Friday, 5 February 2016

Market Square Trees Saved After Massive Campaign

Lancaster Market Square. Photo: John Freeman

A determined campaign by local people opposed to the removal of Lancaster Market Square's trees has been a success. A Full City Council meeting threw out a much-derided proposal to remove the limes, rejecting claims they should be cut down on health and safety grounds, and because they were blocking sunlight into city centre shops.

The Council has announced the trees themselves will remain, and will instead begin trials of different cleansing methods and products, along with research into best practice, after many alternatives to chopping down the limes - which have been in place for 40 years.

Hundreds of local residents signed both online and physical petitions protesting at the proposal, the latter triggering a full Council debate on Wednesday 3rd February.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 3rd to 11th February 2016

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 novelty with with eight new films making the local screens. There is military action in 13 Hours (15) and A War (15). Super hero action comes with Marvel's Deadpool (15) and crime action comes with a remake of the movie Point Break (12A). We have period military comedy with Dad's Army (PG), comedy horror in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (15) and contemporary comedy in Zoolander 2 (12A). Finally, family animation is provided with Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip (U).

Only one movie In the Heart of the Sea has been dropped from the screens, though it is likely the films The 5th Wave and The Big Short may soon come to the end of their screening.

There is only a limited offering from the Dukes this week, but this includes the claustrophobic The Room.

The Revenant, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens continue to provide thrills. By way of contrast comedy comes with Dad's Army; Daddy's Home; Dirty Grandpa; Joy; Ride Along 2 and the comedy/romance/horror Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Family entertainment is provided by Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Snoopy & Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie.

The only high culture this period comes with ROH Live: La Traviata


Director: Ryan Coogler
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Michael B Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tony Bellew
Adonis "Donnie" Jackson (Jordan) is the son of former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed. He is determined to become a fighter and looks up his fathers old friend Rocky Balboa (Stallone), who agrees to become his trainer despite problems of his own. Jackson gets a chance to prove his worth by fighting the world light heavyweight champion "Pretty" Ricky Conlan (Bellew). The movie closely mirrors the original Rocky with fighting underdog making good. However this is very much a film in its own right with Stallone and Jordan giving excellent performances, making for great entertainment.

Daddy's Home
Director: Sean Anders
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini
A comedy. Conservative radio executive Brad (Ferrell) marries Sarah (Cardellini) and tries to be a good step dad to her two children. However his wife's charismatic and musclebound former husband Dusty (Wahlberg) comes for an extended visit. Brad finds he must now compete with their real father for the affection of his step children. There is a real on-screen chemistry between Ferrell and Wahlberg as they vie with each other and this provides plenty of opportunity for gags and comedy set pieces. However some of the gags are rather predictable leaving a film that is genuinely funny but seldom hilarious.

Dirty Grandpa
Director: Dan Mazer
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Dermot Mulroney, Aubrey Plaza
Dick Kelly (De Niro) is a foul mouthed old man who has recently lost his wife to cancer. He coaxes his grandson Jason (Efron) into driving him to Florida on the pretext of seeing an old army buddy. However, once there Dick follows his ambition of getting drunk, getting high and bedding a younger woman Lenore (Plaza). This is a bawdy comedy, with an unrelenting stream of bad language and tasteless jokes, few of which are funny. It has received poor reviews. Not De Niro's finest work.

Director: David O Russell
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Diana Ladd
A semi-fictional biographical comedy drama about a mop, or how Joy Mangaro (Lawrence) became a millionaire. Joy is a divorced mother with two children, living with her extended dysfunctional family who all depend upon her. In the early 1990s she invents and markets the Miracle Mop. This becomes a great success, selling on a TV shopping channel. Her grandmother Mimi (Ladd) is always supportive of her, and it is she who supplies the narration during the film. The movie has a strong cast and Lawrence provides an exceptionally strong performance. There are some laugh out loud moments during the movie though at times it seemed a little flat. A good, but not a great film.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Director: J J Abrams
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver.
The movie is set some thirty years after 'The Return of the Jedi'. The power vacuum left after the Empire was vanquished has been filled by the 'First Order' who start to control the galaxy with their stormtroopers. The movie tells of the adventures of Han Solo (Ford), Chewbacca and Princess (now General) Leia (Fisher) as they join new characters including Rey (Ridley), a scavenger, Finn (Boyega) a First Order Conscript and a spherical droid BB-8 as they battle the First Order led by the ominous Kylo Ren (Driver). This movie follows the style of the first star wars trilogy and, for this reviewer, was much better than the prequels. Old characters make a welcome appearance to supplement the newer heroes and villains. An excellent movie in all respects and the best Star Wars yet.

