Friday, 20 June 2014

New Cuadrilla fracking applications: Lancashire now the front line in National Defense against fracking

Map showing locations, extent and approximate direction
of horizontal wells for the proposed
Preston New Road and Roseacre test sites

Fracking company Cuadrilla Resources have submitted new planning applications for exploration fracking drillpads at Preston New Road (LCC/2014/0096) near Little Plumpton and at Roseacre (plans not yet public), about 5 miles to the northwest.

Lancashire County Council invite the public to comment on them (click here).

Read on for a digest of the applications (they are thousands of pages long).

Frack Free Lancashire Campaign launch
Tomorrow Saturday 21st June between 10am and 4pm, in St John’s Square, Blackpool, the Residents Action on Fylde Fracking campaign group along with fourteen Fylde, Wyre and Preston anti-fracking groups will unite to launch the Frack Free Lancashire Campaign. The campaign will raise awareness to the dangers that shale gas development poses to our communities and to our changing climate and give Lancashire residents the opportunity to oppose Cuadrilla's new planning applications.

Real consultation
This, they believe, is the real public consultation that will reach out to the wider community and let the public know that their voice actually counts. Following the launch each campaign group will be regularly setting up a stall in their town centre to give the public details of how to object to Cuadrilla’s new planning applications that make Lancashire the entry point for commercial fracking in the UK.

Call for an avalanche of objections
They call, in this opening stage, for an avalanche of objections to the following plans and permit applications.
Preston New Road main exploratory fracking application (LCC/2014/0096)
Ancillary Preston New Road seismic monitoring application (LCC/2014/0097)
Permit applications to the Environment Agency - consultation

Cuadrilla formed to open up UK sites for commercial fracking
This would be the first multi-well shale gas site in the UK and the first massive slickwater hydraulic fracturing conducted since Cuadrilla caused a series of earthquakes at its Preese Hall site (now being abandoned) in 2011.

Cuadrilla is under pressure to find extensive frackable shale gas resources to sell on its license to a major corporation with resources to exploit them on a commercial scale by drilling the vast network of thousands of drillpads necessary for commercial shale gas extraction.

Lancashire - the Front Line of National Defense...
The applications seek to open an entry point for commercial fracking in the UK. They make Lancashire the front line of national land defense of the UK against toxic fracking.

... or the weakest link?
Lancashire has enough problems to deal with as it is. That is what makes us a prime target. It is hoped we will be too busy and stressed and individually isolated with making the rent and with other compelling lifestyle choices and afflictions to be able to cooperate together, act and resist them.

A strong knock back needed now
Cuadrilla's collaborators say Lancashire is ignorant and desolate, that exploitation could only improve us, that they are doing us a favour by poisoning our land and water. They offer inducements to key landowners so that others can have their land fracked from underneath without their consent being needed. To stop this requires an organisation strong enough to give Cuadrilla and the corporate global interests it fronts such a knock-back as they will feel even through vast corporate and personal wealth and cohorts of political collaborators and fixers.

The applications
The first application made public (Preston New Road) describes the overall proposal as:

"Construction and operation of a site for drilling up to four exploration wells, hydraulic fracturing of the wells, testing for hydrocarbons, abandonment of the wells and restoration, including provision of an access road and access onto the highway, security fencing, lighting and other uses ancillary to the exploration activities, including the construction of a pipeline and a connection to the gas grid network and associated infrastructure to land to the north of Preston New Road, Little Plumpton"

Cuadrilla's Plans
We are indebted to Frack Off ( for their intensive analysis and breakdown of the application which can be found here with handy reference links to data.  Here are some highlights and you can find more at the Blackpool Gazette website (12 June 2014: 'Revealed - full extent of fracking bid')

Cuadrilla’s plans at Preston New Road involve constructing a 1.55 hectare (3.83 acre) well pad along with an associated access road, ditches, bunds and fencing, and potentially a gas pipeline connection. The total area of the surface works would be 7.34 hectares (18.14 acres). After drilling an initial vertical well through the Bowland Shale to a depth of approximately 11,500 ft, an up to 1.25 mile long horizontal sidetrack would be drilled and fractured. Three additional wells, with horizontal sections, would then be drilled and fractured. This program is planned to take around two years (with one well taking around 100 days, 45 days and 100 days to drill, fracture and flow test). Extended flow testing could last over 3 years.

Plans for the second site at Roseacre are not yet public. It is likely to be similar.

A frac job underway on a Marcellus Shale pad
In Laceyville, Pennsylvania
Water usage - Exploration rate
Cuadrilla envisage using between 5.9 and 8.9 million gallons of water to hydraulically fracture each well, depending on the number of frac stages used (between 30 to 45). A frac stage involves isolating a small section of the well, forcing in fluid into it, before moving on to the next section. However, the planning documents suggest Cuadrilla was originally considering using 60 frac stages which could require 12 million gallons, but scaled back its plans to reduce its massive water requirements. Drilling the 4 wells would use an additional 1.9 million gallons for drilling mud etc.

Water usage - Commercial production rate
However this is not a commercial production rate. It is more like the inch taken before the mile. Work on actual production wells can often reach 5 or more frac stages per day, requiring a much higher rate of water use.

If scaled to thousands of wells on hundreds of pads, which is what commercial production means, when each pad’s peak water usage would be equivalent to a town of 20,000 people, the water supplies of 6.6 million people in this area's United Utilities 'Integrated Resource Zone'  would be under threat. The local water mains system (where local residents already complain of low pressure) is also an issue. Cuadrilla will be hoping to develop the Preston New Road and Roseacre sites simultaneously, potentially doubling the amount of water required. Water supply for just this exploration phase already seems tight.

Waste Disposal
Cuadrilla estimate that 5.61 million gallon of radioactive waste (frac fluid which flows back contaminated with Radium-226, Radium-228 and Lead-210) will be produced during the initial flow testing phase for all 4 wells combined. However, given that elsewhere they state they expect 40 percent of their frac fluid (i.e. 9.44 – 14.24 million gallons) to flowback during this period there appears to be a significant discrepancy in their numbers (which recycling can’t explain). They claim there will be an additional 7.71 million gallons of radioactive waste during the extended flow phase.

