Friday, 23 January 2015

Mateusz Otfinowski sentenced to life

Mateusz Otfinowski

Mateusz Otfinowski, 23, of Lord Street, Morecambe has today been sentenced at Preston Crown Court to life imprisonment for the rape of two women and for trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence.

Otfinowskipleaded guilty in October 2014 to the rape of a woman in Lancaster on 3 March 2014 and the rape of a woman in Morecambe on 26 July 2014.

Earlier in January he also pleaded guilty to trespass with intent to commit a sexual offence. This relates to a separate incident on 15 March 2014 at student accommodation in Lancaster in which he gained access to the property via an insecure window. 

Otfinowski will serve a minimum term of seven and a half years in prison before he can apply for parole.

Detective Inspector Richard McCutcheon said: “Otfinowski subjected each of his victims to a terrifying ordeal. These were despicable crimes committed against lone, vulnerable women who were targeted late at night. Otfinowski approached his victims, who were not known to him and gained their trust and confidence by being polite to them, engaging them in conversation and offering to walk them home. He then attacked one female in a secluded side street and the other in her home after entering the premises without the victim’s knowledge or consent. 

“In March 2014, Otfinowski also gained access to student accommodation in Lancaster with the intention of committing a sexual offence. Fortunately the female students who were asleep at the time had locked their bedroom doors and he was unable to gain entry to their rooms and left the address.

“I am pleased with the sentence handed down to Otfinowski today and I hope it brings some closure to his victims. I would like to praise them for the tremendous courage they have shown throughout the investigation.

“Thankfully cases like this are rare and I would urge anyone who has been the victim of a rape or sexual assault in any circumstances to come forward and report the crime to us. We are committed to investigating all allegations of this nature thoroughly and sensitively.

• Anyone who has been the victim of similar offences can contact the Police on 101 and quote log number 0183 of January 22nd 2015 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111. Alternatively you can contact Lancashire SAFE Centre on 01772 523344 who can provide independent support and advice

Head in the Sands - MP Morris calls again for a Bay Tunnel

Morecambe Bay

BAE Systems announced in December that Costain, who won the County Council construction contract for the Heysham-M6 Link road, have won a further contract in a £300m+ scheme to upgrade its Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in preparation to build a replacement for the Royal Navy's Vanguard class Trident nuclear submarines.

Closing the loop
Morecambe MP David Morris, who was a very active champion of the controversial Link road project, spoke in parliament yesterday soliciting support (he didn't get it) for his campaign for a 15 mile road tunnel to be built under Morecambe Bay from Heysham to Barrow which, we note, would connect these two Costain projects.

Morris' campaign went public after the National Grid revealed plans earlier last August to build a tunnel for an electricity pipeline under the bay.

The idea has been condemned by the AA motoring organisation as impracticably long and by Better Transport as a waste of money that would be better spent on improving the public transport infrastructure.

Nuclear Partners
Costain's BAE Systems contract has also been heralded as record-breaking. The two companies have close links, with numerous leading personnel having worked for both at different times. Costain also have a history of construction partnerships with UK nuclear installations in Cumbria.

Cumbria is under sustained pressured from the UK government Office for Nuclear Development to accept a site for a giant, underground nuclear waste disposal and storage facility north of Barrow near Elterwater, despite robust opposition from the majority of residents in Cumbria and the Lake District National Park.

North West planners look to military-industrial complex....
BAE Systems, who manufacture arms and associated systems, are also major movers and shakers in Lancashire and Cumbria, with their projections for expansion of the military-industrial complex via new taxpayer-funded UK defense contracts cited in numerous local and regional planning documents.

....but jobs fail to materialise at BAE Enterprise Zone 
Unfortunately the Samlesbury Enterprise Zone near Preston, created in 2011 and anchored by two BAE sites at each end, was slated by government ministers last month (see BBC report) as the UK's 'worst-performing', as it had not yet created any jobs at all.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Big Garden Birdwatch in Williamson Park This Weekend

Everyone can help with the 2015 Big Garden Birdwatch at Williamson Park on Sunday 25th January 2015.

If you are an early riser, why not get along along between 8.00 and 9.00 am for bird spotting with the experts.  

