the age of 18, the legal age of sale, so we want to do all we can to help make it less appealing to young people.

"Once they're hooked, it becomes a habit for life with the new smokers replacing tho! se who quit or die.

"The problem is that young people are exposed to a number of factors that make it appear fashionable and glamorous to smoke.

"The cigarette packet remains a way of marketing tobacco and smoking to children and young people and I fully support the move to bring in plain packaging."

In Lancashire, 16 per cent of young people aged between 14 and 17 smoke. This is higher than the national average of 11 per cent.

• Anyone wanting to stop smoking can call the Central, East and West Lancashire Quit Squad on 0800 328 6297 or the North Lancashire Stop Smoking Service on 01524 845145.

Just the ticket for Lancashire Museums

Families in Lancashire can enjoy some exciting days out this spring and summer at many of the county's museums.

Lancashire County Council's 'Xplorer' family and friends pass offers a year's unlimited entry for two adults, two concessions and accompanied children, to ten local museums for just £20.

County Councillor Marcus Johnstone, Cabinet member for environment, planning and cultural services, said: "Our museums offer a variety of great exhibits, and with a whole host of family-friendly activities throughout the school holidays and at many weekends, there really is something for everyone to enjoy."

For example, people can head to the Museum of Lancashire and explore some of the fabulous hidden ! history of 'all things Lancashire'.

They can also be transported back to World War One at Gawthorpe Hall, and experience the war from a family perspective.

The hall is currently hosting an exhibition called 'Somewhere in France'. The exhibition, which will move around the county throughout the year, features a variety of postcards that were sent from Lancashire soldiers to their families.

Clitheroe Castle also has plenty of creative activity days, along with some special interactive displays that are fun for all the family.

If the family offer doesn't suit you, there are two other types of Xplorer pass available:

*£8 adult ticket - one year's unlimited access for an adult to visit one museum of your choice.

*£12 adult ticket - one year's unlimited access to all 11 Lancashire museums.

The Xplorer ticket is valid at the following museums throughout Lancashire:

  • Clitheroe Castle
  • Cottage Museum, Lancaster
  • Fleetwood Museum
  • Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham
  • Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, near Haslingden
  • Judges' Lodgings, Lancaster
  • Lancaster City Museum (shop only; admission is free)
  • Lancaster Maritime Museum
  • Queen Street Mill Textile Museum, Burnley
  • The Museum of Lancashire, Preston (shop only; admission is free)

• Xplorer tickets are available at all of Lancashire County Council's museums or via, where you can also find out about events and activities. You can also follow the museums on Twitter: @lmuseums

Lancaster University team patents “Unbreakable” security codes inspired by nature

A revolutionary new method of encrypting confidential information is being patented by scientists at Lancaster University.

The team have been inspired by their discoveries from human biology, which model how the heart and lungs coordinate their rhythms by passing information between each other. A mathematical model based on the complex interaction between these organs has now been transferred to the world of modern communications.

This discovery could transform daily life which is reliant on secure electronic communications for everything from mobiles to sensor networks and the internet.

Every device, from your car key to online bank account, contains different identification codes enabling information to be transferred in confidence. But the race to outwit the hackers means there is a continual demand for better encryption methods.

The discovery is published in the American Physical Society’s journal Physical Review X and a patent application "Encoding Data Using Dynamic System Coupling" has been filed.

Inspiration for the new method of encryption came from interdisciplinary research in the Physics Department by Dr Tomislav Stankovski, Professor Peter McClintock, and Professor Aneta Stefanovska, and the patent application includes Dr Robert Young.

“This promises an encryption scheme that is so nearly unbreakable that it will be equally unwelcome to internet criminals and official eavesdroppers," says Professor McClintock.

Professor Stefanovska emphasized the interdisciplinary aspect: “As so often happens with important breakthroughs, this discovery was made right on the boundary between two different subjects – because we were applying physics to biology.”

Dr Stankovski said: “Here we offer a novel encryption scheme derived from biology, radically different from any earlier procedure. Inspired by the time-varying nature of the cardio-respiratory coupling functions recently discovered in humans, we propose a new encryption scheme that is highly resistant to conventional methods of attack.”