No mention is made of other toxic materials, such as heavy metals and aromatic hydrocarbons, which may also be leached out of the target shale formation. Likewise no mention is made of where these materials (radioactive or otherwise) will eventually end up. Most of them (radioactive isotopes or heavy metals) cannot be treated out of existence and will accumulate wherever they are dumped. Mixing them into municipal sewage or re-injecting it underground, the two solutions most used in the US, have both proved extremely problematic. Once they reach their final destination, wherever that is, they will start to build up there.

More toxic waste dumps to come
Frack-Off note that Cuadrilla has identified existing waste facilities in the north of England, which they claim can 'treat' (ie store and wait....) the radioactive flowback fluid. However  65% of the capacity of the identified waste facilities would be taken up by the waste produced by just the Preston New Road site. The two sites combined would overwhelm existing capacity. In the light of this, it becomes clear why in the US the industry is desperately stuffing waste down old oil wells (causing more earthquakes) or dumping it with sewage into rivers. They have no choice, given the massive volumes involved.

Trucks lining up to supply
a Marcellus Shale Fracking Operation (USA)
The Preston New Road site appears to have been chosen to provide a best case scenario in terms of transport as it has direct access off an A-road which connects to the M55.  However, since production involves drilling out fracking sites on a grid across the shale bed, like hair implants across a head, with little choice in their location, few would have such good connections to the road network. Cuadrilla’s plans require over 20,000 vehicle movements during the life of the site, peaking at up to 100 vehicle movements per day. A large proportion of these will be HGVs.

Cuadrilla’s exploration work program is spread over a longer period, compared to production  drilling, to give a less intrusive impression in these critical early stages. Drilling a shale gas well in the US usually takes 30 days or less rather than the 100 days Cuadrilla is planning, while hydraulic fracturing often takes less than 2 weeks rather than the planned 45 days. Commercial constrains would require similar work rates for production in the UK, increasing the maximum rate of vehicle movements by up to a factor of 3.

All this is without transporting water to the site by road. If the local water supply system was overwhelmed by the demand, which seems almost certain at the production phase, either dedicated pipelines would have to be built to bring the water from further afield or it would necessary to transport it by road. Supplying just one, 5 stage per day, frac job would require in excess of 200 extra HGV movements per day and add thousands more HGV movements to the total number of vehicle movements. Connectiing large numbers of dispersed sites to the gas network will present additional problems.

Water and Waste Storage on site
Cuadrilla’s plans involve storing the water for hydraulic fracturing in 20 steel tanks, each holding 40,000 gallons (800,000 gallons in total. This could handle the needs of one (or a few) frac stages but could not supply a modern production frac job, with 60 or more frac stages and rates in excess of 5 stages per day. issues. Commercial production would require greater volumes of water on site, or nearby.

Ancillary application
An ancillary application (LCC/2014/0097) deals with constructing a seismic monitoring array comprising 90 buried, and surface monitors within 2.5 miles of the site. The County Council invites your comments here.

Environmental hazard permit applications
Cuadrilla have also submitted an application to the Environment Agency for a set of permits: EPR/AB3101MW/A001 (Mining Waste), EPR/KB3395DE/A001 (Radioactive Substances Activity) and EPR/BB3093RH/A001 (Groundwater Activity). These permits cover the management of mining waste (drill cuttings and drilling mud), the flaring of gas, the storage and disposal of radioactive waste (primarily radium contaminated flowback fluid) and the discharge of pollutants which could affect groundwater (injection of chemicals during hydraulic fracturing). The Environment Agency invites your comments here.

A nation betrayed... 
Executives and chairmen of the fracking companies and the energy corporations who will exploit their licenses are embedded in the core of our UK government, winning UK shale gas and oil exploration licenses, gaining tax exemptions and rushing through exeptional legislation to smooth their way and maximise their shareholders' profits. They are in our Houses of Parliament, at the heart of the Cabinet, in local and regional Enterprise Partnerships, in 'advisory' bodies and regional funding forums, lobbying for fracking while pretending to represent public interests. They continue to recruit in the corridors of local and national government and its army of consultants and committees.

...answers with a mighty roar
The Frack-Free Lancashire Campaign asks, to begin with, for a mighty avalanche of objections against the planning applications to the County Council and the permit applications to the Environment Agency.

You can object online to these by following the following links and expressing your views:

Preston New Road main exploratory fracking application (LCC/2014/0096)
Ancillary Preston New Road seismic monitoring application (LCC/2014/0097)
Permit applications to the Environment Agency - consultation

You can join the Frack-Free Lancashire Campaign at:

What have our Parliamentary election candidates said?
Green Party candidate Gina Dowding has expressed her party's commitment to put an end to fracking  and backs the Green Party report on sustainable energy and employment: “Energy in the North West - Bringing about a low-carbon, affordable energy future”.

Labour Candidate Cat Smith has not been sufficiently vocal on the subject for us to be certain of her opinions, but we are hope it won't be long in coming. Meanwhile Tom Greatrex MP, Labour’s Shadow Energy Minister, said of the 2012 report on Fracking in Lancashire by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society:

Before shale gas extraction can go ahead, important conditions that have been set by this report and by the Labour Party must be established, met and monitored”.

Conservative Lancaster & Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw (when not tilting at windmills) has expressed his defiance thus:

"I will be pressing the Secretary of State for Energy and the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a community compensation scheme both for individual landowners and the wider community.

"I will be keeping in close touch with DECC, the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive, as well as the energy companies drilling in Lancashire, to ensure that concerns and risks continue to be properly assessed an acted upon.”