"This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the Park's birds with members of the local bird watching groups", said Hilary Smith of Friends of Williamson Park who are organising the event.  "We will be meeting at the bird feeding station in Fenham Carr at 8.00 am to get a close look at the birds using the feeders. This will be followed by an hour long walk around the Park."

If you prefer a more leisurely Sunday morning, get to the Café in the Park after 10.00 am and collect a survey form and information sheet from the display, and do your own survey.

Last year 18 different species of birds were seen in an hour including a grey wagtail, goldcrest and bullfinch.  The Friends want to see if they can beat that count.

• If you would like information, or would like to join the Friends of Williamson Park, please email

Witnesses sought after dogs kill pet chihuahua in Morecambe

(Updated 22:15): Virtual-Lancaster received reports earlier today of an 85-year-old woman who was walking her tiny chihuahua yesterday morning on Hampsfell Drive, Westgate, when she and her dog were approached from behind by a young lad on a bike with his two dogs - one on a lead, one off.

The one off lead ran and attacked her chihuahua - and then the second also attacked and the chihuahua was killed.

As you can imagine this lady is beside herself with grief, but over the day posts on the local Facebook group Pets Lost and Found, led to both sides of the awful encounter emerging - and that the equally devastated dog owner had handed himself into the police and handed over his dogs.

• Anyone with any information who who may have witnessed the attack is still urged to contact Morecambe Police on 01524 596933

Eric Morecambe Day gets 23rd July date

The triumphant return of the Eric Morecambe statue to the Morecambe sea front is being followed up with work on the fundraising plans for the 'Eric and Ernie' Wall Art to be created by sculpture Graham Ibbeson to be sited in The Sunshine Garden of Fame adjacent to the Midland Hotel.

The wall will be unveiled on 23rd July 2015, designated Eric Morecambe Day, the sixteenth anniversary of the statue's unveiling.

A web site has been set up to provide an online focus for the Day, although there's not much there yet -

The project will be coordinated by Graham's business partner Jim Cadman on behalf of the local community in Morecambe and the friends and admirers of Eric Morecambe from all over the world. 

"In a word these plans are fantastic", enthused Eric's son Gary when the plans for the Day were first announced last year. "In two words: really fantastic!

"The whole project is very exciting. I love the idea of the bronze wall art of Eric and Ernie and of the Eric Morecambe Day, which is a sublime, annual tribute. As a family we all love the idea of an Eric Morecambe Day and we will make sure one or more of us is there to celebrate these Days with the people of Morecambe".

Several ideas are in the works to raise money to fund the project, including an Eric in Morecambe tribute magazine which will be published in March, telling the story of the original statue plus tributes from many of Eric's friends and admirers plus hundreds of original photographs and exclusive items of rare theatrical memorabilia.

Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce is also planning events such as a Morecambe and Wise Celebrity Golf Tournament, a Tribute Dinner at the Globe Arena and Morecambe Carnival will also be backing the project.

It's also hoped a special First Day Cover, designed by local school children, will be released as part of the celebrations.

The Sunshine Garden of Fame will be created around the new bronze wall art to be sited adjacent to the Midland Hotel and diagonally opposite the Winter Gardens Theatre. There will be 'Sunshine Plaques' incorporated into the walk way with each one dedicated to a celebrity friend or admirer of Morecambe and Wise.

A limited edition replica of the 'new' Eric Morecambe Statue signed by Graham Ibbeson dated 11 December 2014 is also being released.

• For further information on sponsorship or support please email Jim Cadman

Golden Arches on their way for Lune McAqueduct?

Site of proposed McDonald's

Planning permission has been granted for a McDonald's drive-thru takeaway and two-storey restaurant with parking on Caton Road adjacent to the A6 Canal Aqueduct and just east of the grade 1 listed Lune Aqueduct.

Green councillors Tim Hamilton-Cox and Andrew Kay weren't lovin' it and they called in the decision as Lancaster City Council officers were intending to approve construction under delegated powers. Instead the decision was approved by councillors at the planning committee on 5th January.

You can view the planning application here.

Councillor Andrew Kay explained, "Most residents on the Lune Valley Estate just along the road have objected to the development; as has the Canal and River Trust (previously British waterways) because of the impact on the setting of the nationally-significant aqueduct."

