Friday, 14 October 2016

HS2 Route threatens ancient woodlands

Photo: WTML
As if the much-despised plans to frack Lancashire weren't bad enough in the government's bid to industrialise our countryside, the ridiculously-expensive HS2 train line looks to threaten the future of some of the North West's ancient and much-loved woodlands, quite apart from the disruption it threatens to communities along the planned, contested route.

The Woodland Trust have several long term campaigns they’ve been working on for a number of years. High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) is one such case and it consistently goes back and forth. Committees, hearing of evidence, petitioning, discussions, meetings and it goes on.

"Whilst generally supportive of green transport measures we are yet to be convinced that this proposed rail route by the Government is as green as it claims," say the Trust, who are heavily involved in lobbying to ensure the best possible deal for ancient woodland but with 98 ancient woods under threat, it’s an uphill battle.

"We echo many people's concerns over HS2's potential environmental impact. Our primary worry is the high level of damage to ancient woodland along the route."

36 ancient woodlands will be affected by Phase One of HS2 alone. Image: Woodland Trust

Phase one of HS2 intends to link London and Birmingham. 36 ancient woods will be directly affected with a further 27 at risk of secondary effects such as disturbance, noise and pollution.

Phase two will form a 'Y', running from Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester. The initial proposal incorporated a stop at Meadowhall outside Sheffield. With this proposal 14 ancient woods would face the threat of destruction with a further 21 exposed to secondary effects.

The latest development is a new consultation on the draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report for Phase 2a of the HS2 project. This phase stretches from Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe which is around 60km (37 miles) of train line. Just like Phase 1 it has become apparent that this line will have direct impacts on ancient woodland.

The Woodland Trust campaign team is currently looking through the consultation to see exactly what the impacts are. The consultation closes on 7th November 2016 and the final EIA report is expected November 2017 (which will also be open to consultation).

An announcement on the preferred route of Phase 2b, which is the remainder of the Y-shaped route, is expected in late autumn.

The Trust are still waiting for the publication of the Natural England review of HS2 Ltd.'s 'no net loss of biodiversity' calculations. It was expected at the end of July.

"We plan to give evidence before the House of Lords select committee on this," say the Trust. "However, this is impossible until we see this report, as the inclusion on ancient woodland in this calculation is one of our major objections to the proposed scheme. We’re lobbying hard to see this report published."

More about the work of the Woodland Trust

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Quay Meadow discoveries to go on display in Lancaster

The Lancaster and District Heritage Group will be on display in Lancaster's St Nicholas Arcades Shopping Centre from tomorrow, Friday 14th October, to the 28th November 2016.

The display will be focusing on the very successful archaeological dig the group planned, funded (via a grant from The Duchy of Lancaster) and completed on Quay Meadow in September 2015. The displays will also cover some of the group's ongoing and upcoming projects.

"Although being a static display wherever possible subject to group member's availability we will be open," said a group spokesperson. "Please come along for a browse and a chat to find out more about who we are, what we do,how you can get involved and plans for the future. We look forward to seeing you."

Check the group's Facebook page for further updates

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Bus Users' Group Meets as service cuts bite and doubts are raised about Lancaster's new Park & Ride scheme

Original image via Stagecoach (Mash-Up via Internet)

The next Lancaster District Bus Users' Group meeting is at 2.00 pm in Lancaster Library, on 20th October, announced as local press report on the disastrous impact service cuts are having, with one local pensioner resorting to hitch-hiking to get about.

County Councillor John Fillis, the cabinet member at County responsible for transport issues, will be at the meeting to answer a set of questions decided on at the Group's last meeting. These will include asking about the loss of buses in rural areas, about what is the outlook for the buses that are currently being operated under contract by County and about the planned Park and Ride service from Junction 34 of M6.

The meeting comes after the group reported its concerns about Lancaster's first Park & Ride scheme, due to open soon, a planning condition of the construction of the Heysham Link Road. The service will link a dedicated car park site adjacent the remodelled Junction 34 of the M6 with the City Centre, but incredibly, full details of the scheme have not yet been made public. 

Even the offical Cabinet Member Report that authorises the service is short on detail but from what little information has been provided it appears, a report on the Group's web site suggests, that the service is, perhaps intentionally, perhaps through lack of expertise, being set up to fail.