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Lancaster University tuition-outsourcing proposal deferred

Lancaster University's Senate yesterday considered a proposal to allow external bodies to set up a 'Pathway to Part II' for 1st year students who failed to meet first year (Part I) entry requirements. Following a number of objections, the proposal has been withdrawn / deferred, pending further consultation.
See yesterday's news item: 'Lancaster University to outsource first year degree teaching?'

Lancaster University news source Subtext informs us that the proposal came from Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) Professor Steve Bradley, whose proposal paper set out a framework for approving external partnerships that would involve the participation of departments, faculty teaching committees and the University-level Collaborative Provision Oversight Committee (CPOC).

The first year of any Lancaster University degree course is called Part I. Part I courses taken in the first year end with Part I exams, which must be passed with qualifying grades to gain entry to Part II - the second and third years. Fail and you're out.

The proposal appears to have been aimed at enabling private companies to assist well-funded international students who were unable to meet first year degree entry standards, in making their way through Part II - the second and third year of a degree course. Part I courses taken in the first year of a Lancaster University degree course lead to Part I exams at the end of the academic year which must be passed with qualifying grades to gain entry to Part II. Fail and you're out.

The 'external body' in the first instance is Study Group International Ltd (SGI), the global student recruitment and training corporation which owns the International Study Centre on the Lancaster University campus. SGI's private foundation courses for international students at Lancaster currently offer English Language tuition and preparation for exams for UK degree course entry qualifications, within the context of a high-ranking UK university setting. They play a significant role in making Lancaster University an attractive academic choice for overseas students.

A number of problems associated with having an external body offering a 'Part I Plus' were raised, including:

  • there was far more to Part I than the academic experience, which would be lost by handing it over to an external body

  • Part I currently offers first year students the opportunity to select three courses from a very diverse  range of subjects on offer, dependent on their entry qualifications. Students thus enjoy a unique opportunity to explore at a higher level at least one subject that, while apparently unrelated to their major of choice, could greatly enrich their perspectives. It was unlikely that an external body could offer such a broadening range. It would have to cherry-pick.

  • One of the previous arrangements with an external college  to deliver selected course modules had been terminated because of inadequate delivery quality. Unfortunately it was cited as a precedent in the proposal.

  • Senate was being asked to agree to allow external, for-profit organisations who may not even be education providers to deliver a key part of the core academic business of the university. When the partnership with International Study Group had first been proposed in 2006 Senate had been assured that such outsourcing would never happen.

  • The proposal represented a 'slippery slope' to privatisation

  • The university's reputation could be significantly damaged.

Prof Bradley withdrew his proposal pending further consideration. Vice Chancellor Professor Mark E. Smith gave Senate an undertaking that no new partnership 'outwith current procedures' would be entered into.

Local bereavement charity needs your vote

Tigerlily Trust, a local charity that provides support for grieving families is in the running for a windfall from the initiative Big Break for Charities and is asking for your votes.

Tigerlily Trust ( is one of several charities seeking support through the competition. Tigerlily helps parents that have lost their baby through miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death. It is an invaluable resource for bereaved families in the Morecambe Bay NHS Trust area and also offers support to parents outside the area through its closed group, website and Facebook page.

One in four women experience baby loss and over 6,000 babies die every year in the UK. 250,000 are lost due to miscarriage.

Organised by Direct Debit, the Big Break for Charities competition provides funding to charities with the first place due to win £2,000. Founder Val Isherwood says:

“We are a small local charity run by a group of women who have experienced baby loss and rely solely on donations. Winning this competition would be an amazing achievement and would enable us to help many more families in the area.

“After my own daughter Lily was stillborn in October 2011, I wanted to do something to help other parents experiencing baby loss in our community,” she continues. “Having been told that Lily would probably not survive birth, I had time to prepare for the most tragic of outcomes to my pregnancy. But many do not have this time. I wanted to make and collect as many memories as possible to remember my daughter which really helped.”

With this in mind, Tigerlily Trust donates Remembrance Boxes to local hospitals for bereaved parents. These contain items that enable them to build a collection of memories such as kits to help take hand and foot prints or to make little plaster impressions. Tigerlily Trust also provides Care Packages to help mothers who lose their babies through miscarriage, as well as a support network for grieving parents to meet in person or online through their closed group.

To vote for Tigerlily Trust please just click here or text BIG BREAK 0762 to 78866 (texts charged at standard message rate). The closing date is 30th June.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Lancaster University to outsource first year degree teaching?

See update: 19.06.2014: Lancaster University tuition-outsourcing proposal deferred

Lancaster University's Senate will be breaking very new ground today as it debates a proposal to privatise the teaching of a range of first year course modules by outsourcing them to a private company on campus.

According to Lancaster University news source Subtext,  the Senate is being consulted only very late in the day as they have heard rumours that  Deputy Vice-Chancellor Prof Andrew Atherton has already given the green light for Study Group International (SGI) to recruit to their Part 1 (first year) Lancaster study programme (intended to be drawn up in close consultation with relevant departments).

Study Group International Ltd (Lincoln) 
Professor Atherton came to Lancaster in 2013, from his previous post as Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Lincoln University, which he held from 2002. Fortunately, he was already familiar with SGI operations as they began operating at Lincoln during his time there. SGI Lincoln provoked significant criticism from the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in their September 2012 report, mainly, the use of a non-accredited examiner and exam moderators and an inconsistent approach to academic work submitted after deadlines. These initial difficulties were later largely resolved  to the QAA's satisfaction.

Study Group International Ltd (Lancaster)
Study Group International have run foundation courses for international students at Lancaster University since 2007. These are preparatory or 'pathway' courses for overseas students whose English language skills or academic qualifications don't yet meet required standards for admission to a UK degree course.  At that time there were a number of objections to this outsourcing of the foundation courses previously offered by the University itself, namely that:
  • University departments who had been undertaking this work for 30 years had been denied the opportunity to provide it

  • The SGI website for their Lancaster foundation course was cloned from the Lancaster University website template, thus giving the impression that it was a part of the University, rather than a separate, private company.

  • The wording of the SGI website implies that international students who undertake the SGI foundation course at Lancaster will be shoo-ins for places on degree courses at Lancaster University.