The advantage of this discovery is that it offers an infinite number of choices for the secret encryption key shared between the sender and receiver. This makes it virtually impossible for hackers and eavesdroppers to crack the code.

The new method is exceptionally resistant to interference from the random fluctuations or “noise” which affects all communications systems.

It can also transmit several different information streams simultaneously, enabling all the digital devices in the home, for example, to operate on one encryption key instead of dozens of different ones.

Temporary closure of Dallas Road and Moor Mills 1 Car Parks, Lancaster

Dallas Road Car Park and Moor Mills No. 1 Car Park (access via Nelson Street) in Lancaster will be closed from Monday, 14th April to enable resurfacing works to take place.

The works are due to be completed by Easter Monday (21st April 2014).

Permit holders can use any of Lancaster City Council’s Pay and Display Car Parks in Lancaster. This includes St Nicholas Arcades Car Park which closes at 5.45pm (Monday to Saturday) and 4.45pm on Sundays.

• Information on alternative car parks can be found at or by calling the parking team tel. 01524 582648

Thursday, 3 April 2014

University of Cumbria's Lancaster-based chaplain starts the bread-making chain

Image via Loaves and Fishes project

The University of Cumbria's Reverend Alexandra Logan had her hands full of dough this week as she took part in an environmental initiative organised by The Anglican and Roman Catholic Diocese in Lancashire.

Alex is the chaplaincy coordinator at the University of Cumbria and she staged a ‘public dough-rising’ at their campus on Bowerham Road, Lancaster on Tuesday 1st April to introduce the ‘Loaves and Fishes’ project.

‘Loaves and Fishes’ is designed to celebrate life, generosity and fresh produce. Nienty towns and villages and over sixty schools from Barrow-in-Furness to Fleetwood are being encouraged to organise community meals celebrating fish, sea-food and home-made bread.

The project week will run from 7 – 15th June when it is hoped that people from all faiths, or none, will come together to share local produce in shore-side picnics, school meals or parish parties.

“This public dough-rising marks the start of a bread-making chain which will pass from person to person, baker to baker, parish to parish and community to community all around Morecambe Bay by early June," Alex explained. "The yeast and sourdough leaven I am using was blessed last Sunday in the Cathedrals of Blackburn and Carlisle, when the project was launched, and will now be passed on through neighbouring parishes. Already we have bakers waiting in Scotforth, Torrisholme and Overton.

“We want to encourage schools to get involved in the baking chain too – or get mums and dads baking at home with their children.”

• Anyone interested in being involved in the ‘Loaves and Fishes’ initiative can obtain further details from John Rodwell on 07908 420058 or by emailing him at

Further information about the ‘Loaves and Fishes’ initiative can be found here on the Diocese of Blackburn web site

Lancaster University staff New international centre established to address child language learning and delay

Experts from Lancaster University and the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool have secured one of the largest grants ever awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – to carry out research which will transform understanding of how children learn to communicate.

The £9 million cash injection over five years will see a new ESRC International Centre for Language and Communicative Development (LuCiD) set up in the North West working with experts in the USA, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and Poland.

It will deliver the crucial information needed to design effective interventions in child healthcare, communicative development and early years’ education.

The Centre will also develop new technological products for parents, including a Babytalk app, which will allow parents and health professionals to record a child’s vocabulary and monitor their progress.

At Lancaster University, researchers will look at the role of environment on language learning in children.

They will apply their cutting-edge methods – including developmental neuroscience, eye-tracking, and computational approaches to help explain the behavioural observations of children acquiring language.

Lancaster researchers will focus on how children learn to use all the sources of information around them to learn:

- the meanings of words
- the role of words in sentences
- the subtle interplay of meaning in conversations

Professor Padraic Monaghan, from Lancaster University, said: “Learning to use language to communicate is hugely important for society. Failure to develop language and communication skills at the right age is a major predictor of educational and social inequality in later life.

“To tackle this problem, we need to know the answers to a number of questions which LuCiD will be able to explore.”

