Friday, 30 January 2015

Divers to search Lancaster Canal for wreck of 1920s diphtheria barge

Sunken wreck site?
Lancaster Canal at Field End Bridge
winding hole

Divers from the Kendal and Lakes Sub Aqua Club are making plans to search the Lancaster Canal for a sunken wreck that might have been used as an infirmary barge during the 1920 diphtheria epidemic.

Frank Sanderson of the Lancaster Canal Trust tells us that his organisation is in the process of locating the submerged wreck of what might have been an infirmary or morgue barge on the Lancaster canal at the Field End Bridge (169) winding hole, near Stainton ('winding hole' is canalspeak for a turning area).  This stretch is now full of Horse Tail weed, but Frank suspects that it may well be the site of a wreck.

The LCT and its working parties of hardy volunteers are planning to dredge the stretch in their ongoing project to restore the Northern Reaches of the Lancaster Canal to use.

Police given notice
Because there is a chance of finding a wreck as the next stretch of the canal is dredged, the local community police have been notified and local farmers have been consulted. As Frank says, it only an old canal story but he's confident that a wreck is located at the former turning area

Diphtheria epidemic
There was a Diphtheria epidemic in 1920, and it is thought that it was a hospital ship transporting victims from outlying areas to Lancaster, or possibly bodies intended for burial or cremation.  These would have been children for the most part. Before the advent of vaccination in 1942 there were around 60,000 cases of diphtheria each year in the UK, leading to 4,000 deaths. It was a much-feared, contagious childhood bacterial disease and the canal would have offered the most quarantined form of transport.

In the 1914-18 war, wounded soldiers were transported by canals, as this was a safe and smooth way, rather than by rickety carriages, or farm carts over rough roads, and it's thought that this practice may also have been adopted for diptheria victims, who would have needed to be quarantined.

Following a recent report in the Westmorland Gazette, Frank's story has created considerable response from older people in the community and an account has emerged about a little girl who may have died on board.

It is believed that the barge was sunk by the owners as there was no means of fumigating against Diphtheria in those days and it is a deadly and contagious bacterial disease.

Diving team investigates
Divers from the Kendal and Lakes Sub Aqua Club have been to photograph the site, and hope to explore it once necessary permits have been obtained. At present the water is very cold indeed and, although the water is only around 2m deep it is very muddy, so they will have their work cut out. On the plus side, they are enthusiastic about the project - and are not expecting to come across any bodies, as the canal would not have been considered a suitable place to leave them, at any time in its existence.

An old mud-dredger?
There's also a conflicting theory that the wreck may be turn out to be an old mud-dredger, although there doesn't seem to be much consistency in dumping a vessel in the very canal where it was dedicated to clearing obstructions.

Tell Frank 
Frank wonders if perhaps other canal communities have similar stories and he would be interested to hear them.

You can find out more about the Lancaster Canal Trust and contact them too via their website at

Newly-restored stretch of
Lancaster Canal 
Spring opening for newly restored stretch
The Trust is now completing the final stage of restoring the 280-yard Stainton to Sellet Hall length with help from the Waterways Recover Group . The transition walls adjacent to Stainton Crossing Bridge were rebuilt, the stop plank grooves refurbished and coping stones replaced. A Canal & River Trust employee unearthed some king posts and the Trust purchased and fitted new stop planks.

Further profiling and some relining of this section has been completed. Re-watering of this length has been approved by the Environment Agency and as minimal canal extraction and rain water causes the level to slowly rise, tests are constantly carried out. It's an outstanding achievement and an invaluable legacy for the area.
See our previous story 'Wildfowl welcome restored canal stretch'.

The IWA Trailboat festival, from 30 May to 1 June, hopes to be the first to use this section, if the restored stretch is sufficiently settled by then.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

City's Housing need projections fall apart as Enterprise Zone job expectations 'flop'

Image used by HM Gov. to publicise Lancashire Enterprise Zone

Unfortunately the Lancashire Enterprise Zone near Preston, created in 2011 and anchored by two BAE sites at Samlesbury and Warton, was slated by government ministers last month (read BBC report) as the UK's 'worst-performing', as it had not yet created any jobs.

Projections of 13,000 new jobs there, which were quoted by Turley Associates in their Lancaster Housing Requirements Report, published in October 2013, were used to argue a need in the local housing plan for 12,000 new homes to be built in the Lancaster area.