The 5th Wave
Director: J Blakeson
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Chloe Grace Moretz, Zackary Arthur
A 'young adult' science fiction movie based on the 2013 novel by Rick Yancey. Our planet is being attacked by aliens called The Others, and their space ships hover over the planet. Rather than attack in battle, the aliens initiate a series of malevolent events or waves that devastate humanity. The first four waves occur rather early, and the movie concentrates on the fifth wave. Teenager Cassie Sullivan (Moretz) is caught in the action. She becomes separated from her younger brother Sam (Arthur) and seeks to survive so she can find him again. The movie benefits from a rather novel alien invasion plot, excellent special effects and a good number of twists in the plot, not all of which were predictable. Along the way Cassie finds love and the movie itself offers more by way of drama than action. An entertaining science fiction film.

The Danish Girl
Director: Tom Hooper
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Eddie Redmayne, Alicia Vikander, Ben Whishaw
The film is based on a novel by David Ebershoff and inspired by the lives of Dutch artists Lili Elbe/Einar Wegener (Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Vikander). Set in the mid 1920's Gerda is a portrait painter, but a sitter is late for an appointment. Hence Gerda gets her husband Einar to stand in for the missing female sitter. This has consequences. Einar has been harbouring a disire to become a female and the finished portrait attracts favourable attention from art dealers. Einar decides to permanently convert to his alter ego Lili Elbe and becomes one of the first people to received a surgical sex realignment procedure to change from a man to a woman. The movie follows both the artists as they come to terms with the change from Einar to Lili. A serious movie, well acted and well received that highlights the issues of gender reassignment.

The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Certificate: 18
Cast Includes: Samuel L Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
A mystery western set in Wyoming some years after the American civil war, and told in six chapters. A stagecoach bound for Red Rock picks up a number of passengers. These include John Ruth (Russell), bounty hunter, Daisy Domergue (Leigh) a criminal, Major Marquis Warren (Jackson) another bounty hunter and Chris Mannix (Groggins) the prospective sheriff of Red Rock. Due to a blizzard, the stage coach is forced to make a stopover at Minnie's Haberdashery and here the travellers meet a local hangman, a loner, a Mexican and a Confederate General. These eight must spend the night together. However, one of them is plotting evil and the night descends into violence and death. This is an excellent movie, stylish, well acted and with excellent dialogue. Tarantino slowly builds up tension and suspense during the first half of the movie, leading to a final climactic resolution.

The Revenant
Director: Alejandro G Inarritu
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy
Set in Montana and South Dakota in the year 1823 and based on the book by Michael Punke, this is a tale of revenge. A party trapping for pelts in the American wilderness come under attack by native Americans of the Arikara nation. With most of the hunting party slain, the remainder escape. However one of their number, Hugh Glass (DiCaprio) is attacked and nearly killed by a bear. The remainder of the hunters split up. The larger group go back to their barracks whereas a couple of men including John Fitzgerald (Hardy) stay to look after Glass. However Fitzgerald tries to kill Glass and then abandons him to the wilderness. Against the odds Glass survives and is intent on revenge. The scenery in the movie is breathtaking and the action shots are stunning. The bulk of the film shows the tribulations of Glass as, wounded, he tries to return to safety after his abandonment. An emotional, well acted and very convincing movie.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Lancashire County Council Introduces £10 Blue Badge Fee

Lancashire County Council has become the final council in England to introduce a charge for Blue Badges.

From Tuesday 1st March, people and organisations will have to pay £10 when their badge is issued.

The scheme allows people with disabilities affecting their mobility to park closer to their destination, by using disabled bays and areas where parking restrictions may usually be in place. Blue Badges can be used in vehicles where an eligible disabled person is the driver or a passenger.

This move will help the county council cover 58% of the cost of the scheme. Over 27,400 badges were issued between March 2014 and April 2015.

County Councillor Tony Martin, cabinet member for adult and community services, said: "We are facing some tough decisions in light of the county council's current financial situation.

"Unprecedented cuts in government funding, combined with an increasing demand for our services, mean we have to save £65m over the next two years.

"We issue more Blue Badges than any other council in the country. Although there will be a charge for this service, it is still great value for money as they provide a range of parking concessions for a three-year period.

"The charge was proposed following a review earlier this financial year. We also made improvements to the scheme which have led to a reduction in waiting times, improved processing times and fewer formal complaints."

In addition to the £10 charge, organisations can now also apply for Blue Badges for vehicles that are being used to transport people with disabilities affecting their mobility.