Centre Director Professor Elena Lieven, from The University of Manchester, said: “This Centre will pool resources from across the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Lancaster to transform our understanding of the way that children learn to communicate with language.

“Children’s success in early language learning is central to their school readiness and subsequent educational achievement – but all too often problems can go unnoticed until they arrive at school. This new Centre’s research will provide the evidence base necessary to develop successful interventions for children at risk of language delay.”

The LuCiD team also incorporates Deputy Director, Professor Julian Pine and programme directors, Professor Caroline Rowland, University of Liverpool and Dr Anna Theakston, University of Manchester.

The Centre will explore how children learn language from what they see and hear and look at how different kinds of evidence from behavioural studies, measures of brain activity and computational models can be integrated to understand how children learn language. The team will also look at how language delay may occur in young children and explore whether differences between children and differences in their environments affect how they learn to talk.

There will be five streams of research in the UK and abroad. The first four streams will focus on questions in four key areas: environment, knowledge, communication and variation. A fifth area will be the Language 0-5 Project following 80 English-learning children intensively from 6 months to five years.

Centre programme leaders will also develop new multi-method approaches and create new technology products for parents, researchers, healthcare and education professionals.

Professor Rowland, from the University of Liverpool, said: “The Language 0-5 Project will enable researchers to build a complete picture of language development from the very beginning through to school readiness using the latest technologies.

“The use of mobile phone recordings by parents has greatly increased the speed with which language can be recorded and analysed and therefore allow for the collection of much larger samples of children’s speech than ever before.”

The Centre will work with high profile Impact Champions from government, business, the Third Sector, as well as experts in science communication and public understanding, to ensure that parents know how they can best help their children learn to talk.
Impact Champion Wendy Lee, Professional Director of The Communication Trust, said: “I am delighted that the ESRC have invested so heavily in research on children’s language and communicative development and am looking forward to my involvement with the Centre. The research this Centre produces will provide the critical evidence-base we need to create really cost-effective interventions.”

Healthcare, education professionals and policy-makers will also get access to the latest findings they need to create intervention programmes that are firmly rooted in the latest research findings.

Funding for LUCID, and other ESRC funded centres, was announced by the Minister for Universities and Science, David Willetts MP, who said: “Investment in these research priorities is key to driving innovation and growth, helping to influence and shape policy and deliver a better society for us all.

“The UK, through its research councils, universities and institutions is well known for world class research and driving excellence. These new investments will contribute to this and ensure that the UK stays ahead in the global race.”

Free course hopes to ease worries about older drivers

Lancashire County Council is highlighting that a free course for older drivers may be the answer to families' concerns about an elderly relative driving.

The project follows the release of a new report by the Institute of Advanced Motorists who carried out a poll showing that forty-two per cent of people are worried about an older person's driving, yet they are unlikely to do anything about it.

A further finding was that while some elderly people should not still be driving, most are perfectly capable drivers and more than qualified to stay on the road - and up to 15 per cent give up too early.

IAM chief executive Simon Best said: “Talking to an elderly relative about their driving is a difficult conversation to have. Driving is associated with independence, so giving up the car keys can be a very stressful process."

Places are available on the county council's award-winning Drive Safely for Longer Course.

The popular scheme allows drivers aged 65 and over, who may have passed their test many years ago, to boost their confidence and become safer drivers by going for a short trip with a road safety adviser alongside them.

The course, now in its fourth year, has been developed in Lancashire following studies which show there has been a considerable reduction in road injuries among people aged under-65 in recent years, but this has not been matched by a corresponding reduction in older casualties.

Carol Melhuish, Lancashire County Council transportation officer, said: "Our Drive Safely for Longer course has received great feedback from the 1,500 people who have completed it over the past three years.

"We meet people at their home to go for a drive and offer friendly advice, which people find convenient and has a positive impact on the way they drive."

The Drive Safely for Longer Course won the national Transport Award 2013 for Excellence in Road Safety Traffic Management and Enforcement.

Despite headlines and concerns for elderly drivers, the age group that causes the most car accidents is from 16 to 24 years old, usually the age where people are starting to learn how to drive.