  • The move represented another step in 'creeping privatisation' of academic study and research.

  • The courses might depend for their profitability on paying lower wages to less qualified staff.

Global Recruitment Agency
Although UK student enrollment numbers have declined, many universities have managed to increase their intake via the international student market. In this they are hampered by limited budgets for recruitment - which is where private companies come in. SGI's recruitment arm INTO recruits in 68 countries and spends $45 million (£27 million) a year on recruitment, which is far beyond the budget of any single academic institution.

There are obvious advantages to be seen in partnering with a global recruitment agency, at a time when public funding for further education and academic research has been repeatedly cast into disarray.  Lancaster University is enthusiastic about the overseas talent it attracts and reliant on the accompanying tuition fees, which are higher for non-UK students.

A seamless transition...
In 2011 the company integrated itself still further into the University when it established the International Study Centre in the George Fox building on Lancaster campus where it offers 'a seamless transition into year one of a broad selection of mainstream courses at Lancaster University'.

This appears to suggest that SGI are offering international students who may be lacking the necessary qualifications acceptance on a degree course at a prestigious UK university, which UK students must earn by studying and passing exams set to national standards.

....gets ever smoother
The arrangement proposed to Senate today offers SGI the cachet of offering foundation courses delivered by teachers from the actual degree course to which admission is sought; degree courses dependent on enrollment fees.

Subtext further hypothesises that SGI are gearing up to launch this as an addition to their product offering from Monday of next week. We can neither confirm nor deny it until then. 

Students who pass the first year's Part 1 of a Lancaster University degree course earn enrollment to second and third year Part II. The pathway SGI Ltd is laying for itself is on track to their taking over entire degree courses under the auspices of Lancaster University. 

Lancaster's St Martin's College had a similar partnership on a not-for-profit basis, before it completed its half-a-century long struggle to earn the authority to award academic degrees itself as part of the new University of Cumbria. At SGI's accelerated rate, with the University Senate and Council's consistent approval, we can soon look forward to seeing the university's signs on the A6 change to 'Study Group International University (Lancaster) Ltd'. 

Research funding
There are further revenue streams in SGI's pathway. As well as students, academic centres such as Lancaster University also attract commercial research funding. Lancaster has strong ties to BAE Systems armaments manufacturers, among others, but claims academic independence from its corporate funders' aspirations. The creeping privatisation of academic research - and the lack of funding for independent research - is an ongoing subject for debate (largely academic) as it increasingly invalidates such claims.  

Corporate Profit v. Independent Quality...
Prof Atherton explained the dilemma to the Times in their March 2014 feature article 'Pathways to Profit':
“the classic issue you’re going to have with a private company is at a certain point there will be the risk of a trade-off between quality and revenue.... Study Group takes a “reputational approach” that keeps student standards high."

Corporate Standards 
Lancaster University itself faces the same dilemma. Two things Senate needs to consider are:

  1. Whether a 'reputational approach' depends on academic standards or a hefty international corporate marketing budget, given that the latter is what SGI brought to the table in the first place - the University brought the academic standards

  2. How independent standards can be reliably monitored and maintained through what even a rocket scientist could identify as a steady transition to becoming a private training and research facility in a global corporate chain. 

Local Cinema Round-Up for 18th to 26th June by Peter Clarke

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

A good period for new releases. There is comedy with Chef (15); comedy/romance with The Fault in our Stars (12A); an action mystery with 3 Days to Kill (12A) and the musical Jersey Boys (15).

We have lost the films A Million Ways to Die in the West and Bad Neighbours, but see the return of Captain America and the animation Tarzan Also we keep Muppets most Wanted after its return to the cinema last week.

Recommended viewing this week is the horror film Oculus with its emphasis on suspense and atmosphere over gore. Also of note is the eerie classic Under the Skin and the black and white portrayal of Nazi occupation in Rome Open City.

High culture is represented with Henry IV parts I and II and the opera Manon Lescaut.


22 Jump Street
Director: Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jonah Hill, Peter Stormare, Channing Tatum, Amber Stevens, Ice Cube
The movie finds Police officers Schmidt (Hill) and Jenko (Tatum) working undercover at a local college to investigate supply of an illegal drug. Actually the movie is a deliberate re-hash of the earlier '21 Jump Street', but this still makes it a zany comedy with humour ranging from slapstick thought parody to the surreal. Well rated and very enjoyable.

Director: Amma Asante
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Emily Watson. Sarah Gadon, Matthew Goode, Tom Wilkinson, Sam Reid
Inspired by a painting and set in England in the eighteenth century, Belle tells the story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Mbatha-Raw), an illegitimate mixed race daughter of Admiral John Lindsay (Goode), She and her cousin are raised by Lord Mansfield (Wilkinson) and his wife (Watson) where both girls are groomed for marriage. Lord Mansfield comes to finds himself presiding over a slavery case whereas Belle becomes attracted to the aspiring lawyer John Davinier (Reid) who awakens her social conscience. The movie benefits from a very strong performance from Mbatha-Raw and it addresses issues of slavery and social inequality via the medium of a period romance. A fine, enjoyable and serious film.

Edge of Tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Jonas Armstrong, Bill Paxton
In the near future aliens attack the earth and Major Cage (Cruise) is killed in battle. However he becomes enveloped in a time loop in which he repeatedly re-lives the combat and his death. However he learns more with each incarnation and increasingly becomes a more formidable solider. The film is based on the novel 'All you Need is Kill' by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, and it is difficult to write a review that does not refer to 'Groundhog Day'. However the movie in not without moments of dark comedy that adds to the entertainment.

Director: Gareth Edwards
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, David Strathairn, Bryan Cranston, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche
Godzilla rises again with an excellent cast and plenty of special effects as cities are destroyed. Joe Brody (Cranston) is a physicist who investigates the events at a Japanese nuclear facility where Godzilla is accidentally released. It is his soldier son Ford (Taylor-johnson) who battles the beast as it stalks San Francisco. There is some excellent performances, especially from Cranston and the director tells the story from a human viewpoint. Indeed we don't get a good glimpse of the monster till the latter half of the film. A spectacular disaster movie and one of the best re-telling of the story of Godzilla.