Park & Ride is a long-established concept in the UK with many cities and large towns running successful schemes taking traffic out of central areas. As one would expect a great deal of research has been done into what makes schemes successful, but one such report - from the prestigious Chartered Institute of Highways & Transportation - on what constitues best practice suggests that Lancashire County Council, for whatever reason, hasn't got it right. Read the full news story here.

Lancaster District Bus Users Group exists to further the interests of bus passengers throughout the Lancaster District, including Morecambe, Heysham, Carnforth and the surrounding rural area. Membership is open everyone and the subscription is £5 per annum (£2 for Bus Pass holders and students).

For details of how to join or to learn more about the Group email them at

• The group is online at

'Cuadrilla men followed us and filmed our children', parents claim

Tina Rothery
At a well-attended meeting at Lancaster Friends Meeting House yesterday, Lancaster residents started organising the local response to Secretary of State Said Javid's recent decision to allow Cuadrilla to frack at Little Plumpton, near Blackpool. Lancashire County Council had previously refused planning permission.

Despite the Planning Inspector having recommended that Cuadrilla's appeal to also frack at Roseacre be rejected, Javid has said he will grant it, subject to revised transport arrangements.

The meeting, organised by the North Lancashire Green Party,  heard about Tina Rothery (pictured), who will be appearing at Blackpool Magistrates Court on Wednesday 19 October, and who would welcome public support there from 1pm. Tina took part in a set three week occupation of the proposed site during the planning application process in 2014. The aim was to raise public awareness of Cuadrilla's plans for the area and to show just how close this proposed fracking field was to their homes, businesses and schools.

She and her companions packed up when the three weeks was over and left voluntarily, by prior agreement. They filmed a fingertip search of the field, ensuring it was left completely clean, and notified police, media, Cuadrilla and the landowner that they had left.
But then, although no-one was there,  Cuadrilla  arranged an 'eviction'.

Tina, as a 'named person' was then sued for damages, and ordered to pay £50,000 costs to Cuadrilla, for the legal costs of an eviction that didn't happen and for clearing up a site that was cleaner when she left than when she arrived. It is a shockingly disproportionate amount. She has refused to pay, for what she and her fellow activists believe is a malicious suit, intended to misuse the legal system as a weapon to deter peaceful protest.

Claire Stevens, of the Preston New Road Action Group, who lives near the proposed site, told the meeting about the treatment of parents who had publicly expressed concern about the proposed fracking site being very close to their children's primary school. They had found themselves being followed and filmed. Their children had been filmed. They believed it to be part of a process of intimidation. They found that many organisations and individuals based near the site were offered money by Cuadrilla. When the local councils debated the issue, several councillors were found to have been targeted with Cuadrilla money for their charities, causes or business interests.

Cuadrilla offered to build the school a new classroom. But parents did not want to trade their children's health for any amount of cash.

Cllr Gina Dowding told how Lancashire County Council had gone to unprecedented lengths to present expert scientific evidence and studies that were independent and internationally peer reviewed, in making their decision.  Cuadrilla's evidence had not come close to that standard. Nevertheless, the council was now liable for over £300,000 for Cuadrilla's costs. If their Roseacre decision was also overturned by the Secretary of State, against the Planning Inspector's recommendation, these costs might well be even higher.

Dr Isabela Fairclough of Uclan gave a fast-paced and packed presentation on Cuadrilla's media strategies and how the debate was manipulated to distract from the scientific realities and instead present the objectors as Nimbys or ill-informed. In fact, she demonstrated, Lancashire people were being forced into use as experimental subjects to test a process with potentially very high health risks, against their will. There was no other field of scientific or medical research where such human experimentation would be permitted without the subjects' consent. .

The meeting heard that there are richer shale gas beds in the South of the UK, in areas of comparable or lower population density.  Indeed the Fylde geology is particularly poorly suited to fracking, being already heavily fractured and unstable. Initial test-fracking had immediately resulted in two earthquakes in 2011. However the south is where most conservative voters live, as well as the friends, families, lobbyists and funders of most of the Conservative government and its ministers.