• Call 01772! 456412 or email to find out more or book your place

Lancashire health chief supports 'End Hunger Fast'

County Councillor Azhar Ali, Lancashire County Council's cabinet member for health and wellbeing, is supporting a national event aimed at making people aware of food poverty.

The event, called The End Hunger Fast, is supported by local church and faith leaders. County councillor Ali is urging people to take part in the fast and to support their local food bank by donating goods or money, or by giving up some of their time to help out.

He said: "Food poverty is a growing problem that everyone needs to be aware of.

"It's shocking that 5,500 people across Britain were admitted to hospital with malnutrition last year. This is a health issue that we should all do something about and suppor! ting your local food bank is an excellent way to do this.

"The food banks feed families in disadvantaged areas but they need the help of the local community to keep providing these services, whether from people helping to prepare or hand out the food, or to make donations.

"I'd encourage everyone to fast on Friday 4th April and support their local food bank whenever they can."

Lancashire County Council has been working with food banks as part of its plans to target health and social care services at those who are in greatest need of support.

• For more information about End Hunger Fast, visit:

April Poets returns to the Storey

April Poets - poetry with a touch of class and a dash of music - is back at Lancaster's Storey Auditorium on Thursday 10th April, 7.30 pm

The line up is as follows:

Yvonne Reddick explores humankind's fascination with 'wildness'.

Mark Carson offers tales of engineering, the sea, the sky and the emotions in between

Ron Baker lays a few ghosts investigating memories and family stories.

Polly Atkin offers work "shot through with wit and imaginative invention".

Music on the night will be delivered by Jonathan Tansley: wistful, dreamlike songs inhabiting a world of rain-soaked skies, launderettes and garden sheds.

There will also be limited floor spots for aspiring or established poets on the night. First come, first served.

• April Poets Thursday 10th April, 7.30 pm, The Storey Auditorium
Meeting House Lane, Lancaster, LA1 1TH. Entrance: £4 or £2 unwaged Web:

Ryelands Park: getting creative over active fun

Ideas for making the walks at Ryelands Park more active and fun will be the topic explored at a free Public Workshop and buffet at Lune Park Children's Centre at Ryelands Park next Monday (7th April) from 5 - 8.00pm. 

You are invited to join in a fun and creative workshop with designers from Lancaster University and other local residents. 

You will have the opportunity to share your experiences of using the park and help come up with ideas to create plans or models of these ideas using creative tools.

There will be coffee/tea, biscuits and buffet food available. 

• Places are limited so to make sure you can participate please register for free here

• To find out more about Active Parks visit: 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Local Cinema Round-Up for 2nd to 10th April 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, and reviews.

Three new releases come to our area during this period. There is science fiction adventure with Divergent (12A), drama with Noah (12A) and family entertainment with Rio 2. However we have lost The Stag.

This looks to be the last week to catch the following films Starred Up, Need for Speed, 300: Rise of an Empire, Labor Day, A long way down and The Book Thief. However there is a new chance to see the old favourites Epic and Frozen.

For a break from the usual, we recommend Unforgiven showing at the Dukes. This is a Japanese remake of the Clint Eastwood movie with Ken Watanabe taking the lead role as a samurai swordsman.


300: Rise of an Empire
Director: Noam Murro
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro
The film is based on Frank Miller's graphic novel 'Xerxes' and the action adopts the visual style of the 2007 prequel '300'. The Persian forces led by Xerxes (Santoro) and Artemisia (Green) are opposed by the Greek General Themistokles (Stapleton). The film centres on a sea battle. The story is rather predictable, but there is plenty of blood, violence and CGI effects to keep the interest. If you liked the original you will enjoy this movie

Director: Neil Burger
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Kate Winslet, Theo James, Shailene Woodley
The movie is based on Veronica Roth's popular trilogy. Tris (Woodley) is a 16 year old girl living in Chicago after a war which wiped out most of civilisation. Society has been divided into different factions and as teens come of age they undergo tests to decide which faction will contain them. Yet Tris proves to be divergent, not fitting into any of the factions and divergent people are considered a threat to the status quo. She must work with the mysterious Four (James) to determine why being divergent is considered to be so dangerous. The movie is rather a slow starter. However the cast is full of talent, there is some nice dialogue and the film finishes with a tense climax. A must see movie if you have read and enjoyed Roth's books.