Jersey Boys
Director: Clint Eastwood
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda, John Lloyd Young, Christopher Walken, Vincent Piazza
A film version of an award winning musical telling the story of the formation of the rock group 'The Four Seasons'. This in an entertaining movie that succeeds in recreating the rock and roll era. The highs and lows of the working class band members are explored against a backdrop of fine musical accompaniments.

Director: Robert Stromberg
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Angelina Jolie, Miranda Richardson, Elle Fanning, Sharlto Copley, Sam Riley
In part a re-telling of the tale of sleeping beauty but from the point of view of the villain of the story, Maleficent (Jolie). Maleficent was driven to evil following an act of betrayal which cost her the ability to fly. She battles to save her shadowy forest kingdom and plots revenge by placing a curse on the infant Aurora (Fanning), daughter to the king. Aurora herself becomes caught in the conflict between forest and human kingdoms. This is a rather dark fantasy for a Disney film, but a great tale with powerful characters and impressive special effect.

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: Mike Flanagan
Certificate: 15
Cast includes Karen Gillan, Rory Cochrane, Brenton Thwaites, Katee Sackhoff
A son (Thwaites) murders his parents and spends ten years in custody. On his release, he wants to put the past behind. However his sister Kaylie (Gillan) is convinced the key to their parents death lies in a malevolent antique mirror which used to hang in their parents home. She discovers the mirror has a sinister history and tracks it down with a view to studying it. However the mirror starts to work its evil again. The story of the family history with the mirror is told in flashbacks with action alternating between past and present. In this way the suspense builds well as the ghostly visions start to predominate giving an atmospheric horror movie.

The Fault in our Stars
Director: Josh Boone
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Laura Dern, Nat Wolff, Mike Birbiglia, Willem Dafoe
A romance between Hazel (Woodley) and Gus (Elgort), teenagers who have just months to live when they meet at a cancer support group. The movie is based on the best selling novel by John Green and it is predominantly aimed at a young adult audience. With an excellent dialogue the film is a very moving love story that could easily leave you in tears.

X-Men: Days of Future Past
Director: Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Patrick Stewart, Hugh Jackman, Jennifer Lawrence, Ian McKellen, Peter Dinklage
The film starts in the year 2023 where a war has resulted in the near destruction of all mutants. Trask (Dinklage), leader of Trask Industries, had developed robot soldiers that can destroy mutants under the Sentinel Program. The mutants send Wolverine (Jackman) back to the year 1973 in order to stop Mystique (Lawrence) from killing Trask as it was this death that resulted in the creation of the Sentinel Program. This is a fine movie worthy of the X-Men franchise that will not disappoint.

Government talks up future of the high street as new competition to find nation's best is launched

Is retail on the up? The government says so

Shoppers in the North West are being asked to celebrate their high streets after a new report revealed increasing optimism and the growing popularity of ‘click-and-collect’ services.

A national competition is being launched today by High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis, alongside new evidence showing that our high streets are rising to the challenge set by consumers who want increased convenience and more flexibility of services on high streets.

In the North West, the number of convenience stores has more than tripled since 2004, and the number of cafes has nearly doubled.

The search, to find and celebrate the best high streets in the country, is being run by the Future High Street Forum and the Association of Town Centre Managers. There are six separate categories in recognition of the diversity of Britain’s high streets: City Centre; Town Centre; Market Town; Coastal Community; Village and parade of shops.

The Government claims its long-term economic plan has supported local high streets with a billion pound package of investment that includes targeted business rate discounts, sensible planning changes and action tackling over-zealous parking practices.

Many high streets affected by the economy in 2008 are now thriving as a result of making changes to serve their communities in increasingly popular ways and High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis believes this should be recognised. 

High Streets Minister Brandon Lewis
“Whether it is a market town, coastal village or city centre, there are so many high streets across Britain doing fantastic work and now every community will be able to get behind their home town’s bid to show how popular they are.

“This competition will discover where the Great British High Streets are and celebrate their brilliance. I want the public to tell my panel of experts why their area should win. The most popular will get all the accolades that come with being named the best in Britain when we announce the winners in autumn.”

The competition comes as new analysis by Experian – – found that high street managers and shop owners are positive about the future thanks to a strengthening economy and the emergence of the ‘one stop shopper’ who prioritises convenience and leisure. This is contributing to greater footfall and people spending more time on the high street.

The study identifies the rise of this evolving consumer behaviour where shoppers prefer ‘convenience culture’ such as ‘click-and-collect’ services so they can multi-task and have more time to socialise while doing their shopping in this convenient way.

Different parts of the country are catering this in a variety of ways: whether it is giving older people easier access to services, helping bargain hunters browse the best deals online or offering city dwellers more fun and variety. This shift is being reflected in a high street that is rapidly moving beyond traditional retail into a ‘Great British’ experience. 

The report points to the steady growth of convenience stores (+153%), cafes (+75%), fast food (+30%) and restaurants (+20) as proof of this evolution.

Will Lancaster's city centre improvements help put the city on the retail map?

The report on North West retail found that:

  • People want more independent shops
  • Absentee landlords leaving vacant shops in disrepair was an issue
  • Convenience stores have more than tripled
  • Parking is a deterrent
  • Closer links needed between high street and economic development
  • Family values worried about value, incomes, family friendly, internet shopping
  • hard pressed singles social media users on low incomes looking for value
  • struggling pensioner looking for value and easy access to services
  • People are getting older – high streets must offer good service and leisure in nice, safe local places
  • People want leisure experiences the most – high streets must not only offer unique retail, but also social and cultural experience too
  • People want to be able to live on our own terms - high streets must provide more choice
  • People are using technology in everyday life – high streets must provide information, shopping, socialising and deal hunting
  • People are driven by value

To enter the competition, Town Teams will be able to apply for one of six categories which recognise the diversity of high streets: City Centre, Town Centre, Market Town, Coastal Community, Local Centre i.e. precinct or parade of shops; and Village. The competition will be open until the end of August. Town teams are invited to nominate their high streets and bids will be published online so communities can show their backing alongside at Then experts from the Future High Street Forum will decide which are the best from a shortlist of 30. 