The tree-fronted site is opposite the golf course on a green field allocated for employment purposes under the adopted  Lancaster District Local Plan and the Draft  Preferred Options Land Allocations DPD. According to the officers' report, the Local Plan allocation is flexible on that stretch as  "it is recognised that a precedent has already been set in relation to leisure type uses being established in employment areas along Caton Road".

The Canal & River Trust have worked hard alongside teams of volunteers for years restoring and maintaining the Canal and its bridges to a high standard. Their objection was that the new structure would impinge on views of the approach to the Lune Aqueduct from the Bulk Road Aqueduct. They pointed out that the structure is Grade 1 listed and therefore one of an exceptional group of nationally important heritage buildings.

The business is expected to bring 65 Mcjobs with it.

Sites in other locations were considered unsuitable because the level of passing traffic was not considered high enough for the enterprise to be viable. The applicants suggested that 70-90% of its customers would be passing along the road anyway so would not add much to congestion, although they also believed that it would appeal to employees at the neighbouring Lansil industrial estate. who (unless they spend their lunchtimes walking in car exhaust for their burgers and fries) will have to drive along Caton Road.

Caton Road is to be widened slightly on its northern side. This will dovetail neatly with the M6 link construction work higher up and, eventually, enable provision of a right turning lane and a new pedestrian island to for pedestrians to cross.

There will also be a cycle / pedestrian link to the nearby cyclepath under the Lune Aqueduct.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

County Council planning report recommends refusal of fracking applications

Jerusalem builded here:
An artist's impression of a proposed Lancashire fracking site

Lancashire County Council's Development Control Committee  will spend Wednesday 28 and Thursday 29 January, from 10am at County Hall in Preston, deciding on Cuadrilla's two fracking (shale gas drilling) exploration applications at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood.

The Committee's Executive officers have published their recommendation that the applications for exploration drilling be refused on grounds that 'as it has not been  satisfactorily demonstrated that noise impacts would be reduced to  acceptable levels and would therefore unnecessarily and unacceptably result  in harm to the amenity of neighbouring properties by way of noise pollution.'
You can download the full report from the County Council website here.

The final decisions will be taken at next week's meetings and there is considerable speculation about whether Cuadrilla's champions on the Council will be able to swing the vote in their favour, as most people seem to have made up their minds already.

Demonstrations planned
Local anti-fracking groups will be organising demonstrations outside County Hall on both days. Lancaster people who oppose these applications will catch the 8.27am train on both mornings, travelling together.

An actual Lanashire Cuadrilla fracking site
Those in favour
By December, the report states, 173 representations in support had been submitted, following intensive networking by the Chamber of Commerce, linked with the North West Energy Task Force, a lobbying group sponsored by fracking company Centrica.
Some of these attended briefing sessions given by Cuadrilla's 'independent' environmental consultants Arup, one of which was most agreeably hosted in Peel Tower at the Trafford Centre.

You can see Arup's presentation in support of Cuadrilla, entitled 'Shale Gas: Myths and Realities' on the NW Business Leaders Team website. In the Q and A they suggested that the fracking sites would be a 'low key operation like an intensive chicken farm.' This is perhaps like stating that an atomic bomb is like a giant bundle of candles. Other briefings not sponsored by the applicant are available, although not on that website.

Many potential drilling sites are owned by Peel Holdings, whose property holdings in the North West are gargantuan, including airports, seaports (eg Heysham Port), retail centres such as the Trafford Centre, housing and business development land, country estates, and much, much more, with representatives on every business lobby group in the region. You might say that Peel has taken over where Lord Ashton left off.  Fracking licenses are attached to the site, not the fracking company and are marketable. Peel is owned by a Qatari family. Qatar is, coincidentally, where 'independent' consultants Arup have won major World Cup construction contracts.

Issues raised in favour include varying estimates of additional revenue and jobs for the area,

The report illustrates an unprecedented level of co-operation from a range of public and private organisations, from United Utilities to the Environment Agency, which granted toxic waste licences for the site last week. The Environment Agency's pension fund is heavily invested in Cuadrilla's enterprise. Sir Philip Dilley, Chair of the Environment Agency was, until last April, Executive Chair of  Arup Group.

Even Prime Minister David Cameron has helpfully appointed Lord Browne, the Chair of Cuadrilla to be the Government Lead Non-Executive, managing non-executive appointments to each government department.