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' 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.

Muppets Most Wanted
Director: James Bobin
Certificate: U
Cast includes: Ricky Gervais, Ty Burrell, Tina Fey, Eric Jacobson, Steve Whitmire
A long awaited sequel to 'The Muppets' in which the entire Muppet cast undertake a sell out world tour. However Constantine (a Kermit lookalike and major criminal) and his right hand man Dominic (Gervais) involve the Muppets in an international crime heist. The film is an upbeat Disney musical comedy that will appeal to all ages and generates plenty of laughs. An excellent film.

Director: Darren Aronofsky
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
A movie based on the biblical story of Noah and the flood, but it takes quite a bit of artistic license. Crowe and Watson as Noah and Ila respectively give excellent performances and this is epic movie which very much goes its own way. With stunning effects and some surreal sequences this is a very entertaining film.

The Book Thief
Director: Brian Percival
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Roger Allam, Emily Watson
The film is based in World War II Germany and tells the story of Liesel (Nelisse) a young girl sent to live with a foster family after family problems. She copes by stealing books to read and this enables her to become close with her foster father and with Max, a Jewish boy hiding in their basement. The film does not make any comments on the horrors of Nazi Germany, it simply provides a backdrop for what is essentially a love story, and during the film we have Death providing the narration. The acting is acceptable but the characters are not totally believable.

The Grand Budapest Hotel
Director: Wes Anderson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Saoirse Ronan, Ralph Fiennes, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray, Tony Revolori
An idiosyncratic movie telling the adventures of Gustav (Fiennes) the concierge at the Budapest hotel and his friend Zero Moustafa (Revolori). The film is full of madcap characters and is filmed in the classic Anderson style. Set in Europe between the wars, the film tells the story of the theft of a Renaissance painting and disputes over fortunes. The movie has a star-studded cast and much of the plot of interlocking stories is told in flashbacks. A fine comedy making this a must see movie.

The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray
An action adventure based on the book 'The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History' by Robert Edsel. This tells the true story of a platoon comprising art historians and museum directors who were dispatched into World War II Germany to retrieve art works plundered by the Nazis. A very entertaining movie with a generous helping of high profile stars. Perhaps not a must-see film but still worth a visit to the cinema.

Lancaster's 'Changing Places' 21st century accessible toilet makes City the only place to go

The Cornerstone, Sulyard Street, Lancaster

Lancaster’s first publicly accessible Changing Places toilet facility  is now fully open at the Cornerstone, just off Lancaster's Dalton Square in Sulyard Street. Designed to enable people with severe disabilities to get out and about, anyone in the area who needs to can use it.

Opening times are Monday to Friday 10am – 3pm, telephone 846509.  The full address is: The Cornerstone, Sulyard St, Lancaster, LA1  1PX,      

Most of us don’t give visiting public buildings a second thought.  But many disabled people are unable to take part in activities which others take for granted because standard accessible toilets don’t meet their needs or the needs of their carers.  Imagine having to change your son, daughter or partner on the floor of a public toilet.  Most of us would agree that this just isn’t acceptable.  But it's the reality for many family carers, who simply have no other choice.

It’s a good thing then, that Lancaster’s first publicly accessible Changing Places toilet facility is available at the Cornerstone, just off Lancaster's Dalton Square in Sulyard Street.  The new Changing Place, in the heart of the city, has been open since a major refurbishment of the old Methodist Church building was completed at the end of 2013.

Some of the features which make the new Changing Places toilet unique include the following: a changing bench which is height adjustable, adult sized & free standing;  a hoist, which is ceiling tracked (on a loop system) and the toilet itself which is centrally placed with room either side for carers.  There is also a privacy screen between toilet and bench.

Information on Lancaster Changing Place opening times & obtaining a key can be found at: or by calling 01524 846509.