• More information on the Great British High Streets competition is available at Support the competition at #GBHighSt

• Do you think the improvements to Lancaster City Centre thanks to the EU-backed "Square Routes" project will help put us back on the map? What do you think about Morecambe city centre? Comment below!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Police crack down on domestic violence offenders during World Cup

Domestic abuse offenders are being advised to seek help to change or risk paying the penalty as police work to protect victims during the World Cup.

Lancashire Police and partner agencies have promised to protect victims by focussing on those who abuse their partners and families during Brazil 2014.

Designated officers will be tasked with responding solely to domestic abuse incidents during England's World Cup games using dedicated cars, and victims are being urged to ensure they make use of the legislation available to them in the fight against abusers.

Since Clare's Law – a scheme which allows people to request information from the police about whether their partner has a domestic violence conviction- was introduced three months ago, 43 disclosures have been made by Lancashire Constabulary. You can find out how to do this on the Lancashire Police website - or simply dial 101.

As well as being available to victims, Clare's Law can also be used by friends, family and third-party organisations to request information if they are concerned about someone's welfare. The police will make a decision whether to disclose information based on information revealed through police checks, and in each case will assess whether the disclosure should be classed as "urgent".

Superintendent Sue Cawley, Head of Lancashire Public Protection Unit, said:
"Domestic abuse is an issue which people face and the police tackle on a daily basis all year round.

“However, it is well known that there’s a tendency for incidents of domestic violence to increase during high profile sporting events, particularly as more alcohol is consumed. With this in mind, we are using the competition to target offenders.

“High risk domestic abuse offenders and those with links to football violence have been identified across the force area and officers will be paying special attention to them.

"Our concern is that violent men may inflict violence on their partners, blaming their actions on things like stress or alcohol. There is no excuse for domestic abuse and perpetrators must be clear that the World Cup does not give them any justification for abusive behaviour.

“It is essential that every victim understands that there are people and services in place which can help them.

“We also have new powers available such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders and additional resources; we are determined to use them to protect victims, prevent offences and prosecute offenders."

Specialist officers from the Public Protection department will also be on duty at key times to provide an enhanced service to domestic violence victims and gathering the best evidence possible to bring perpetrators to justice.

Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner Clive Grunshaw has commissioned an awareness campaign for the duration of the World Cup, and he said:
"The campaign is designed to make perpetrators think twice about their behaviour and understand the impact their actions have.

"But it is also sending out a very clear message – if you offend this summer, or at any other time, Lancashire Constabulary will arrest you, and you will spend time in a police cell. It is statistically proven that incidents of domestic abuse rise during the World Cup, and this will quite simply not be tolerated.

"I would also implore victims to make use of the legislation available to them. I am committed to ensuring vulnerable people are protected, and the introduction of Domestic Violence Protection Orders and Clare's Law are an important tool in this.

"I know victims, and their families, in Lancashire have already made use of Clare's Law, and I truly believe it is legislation which will save lives."

If you cannot manage your anger or your appetite for bullying without doing harm or threatening it, or you know somebody who can't, you can get confidential help by calling Lancashire Police on 101.
You can also call the National Domestic Violence Freephone Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

CCTV released after man assaulted in Lancaster

Lancaster detectives have released CCTV images of two men that they want to speak to in connection with an assault in the city centre last month.

At shortly after midnight on Saturday 24th May 2014, the victim, a 30-year-old man from Morecambe, was sat on a bench sharing food with another man when they were approached by two men.

The pair began to verbally abuse the man sat with the victim and when he asked them to stop, he was pushed off the bench and kicked to the face, causing him to lose consciousness.

The victim was taken to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary by police where he regained consciousness and was treated for a fractured nose and eye socket.

DC Dylan Hrynkow from Lancaster CID said: “This was an appalling attack on a man who had just enjoyed a night out and was trying to prevent an unprovoked situation from escalating.

“I would appeal to anyone with any information about this incident or those or may recognise these individuals to get in contact with us.”

• Anyone with information can call police on 101 quoting reference number 673 of 24 May 2014. Alternatively, they can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Monday, 16 June 2014

City Council 12,000 new homes target based on obsolete figures

Turley report image:
'Forecasts have been developed using POPGROUP technology' 

Population growth forecasts used by Lancaster City Council to justify building 12,000 new homes in this area are based on old figures that have now been revised downwards (by half) by the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The Green Party is calling for a complete overhaul of the housing targets and the Council has now commissioned a revised report.

Growth projections halved
The ONS released new population projections for Lancaster district last month. These forecast a much lower rate of population growth (half) than earlier ONS projections. The revised figures make obsolete Lancaster City Council's statement that 'the Lancaster district is likely to need an additional 12,000 new homes over the next 20 years to meet housing needs fuelled by an increasing population and a growing economy.' 
See previous story (23 May 2014 - '12,000 new homes locally? Council launches major planning consultation'.

Consultation based on obsolete projections
 It's unfortunate that the Council is now already halfway through a series of public consultation events asking the public to select locations and formats for 12,000 new homes, with an option of reviewing the green belt, as the report it is based on is invalid. Projected need is now less than half that figure - about 150 houses per year.  The Council told Virtual-Lancaster in May that 'Through the work we have done already we have found sufficient land to accommodate 7,000 new homes.' This is more than enough for the next 20-25 years, so there is no need to select even more sites.

Turley Associates, the independent consultant
The City Council's figures are quoted from a study they commissioned from consultancy Turley Associates, who have a history of keenly championing a more permissive approach to greenbelt housing developments.