Turley's figures are now shown to be in need of considerable downward revision, as were their population growth projections. (See previous story: 'City Council 12,000 new homes target based on obsolete figures') Both projections now appear to have been heavily skewed upwards and based on discredited data.

BAE Systems, who manufacture arms and associated weaponry and security systems, are strong attractors of government (taxpayer) subsidy. They are major movers and shakers in Lancashire and Cumbria, with their upbeat projections for expansion of the Lancashire / Cumbria military-industrial complex via new taxpayer-funded UK defense contracts cited in numerous regional planning documents.

Having its sites reclassified as an Enterprise Zone means that BAE is subject to lower business rates and fast-track planning permission.

The region appears to have been pinning its hopes on increasing global instability with an accompanying lucrative growth in the arms and security market. BAE has a track record of bribery, most notably the Al-Yamamah arms deal scandal. Its customers include some of the world's most repressive regimes and many of their products are designed for the domestic, forceful control and pacification of civilian populations. It had been anticipated by the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership  that other businesses would naturally want to be close to them.

Lancaster City Council told us last May that they commissioned a study of local economic projections in relation to new housing need from Turley in 2013. It was expected in mid 2014 but, as far as we know, it has not yet been published.

Spotlight Writing Surgeries back next month

Art: Nick Miller
Lancaster's writer's group Spotlight is to host more of its Writing Surgeries next month.

Whether you are just starting out or have been writing for some time, whether you write for performance or the page -- would you like feedback on your writing?

Then these One-To-One Surgery with Spotlight organisers Ron Baker and Sarah Fiske might just be for you. Places for the £5, 20-minute sessions (free for unwaged) are limited and must be booked in advance as possible.
A sample of your work will be required prior to the surgery.

Founded in December 1995, Lancaster Spotlight is funded by Arts Council England, The Big Lottery Fund and supported by Morecambe Town Council. Spotlight works in association with litfest. Web:

• Spotlight Writing Surgeries 12.00 - 2.00pm, Friday 13th February, Lancaster Library, Market Square, Lancaster/ To sign up for a 20 minute writing surgery e-mail: or telephone: 01524 381642

• The next Spotlight event is on Friday 20th February at the Story with Rosa Francesca and Cartoon Food (music), Austin Wilde (prose), John Martin and Chris Hanlon (poetry), compered by Simon Baker

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Lancs County Council defers fracking decision 8 weeks

Tractor procession of farmers against fracking
arriving at County Hall today

At the same time that a moratorium on fracking was being announced in Scotland, Lancashire County Council's (LCC) Development Control Committee today resolved to defer their decisions on the planning applications relating to sites at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood in light of the submission of further information by the applicant, Cuadrilla.

The date at which the committee will reconvene to determine the applications will be published as soon as possible but it is not expected to be sooner than 8 weeks.

County Councillor Munsif Dad, chair of the committee, said: "During the meeting members heard legal advice that supported the request for deferral, which will enable time for consultation on the new information provided by the applicant.

"We will reconvene as soon as we can to consider the decisions in light of the new information when it is presented to the committee. Everyone who has registered to speak for or against the applications will be invited back to do so at that time.

"Clearly as the planning applications remain live the council is unable to comment further at this stage." 

More 'consultation' time needed
LCC's planning report on the application had recommended refusal of the applications on grounds of unacceptable levels of noise and disturbance.

Cuadrilla's fracking operation in Balcombe was suspended temporarily last year when residents complained of noise levels that rattled their windows and exceeded promised noise limits.

Cuadrilla has asked for time (see their statement) to prepare a revised application in which they will attempt to prove that they can drill, pump and drive tankers and trucks substantially more quietly than they previously thought. They will erect noise barriers and explore another route through the RAF Inskip base (who will surely welcome all this traffic through a secure MoD base).  Their team of lawyers argued, in their request for a deferment, that these revisions will be substantive to the application, making public consultation is mandatory, so time should be allowed for that.

The council's legal advice was that LCC would very likely be found in breach and punished if it exercised its authority.
Councillors expressed concerns that the period of anxiety of local residents should be extended even further but felt constrained to accept the legal advice and defer the decision.