The fitting out of the Changing Places facility was aided by funding from Lancashire County Council’s Learning Disability Development Fund and The Charities Aid Foundation Access to Volunteering Fund.
Morecambe also has a Changing Place, situated next to the DanLo toilets in the Festival Market Car Park, LA4 4DW.  You can get a key from the Visitor Information Centre at the Platform or from the Festival Market Office.  This facility was opened thanks to funding from Lancashire County Council’s “Aiming High for Disabled Children” fund two years ago.

Information on Morecambe Changing Place opening times & obtaining a key can be found at: or by calling Morecambe Visitor Information Centre on: 01524  58 28 08.
During Festival Market opening times, a key is held in the Festival Market office next to the Cafe – you can ring 01524 414251 for information about collecting the key on market days.  

The Changing Places Consortium has been campaigning to improve accessible toilet facilities nationally through the installation of Changing Places toilets since 2006. Changing Places means changing lives. Sometimes you just need to change one thing to open up a world of possibility:  This link is useful for finding facilities in Britain & Northern Ireland - if you’re making travel plans or you want to find out how to support, or even start, a campaign.

03/14/mary kinane

Local Greens invite you to debate Europe

North Lancashire Green Party are holding a Public Meeting at the The Friends Meeting House, (next to Lancaster Train station) to discuss the future of Europe and its importance in developing a greener economy next week (Tuesday 8th April, 7.30pm).

The main speaker will be Peter Cranie, the Green Party's number one candidate for the forthcoming European elections. Also speaking will be Lancaster Green County Councillor Gina Dowding who is number two on the North West Green Euro list.

Peter, a former Elections Co-ordinator for the national Green Party, is an anti-racism activist, who has been involved with the Merseyside Coalition Against Racism and Fascism and re-established Liverpool Green Party in 2002. Since then the local party has won two council seats.

Peter stood as the lead North West European list candidate in 2009 for the Green Party. "We fell short by just 0.3% of winning the first Green Euro seat outside of London and South East," he notes. "In 2014 we are going to complete the job we started and see more UK Greens elected to the European Parliament."

"Everyone is welcome to come along and ask them questions about the European elections," says spokesperson Chris Coates, "and find out why they matter for a greener future.

• Peter Cranie's Blog is at

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New figures show effect of Bedroom Tax in Lancaster

Cat Smith notes Labour is pledge to scarp the "Bedroom Tax".

Nearly 600 households in the Lancaster district have been hit by the Government’s Bedroom Tax, new figures show, a withdrawal of subsidy that the local Labour Party has condemned.

The figures, released on the first anniversary of the introduction of the charge, show that 581 households in the district were affected by the tax between May and November last year.

Yet a recent BBC survey suggested that just six per cent of those affected in the UK had been able to downsize to a smaller home.

“Labour has already pledged to scrap this cruel and unfair tax if we win the next General Election," commented Cat Smith, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood. “The Bedroom Tax hits vulnerable people in the Lancaster district, some of whom are already really struggling to make ends meet and the Government’s own figures show that two-thirds of people affected nationally are disabled.

“The Conservative-led Government has known all along that there were not enough smaller homes for people to move to," she added. "Its figures for how much the Bedroom Tax would raise were based upon people being hit by the tax and show it was always intended for use as a cash cow.

 “But worse still, last month’s Budget shows the housing benefits bill is rising and will cost £1 billion more than thought over the next five years as people are forced to move to more expensive private rented homes by the Bedroom Tax and the shortage of affordable housing.”

Ms Smith added that Labour would fund its move to scrap the Bedroom Tax by reversing the Government’s recent tax cut for hedge funds and a shares for rights scheme which has opened up a tax loophole meaning lost revenue of £1 billion.

Separate constituency figures for Lancaster and Fleetwood show the number of households affected by the Bedroom Tax stood at 538 in May 2013. By November 2013 that figure had reduced to just 460, suggesting few of those hit by the tax have been able to move house.

Lancaster University team warns wetter winters may increase river pollution

Image courtesy Lancaster University
Warmer, wetter winters could lower the quality of our rivers, according to warnings from Lancaster University environmental scientists.

As farmers try to cope with waterlogged soil, following one of the wettest Januarys recorded since rainfall records began in 1910, a Lancaster University-led team of researchers has begun work on a large new collaborative project to help understand nutrient runoff from agricultural land and work out how it affects the quality of our rivers.