The risks of  shale gas fracking to public health, the environment and local economies are well-documented and the government could not risk alienating these tory constituencies with a process with a long track record of being unsafe in anyone's yard.  So they decided instead to test out this process in far-away Lancashire, in their belief that Lancashire residents did not have the will, resources or the influence to resist.

Sign the Green Party petition for fracking to be debated in parliament

People interested in adding their support to the anti-fracking campaign can find out more at the following websites and facebooks.

Preston New Road Action Group website
Frack Free Lancashire website
Lancaster Climate Action on facebook
Lancaster Fights Fracking on facebook

Police forces unite in country’s largest rural policing operation

Dozens of police officers and volunteers took part in a major clampdown on rural criminals last week.

Operation Checkpoint is the largest rural policing operation of its kind in the country, and saw Lancashire, Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, North Yorkshire and Northumbria join forces to target cross-border criminals.

Running from 3.00pm on Wednesday (5th October) to 3.00am on Thursday (6th October), the six forces co-ordinated intelligence-led deployments, static vehicle checkpoints and proactive visits to vulnerable premises.

Intelligence shows that organised crime groups from across the north of England are involved in thefts, burglaries, and handling stolen property, targeting rural areas in particular. These criminals use their extensive knowledge of the road networks across the region in an attempt to avoid detection.

Checkpoint targets, disrupts and deters vehicles suspected of being linked to criminality by deploying officers and volunteers with expert knowledge of their local area, crime patterns, intelligence and road network, and using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology.

In Lancashire, it saw officers working alongside volunteers across the whole of Lancashire.

This operation was the eleventh time Checkpoint has been run. It was co-ordinated by North Yorkshire Police, the NPCC’s lead for Rural Crime.

The operation saw 229 vehicles stopped for checks across the Cleveland, Cumbria, Durham, Lancashire, North Yorkshire and Northumbria areas. 61 vehicle and person searches were carried out, resulting in a number of vehicle seizures, fixed penalty notices and arrests.

In Lancashire, 44 vehicles were stopped and checked. Ten vehicle and person searches were carried out. A fixed penalty notice was issued for possession of cannabis and three vehicles were seized. A stolen car was also recovered in Blackburn.

Lorraine Ellwood, Lancashire Constabulary’s rural policing and wildlife coordinator, said: “This should send a very clear message that we will work with colleagues across the region to take action against any criminals preying on our rural communities.

“74 per cent of Lancashire’s geographical area is classed as rural. We are keen to work with the residents living in these areas to clamp down on criminals wherever they are from, and wherever they are going.”

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

2015 Winter Flood Stories inspire powerful new Lakes Festival Comics Exhibition, "Five Bridges"

Art by Mike Medaglia for the "Five Bridges" floods exhibition
Ahead of Kendal's Lakes International Comic Art Festival this weekend (14th - 16th October), some of the event's Exhibitions are now open, with others to follow on 12th October. Beatrix Potter Reimagined, which runs until 28th October 2016 is open now at Kendal Library, as are Making a Scene at the Brewery Arts Centre featuring the work of world renowned artist Ken Niimura (who designed this year's Festival poster and is a guest), and Young, Talented And Beautiful - Five Rising Stars from Japan. The latter features work handpicked for their distinctive voices by Ken Niimura, five rising stars from Japan bring their artwork to the UK for the first time - Est EmTakehito MoriizumiTsuchika NishimuraKeigo Shinzo and Miki Yamamoto.

Opening at the Wildman Gallery on Wednesday is Silence / Hiljaisuus, an exhibition of original graphic novel art by Hanneriina Moisseinen from Finland, which runs until 12th November 2016; and Five Bridges: Stories of the Flood, an exhibition at Kendal Museum featuring art by Mike Medaglia, Lisa Woynarski and Farokh Soltani.

Beyond Kendal, Phono+Graphic, an exhibition of vinyl record covers designed by leading comic strip artists curated by comic-book supremo and Festival patron Sean Phillips, runs at the Vallum Gallery, University of Cumbria Institute of the Arts, Brampton Road, Carlisle until 17th November, opening on Thursday 13th October.

Five Bridges: Stories of the Flood is a unique comics exhibition where the human stories of flooding are depicted through comics and brought to life in a dynamic audio performance.
"The five stories are from a range of people living in Kendal, of different age groups and professions, so each give a unique angle on the experience of flooding," says Mike. "Then, after viewing the exhibition, attendees are encouraged to draw a little portrait and write their own experience of flooding or extreme weather connected to climate change.

"Five Bridges represents an exciting experiment that merges comic art with oral storytelling," Mike Medaglia explains. "It came out of a desire to tell the human stories behind the devastating flooding in Cumbria in 2015. We spoke to a number of local people to gather their different experiences and view points in hopes of connecting this event to larger environmental contexts."

Featuring five different stories of people who experienced the flooding, it tells the human stories behind the flooding of the River Kent which devastated parts of Kendal. Highlighting the wider picture of the interrelatedness of all human/nature relationships, these stories provide a human experience to the often abstract and complex issue of climate change. After experiencing the stories from the flood, audience members will have a chance to contribute their own responses, drawing a self-portrait and telling their own stories, adding to and growing the exhibition.

"We are pleased with how the exhibition came together and are looking forward to responses from the people of Kendal," Mike continues. "More than that, though, we are excited to see how Five Bridges will grow as people add their own stories of flooding, expanding and enriching our understanding of the impact of this event."

Sponsored by local business Atlantis Kitchens, the exhibition has five stations where visitors put on headphones and are guided through the five different accounts of the floods, moving between panels as the interviews progress.

"Through this the exhibition will grow and evolve while it is on. In the room there will be an atmospheric soundtrack playing of wind, rain and water; while around the room there will be bits of art marking the history of flooding in Kendal."

One of the stories comes from the perspective of Graham Standring, an area ranger with the Lake District National Park, who has been actively involved in the flood recovery work across the park. “Through Five Bridges, people will be able to hear how the floods affected communities in the National Park and how we’re beginning to repair our footpaths and bridges that are used by millions of people every year. We’ve been working hard to ensure the majority of the park was open and accessible ahead of the summer, but there’s still repair work to be done.

"One thing remains unchanged though - you will always find a warm welcome in the Lake District.”
Beyond Kendal's exhibition venues, Kendal is of course already awash with comics-inspired art, displayed in many local businesses windows as part if the Windows on Comic Art Trail which features work by comic artists from across the globe, local school children and community groups.
The Festival weekend in Kendal launches from 1.00pm on Friday for early arrivers, when Knockabout Comics open their "Malt Room of Mischief" at the Brewry Arts Centre. In the evening, a battle royal is on the cards as comic creators argue the case for their favourite of two cartoon greats - Asterix or Tintin? (A limited number of tickets are still available).

For the opening event of LICAF 2016, fans of both characters hope to settle this thing for good, the Festival bringing together two top teams to slug it out on stage – without the help of a magic potion – and establish which character most deserves that cherished place on your oversized bookshelf.

This launch event in partnership with Lancaster University will include contributions key comic artists, celebrities and others, including TV chat show host Jonathan Ross, comedians Alan Carr and Jack Whitehall and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcy Bussell! The night will also feature the announcement of the new Comics Laureate, taking over from Watchmen artist Dave Gibbons, who has been busy recently working on a terrific new range of graphic novels for children with Oxford University Press.

• For more information on all the Festival's exhibitions visit

• The 2016 Lakes International Comic Art Festival Programme is available to view and download here

• In a hurry? Here's the Festival in a Flash!

• Buy your Festival tickets now from The Brewery, Kendal - (Social media short link - | Box Office 01539 725133 | Email

• For all events information visit the Lakes International Comic Art Festival web site: | Find the Lakes International Comic Art Festival on Facebook | Follow the Festival on Twitter @comicartfest

Monday, 10 October 2016

Tuesday Night Jazz Finale at Lancaster's Robert Gillow

Local jazz couple Sue Parish and Jon Moore (pictured) will be closing their popular and long running series of Tuesday night jazz sessions at the Robert Gillow Pub by bringing together two top ensembles.

Tomorrow night, Tuesday 11th October, Jon will lead the Hotcha Quartet, featuring violinist Heath Lavery, guitarist Alan Pill and superb Manchester bassist Frank Grime.  Sue will guest on vocals, and there'll also be plenty of Django Reinhardt-style vintage swing instrumentals.

Next week on Tuesday 18th October, Sue will be fronting her own trio, featuring firebrand pianist Andrzej Baranek, just back from a European tour supporting Simply Red.  Frank Grime on bass completes the line-up, and the evening will feature jazz, bossa nova and blues from the last century of jazz history.

Both gigs start at 9pm, and admission is free.

Said Sue:  "Jon and I have co-promoted Tuesday night jazz at the Gillow for nearly four years now. As our hosts Mark and Tash are due to move onto new premises and projects shortly we wanted to finish with a couple of really high quality musical evenings.  We're grateful to every who has supported our jazz nights and hope they'll enjoy these final two Gillow sessions featuring fabulous visiting players"

Landlords Mark Cutter and Tash Burns have recently taken over the Apothecary Bar and Lounge in Lancaster, and are working to develop it as a live music venue, featuring the newly installed Bechstein Grand piano. The Apothecary's schedule includes plenty of performances for Lancaster Music Festival, and information on other plans there will be available soon.

Image by Barrie Marshall

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Lancashire anti-frackers march on landowner's home

Around 2000+ protesters assembled yesterday (Saturday) at the site on Preston New Road near Blackpool where Cayman Islands company Cuadrilla proposes to start hydraulic fracking.
Watch video

On Thursday Secretary of State Said Javid had overturned Lancashire County Council's decision to refuse Cuadrilla consent for fracking on agricultural land east of Blackpool - less than 24 hours after the UK joined other European countries in ratifying the UN's Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which requires countries to end the use of fossil fuels entirely later this century

The protesters, dressed in the bright yellow that has become the colour of the campaign,  marched peacefully along the verges of the A583 to the gateway of Plumpton Hall Farm, where, to a steady accompaniment of enthusiastic hooting from passing traffic, they briefly chanted 'Shame on you!' at landowner Allan Wensley, who has leased his land to Cuadrilla.

Money for nothing?
From this witness's point of view, it seemed it would be a very scary thing, to have what might look very much like a mob at your gates. Unspeakably ghastly, in fact, to be seen as the weak link who had sold out your county's future. It was all pretty grim and the crowd turned to community singing instead. After 30 minutes they marched back to their assembly point on a neighbouring property 'for tea and cake'. (The cake was excellent). One local lady told me that when Cuadrilla had first come round trying to sign up farmers they had made it seem as if it was money for nothing. "From all the trouble in other countries, they must have known how bad it would be, but they just lied".

This is not the first incident Mr Wensley has had to deal with. Previous visitors to his land have included film star Emma Thompson, who participated in a 'Frack-Free Bake-Off'.

The oven gloves are off
It seems unlikely to be the last. The anti-fracking campaigners at Saturday's protest made it crystal clear that 'the oven gloves are off'. They were in no doubt that May's government was making democracy a thing of the past and that the tone of the campaign would have to change markedly in response. Anne Power (84) – the 2014 winner of the Observer Ethical ‘Local Hero’ Award, told the crowd that she was minded of the French Revolution: 'Off with their heads!'

Other speakers, including Tina Rothery of the renowned Lancashire anti-fracking group the 'Nanas' (pictured above) and Green County Councillor Gina Dowding spelt it out. Theresa May, an unelected prime minister, had overruled the elected regional planning authority, and not only that, she was giving public money to the fracking companies in massive subsidies and tax breaks whilst cutting support to renewable technology and development and losing us hundreds of jobs in the process.  To add insult to injury, Lancashire County Council, which has faced harrowing government funding cuts of over 60% is now faced with a bill for £330,000 legal costs awarded to Cuadrilla.

However, George Osborne's 2014 leaked memo had made it clear that the expensive but futile public enquiry would be a sham. As far as the campaigners are concerned, it was the government's last chance to get out of this mess in one piece. No one doubted they would fail to grasp it. Campaigners have been preparing plans for resistance for months now. Councillor Dowding summed up the feeling for the crowd when she said, "Theresa May will find out that when Lancashire says No, it means No."

Frustrated Lancashire people, and indeed people from across the UK, struggling to cope with the results of this government's short-sighted austerity policies, climate change denial and divisive propaganda may well find a constructive outlet for their energies in this well organised and widely supported campaign. One thing is certain. They can be sure of tea and cake.