Osborne to force permits through
According to The Guardian report, Cllr Holgate (Labour) also referred to the leaked letter from George Osborne outlining how Government ministers must pull out all the stops to support Cuadrilla's applications - and the fracking industry as a whole. If LCC finally refuse the applications, Osborne wrote, Cuadrilla are to appeal to the government's Planning Inspectorate asap and the government is to attribute powers to the Secretary of State (SoS). These would enable the SoS to 'recover' any fracking application to be determined by himself, effectively making local council planning decisions redundent.

Thus, LCC is literally faced with the government working as a catspaw for Qatari-owned Cuadrilla, at the taxpayers' expense, to force the application through.

Eric 'Frackspaw' Pickles 
The Secretary of State in question is Eric Pickles, who has a robust track record of opposing energy saving measures and renewable energy development. In March 2014 Pickles’ department tabled a last minute amendment to a Cabinet Office deregulation bill, with the intention of deregulating the energy standards that any English local authority could set for buildings.

Pickles also brought us the Localism Bill, in order that local communities could have more say where they objected to local renewable energy schemes. When it comes to fracking, however, this Coalition government is industry-ruled and determined to ensure that communities and their elected councils have no say at all.

Local Cinema Round-Up for 28th January to 5th February 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.

Unlike last week, there is rather a sparsity of new releases during this period - specifically we have two. There is the Walt Disney family adventure with Big Hero 6 (PG) and the period romantic drama Testament of Youth (12A).

The following films are no longer being screened Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Annie; The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and The Imitation Game. Also it seems likely that we will soon lose Foxcatcher and The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.

Family films that have returned to the local screens following an absence are The Book of Life and The Snow Queen: Magic of the Ice Mirror.

The current 'must see' movies include science fiction with Ex Machina and the dark comedy Birdman. Also this is an excellent period for drama with the excellent Foxcatcher; American Sniper: Taken 3 and horror with The Woman in Black: Angel of Death.

For high culture, we have this week the Opera Andrea Chenier and NT Encore: Treasure Island.


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.

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.

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, 27 January 2015

Fracking battle heats up: leaked Osborne letter shows plan to force permits through

Conservative Chancellor
George Osborne
Cuadrilla will be seeking a deferment to the decision on their Fylde fracking applications at tomorrow's meeting of Lancashire County Council's (LCC) Development Control Committee. The committee will initially decide whether to defer or whether to take the decisions this week. If the latter, the meeting is expected to last through until  Friday from 10am daily.  The Hall is fully booked and demonstrators are expected outside (info below).

Cuadrilla's request to postpone came within a day of LCC officers publishing their recommendation that the applications be refused (see our previous story 'County Council planning report recommends refusal of fracking applications') last Wednesday.

Over 200 local businesses publish letter of objection
Over 20,000 objections to Cuadrilla's applications were lodged by individuals, businesses and stakeholder groups. A petition with over 6000 names was organised in the area local to the planned fracking sites, calling on LCC to refuse the applications. Polls taken in Lancashire show an opposition of over 85% and today a letter signed by over 200 local businesses was delivered to LCC opposing the plans. You can read their letter and the list of signatories here.

Leaked Osborne letter shows plans to overrule electorate on fracking
Yesterday The Guardian published a leaked copy of a 5-page letter from Conservative Chancellor George Osborne, written in September, to his Cabinet Colleagues in which he requests that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”. He requires that they 'implement the development of 3-4 exemplar sites to prove the concept of safe shale gas exploration.' It makes chilling reading and  you can download the letter in full here.

Government to obey Cuadrilla's 'asks'
At the top of George Osborne's list is 'respond to the asks from Cuadrilla over which the government has influence',  the first of these being to 'Communicate to Lancashire County Council the intention behind the Planning Guidance Requirements', specifically that they leave regulatory concerns to the regulating bodies (a requirement subsequently also referred to specifically in LCC's Recommendation Report). Osborne is delegating government to Cuadrilla itself in matters of fracking and requiring that ministers and our own elected councillors obey the fracking company first.

This is followed on by 'Consider whether to provide additional technical support to Lancashire to help determine current planning applications'. We may need re-educating as we've only got 11 universities in Lancashire.

Secretary of State to take over 
If LCC turns down the applications, he writes, Cuadrilla is to appeal as soon as possible and the Planning Inspectorate is to respond promptly or have the appeal ‘recovered’ by the Secretary of State for decision by ministers.