Professor Phil Haygarth, of the Lancaster Environment Centre, is leading the three-year, Natural Environment Research Council-funded study.

The project - Nutrients in Catchments to 2050 - involves researchers at Lancaster University, the Met Office Hadley Centre, Bangor University and Liverpool University and has associated partners at the James Hutton Institute, University of East Anglia, Anglia Ruskin University and Rothamsted Research.

"If winters continue to be warmer and wetter as predicted, increased rainfall could increase water pollution from agricultural land," says Professor Haygarth.

Nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen are essential to plant and animal growth, but too many nutrients cause excessive plant growth and algal blooms in rivers and lakes. These suffocate fish and other organisms and require costly remediation by water supply companies.

Fertilisers and manures washed off in storms are a major source of nutrients, with more than 60% of the nitrogen and 25% of the phosphorus in our rivers coming from agriculture.

“Most of this nutrient transport occurs in a few large and intense rain events, particularly if these coincide with periods of bare soil or recently applied manure or fertiliser,” said Professor Haygarth. “If future climate trends suggest more frequent, more extreme rainfall events, then nutrient runoff could increase, unless we plan land management activities to account for this.”

New data, recorded every half hour by the Eden Demonstration Test Catchment programme, (a related collaborative project involving Lancaster University and partners) is being used by the team to improve understanding of how phosphorus moves in the agricultural landscape.

“This data contains unprecedented detail and enables us to link the driving forces with the nutrients in the river,” said Dr Mary Ockenden, Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University. “We can start to unpick the effect of conditions such as a dry period followed by a large storm.”

Lancaster University’s Professor Keith Beven, who leads the water quality modelling in the Nutrients in Catchments to 2050 project, said: “At the moment, water quality predictions are very uncertain, often because we do not have enough data to test computer simulations rigorously. However, this project enables us to test several different models with the new high-frequency data and to learn from their shortcomings.”

Scientists from the project have also met with farmers and landowners to discuss how changes in climate have affected land use and farming in the Eden Valley in Cumbria.

The new project will harness this experience and use information from similar meetings around the UK to develop land use scenarios for the future. These will then be combined with climate data to make predictions about water quality in the future.

The Eden Demonstration Test Catchment team involves researchers from Lancaster University, Newcastle University, Durham University, Eden Rivers Trust and other project partners. More info:

The NUTCAT-2050 team at Lancaster University includes Professor Phil Haygarth, Professor Keith Beven, Dr Mary Ockenden, Dr Michael Hollaway, Dr Catherine Wearing and Kirsty Ross

Councillors quit, by elections announced

Josh Banccroft
 Two vacancies have arisen on Lancaster City Council following the resignation of two Labour Party ward councillors.

Councillors Paul Aitchison (University Ward) and Josh Bancroft (Scotforth West) have resigned as members of the council. Both were elected to the city council in the 2011 district elections.

Paul Aitchison
It is expected that the vacancies will be filled in by-elections to be held on 22nd May 2014, which is also the day of the European elections.

• Anyone who is interested in standing for the vacancies should telephone the elections office on 01524 582905.

Work starts on improvement plan for Williamson Park's woodland

Work has started on the first phase of a management and improvement plan for Williamson Park’s historic woodland.

The aim of the project is to restructure the woodland to increase light levels and promote natural regeneration within the park and is part of the Woodland Management Plan commissioned by the park’s owner, Lancaster City Council.

The management plan will guide the future management and development of Williamson Park over the next 5-10 years in ways that respect its heritage and nature conservation value and reflect the city council’s vision for the park as a popular visitor attraction.

Phase one started on Monday (March 31) and will see the felling of a number of trees within the Old Observatory area in the park. Some areas will be closed to the public while the work, which is expected to take a fortnight, takes place.

The timber will be re-used to refurbish the outdoor theatre seating in The Gorge.

Councillor David Smith, Cabinet member with responsibility for parks and open spaces, said: “Williamson Park’s woodland is one of its principle attractions, but to keep it looking its best requires a lot of hard work.

