Thursday, 24 November 2016

Former Corrie star makes The Dukes a port of call for special maritime heritage project

Julie Hesmondhalgh
A former Coronation Street favourite is among a cast bringing Lancaster’s maritime heritage to life in audio dramas launched on Friday 2nd December.

Julie Hesmondhalgh, who played Hayley Cropper in the popular soap, joins seven other actors in Port Stories, an exciting new Dukes project which recently received Heritage Lottery Fund support.

Four unique audio dramas have been produced using the talents of celebrated historians and awardwinning writers.

The dramas are embedded at historic sites mainly around St George’s Quay and Castle Park in Lancaster and from Friday 2nd December, a map will be available to download from the Dukes web site to experience a walking tour with a difference.

Although it’s recommended to enjoy these dramas as a journey around Lancaster’s heritage sites, they can also be listened to at home, streamed from The Dukes website.

Julie performs in a drama called Black Mary, based on a local legend at the time of Lancaster’s slave trade. It’s about a family who apparently kept the hand of one of their slaves to pass down through the generations.

The slave trade is also the background to A History of Violence (age guidance 14 plus). This drama, also by James Harker, is best heard at the Slavery Memorial on St George’s Quay and explains how slavery continued to have a lasting impact on British society long after it was abolished.

The final two audio dramas are 1698 Parts 1 & 2 by May Sumbwanyambe which are based on the autobiography of well known Lancastrian Quaker William Stout, who went from shopkeeping to international trade. David Crellin, who recently appeared in The Dukes production of The Ockerbys on Ice, plays Stout.

Image courtesy Lancaster Maritime Musuem
The Port Stories audio dramas will be officially launched at 1.00pm on Friday 2nd December in the Print Room Café and Bar at The Storey where visitors can find out more and get instructions on how to take part. At 6.00pm, hear first-hand from the creative team and historians at the talkback event in The Storey Lecture Theatre.

Port Stories has involved professional historians Sam Riches, Andrew White, Mike Winstanley and community historians, including some from refugee and asylum-seeking backgrounds. Local schools are also creating learning resources for Key Stage 2 and 3 and all material will be deposited with Lancashire Archives.

The project also aims to increase awareness of the importance of Lancaster’s built heritage and museum collections at a time when the county’s museums are under threat.

Port Stories is a Dukes led partnership with the Regional Heritage Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster Museums Service and Global Link.

• The Port Stories community programme runs until March 2017. If you would like to get involved, email

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 23rd November to 1st December 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.

We have four new releases featured in local cinemas during this period. There is romantic drama based on real life events in A United Kingdom (12A) and wartime romance in Allied (15). In addition there are the tribulations of divorce in the French film After Love (12A) and finally a suspense mystery in Nocturnal Animals (15).

Movies that have vanished from our screens include I, Daniel Blake; Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; Pete's Dragon and The Accountant. In addition the family movie Storks and the love story The Light Between Oceans are coming to an end of their screening.

Movies that have returned to the region include the family favourite Finding Dory and the musical documentary Nick Cave: One More Time with Feeling.

Drama is represented this period with the fact based Deepwater Horizon; the science fiction Arrival and the two mysteries Nocturnal Animals and The Girl on the Train. Romance comes with A United Kingdon; Allies and The Light Between Oceans.

There are two Fantasy films on offer; superhero action in Doctor Strange and the Harry Potter prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

For comedy there is feel good action in A Street Cat Named Bob and the adult themed Bad Santa 2.

Finally family films on offer over this period include Finding Dory; Storks; The BFG; Trolls and Your Name. Also there is the musical extravaganza Andre Rieu: Christmas with Andre.

There is no film in the category of high culture, but we do have the Louis Theroux documentary My Scientology Movie.