Those against
11,125 objections had been received from members of the public to the Preston New Road site and 8,924 objections to the Roseacre site as well as objections from many stakeholder agencies and local councils.  Virtual-Lancaster understands that further petitions objecting to the plans were being handed in at County Hall this morning.

Objections covered a great many issues, including
  • water shortages
  • risk of toxic land and groundwater contamination 
  • toxic gas flare air contamination 
  • threat to public health 
  • threat to rare species 
  • long term storage of large volumes of heavily toxic waste 
  • risk of seismic disturbance  
  • over-dependence on fossil fuels in contradiction of climate change policies 
  • Cuadrilla's track record of sub-compliance, earthquakes and well casing damage 
  • costs to public in tax subsidies to fracking companies 
  • relative lack of investment in sustainable energy development in contradiction of climate change requirements
  • low expectation of profitability 
  • heavy industrial traffic in rural areas 
  • large scale disruption and noise for many years
  • local residents being unable to sell their homes already 
  • damage to tourism
  • the future problems associated with the large scale commercial fracking on dozens of sites that is planned to follow the exploration. 

It is clear from the report that a great deal of work has been done to exclude, on paper at least, some of these potential impacts.

Sorting out the bugs
For example, estimated daily water use during hydraulic fracturing activities has been reduced from 765 cubic metres per day to 600 cubic metres per day by reducing the proposed number of
hydraulic fracturing stages and reusing flow back water to make up part of the fracturing fluid for the subsequent fracturing stages. The flowback water would be stored on site and removed by fleets of tankers to 'suitable arrangements in place with licenced waste disposal companies'.

The water requirements for the Project would be provided by a pipe connection to an adjacent United Utilities (UU) water main. That particular main has a history of busts and so would be upgraded with pressure and flow regulators.

The report notes that a £13 million scheme to clean and upgrade the relevant water pipeline, which runs from Singleton into Blackpool, is currently being planned for 2015 and a new water supply point of connection has been  identified on the new stretch of water main.

The report projects that the project seems likely to cause disruption to the area for up to six years, during its use, with monitoring of the well casings for a further 30 years after, assuming all goes well.
It also projects that monitoring of soil and groundwater would take place for a further five years after the operations ceased, with the objective of returning the site to agricultural use.

External regulation
However most of the environmental and public health impacts are regulated by external authorities, such as the Environment Agency, whose pension fund is counting on Cuadrilla.

The report notes that LCC must presume that Cuadrilla will comply with regulation, noting that: 'With regard to the applicant's previous operations and compliance with planning  permissions, a planning application goes with the land rather than with the applicant  and it is right to assume that the applicant would comply with conditions attached to  any planning permission.' In other words, LCC has concluded that it may not concern itself further with these objections nor learn from experience where fracking is concerned.

Thin end of the wedge
The report can only consider the applications as they stand and doesn't refer to the further stages planned in Cuadrilla's project, should exploration of the shale beds prove fruitful. The purpose of Cuadrilla's exploration is to determine whether fracking on a commercial scale would be viable. This would involve an array of dozens of drilling sites across the area of the shale bed, which underlies much of Lancashire.

It appears that the only area of objection left open to the Council is that of noise and disruption of the initial exploratory fracking, which would contravene Local Plans set out for the area. How heavy this narrow area of reference to the overall impact on Lancashire and UK residents will weigh, against the demands of dinosaur oil companies, sleazy politicians and Qatari billionaires, will be decided next week by our elected councillors.

Commenting on the report Gina Dowding, Green Party Lancashire County Councillor said:

"Along with all the residents in Lancashire who have researched the terrible impact that fracking would have on the County, I am both relieved and pleased that the officers are recommending refusal of the planning applications. Fracking is bad news for local communities. There are no long term benefits. We have to hope now that next week the county councillors on the development control committee will take note of the report and vote for refusal at the meetings. "

Local Cinema Round-Up for 21st to 29th January 2015 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.

This is a good week for new releases. We have action, drama and suspense with Mortdecai (12A); Kingsman: The Secret Service (15) and The Gambler (15). Also there is the amazing dark comedy Birdman (15).

We have lost the films Dumb and Dumber To; Exodus: Gods and Kings and Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast. Also Fifty Shades of Grey has left the screens, but this will return in February. However we do see the return of The Nut Job and Love Rosie.