“The Woodland Management plan sets out how we’ll manage the park over the next 5-10 years to ensure it can be enjoyed for generations to come.”

• More details on the Woodland Management Plan can be at

Monday, 31 March 2014

Dynamo launches campaign for new Heysham-Lancaster off-road cycle route

Dynamo - The Lancaster and District Cycle Campaign have launched a campaigning for a direct off road cycle route between Heysham and Lancaster, which will be along existing footpaths and bridleways.

The campaign group argues the current routes, via Oxcliffe Road and the Bypass, are simply not safe enough, with the only alternative cycle path route being through Morecambe.

Dynamo have raised this with Lancashire County Council and continue to discuss their plans at the various cycle forums. "We need now to show a good level of public support in order that the council will consider taking the ideas forward," says Paul Stubbins. "We would like to achieve this route in the same timescales as the M6 link road.

"Much of the necessary infrastructure is actually already in place for this route," he explains, "including a bridge over the railway line. This new safe route would reduce the journey by bike from Heysham to Salt Ayre sports centre by a full mile from 4.5 to 3.5 miles and from Heysham to Lancaster down to five miles."

In order to build support, Dynamo has registered an e-petition with the County Council and will be hosting a number of paper petition events in Heysham during March and April.

If you're a cyclist or simply in favour of more cycling (and providing a means for cyclists to cycle off busy roads in the area), then consider signing either the e-petition or one of the group's paper petitions.

"It would also be helpful if you would contact your local County Councillor and encourage him/her to support the scheme," says Paul.

• The e-petition is here on the Lancashire County Council web site

Sunday, 30 March 2014

County Councillors hear other side of the Fracking argument

Councillors from across Lancashire representing both County and district councils were offered a different view about Shale Gas than previously heard in County Hall, with a presentation by John Ashton, CBE last Wednesday.

John Ashton, a climate change envoy who served three successive foreign secretaries in Government, gave a presentation about the potential risks associated with Fracking both in terms of the affect on climate change and on the local environment.

“You can be in favour of fixing the climate," John noted as he opened the discussion. "Or you can be in favour of exploiting shale gas. But you can’t be in favour of both at the same time.”

He challenged the arguments of the pro-frackers including the latest one that shale gas will enhance our energy security, by making us more self-sufficient and less dependent on imports. This comes at a time that the Prime Minister says that we need shale gas to protect us from ‘gas blackmail’ by the Russians.

However John argued there are several problems with that argument.

“Firstly, the best way to reduce our dependence on imported gas is to reduce our dependence on gas," he argued, "by wasting less energy than we do, generating more of our electricity from renewable technologies and using electricity not gas to heat our homes.

“In any case we cannot get enough shale gas out of the ground to make a significant dent in the amount of gas we need to import, and as far as Russia is concerned the UK actually imports very little gas indeed from them- maximum four per cent .”

“I worry that too many County Councillors have already made their support for shale gas clear, " commented&

Gina Dowding, who represents Lancaster Central after the talk.

"The leaders of the groups on the council have written to the Government to say they want more of the income from it for local communities. But what amount of income is enough to outweigh both the local risks to health and environment as well as increasing climate change?”.

Labour’s Gail Hodson, who had invited John to come to Lancashire, also voiced her concerns on Fracking.

The information coming from the Shale Gas industry has not been consistent, plausible or credible," she fed, "and John’s research and study gives the true likelihood of the effects of the industry on the environment, health and climate change.

"When it comes to relying on information from the shale gas industry itself, they have shown themselves to be as untrustworthy.

John, whopointed out that he is neither a professional campaigner nor lobbyist, summed up his talk with these comments.

“Lancashire now has the chance to put itself at the centre of the new industrial economy of Britain," he enthused, "and in so doing to pull the centre of gravity back from to the real economy in the heartlands from the speculative hothouse of the south east.

“An effective response to climate change requires a shift, within a generation or so in all the major economies including Britain, to a carbon neutral energy system. We understand how to do that; we have the technology and engineering capacity to do it; we can afford to do it. But we can’t do it while making ourselves more not less dependent for power and heating on any kind of fossil fuel.”