Turley's website explains:
"The Council had previously assembled a substantial housing need evidence base and the commission was specifically targeted at modelling a range of potential dwelling requirements linked to associated demand generated from household growth. These were built to take account of a range of factors identified as having a direct bearing on the establishment of future need for housing in Lancaster, including natural change and migration as well as alternative levels of economic growth."

With the help of the City Council, Turley thus projected an increase in population of over 20,000 people in this area between 2011 and 2031.  The new ONS population growth projections show that:

  • Between the censuses of 2001 and 2011 the population actually increased by 3800. 
  • Between 2011 and 2021, the ONS is projecting an increase of 4,200. 
  • Previously the ONS had been projecting an increase of 8,500 people from 2011 to 2021
  • It now predicts an increase of 8,900 between 2011 and 2031, still based on an expectation of increased net migration.
  • This is already less than half the number (20,000) actually used by the city Council to predict local housing needs. 
The ONS population projections are used by government to inform household formation projections which government guidance says should, in turn, 'provide the starting point estimate of overall housing need.' As new ones were due so soon, it's particularly unfortunate that Turley's report just missed them.

Green councillor Tim Hamilton-Cox said:
"The ONS projection for population increase in Lancaster district has more than halved up to both 2021 and 2031. That means the household formation projections need to be reduced accordingly and Turley has used what are now out-of-date projections. The end result is that a requirement to plan for more than 12000 new homes by 2031 looks even more disconnected from reality. 

"The Green party is calling on the city council to undertake a complete overhaul of the housing target so that the amount of greenfield land being allocated for new homes in the draft plan is significantly reduced and matched more closely to likely population growth."

Economic Growth Projections - missing report
The local demographic is aging, and presumably will not all be needing their homes forever, but Turley have explained that the soaring economy predicted over the next 20 years will or should attract substantial net migration into the area on a scale possibly comparable with the Industrial Revolution.

Turley explained in their report that:
The actual level of employment growth likely to be seen over the plan period is difficult to accurately estimate and it is not the intended aim of this research to attempt to do this.
However, it is evident that the area is expected to see growth. 

Turley have cautiously added a covering note to their report (Page 63, footnote *32) stating:
"It is understood that the Council plans to commission a separate study to consider in more detail the future prospects of the economy and the implications for the allocation of employment land. The outputs of this regarding future job prospects will need to be considered in the context of the projections modelled in this report and may require future population and household projections to be run."

This City Council have told Virtual-Lancaster that this separate study, also commissioned from Turley, has not yet been completed. This is fortunate as it is likely to need considerable revision, if it is not to become so quickly obsolete as their first report.

Turley's first report suggests that their expectation of economic growth is mainly inspired by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP), a 'creative (i.e. unaccountable) collaboration of leaders from business, universities and local councils', who are perhaps planning for loss of housing availability around Fylde as land is consumed by fracking.

LEP explain an additional reason for their optimism on their website:

"Our Enterprise Zone is being developed at two world-class locations – BAE Systems’ sites at Samlesbury and Warton - where we are already gearing up for growth.  Up to 6,000 highly skilled jobs will be created directly, plus a further 5,000 to 7,000 in the local supply chain."

You can read more about arms-manufaturers BAE Systems  'Al-Yamamah' corruption scandal here.

New report commissioned. Government to blame. 
Labour Coun Janice Hanson, Cabinet member with responsibility for planning and regeneration, told Virtual Lancaster:

"It is important to be clear that the consultant's advice about numbers is just that - advice!

"No decisions have been taken by councillors yet and we are very keen to get the responses from our communities before decisions are taken.

"It’s equally important to say that we would much prefer to be considering growth needs over the next few years rather than the next twenty years as required by central Government.  Indeed the recently published figures by ONS demonstrate the pitfalls of the Government's approach.

"We will be asking Turley to recalculate based on the new figures and pointing out to Government the unpredictability of its twenty year timeframe."

Putting a "value" on Lancaster's buses more important than trains to London, says transport expert

Ever since Lancashire County Council was forced to back down on plans to savage bus services earlier this year after huge public outcry it's been looking at new ways to put a "value" on these vital service – but its latest consultation has gotten short shrift from transport expert Professor John Whitelegg.

This week, the Council started  to ask people what they think about a new way to put a value on local bus services when deciding which to prioritise for support, but Professor Whitelegg has pointed out that both the Council's own spending on what he considers "white elephant" road building,  and the government's plans to spend billions on  the HS2 rail line, are huge in comparison compared to the "savings" that would be made through bus service cuts. And these "savings" would not be of any value to local taxpayers who lose their vital buses.

The council says will take account of responses received during the consultation and is proposing to agree and publish a new bus service assessment criteria by September, but has again highlighted the need for £300 million in cuts over the next four years as a result of government funding reductions, which means the subsidised buses users fought to save  are still under threat.

Currently, most buses are run by commercial companies, but the council finances others which provide a valuable service but do not receive enough passenger fares to make a profit.

Transport planners apply guidelines stating that a subsidised service must still make 40% of its total operating costs through fares to offer enough value for money to be worthy of support. But this means that services which perform poorly from a financial perspective are more likely to be withdrawn when there's a need to reduce services irrespective of their value to the comm! unity they serve.

The county council is now reviewing its criteria, and proposing a new way to value buses using a scoring system based on factors including their contribution towards the economy, and helping people get to work, education, medical appointments, shops and leisure facilities. The system also takes into account whether alternative public transport is available, its impact on older and disabled people, and contribution to improving air quality in areas affected by pollution

"Public transport is vital to many people and I know how highly people value the bus services which are subsidised by the county council," County Councillor John Fillis, cabinet member for highways and transport, acknowledged. "The changes we are proposing aim to ensure that future decisions about which bus services we support with the limited funding we have available are made in a fairer way which takes full account of their value to the community they serve.