The must see movies of the period are the excellent science fiction Ex Machina and the rather harder to categorize Birdman. However there is still plenty of family entertainment with Penguins of Madagascar; Paddington; Into the Woods and Peter Pan. In addition there is still chance to catch the excellent drama Foxcatcher or enjoy horror with The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.

High culture represented this week with NT Live: Treasure Island; Bolshoi: Swan Lake and Royal Opera House: Andrea Chenier.


American Sniper
Director: Clint Eastwood
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Ben Reed, Luke Grimes.
This is the story of Chris Kyle (Cooper), the most lethal sniper in American History with 160 confirmed kills. Following the attacks of 9/11 Kyle enlisted, and became a Navy SEAL marksman serving four tours of duty in Iraq. The film is based on his autobiography. As a sniper, Kyle was separate from the other troops and was forced to make life and death decisions depending of his perception of whether the person in his rifle cross-hairs was a terrorist or simply an innocent bystander. The film does not address the politics of the Iraq conflict, but is told from Kyles point of view. Thus his is the only character who has any depth (his history and the increasingly strained relationship with his wife is told in flashbacks). This is a tense movie, well acted and thought provoking, if a little one dimensional. Still it merits a trip to the cinema.

Big Eyes
Director: Tim Burton
Certificate: PG-13
Cast includes: Amy Adams, Christopher Waltz, Danny Huston
The film is based on a true story. Margaret Ulbrich (Adams), a divorcee with a child, married the estate salesman Walter Keane (Waltz). Margaret was an artist, producing enigmatic pictures of children with big eyes. Her husband had artistic pretensions and when his wife's work started to sell, he claimed it was he that was the artist. The paintings became best sellers and, with their success, Margaret's confidence grew. The movie follows their turbulent divorce in a Honolulu court as both the Keane's claimed the big eyed pictures to be their own. This is something of a change of style for Burton. The movie benefits from excellent acting and impressive photography of San Francisco. It is a something of a quirky movie, but excellent entertainment.

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Lindsay Duncan, Edward Norton, Michael Keaton, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifiankis, Emma Stone.
Subtitled 'The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance' this is the story of washed up actor Riggan Thomas (Keaton), once famous for playing a movie superhero Birdman. However once he left the franchise, his career never recovered. Thus he is making a last ditch attempt to revive his fortunes by directing and acting in a play at the St James theatre on Broadway. The play is not going well and Riggan is plagued by his inner voice (manifest as the character Birdman), by quarrels with his actors and arguments with his family. The film appears to be shot as a single, cut free. sequence and it contains surreal, 'over the top' interludes. This is a dark comedy, a flight of fancy, about a self absorbed man. The acting is superb (especially Keaton) and the whole is a quirky must see movie that could be the film of 2015. If you can only see one movie, this is the one.

Ex Machina
Director: Alex Garland
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Oscar Issac, Alicia Vikander, Corey Johnson, Domhnall Gleeson.
Caleb (Gleeson) is a twenty-four year old programmer working at the world's largest Internet Company. He wins a competition and so gets to spend a week at the private estate of Nathan Bateman (Issac), the CEO of the company. Nathan unveils his work, a female android Ava (Vikander), and explains to Caleb that his role is to perform a Turing test on her to explore if her thinking and behavior is indistinguishable from that of a human. As Caleb gets to spend time with Ava, she starts to become dominant in their relationship, trying to recruit Caleb for her own ends. The film is reminiscent of Frankenstein, with Nathan increasingly taking the role of mad scientist who does not have the emotional empathy to support his creation. The movie is excellently shot with impressive special effects that do not get in the way of the story. A superb, thought provoking science fiction drama that explores the interaction between man and machine.

Director: Bennett Miller
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Sienna Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Mark Ruffalo, Steve Carell, Channing Tatum.
A sports movie (Wrestling) based on a true story. Mark Schultz (Tatum) is a wrestler who won a gold at the 1984 Olympics. However he lives rather under the shadow of his more charismatic brother Dave (Ruffalo), who is also a wrestler and his coach. Meanwhile, the millionaire John du Pont (Carell), heir to the Du Pont chemical corporation, bankrolls the American National wrestling team. He offers to train them at Foxcatcher farm, the home of the Du Pont family, ready for the 1988 Olympic games to be held at Seoul. John DuPont has his own demons, feeling inadequate and trying to impress his mother (Redgrave). Mark Schultz, at first pleased to be invited to train at Foxcatcher, becomes increasingly disillusioned as does his brother as they are manipulated by du Pont. The alienation between the three men builds to a horrifying climax that makes for a really gripping movie.