Councillor Martin added: "By making Blue Badges available for community transport vehicles, we want to make it quicker and easier for people with disabilities to get closer to where they need to be."

The decision to approve the Blue Badge policy and introduce the £10 charge was taken on 10 December 2015.

In accordance with the guidelines governing the Blue Badge Scheme, set by the Department for Transport, all Blue Badge applications are treated as new applications, regardless of whether a Blue Badge has been held by the applicant previously.

The Department for Transport carried out a national consultation into Blue Badge charging in 2012. The Department for Transport sets the legislation that governs the scheme for all authorities.

• For more information about Lancashire County Council's Blue Badge scheme visit:

Campaigners rally to Stop Lancaster Post Office Closure

Campaigners have launched a petition to protest at plans to close Lancaster's Crown Post Office on Fenton Street and move services into a city centre store.

Nearly 40 of the UK's Crown Post Offices across the UK could be shut down due to a decision made by Post Office Ltd to save money and make more profit at the expense of much needed services.

Lancaster has been selected as one to be closed and moved to a new franchise site and the petition has been launched just as Post Office workers nationally were hit with a second shock announcement with the news that the company plans to close their defined benefit pension scheme.

Meanwhile, a consultation is also in progress over plans to close the Post Office on Noel Road in Skerton and move it into the nearby Londis store. Staff running the current Post Office will lose their jobs.

Virtual-lancaster understands that he proposal has been announced fait accompli and the consultation is little more than a paper exercise.

"The Post Office in Lancaster has served its customers for almost 100 years and it is the heart of our town centre and should not be sacrificed for greed and profit," argues petitioner Simon Quill.

"The Lancaster Post Office underwent a refurbishment which brought it into the 21st century to meet today's needs. The Post Office is a public service, designed to give wonderful customer service, which the counter staff at our branch have always given.

"We must fight to keep our Crown office open. This service belongs to the people of Lancaster. Don't let greed take it away from us."

The Post Office claims losses in the network of Crown Post office branches had been reduced from £46m a year in 2011/12 and that part of its network was now breaking even, but limited opportunities for growth and high property costs in some locations meant some branches would not be able to make money, it added.

Roger Gale, the general manager of the crown post office network, said: “In some locations, directly run crown post office branches work well, but in others there are alternatives, such as franchising, which can work better for the business and its customers, not just in terms of access to post office services but also in relation to long-term viability.”

Unions have condemned the plans which will mean the loss of hundreds of jobs across the UK.

“Tragically, this is yet another horrendous example of broken promises, irresponsible government and chronic mismanagement by the Post Office," commented CWU deputy general secretary Terry Pullinger (postal).

“The Post Office should never have been split from Royal Mail – natural synergies and public services have been sacrificed for greed and profit.

“The people of this country need to be made aware of these plans and the fact that the Government and the Post Office have no future ambition for the Post Office network. “The whole of the CWU stands united behind our Crown Post Office members, in defence of jobs and the future of the network – and to bring all of the People’s Post back together.”

 Brian Scott, who represents Post Office workers at the Unite trade union, said: “This announcement by the Post Office is a slap in the face for Unite members, who have worked extremely hard over the past few years to eradicate losses.”

You can sign the petition here on

• The Lancaster Guardian has a report on the planned closures here

Read the CWU report on the privatisation plans which they condemn as "blatant privatisation"

Monday, 1 February 2016

Slyne Looks To Shape Its Future

Lancaster City Council has received a fifth neighbourhood plan application from Slyne with Hest Parish Council.

Neighbourhood planning gives communities the chance to decide where new development should be and what it should look like. For example, new homes, shops and offices. A plan must be in line with the District’s Local Plan and is subject to an independent examination and community referendum. If approved, a neighbourhood plan forms part of the district’s Local Plan and it is used in helping to make decisions on planning applications.

The council will consult on this for four weeks until Monday 29th February 2016 before making a decision.

Helen Brownjohn Parish Councillor for Slyne with Hest, said: "This is an opportunity for people with an interest in our parish to shape its future development."

Coun Janice Hanson, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Economic Regeneration and Planning, said: “Neighbourhood Planning provides an opportunity for our communities to positively shape their local area.  We are pleased that Slyne with Hest are interested in taking plans forward.”

The application can be viewed at, in The Memorial Hall (when in use) or by contacting Doreen Brookes (Parish Council Clerk) on 01524 825464 or by email to

• Comments should be sent by email to or in writing to Planning Policy Team, Lancaster City Council, Dalton Square, Lancaster LA1 1PJ by Monday 29 February 2016