""We think our new criteria will result in better decisions being made in future, and we're grateful to receive feedback from people who would like to give us their views." "

Professor John Whitelegg
"The first thing to say about Lancashire County Council is that its £300 million cut would not be as serious a problem if it had not embarked  on a very foolish and costly bypass (HM6L) that will add to the financial crisis just as its foolish zero rates increase will add to the same crisis," counters transport expert Professor Whitelegg.

"The Heysham Link Road is not fully funded by central government and will cost the Council at least £10 million of its own cash (that means our cash).

"I am not impressed by the proposed new way of valuing bus services," he adds. "It is almost impossible  to give things like access to health care a numerical value or ranking and the result will be a very technical data set that does not help very much. How will it balance things like older people getting to hospital appointments compared to younger people getting to work or college?"Putting numbers on things will involve judgements  about the weight given to one kind of trip compared to another and that is a political judgement  and not something that a lot of maths will help with."

John suggests that instead of assessing bus services from County Hall, transport chiefs should engage with local bus users at a local level - especially those in places like Skerton, the Lune Valley and the Ridge whose buts were set to be cut last time around - to find out exactly what they want from their service and how they use it.

"If the council really wants to understand  the value of bus services it should organise a meeting in the Ridge Community Centre (for example), tell everyone on the Ridge well in advance about the meeting and ask those residents who turn up what they use the Ridge bus for, how often and what it means to them. For some this bus will be a really valuable lifeline that helps to avoid lonliness and isolation and the council needs  to hear these stories and plug into the worries that people have and the way they live.  The proposed scoring system can't do this.

"The council also needs to tell central government that it wants more money for socially valuable services," he argues. "It can quote the results of the Ridge meeting. It should not accept cuts in bus services and should tell government ministers that Lancashire does not accept the wrecking of lives that these cuts bring.

"It should also raise more cash from the council tax and say 'we are doing this to protect older people, vulnerable groups and do our level best to protect all our residents.'"

As for government plans to spend huge sums on other transport initiatives, he's hugely unimpressed.

The costs of HS2 are "eye-watering" says John
"The level of bus service cuts being made by local authorities is generally assumed to be the result of central government cuts in local authority funding. Assuming this is the case, we should all make the point that central government has decided to fund high speed rail to the tune of £42 billion," he notes.

"This means an eye-watering, staggering amount of subsidy for rich people travelling to and from London (we know it will be rich people because high speed rail brings so-called 'premium fares').

"All of us, including Lancashire County Council should be saying that we want a clear ranking and prioritisation of transport spending in this order," he suggests.

"Firstly, create a local walking and cycling infrastructure; second, spending on local buses; thirdly, on local trains (eg trains to Morecambe, Preston, Carnforth, the Lake District); and, finally, regional trains (eg trains to Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds); and then, finally, trains to London.

"When government has fully funded those local and regional transport systems they are welcome to start funding trains to London - but not before!"

 • The consultation with district and parish councils, passenger groups, bus operators, and community and voluntary transport groups, as well as inviting comments from members of the public, until Thursday 31st July 2014.  To view the criteria and complete an online questionnaire go to

Alarm bells ring as "Infrastructure Bill" sneaks easier loss of protection for public rights of way into law

More power stations? Simplez, thanks to new legislation on its way

Local people already concerned at how flawed the planning process is - especially as new housing schemes in Lancaster come under investigation and with plans in the works for a third nuclear power station at Heysham may be alarmed to hear that, in future, there will be little that can be done to stop some of them.

The easier loss of public rights of way is just a small part of the Infrastructure Bill which would also see the inclusion of changed trespassing laws which, subject to a 12 week consultation, would give fracking companies the right to drill horizontally for shale gas under private land, and companies working on the exploration of resources for new geothermal energy projects.

This week (Wednesday 18th June) sees the second reading of the Bill, which proposes that, in future, the Secretary of State will be able to hand over any amount of public land to the arms-length, non-departmental Government body, the Homes & Communities Agency. The HCA can then dispose of it to developers. There will be no need to go through local authority planning processes - the Secretary of State can give the green light without any local politicians or planners' involvement, just by consulting a panel of two people.

As for public rights of way, the proposed law allows any of them to be extinguished. There is no need for permission for easements (i.e. roads, powerlines, railways. drilling, tunnels, etc). And any existing laws that protects land and prevents it being built on, appear to be overriden by one simple enabling clause).

Needless to say, the construction industry is cock-a-hoop, arguing the Infrastructure Bill will set the tone for the coalition’s construction industry legacy, as it looks to convince voters it can deliver the programmes of work needed to upgrade the UK’s creaking energy, road and social infrastructure.

Construction News outlines in detail what the bill will mean for the construction industry, noting that among other headline reforms created by the bill is the Highways Agency being turned into a government-owned, contractor-operated company [Go-Co], managed by the Department for Transport, continuing its "assault on red tape and planning, but this time for major infrastructure projects, by simplifying the process for making changes to Development Consent Orders on nationally significant infrastructure projects."

In other words - stopping local people from having any say on what will be built in their area when it comes to major works like roads, projects like HS2 and more, campaigners point out, a 'simplification' process initiated by the Labour government and some of which was already instigated under the first Infrastucture Bill last year.

>The Guardian also noted that as part of this legislation, the coalition government has effectively abandoned a pledge to make all new homes "zero-carbon" by 2016, as new legislation in the Queen's speech would not apply to housing built in small developments and companies would be allowed to buy exemptions from new green standards. The paper reports the bill would exempt all small housing developments from the new green standards and allow builders to pay their way out of their full obligations. Where the developer chooses not to go "zero-carbon", they can build a home with emissions 44% lower than 2006 levels and make up for this by contributing to alternative green schemes at a rate of between £38 and £90 per tonne of carbon to be saved.

While there are elements of the proposed legislation that are welcomed, such as the proposal to tackle the growing problem of invasive alien species which pose a significant threat to ecosystems as well as damaging property and infrastructure, there is a lot that will impact on local planning and citizens ability to protest.

View the full Bill on the Parliamentary Publications web site

38 Degrees Petition