Into the Woods
Director: Rob Marshall
Certificate: PG
Cast Includes: Meryl Streep, Emily Blunt, Johnny Depp, James Corden, Anna Kendrick
This is a Walt Disney adaptation of Sondheim's 1987 hit musical of the same name. The film posits that the fairy tales of Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Rapunzel are all happening simultaneously. Meanwhile a Baker and his wife wish to begin a family, but they cannot due to a witches curse. To lift the curse they must collect items from each of the fairy tales. This is a star studded musical with excellent performances, especially from Meryl Streep who plays the wicked witch. The original stage musical had a number of adult themes which are softened for the Disney version, but the end result is a great and entertaining family movie.

Love, Rosie
Director: Christian Ditter
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Lily Collins, Sam Claflin
Rosie (Collins) and Alex (Claflin) have been friends from early childhood and repeatedly become close to falling in love with each other. However every-time they start to come together other people and situations serve to come between them and they drift apart. In time. Rosie becomes a single mother and Alex in turn gets married. However there remains a spark between them - but will they ever get together? The movie is based on the 2004 novel 'Where Rainbows End' by Cecelia Ahern. The acting is first rate and the whole is a first rate romantic comedy.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Director: Peter Jackson
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Ian McKeller, Andy Serkis, Martin Freeman, Elijah Wood, Richard Armitage, Stephen Fry, Christopher Lee
This is the long awaited final installment of the Hobbit trilogy and it concludes the adventures of Bilbo Baggins. The action immediately picks up where the previous movie left off. Thorin and his dwarves have reclaimed their homeland from the dragon Smaug, but Smaug now mounts an attack on Laketown. Meanwhile Sauron has sent legions of Orcs to the Lonely Mountain. Hence armies of Dwarves, Elves and Men must come together to determine the future of Middle Earth. The film is full of action, with numerous set pieces, as each of the major characters is give chance to shine. However, with the exception of Thorin who develops 'dragon sickness' there is little of interest taking place at an emotional level among the characters. Bilbo increasingly starts to be sidelined by the plot. This reviewer could not find any fault in the movie, but neither could he summon the enthusiasm to care about the destiny of Middle Earth.

The Imitation Game
Director: Morten Tyldum
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, Rory Kinnear, Keira Knightley
A portrayal of the life of computer genius Alan Turing (Cumberbatch) who masterminded the cracking of the German Enigma code in the second world war and continued to develop computer theory at Manchester University. The film opens in 1951 with a robbery taking place in Turing's house. Thence the film explores Turing's life by flashbacks to his schooling and his life in Bletchley Park. The acting in the film is excellent with Cumberbatch giving a particularly good performance. However the film rather backs away from Turing's homosexuality and his subsequent suicide after his persecution by the British Government.

The Nut Job
Director: Peter Lepeniotis
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Katherine Heigl
Set in the 1950s, this animation follows the adventures of Surly the squirrel who, with his friend Buddy the rat, plan to steal from Maury's Nut shop. However the shop proves to be a front for gangsters who are planning to rob the nearby bank. This combination leads to action, car chases jokes and general mayhem. This is an inoffensive film that will amuse children but leave parents a little bored. An enjoyable romp, but not destined to be a cartoon classic.

The Theory of Everything
Director: James Marsh
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Eddie Redmayne, Felicity Jones, Charlie Cox
A biopic of the early years of the world renown physicist Stephen Hawkins, based on the memoir 'Traveling to Infinity: My life with Stephen Hawkins' by Jane Hawkins. At Cambridge, Stephen Hawkins was an active young man who fell in love with literature student Jane Wilde. However, aged 21, Hawkins had an accidental fall which led to his being diagnosed with motor neuron disease and given just two years to live. The film shows the marriage of Stephen and Jane and how she supported him and their children during the years of their marriage (they divorced in 1995). This is a beautiful film likely to leave the audience in tears. The acting is excellent especially Redmayne's portrayal of Hawkins and the movie shows the lighter side of Hawkin's character, his humour and his passion.