Further plans include ensuring that the recovery criteria will enable to Secretary of State to recover all future shale applications 'at his discretion'  and a plan to map public sector (particularly MoD land) for potential fracking sites.

Osborne's plan to centralise control
Osborne also outlines his plan to take the responsibilities for regulating all aspects of fracking into a single, centralised, national agency. There's no great urgency as the Environment Agency is currently in the safe hands of the ex-chair of Cuadrilla partner Arup Group.

The letter goes on to instruct Ministers in the robust promotion of the fracking industry to the EU.

Ollerenshaw 'in the middle'
Last Friday our Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw told a public audience at Lancaster Library that he would support moves to defer any decision on fracking. An amendment to the Infrastructure Bill was brought by the parliamentary all-party Environmental Audit Committee to do that (download their report  'Environmental Risks of Fracking' here.) but was yesterday defeated in Parliament by 308 votes to 52. Labour failed to support it but their amendments for tougher regulation were passed, although Osborne's plan for a centralised, puppet regulatory body is designed to make such amendments ineffective.

Eric Ollerenshaw, who needs all the votes he can get, confided that he was 'in the middle' on Climate Change (which would place him about halfway between the scientists and those who think that it's god punishing homosexuals).

Fracking Executives in top-level Government jobs
The Conservatives are rattled by the vehemence of opposition to fracking, and should be as Executives or directors of Cuadrilla, Centrica, BG Group and BP all sit in the heart of their government and all have vested private interests in Cuadrilla's applications (see report). As does George Osborne's own father-in-law, who called the North-West 'desolate', and thus suitable for fracking.
The descent of the iGas share price, from 144.85p last June to 19.5p today will be focussing all their minds.

Meanwhile the North West Green Party report doubling their registered members over the last few months, with regional registered membership now passing 4000.

ALG fracking Co suspended - water contamination
Today the Sydney Morning Herald reports that fracking company ALG has had to suspend operations this after detection of the toxic chemicals – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes – in water samples taken at two of their sites.   ALG had previously dismissed such possibilities by the now-familiar stratagem of emphasising the particular depth of their operations.

Demonstrate tomorrow
Anti-fracking campaigners will be gathering outside County Hall tomorrow to demand that the Council follow the recommendations of its report and resist pressure from the Government on behalf of its corporate boss, the applicants Cuadrilla. Lancaster people will be catching the 8.27am train.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Missing Glasson wind surfer's body found

Police officers searching for missing 61-year-old wind surfer Giles Stothert recovered a body on Middleton Sands this morning.
Police were called at around 4.45pm on Sunday 25 January to Glasson Dock, Lancaster, following reports of concern for the safety of Mr Stothert, who lived in Saltcote.

The local man, aged in his sixties, was last seen by friends in the sea at around 4.20pm but failed to come out of the water.

A joint search operation was launched with the Coastguard, RNLI, Mountain Rescue Team and Police air support to search for the missing man.

Catch the Northern Lights with your iPhone, thanks to Lancaster University project

Updates on the best opportunities to spot the Northern Lights in the UK are now available on a mobile phone app developed in association with scientists at Lancaster University.
It is notoriously difficult to predict the best time to catch the displays of colourful lights, usually seen high above the Arctic Circle.  Large geomagnetic storms occasionally create displays which last for hours and can be seen as far south as the UK.
Lancaster University operates AuroraWatch UK -  a free service that uses sensitive magnetic field sensors in the UK to detect the geomagnetic disturbance that often accompany the Northern Lights and sends out email alerts to users.
AuroraWatch UK already offers an app for Windows Phone users, developed by former Lancaster University student Nathan Case. Now, an iPhone app has been developed by Progress Concepts to complement the service’s Facebook and Twitter channels, which have over 125,000 followers.
Professor Jim Wild from the Department of Physics carries out research into the physics of the Aurora, using live data feeds.
“This app makes it easier to follow AuroraWatch for people who aren’t always glued to social media," he explains. "The app will notify you when the Aurora may be seen from the UK using real time data based on geomagnetic activity.”
The Northern Lights are triggered when solar activity creates a geomagnetic storm.  Solar activity follows a well-known cycle, gradually shifting from quiet, to disturbed, and then back to quiet every 11 years. 
“Seeing the Aurora is often on people’s bucket list and we hope this will make it easier.”
There are now plans to also develop an app for Android devices. 
• Download the iPhone Aurora App at