A Street Cat Named Bob
Director: Roger Spottiswoode
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Luke Treadaway, Joanne Froggatt
Based on the best selling book of the same name, the movie tells the story of James Bowen (Treadaway) who is homeless and a recovering drug addict. He is relocated to a bedsit in North London and given a final chance to tun his life around by his support worker Val (Froggatt). Bowen struggles to live by busking in Covent Garden. One day a ginger cat finds him. The cat has an infected paw and James takes it for treatment. From then on the pair are inseparable. The movie is streetwise and serious but also manages to be humorous and silly. Treadaway gives a good performance, but the cat steals the show. An enjoyable if slightly soppy family feel-good film.

A United Kingdom
Director: Amma Asante
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: David Oyelowo Rosamund Pike
Based on the book 'Colour Bar' by Susan Williams, the film is a romantic drama based on the real life romance between Sir Seretse Khama, king of Botswana and Ruth Williams. Seretse and Ruth met in London, in the 1940's, fell in love and subsequently married. However the marriage was opposed by their families, the couple becoming ostracised by their friends. Governments were also involved as South Africa had recently introduced their system of apartheid and they pressured the British government with threats of economic sanctions if the marriage was allowed to go ahead. This is a fine period romance with excellent costumes, impressive cinematography and exotic backdrops. The film concentrates on the human drama faced by the couple and rather glosses over the political complexities, but it is not the worse for that. The movie has received good reviews.

Bad Santa 2
Director: Mark Waters
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, Kathy Bates, Brett Kelly
A sequel to the 2003 movie 'Bad Santa', starring many of the original cast. Wilie Soke (Thornton) again plays the role of drunk, lecherous and greedy anit-hero. He teams up with his helper Marcus (Cox) to attempt to rob a Chicago charity of $2 million on Christmas eve. Also involved in the scheme is Soke's foul mouthed mother Sunny (Bates) and 'the kid' from the first movie Thurmon Merman (Brett Kelly) now fully grown but no less innocent. The movie contains much bad language and sex scenes as it tries to recapture the magic of the original. However there are fewer 'laugh out loud' moments amongst the rather muddled plot. An average movie which received mixed reviews.

Doctor Strange
Director: Scott Derrickson
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Mads Kikkelsen
Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) was a surgeon whose career was ruined by a car accident which crushed his hands. He learned of an Ancient One (Swinton) with healing powers and so travels to Nepal to seek out the mystic. Here Strange learns of the different dimensions, magic and becomes a warrior on the astral plane. Meanwhile a former disciple of the Ancient One Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) has turned to the dark side and is intent on invoking the malevolent Dormammu from his alien abode. Strange much choose between a life of fortune or to defend the earth from magical attack. Doctor Strange has made a very successful transition from comic to the screen and the movie provides a good plot with excellent acting and dialogue. Special effects are very convincing and the film is one of the better Marvel super-hero movies.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Director: David Yates
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Eddie Redmayne, Samantha Morton, Ezra Miller, Johnny Depp, Katherine Waterston, Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell
This is a Harry Potter prequel, inspired by J K Rowling's book of the same name. The movie is set in the 1920's, where Newt Scamander is a magizoologist, collecting and studying magical creatures. He visits New Your City where several of these creatures escape from his suitcase. He collects about him a group of allies to try to recapture the beasts. However New York at this time has been under a reign of terror from the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald (Depp) and in the era of suspicion the creatures are believed to be responsible for an attack. Hence Percival Graves (Farrell), a director of magical secrets, declares war on Scamander and his helpers. This is a wonderful film and a fine tribute to the creativity of Rawlings. There are lots of plots, strange people and weird and wonderful beasts. The movie has received favourable reviews, but is perhaps a little darker than the Harry Potter series.

Finding Dory
Director: Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks, Ed O'Neill, Hayden Rolence
Pixar's sequel to the 2003 movie 'Finding Nemo'. Dory (DeGeneres), who helped reunite Nemo (Rolence) with his father Marlin (Brooks) in the first movie, has a flashback in which she remembers her own family. She decides to look for them despite her problems with a faulty memory. Marlin and Nemo agree to help and the three swim to California to start the search. Dory is caught and held in a marine life institute aquarium for shipping to Cleveland. However with the help of Hank (O'Neill), the octopus she escapes back to the ocean and finds her parents Charlie and Jenny. Now she has to come to the aid of Marlin and Nemo who are also imprisoned in the institute aquarium. The movie is essentially the same plot as the original, but provides impressive animation and contains some emotional scenes. However this is ultimately a fun 'happy ever after' sort of film that will delight people of all ages.

Director: Nicholas Stoller, Doug Sweetland
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Kelsey Grammer, Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Anton Starkman
Conerstone used to be in the business of delivering babies and most of its employees are stalks. However CEO stalk Hunter (Grammer) discontinued the service for the more lucrative business of delivering parcels. The business receives a letter from Nate (Starkman) a neglected boy who wants a baby brother and Tulip (Crown), a woman working for Cornerstone, causes the baby machine to create a girl in response to the letter. Now Tulip and her stork friend Junior (Samberg) must deliver the baby before Hunter finds out. This involves their facing a pack of wolves, militant penguins and an avalanche. This is a bizarre, non stop and fun packed movie that will appeal to all ages. It has been well received by the critics and is sure to please.

The Girl on the Train
Director: Tate Taylor
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Luke Evans, Justin Theroux
A movie based on Paula Hawkins best selling 2015 novel of the same name. Rachel (Blunt) is an alcoholic who recently divorced her husband Tom (Theroux). She commutes every day by train and on her journey she fantasises about the seemingly perfect couple Scott (Evans) and Megan (Bennett) Hipwell who live in a house that she passes. Rachel witnesses something shocking on her journey and then hears Megan Hipwell is missing. She tells the police and starts her own investigation. Yet she cannot remember where where she was on the night of Megan's disappearance, and Megan and Scott are neighbours of her ex husband. Hence Rachel find the police start to suspect she is involved in the mystery. This is a well acted first rate mystery with a plot that provides a good number of unexpected turns. A must-see movie.

Cat Smith welcomes government u-turn on "Tenant Tax"

Cat Smith MP: pleased "disastrous" rent proposal has been ditched
Lancaster's MP Cat Smith has welcomed a government u-turn on a ‘pay to stay’ policy that would have hiked local rents by an average of £2,213 a year

The Government last night abandoned its controversial ‘pay to stay’ policy, which would have imposed crippling rent hikes on working council tenants.

In the Lancaster City Council area the proposal – dubbed the ‘Tenant Tax’ – would have seen the rents of those affected rise by an average of £2,213 a year.

The proposed changes were fiercely opposed by Axe the Tenant Tax, an umbrella coalition of individuals and organisations who represent more than 150,000 landlords and who in turn provide housing for in excess of one million tenants.

The group pointed to how the changes, which were implemented in Ireland, saw rents increased 50% in three years and was scrapped by the Government as a result. The group argued it Increase rents substantially for tenants in the UK, make the UK housing crisis worse and have devastating consequences for some of the most vulnerable people in society.

In a statement released yesterday evening, Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said an income based rents policy would no longer be compulsory.

“Social housing has a crucial role to play in supporting those in most housing need. To that end, powers were provided for in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to introduce an income based rents policy, requiring local authorities to set higher rents for higher income council tenants.

“Since the summer, the Government has been reviewing this policy. We have listened carefully to the views of tenants, local authorities and others and as a result, we have decided not to proceed with a compulsory approach. Local authorities and housing associations will continue to have local discretion.”

Mr Barwell said local councils would be allowed to impose the policy voluntarily. Local councils have however been among those calling for the policy to be scrapped or rethought.

Additionally, local councils already have the power to implement pay-to-stay voluntarily and none have yet done so.

Under the policy, tenant households with an income higher than £31,000 or £40,000 in London would be forced to pay rents that were close to the market rent.

This means a working couple on £15,500 each in Lancaster or Morecambe would be defined as high-income, and it was estimated about 70,000 social tenants were set to lose about £1,000 a year from the policy.

"Disastrous Proposal"

“I am pleased that this disastrous proposal has been ditched, as it would have had a devastating impact on the people of Lancaster and Morecambe," commented Cat Smith.

“Lancaster and Morecambe residents would have been subject to the rent hikes, putting a strain on their finances and in all likelihood forcing many out of their homes.

“That is why Labour has opposed this plan from the outset and I strongly welcome this change of heart from the Government.”

Shadow Housing Secretary John Healey added:

“This welcome u-turn is a victory for Labour’s year-long campaign against the ‘tenant tax’ which was set to hike rents for thousands of middle income households.

“Having recognised this move was a big mistake, Ministers must now re-think the rest of their failed housing decisions over the last six years.

“After disastrous figures last week showing that the number of new affordable homes for social rent has fallen to the lowest level since records began, top of the list must be reversing the forced sale of vital council homes and the huge cuts to investment in new genuinely affordable homes.”

Letting Agents "Administration Fees" to be Banned?

In other news for those renting property which will be welcome by consumer groups, the Financial Times (subscription required) reports Chancellor Philip Hammond will announce a ban on letting agents charging fees to tenants.

In his first Autumn Statement, the chancellor will take aim at the charges letting agents can levy on tenants which can include administrative services such as checking references, preparing a tenancy agreement, renewing a tenancy or ending a contract.

The government believes the ban would help millions of households in private rented housing by sparing them what can amount to hundreds of pounds in fees.

Some landlords may try to absorb fee rises by raising rents. But in places where the rental market is highly competitive, others may have to shoulder more of the costs, putting further strain on their balance sheets.

The FT reports consumer and tenant groups have attacked the level of charges to tenants and have called for the government to shift more of the burden on to landlords. Research from consumer group Citizens Advice found letting agents charged average fees as high as £337, and in some instances up to £700.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Man suffers serious injuries following collision in Morecambe

Police are appealing for witnesses after a collision in Morecambe last week.

At around 8.00pm on Thursday 17th November 2016 a Ford Ka was travelling from Lancaster along Mellishaw Lane near White Lund Industrial Estate when it lost control and crossed on to the opposite side of the road, colliding with a Vauxhall Insignia. It then rolled back and collided with a Citroen Berlingo which had stopped after witnessing the collision.

The front seat passenger of the Ford Ka, a 53-year-old man, suffered multiple injuries and was taken to Royal Preston Hospital where he remains in a serious condition. The driver of the Ford Ka, a 17-year-old girl, suffered a broken ankle.

The driver of the Vauxhall, a 31-year-old woman, suffered whiplash and injuries to her face.

PS Rob Gomery of the Road Policing Unit said: “This collision has left the front seat passenger of the Ford Ka with serious injuries and we are keen to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time and witnessed the collision. If you have any information that could help with our investigation into what happened then please get in touch.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 101 quoting log 1191 of 17th November 2016

Morecambe MP David Morris caught up in further expenses furore

Local MP David Morris is caught up in another Parliamentary expenses row, after House of Commons records apparently revealed he claimed £1,400 for driving in the UK - while he was on official foreign trips.

The Mail on Sunday broke the story at the weekend, reporting Mr Morris, who in addition to being MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale is also the government's Self Employment Ambassador, claimed for 25 trips which covered 4,402 miles.

The journeys were made when he was out of Britain on 11 foreign fact-finding trips, according to official expenses records, but the MP said he believed the discrepancies could be an error by the Commons expenses watchdog, the Independent Parliament Standards Authority (IPSA).

Details of Mr Morris's mileage claims are published on IPSA's official website. His overseas trips with a number of all-party parliamentary groups are declared on the separate MPs' official register of interest.

The Mail on Sunday reports a comparison of the two records shows that Mr Morris claimed mileage in the UK for 11 journeys when he was on four separate trips to Gibraltar over a total of 15 days. Most of the £479 claimed during his Gibraltar visits was for 'mileage in constituency' – whereby MPs can claim expenses to visit constituents or attend constituency functions.

Fact finding Mr Morris in Gibraltar. Via his official Twitter

The records also reveal the MP claimed £151.75 for three journeys during a week when he was officially in the Falklands. In April, he is also recorded as claiming £390 for four separate journeys during a five-day official trip to the United Arab Emirates; and claimed £232 for two car journeys "within his constituency", despite being on a week long visit to Taiwan.

Mr Morris told the Mail on Sunday he was confident that each claim has been made legitimately.

"There appears to be a difference between what has appeared on the MPs' system and what information IPSA have published on the public system," he said.

He told the newspaper he could not provide "in depth' comments on individual claims until he had checked his records, but said "I am confident that each claim has been made legitimately. There appears to be a difference between what has appeared on the MP's system and what information IPSA have published on the public system."

An IPSA spokesman declined to comment.

UPDATE: In a statement on Tuesday 22nd November 2016. Mr Morris said

“Having now had time to assess my paper documentation in London it is clear that the majority of the allegations occurred on dates when I was in the country (12 out of 25) either before I flew out or after I arrived back, and therefore should not have even been included in the article.

“I have identified five claims which were made for journeys by myself but where it is clear the wrong date has been automatically selected on IPSA’s system where the lines have been entered on the form.

“I will be contacting IPSA to clarify this information and to log a common fault experienced by other MPs with the system which should be rectified.

“I will also be highlighting with IPSA errors in their new public system where incorrect payment amounts have been attributed to claims which are different to those which appear on the MPs’ system.

“I have encountered three claims which are in dispute. Two of these claims were deleted before submission but appear to have been processed on the new IPSA system, one of the claims is an IPSA computer error when two lines have been duplicated.

“Both of these will be investigated with IPSA.

“I think this exercise highlights the need for a new computer system for MPs’ expenses as it appears that the current system is antiquated, resulting in errors that have the potential to do great harm to MPs’ reputations.

“I will be taking this matter up with IPSA and I have instructed solicitors who will be advising on potential legal action against the Mail on Sunday.”

"Credit" Card Spat with IPSA

This isn't the first time Mr Morris has fallen foul of IPSA. Regular readers of virtual-lancaster will recall that earlier this year 14 MPs - including David Morris - had their taxpayer-funded credit cards blocked after they ran up debts worth £27,000 - just one month after he called on the Labour leader of Lancaster City Council to resign after "mismanaging" the council's finances.

The Indpendent newspaper (among others) reported that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the action was carried out by the IPSA, which issues MPs with credit cards to pay for a variety of items such as travel, accommodation and stationery. Mr Morris made it clear in a press statement that all uses of the card were permissible claims and were for "legitimate office costs".

Boundary Changes Clash

Former hairdresser and pop band member Mr Morris has recently been criticised after it was revealed the Conservatives are campaigning for an electoral boundary change that would split Lancaster right down the middle.

Last week, he and Cat Smith clashed in the Commons over claims by the Lancaster MP that a number of her constituents regarding letters that they have received from David Morris about the Boundary Commission’s proposals. "Some of my constituents have been left confused, given the subject matter, believing that their MP has already changed under boundary changes," she said.

After an intervention by the Speaker of the House John Bercow, Mr Morris did not deny he had contacted Lancaster constituents - regarded as a Parilamentary discourtesy - but said he had not written "to the hon. Lady’s constituents by name or used parliamentary paper, resources or a portcullis emblem".

"I also did not deliver any of the letters personally, as I was away on parliamentary business out of the country at the time. I have therefore not breached any protocol. As far as the views that have been expressed are concerned, they are the views of my constituents and I am representing them as their Member of Parliament. Their responses to the letter concur with the opinion of both sides, which is that we should keep Morecambe and Lancaster separate."

His comment to the House in this debate seem at odds with the proposals mooted by the Conservatives, which have raised concern locally.

• You can view Mr Morris expenses for 2014 - 2015 on the IPSA web site here and view all his expenses since he took office in 2010 here

• David Morris Official web site:

• Find David Morris MP on Facebook here. He doesn't allow comments from people who might disagree with him. You can also follow him on Twitter