The Woman in Black: Angel of Death
Director: Tom Harper
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Helen McCrory, Jeremy Irvine, Phoebe Fox, Oaklee Pendergast
This is the sequel to the film 'The Woman in Black' which was based on the novella by Susan Hills. The Second World War is raging and a group of eight school children are evacuated away from London and the Blitz to rural England. They are accompanied by their Headmistress Jean Hogg (McCrory) and teacher Eve Parkin (Fox). The group occupy the abandoned Eel Marsh House which had been haunted forty years ago. Eve tries to build trust with Edward (Pendergast), one of the vulnerable children, who starts to exhibit trance like stages. Subsequently other children start acting strangely as a dark force is awakened. Eve seeks the cause of the problem aided by a pilot Harry Burnstow (Irvine). The film is a very competent horror movie with some romantic interest. It is well acted and has plenty of frights. However like many sequels, it does not quite live up to the suspense of the original.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Snow expected in Lancashire tonight

Photo courtesy Lancashire County Council
Lancashire County Council is advising people to be prepared for snow following a Met Office yellow warning across the north west this afternoon (Tuesday 20 January). 
The county council's gritting crews have been working around the clock over the past week, and with snow forecast they're ready to treat roads across the whole county from this afternoon onwards. 

This will involve the treatment of the main routes throughout the county including non-trunk motorways and A roads, B roads and single routes in and out of villages. 

The county council will be carrying out the following activity this evening: 

  • All priority routes in East Lancashire will be gritted this evening, and we will continue to treat secondary routes, once priority routes are clear. We are also continuing to grit the priority footways during the daytime. 
  • All priority routes in Chorley, Preston, South Ribble and West Lancashire will be gritted this evening. 
  • All priority routes in Lancaster, Fylde and Wyre will be gritted this evening. 
  • Drivers on the night shift will be patrolling and monitoring all routes across the county and treating them where necessary throughout the night. We will also continue to refill grit bins and replenish salt piles where necessary. 

The county council is well-prepared for the current cold snap with over 30,000 tonnes of salt in stock and 49 gritters at ten depots across the county. 

Of the 4,300 miles of road the county council is responsible for, around a third (1,500 miles) are part of the priority road network for salting and snow clearing during the winter. People are urged to take extra care on the roads and allow extra time for journeys. 

The county council has also given out the following winter advice to residents: 

Stock up on grit - The salt provided in grit bins is to help make the roads and pavements safer for everyone - it's not for private use. Stock up on grit for your personal use from a range of DIY stores. 
It's also useful to have a snow shovel, a torch, batteries, a first aid kit and some appropriate footwear and warm clothes handy. 

Clearing snow and ice - The government has issued advice for people when clearing snow - find out more about the Snow Code on the council's website -

Parking during winter - If you park your car on a main road or gritting route during winter, please make sure it's not causing an obstruction. Blocked roads could mean the county council are unable to grit that road. It could also mean your vehicle is at risk of damage if our gritters have to manoeuvre around it. 

Keep warm and well - Look after yourself and keep an eye on friends, relatives and older neighbours who may be more vulnerable to the cold weather. Make sure that they are safe, warm and well and have enough medication and food if the weather is severe. 

Get your flu jab - The flu jab is offered free to people who are at risk to make sure that they are protected against catching flu and developing serious complications. Contact your GP to find out if you are eligible for a free flu jab. 

Choose well - During the winter, A&E departments are under a lot of pressure. A&E and 999 calls should only be used for life-threatening and emergency conditions only. There are a range of other places you can go for NHS treatment including your local pharmacy, your GP or local walk-in centre. 

• To find out when and where we are gritting visit our winter website Follow Lancashire County Council on Twitter @LancashireCC and Facebook ( for regular updates on gritting activity – look out for #LancsWinter. 

Greens choose Quaker chaplain Phil Chandler as Prospective Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale

Phil Chandler with Clare Long Summers, the local Green Party's 200th member. Photo: The Green Party 

IT Manager and Morecambe resident Phil Chandler has been selected by North Lancashire Green Party as the Green Party Prospective Member of Parliament for Morecambe and Lunesdale.

Phil, who lives in Morecambe with his wife Kathy and their two daughters, has had a varied career, starting out as an engineer in the aerospace industry, followed by a number of years in Africa working in relief and development programmes. On returning to the UK he retrained in IT and was the IT Manager for HDRA (now Garden Organic), coming to the North West to be part of the local arts organisation, folly. He now works at Lancaster University, helping to run the IT systems there.

He is an active member of Morecambe Warblers, a keen sailor with Morecambe Sailing Club, a member of theTrade UnIon UNITE and Quaker chaplain to Lancaster University.

"I believe Morecambe Bay could be a world leader in the technologies vital for a secure future," feels Phil. "I know that from Skerton to Silverdale, and from Heysham to Arkholme, this is an area of great beauty with a proud history, living through tough times. However, with a dramatically renewed vision it could, and should, be an example of how to combine a love of where we live, with enough good quality housing, sustainable and affordable energy, secure employment, and a society that allows all to flourish.”

“I am standing because I feel politics has let us down badly over many decades," he says. "The Green Party are striving to bring an end to the politics of scapegoating, cuts to essential services, a creaking health service, almost permanent war, a growing reliance on food banks, and ecological degradation.

"Labour, Liberal and Tory governments have created a very insecure world yet we have all the ingredients for a more co-operative, shared one. The present system promotes unconstrained greed, rising inequality and forced growth that puts corporate profits ahead of the well-being of people and planet“.

“It is possible to have a society where the job of economics is to allow people to live the best lives they can. It is time for us to make that happen. Green Party policies have a different emphasis and direction based on the common good of all, now and for future generations. “

With an electorate of nearly 70,000, Morecambe and Lunesdale is a marginal seat and likely to be fiercely contested by sitting Tory MP David Morris, with Labour candidate Amina Lone and Liberal Democrat Matthew Severn previously announced. Mr Morris won the seat with a majority of 866 votes in 2010.

On the web site Vote for Policies, the Green Party are leading the way in Morecambe & Lunesdale. Give it a try and see whose policies your views are closest to:

Monday, 19 January 2015

MPs pressure David Cameron to release uncensored Fracking Report

A total of ten MPs have now called for DEFRA’s censored ‘Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts’ report to be released in full, including four MPs from David Cameron’s own party.  Last week, at the House of Commons' Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on the environmental risks of fracking, three MPs made requests to see the complete report.

As we reported last week, Lancashire County Council will take a decision on whether Cuadrilla can resume fracking for shale gas at the end of this month.

Over 4,700 people have now signed the ‘Stop Fracking Censorship’ petition and an additional 1,500 tweets were sent using the #DefraCoverUp hashtag on Twitter. The climate change minister Amber Rudd MP, responded saying the redactions had been made under exemptions in the freedom of information rules. The shadow energy minister, Tom Greatrex MP, described the minister’s explanation as the “thinnest justification I have ever heard for not publishing a document”.  

“We have to have transparency," argues Andrew Miller MP. " I think it is absolutely outrageous that we have documents that are redacted”.

With an election looming, the Prime Minister will not want to seem like he’s leading this cover up.  Now is the time to concentrate our efforts on showing David Cameron we require full transparency from our Government.  The hidden contents of this report will influence how MPs vote on Monday 26th January and the outcome of the much-criticised Infrastructure Bill. 

"If enough MPs demand the report is released in full, David Cameron will have no choice but to release it before next Monday," say campaigners. "The Bill proposes controversial changes to our Trespass Laws that will erode our land rights, and pave the way for fracking.  

"Ask your MPs to support the amendments to the Bill proposed by Dr Caroline Lucas MP and Norman Baker MP, which call for the removal of the fracking-facilitating clauses.  Dr Lucas is also calling for an outright ban on fracking.  We believe more MPs will support a ban once they are privy to the contents of DEFRA’s secret report."

Keith Taylor, Green MEP for South East England, said “By heavily redacting the ‘Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts’ report the Government wants to obscure the truth and not explain it.”

• As well as signing the petition. make sure our MPs know exactly what you think about Government censorship and this contentious Bill. Email your MP to tell them they should ask David Cameron to release the report and support the Lucas/Baker amendments.  Click on this link to send your email via this simple ‘Write to your MP’ tool: