Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year's Eve power cut affects Halton and other areas

(Updated 1824) This afternoon's power cut affecting Halton and other local areas looks as though it may mar New Year celebrations for some locals.

The outage - caused by what Lancaster Guardian staff on Twitter report is due to high voltage fault at a Carnforth substation - means over 1400 homes in the Halton area and beyond.

Electricity North West says power should be restored by 8.00pm for most, but warned that for some it might be as late as 2.00am.
It now looks like power will be restored by 9.30pm.

The power cut, which briefly affected Skerton as well as Bolton-le-Sands and Slyne, has affected TV signal for some.
This is the third power cut for some locals this month.

Some people without power or net access were infuriated that they were directed to the ENW web site to check on the power status in their area.

Quite apart from being caught in a power cut, the ENW web site is not configured for easy mobile browsing.

In the Spotlight: Lancaster and District Male Voice Choir


In the first of an occasional quick 'spotlight' on a local group. we spotlight Lancaster and District Male Voice Choir ...

Who or What: 

Lancaster and District Male Voice Choir is one of the longest established in the district being founded in 1899.  Members come from Lancaster, Morecambe and the surrounding area. 

The choir rehearses on Tuesdays 7-9.00 pm at Lancaster Methodist Church, Scotforth Road (Kensington Road entrance). It gives four or five major concerts each year, mainly for local charities, together with some more informal performances. 

The choir has a wide repertoire from traditional male voice and church classics to items from opera, musicals and folk music. 

The Musical director, Derek Walters, has made male voice arrangements specially for the choir. They have a wide age range and give a particular welcome to school and university students.

Regular Meetings:

Rehearsals on Tuesdays 7-9.00 pm at Lancaster Methodist Church, Scotforth Road (Kensington Road entrance)


Upcoming Events:

• Friday 25th January 2013 - Grand Concert at the Grand Theatre, Lancaster at 7.30 pm.
• Friday 22nd March - Joint concert with Radcliffe M.V.C at St. John's Church, Pilling at 7.30 pm

Contacts:  (01524) 34454, 65761, 843853

Web: www.lancasteranddistrictmalevoicechoir.org.uk

• If you're a local group organiser in the Lancaster and Morecambe area, mail us your details following the format above via edATvirtual0-lancaster.net together with a picture and we'll present your information here and addit to the virtual-lancaster main site

• virtual-lancaster Community Pages: www.virtual-lancaster.net/community/index.htm

Andy Serkis Returns To The Dukes

Andy Serkis, centre, as Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream,
The Dukes first outdoor promenade production in 1987
Andy Serkis, the actor and Lancaster University graduate who trod The Dukes boards during his early career, returns to the big screen there in January.

Andy reprises his role as Gollum in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (12A) which is screened at the Lancaster cinema from 4th - 10th January.

Since appearing as Gollum in the first Lord of the Rings film, Andy has advanced the art of ‘performance capture’ where an actor’s movements and expressions are electronically tracked and translated into Computer Generated Images (CGI) to bring a film character to life.

As well as Gollum, Andy has provided the acting for CGI characters Kong in King Kong, Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Captain Haddock in Tintin.

Andy, who has is own Imaginarium Studios in London which specialise in performance capture and other technology, has always been a pioneering actor, even in his early days at The Dukes.

In 1987, he appeared as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Dukes very first promenade production in Williamson Park.

During the Eighties, Andy performed in many Dukes productions including Privates on Parade, Company, Winter’s Tale, Sleeping Beauty, The Dresser, Volpone, and Red Riding Hood.

Andy has gone on to become a much sought after actor on the big and small screen where he’s played roles as diverse as Ian Drury and Ian Brady for which he was nominated for an Emmy and Golden Globe.

As well as acting in The Hobbit, Andy was also second unit director in this prequel to the Lord of The Rings trilogy.

The Hobbit sees the return of several Tolkien regulars for the fantastical tale of Frodo’s uncle. A curious Hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a vigorous group of Dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug.

• Tickets are priced £5.50 (concessions £4.50). To book, call The Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or visit www.dukes-lancaster.org

Friday, 28 December 2012

British Land explains offshore companies


In our recent post "British Land: our taxes are REIT" we asked about the large number of British Land-owned companies registered in offshore tax havens, which were mentioned in an Action Aid report about corporate structuring and offshore registrations.

British Land tell us:
"British Land has 143 Jersey and 16 Luxembourg companies covering its UK and overseas operations.  

These fall broadly into four categories:

·         Dormant companies
·         Companies inherited from corporate acquisitions
·         Joint ventures with overseas investors
·         Companies holding properties located outside the UK.

The interests in overseas companies holding UK property are subject to the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) regime created by UK Government in 2007 and overseas companies holding overseas properties are subject to tax in the jurisdiction where the property is located."

So far, so good. And thanks.  The idea that you can make a one-off payment under the REIT scheme to buy yourself out of future tax is interesting. A bit like selling off council houses, only bigger and further away?

But before we start counting our tax chickens, the job needs to be actually tendered.
For now we just need to see some real planning for real people.

Happy New Year folks.

City Council considers options after £170,000 cut announced in funding

Councillor Abbott Bryning says the
recently-announced Local Government
Finance Settlement is another blow
to the Council's finances
There was grim news for Lancaster City Council just before Christmas, after the government announced it would have to make a further £170,000 in budget cuts next year.

Councillor Abbott Bryning has described the news as "another blow" to the Council's finances and local anti cuts campaigners are gearing themselves for further battles to preserve vital services.

The Council says it is carefully scrutinising the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement, announced on 19th December, to determine its impact on the council’s budget and future service provision.

Nationally, some of the poorest councils will get cuts of up to 8.8% while some of the wealthiest councils will get rises of up to 3% in 2013/14.

In our area, the government statement indicates the City Council will need to make further cuts in its services of £170,000 in 2013/14, with a further reduction in 2014/15 of around £1.6million, or 13%.

The Government released figures on the amount of money each local authority, including Lancaster City Council, receives to run their services, just before Christmas, but because of changes in the way support from Government is calculated, the full effects the settlement will have on the council and its services are still being analysed.

The headline figures indicate that there is to be a further reduction to the City Council’s current budget of around £170,000 with a further reduction in 2014/15 of around £1.6million, or 13%, but further work is being undertaken to confirm these figures and assess their impact.

"Another blow to our finances"

Councillor Abbott Bryning, Cabinet member with responsibility for finance, said: “The city council has already faced huge reductions over the last few years to its budget and this is yet another blow to our finances.

“At this stage we are still working on gaining a clearer picture of exactly how much the council needs to save over the coming years. The LGFS brings in some complex changes and we need time to work these through.

“But what it is clear is that the council will have less money and will have to consider real cuts to services if we are to balance the books.”

"Bad News for services"

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has warned that the Local Government Finance Settlement heralds a ‘very challenging’ phase in the austerity programme, while the Local Government Association called it ‘bad news for services’.

"Confirmation of a further reduction in funding for local services comes on top of the unprecedented cuts councils already have to implement," says the Local Government Association. "This is bad news for local services and undermines the role councils can play in promoting economic recovery.

"It is good that the Government has taken significant steps to soften the possible negative financial impacts of changes to business rates distribution and funding for education services. Despite these sensible moves, councils are still exposed to some sizable new costs and risks which could draw money away from other services.

"Local government has borne the brunt of cuts to public spending and today's announcement confirms that this will continue to be the case until 2015. What was scheduled to be an extremely challenging 28 per cent reduction in council funding will now exceed 33 per cent and, for some councils, may go much higher. In comparison, Whitehall departments' budgets are being cut by on average 8 per cent.

"This pattern cannot be repeated into the next spending review period," the LGA warned. "Councils are one of the few parts of the public sector which actively promote economic growth. Curtailing that role hampers Britain's economic recovery."

CIPFA also noted that as well as cuts already demanded, councils will not be notified of their public health funding allocations until the new year, meaning they still don't know how much money is being made available for them to tackle costly public health issues such as smoking, alcohol abuse and obesity.

The institute has urged authorities to finalise their 2013/14 budgets prudently and in a way that safeguards both essential services and the financial health of their organisations.

"Councils hoarding billions", claims Pickles

But the government's Communities Secretary Eric Pickles has attacked the Local Government Association’s prediction of a crisis in local government services, accusing the group of being “seduced by statistics” and arguing that cuts to councils’ funding have been “modest”.

The Local Government Chronicle reports that he told the communities and local government select committee that it was “utterly ludicrous” for the LGA to predict that councils could struggle in future to fund anything other than social care and waste services.

He also accused some councils of scaremongering about funding cuts after it was revealed that town hall reserves have risen by more than a third in the past five years.

Public Finance reports an analysis of national council funding by the Audit Commission, published earlier in December, found that local government reserves totalled £12.9bn at the end of 2011/12, equivalent to almost a third of net spending on services. Reserves increased by £4.5bn between 2007 and 2012.

The watchdog urged councils to ‘strike a balance’ between current and future needs and said they should provide greater detail on how their reserves could be used.

Pickles claimed councils were "hoarding" money and said: ‘People would be surprised that councils are hoarding billions whilst some are pleading poverty.’

Given the rise in reserves, it was "disappointing and irresponsible that some sections of local government have chosen to needlessly scare the public with unfounded predictions of doom and gloom".

"As with any prudent family budget, councils set aside money to invest for the future and hold some back for a rainy day," Merrick Cockell, Chairman of the LGA stated, respodiong to the Audit Commission's original report.

"The prudent, entirely justified increase in reserves is designed to help councils manage the significant and growing financial risks to vital local services, as the Audit Commission readily acknowledges in its report.

"Unlike central government, which can borrow to cover day-to-day spending, councils cannot operate a deficit. These reserves are all that stands between local authorities and the risk of financial collapse. This sound approach to financial management has not been matched elsewhere in the public sector.

"The money is absolutely essential in helping to cover the threat of any unexpected cuts to funding, such as the up to £1 billion extra the Government says it may take from councils next financial year. This would be over and above cuts previously signalled in the Comprehensive Spending Review."

Labour: Cameron and Pickles "living in a world of their own"

Nationally, the Labour Party has condemned the settlement – and Mr Pickles


"David Cameron and Eric Pickles are living in a world of their own," says Hilary Benn MP, Labour's Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary. "They simply doesn’t understand the impact that their decisions on funding are having on services and the local people who use and rely upon them."

Mr Benn also rounded on the Communities Secretary, deriding his opinions and arguments on council funding.

"This is what Eric Pickles' colleagues on the front line say about him. The former Tory chair of the Local Government Association, Baroness Eaton, described his understanding of the effect of local government cuts as 'detached from the reality that councils are dealing with'. Her successor, Sir Merrick Cockell, has called the cuts 'unsustainable'. And the Tory Leader of Kent says his county 'can’t cope' with further reductions and 'is running on empty'.

"Let’s be clear what is being lost due to his unfair cuts," Mre Benn warned. "Libraries, sports centres, Sure Start centres, places at women’s refuges.

"He is unfairly hitting the poorest areas hardest," he argued. "The Audit Commission has found that 'the most deprived areas have seen substantially greater reductions in government funding as a share of revenue expenditure than councils in less deprived areas'.

"Why is the most deprived local authority, Liverpool, facing a cut of 7.7 per cent in its estimated revenue spending power over two years when David Cameron’s council of West Oxfordshire is getting an increase of 1.1 per cent?"

 

Some business leaders have welcomed the government's plans, arguing it will open up opportunities for more privatised services.


"D Day, not Doomsday"

Commenting on the Settlement, Fresh Business Thinking reports Oxygen’s European Chief Executive Roberto Moretti said it was "D Day, not Doomsday" and has urged councils to consider fresh alternatives that will provide vital new income stream for public sector bodies.


Mr Moretti said: “Today’s settlement has intensified the pressure on Local Government, which has already discovered so many ways to tighten its belt, such as partnership working and outsourcing. It is now being placed in a position where it needs to go further and find more.

Through the Oxygen Early Payment programme — already adopted successfully by Oldham Council — Mr Moretti argued a new source of income for councils can be provided in terms of a rebate for early payments to contractors and suppliers.

“This is money that will help protect frontline jobs and services and spark growth in local areas.”

Cabinet will present its draft budget to Council on Wednesday 27th February 2013.

Full details of the Government settlement are here on the Department for Communities and Local Government web site

 

Christmas Trees collected

St John’s Hospice will once again be collecting and recycling Christmas trees on Saturday 5th and Sunday 6th January 2013, for a minimum donation of £5 per tree. Trees will be collected from the following postcode areas: LA1, LA2, LA3, LA4, LA5.

To arrange a collection visit the St John's Hospice tree collection page.

If you do not wish to use this service, the City Council advises that your Christmas tree can be cut down to size and put into the green garden waste wheelie bin or can be taken to the household waste recycling centre at Salt Ayre or Keer Bridge (Carnforth) where it will be composted.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Police crackdown on local drink drivers continues

Over 100 motorists in Lancashire have already been found to have been drink driving this Christmas - 21 in the area covered by the Northern division which is assigned with the policing of Lancastewr, Morecambe, Heysham and the Wyre area.

The figures come just three weeks into the campaign and officers are reminding people of the dangers and consequences of drink driving.

Police have conducted 11,420 roadside breathe tests with 130 people providing a positive specimen and three people actually refusing to provide.

Chief Inspector Debbie Howard from the Roads Policing Unit said, “Over 11,000 tests have been carried out and 133 people have failed or refused. Although this does show that the number of drinking and driving is low, around 1.2 per cent of people tested, over 100 people have been drink driving and that is too many as far as we are concerned.

“With Christmas just around the corner it is important for people to remember the dangers and consequences of drink driving. Our officers will continue to carryout roadside checkpoints and will target those people who drink and drive.

“It is also important to remind people that if they are drinking in the evening then there is a good chance that they could be over the limit in the morning. Motorists need to plan ahead and make sure they leave their vehicles at home.”

If you suspect anyone of drink driving then you should call the police on 101.

The figures are as follows:

Northern Division – 1,121 tests conducted – 21 failed – 1 refused.
Central Division – 1,208 tests conducted – 7 failed – 0 refused.
Eastern Division – 2,939 tests conducted – 25 failed – 0 refused.
Southern Division – 2,421 tests conducted – 14 failed – 0 refused.
Western Division - 1,188 tests conducted – 11 failed – 0 refused.
Pennine Division – 1,294 tests conducted – 19 failed – 2 refused.
H Division (Motorway/RPU) – 1,249 tests conducted – 0 refused.

Getting expensive presents for Christmas? Immobilise thieves!

People receiving expensive presents for Christmas are being advised to take a few simple crime prevention measures to avoid being targeted by thieves.

At this time of year burglars are even more aware of the fact that people will have expensive items in their homes. Valuables left near windows can prove tempting for criminals and unlocked doors and windows make it easier for them to come in and steal your possessions.

PCSO Stephen Connolly, neighbourhood policing, said: “Keeping things out of sight and locking up when you go to bed or leave home can prevent your home being broken in to.

“However, if you are targeted by criminals, listing your new phones, gadgets and other presents, including bikes, on a property register database, such as immobilise.com can greatly increase the chances of getting the items returned to you.

"This is a free service and only takes a few minutes of your time.

“When officers seize suspected stolen property we can use the database to try and reunite it with its original owner. Second hand shops can also use a sister site to check whether an item is stolen when it is offered to them.

"Help us to spoil Christmas for criminals my making sure your property is not an easy target.”

• For more crime prevention advice visit www.lancashire.police.uk. To register property visit www.immobilise.com

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Duo get set for Golden Lion date


Need something different, perhaps a little more relaxing, between Christmas and New Year?  Yes, I thought so.  Well….

The Duo – from folk to Floyd will be playing at the Golden Lion (Moor Lane, Lancaster) on Saturday 29th December 2012. They’ll start, as usual, shortly after 9.00pm and perform two sets of songs, ending at some little time after 11.00pm.

"This is a first for the Golden Lion as they usually don’t host any live music between Christmas and New Year," says Duo member Tony Cooke. "However Jon, the landlord, has booked us to see if he can tempt people away from the telly! - so it’s a bit of an experiment really. 

"But it is also a splendid example of the Lion’s continuing commitment to a varied programme of live music throughout the year which I think we all appreciate."

 • More about The Duo: www.myspace.com/theduofolktofloyd

Appeal following Lancaster house fire

Police are appealing for information following a house fire in Lancaster which police believe may have been started deliberately.

On the evening of the 24th November, a fire started behind the front door of a house on Holden Way, which is off Ashton Road - and police are appealing for information to try and establish the circumstances.

It is believed the fire would have started sometime between 7.30 and 11.30pm.

“Fortunately the fire did not spread and was limited to the hallway," said DC Dylan Hrynkow. "Police treat all offences of this nature extremely seriously and I would appeal to anyone who may have been in the area at the time to contact police if they remember seeing anyone acting suspiciously in the area.

“In particular, we would appeal to a man who believe may have been walking his dog along Holden Way around the time, we are also led to believe this man may have been noticeable as he was smoking a pipe. If this was you, please contact police – you could have information that is vital to the investigation.”

• Anyone with information can contact police on 101 quoting reference number BA1203926. Alternatively, information can be passed to the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Royal Lancaster Infirmary closes to visitors during Noro outbreak

All visitors have been banned from the Royal Lancaster Infirmary because of an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug Norovirus.

At least 140 patients and 20 staff have caught the highly contagious norovirus, which causes nausea and diarrhoea.

Every ward will be shut for at least the next two days, but Emergency cases are still being taken in A&E.
Outpatients should still go to appointments - but if they're showing symptoms of the bug they should call ahead.

For maternity, neonatal and paediatric services, only the parents or one guardian of a sick child are asked to attend the wards or neonatal unit.

The Trust understands that there may be extenuating circumstances where members of the public need to visit loved ones, such as if they seriously ill. If this is the case, the public are asked to call ahead to the ward to arrange visiting.

Juliet Walters, Chief Operating Officer, said: “Whilst we understand that this may seem drastic to some people, our usual infection control methods need to be supplemented with the assistance of the public to help control and resolve the outbreak.

“It has been widely reported that the levels of this bug are 83 per cent higher nationally than last year. There is also a huge increase of the bug in the community and we believe that members of the public who are coming into the hospital, carrying the bug or similar bugs – sometimes without knowledge - may be contributing to the problem. By reducing the number of people coming into our hospital, we can reduce the risk of norovirus spreading to further wards. 

“This decision has not been taken lightly as we know it will be frustrating for people who have friends and family in hospital but we have a duty of care to protect the wellbeing and safety of our patients and staff, and this has to be our main priority. Our staff are working extremely hard to deal with this outbreak quickly and this decision will help us return services to normal as soon as possible. To help us achieve this, we would appreciate the co-operation of the public.”

The norovirus illness affects up to a million people in the UK each year and does not last long and people usually recover between 12 and 60 hours without treatment other than rest and lots of fluids. It is found in the community and is easily transmitted. The bug affects schools, workplaces and other areas where groups of people are in close proximity, such as hospitals.

The elderly and young can be more vulnerable to the infection and anyone with concerns should call NHS Direct on 0845-4647.

Lancashire ex-Forces mentors to start work in the New Year

The next phase of Lancashire County Council's £3m project to recruit ex-service personnel as mentors in the county's schools is under way.

The mentors, who will take up their posts on 7th January 2013, will provide support to pupils between the age of 14 and 16 to improve their achievement in class and their attendance at school, and to reduce the number of pupils who are excluded.

The decision to recruit the mentors was taken at a meeting in October by members of Lancashire County Council's cabinet. It has been agreed that the first year of this five-year programme will be run as a pilot project. Pendle and Hyndburn will be the first two districts to benefit from this programme within the initial pilot period. !

In addition to supporting ex-service personnel to retrain and obtain employment, this proposal will also contribute to a reduction in the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training in Lancashire.

The project is being led by a steering group chaired by County Councillor Mark Perks, Cabinet Member for Young People. One Connect Limited's Employment and Support Service is running the programme.

"From the county council's point of view, this initiative fulfils two very important objectives," says County Councillor Perks. "Not only will it provide support to pupils who need some extra help but it also makes use of the mentoring skills that ex-servicemen and women will have acquired while they were serving their country.

"I am very pleased that the first nine of the 50 mentors who will benefit from this scheme have been recruited and will start work in January. The recruits will receive good quality training! and, through the Workstart4Armed Forces model, they will also be help ed to apply for employment opportunities within the county council and its partners.

"We have made a commitment to work more closely with organisations that support ex-service personnel and their families.

"I am very pleased that organisations that support ex-servicemen and women fully support this particular initiative and would like to thank them for their help."

During the pilot period, Skill Force, a specialist training provider, will be commissioned to assess and train the ex-service personnel. Measures such as recruitment and retention of ex-service personnel alongside progress of young people will be assessed and evaluated. The benefits of the lessons learned in the first year will be incorporated into the following four years.

"Working with our partners on this worthwhile initiative has been hugely rewarding," says Anne-Marie Morgan, One Connect Limited's Employment and Support Business Manager. "People who have served their country in the armed forces develop skills that are ideal for this kind of mentoring role.

"The mentors will do their training in county council venues during January and February 2013. They will start working in schools from March onwards.

"We have also recruited an ex-service personnel to the role of Employment Officer to join our team in order to continue to support them once they are there."

The scheme is also receiving backing from County Councillor Mike France, Lancashire's champion for armed forces and veterans:

"This is an excellent project and has my full support," he said. "Ex-service personnel have excellent transferable skills and we at the county council would like to offer as many opportunities as possible for those men and women who have served their country, and this county, so well."

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Report of sexual assault in Lancaster

Detectives are appealing for information following a report of a sexual assault outside The Lounge bar on Penny Street, Lancaster – but the person attack left the scene during the investigation and police are anxious to find them.

Around 5.30am on Sunday 16th December 2012, a woman was sat on the floor at the side of the pub when a man sat beside her and attempted to touch her inappropriately.

The woman told the man to stop and alerted door staff and police were called.

Officers arrived, but whilst they were in the process of speaking with witnesses the woman left the scene.

Detective Constable Ian Wright said: “Officers were able to speak to the woman briefly at the scene, however she left before they could get any further details from her.

"We would urge her to come forward, as well as anyone who may have any information which could help with this inquiry.”

• Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Penny Street assault prompts police witness appeal

Police are appealing for witnesses after a man was assaulted in an unprovoked attack in Lancaster last week.

Around 9.45pm on Tuesday 11th December 2012, two men approached a 42-year-old man on Penny Street outside Lush.

One of the men punched the 42 year old several times in the face before spitting on him, before the second man also punched him in the face causing a slight injury to his chin.

PC Martin Wilcock said: “This was a nasty, unprovoked attack and I would appeal to anybody who was in the area at the time and witnessed this assault to come forward.

“Even if you didn’t witness the assault, but perhaps believe you have information which could assist with our investigation then please contact us.”

Two men, aged 21 and 26, both from Lancaster, have been arrested on suspicion of section 47 assault and have been released on police bail pending further enquiries.

Anybody with any information can contact police on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or on-line at Crimestoppers-uk.org. PennNo personal details are taken, information is not traced or recorded and you will not go to court.

 

Car owners warned after catalytic converter thefts on the Vale and White Lund

Car owners are being asked to store vehicles away at night where possible following a series of catalytic converter thefts in Lancaster and Morecambe.

A number of vehicles parked on the Vale estate and the White Lund Industrial Estate have been targeted for the metallic items, with thieves cutting them out from underneath vehicles.

Motorists are now being advised to keep vehicles locked in garages overnight and to consider using other crime prevention devices, such as security lights on their driveways, as added protection against thieves.

Sergeant Simon Balderstone, of Lancaster and Morecambe’s serious acquisitive crime team, said: “Scrap metal continues to fetch a good price so anything metallic is tempting to thieves.

"A missing catalytic converter may not be instantly noticeable when you approach you car – but the cost of replacing it will certainly be noticeable, so we’d ask motorists to remain vigilant and take some simple crime prevention measures to keep their vehicles safe.”

• Anyone with information about the thefts is asked to contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999.

Lancaster pensioner dies after Barton Road accident

We're sorry to report that 68-year-old Peter Kellett sadly died on Friday afternoon (14th Dec) at Royal Preston Hospital following a serious accident on Barton Road in Scoforth, Lancaster on 4th December.

As we previously reported, Mr Kellett was hit by a white Mercedes Vito Van as he was crossing Barton Road near to the junction with Wakefield Drive shortly before 5.00pm. He was taken to Royal Preston Hospital where he was receiving treatment for head, spine and leg injuries.

The driver of the van was uninjured.

Officers from the Road Policing Unit are appealing for any witnesses who had not yet contacted police to come forward.

Anyone with any information is asked to contact police by calling 101 quoting log number LC-20121204-0922.

Friday, 14 December 2012

British Land: our taxes are REIT.

HMRC
Further to our previous story regarding British Land and its offshore company registrations, (read it here) Virtual-Lancaster was pleasantly surprised to receive the following statement from BL about the structure under which the company operates:

"British Land is a UK Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT).  REITs are a government supported, internationally recognised investment vehicle which provide an opportunity for shareholders of all sizes, including individuals, to invest in property as if they owned it directly.  British Land became a REIT on 1 January 2007 when it paid a conversion charge of more than £300 million (2% of the market value of its investment properties) to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC).

"REITs are not liable to tax on their rental income or capital gains from their activities which are paid by the investor/individual instead.  REITs must distribute 90% of the profit generated from their REIT activities to their shareholders as dividends and British Land paid out dividends totalling £231 million for the year ending 31 March 2012.  British Land’s largest shareholders are mainly large institutional investors, including pension funds.  Around 10% of shares are owned directly by small investors.

"British Land has a large number of UK and overseas companies covering its UK and overseas operations.  In the main, all the overseas companies holding UK property are UK tax resident, are part of the REIT regime and subject to the conditions described above.  The companies holding overseas properties are subject to tax in the jurisdiction where the property is located.  

"So, REITS are a channel to invest in a property portfolio, with the same tax attributes as owning property directly.  The structure allows anyone from local Lancaster residents through to major companies to invest in the rental income generated from property owned by the REIT.  Local people owning shares in British Land could in future benefit from income created by the proposed development once it is completed and trading.  This is because British Land is required to distribute 90% of its REIT profit as dividends.  It would then be up to those local people to pay tax on the dividends they receive.

"In September 2012, British Land calculated the impact its £2.1 billion development programme is having on communities across the UK.  Between 2011 and 2015, British Land will contribute £1.2 billion to the UK economy and create 32,300 jobs through its construction projects.  For every £1 million British Land spends on construction, it generates an estimated 31 jobs.  In Lancaster, the Canal Corridor North development will boost the local economy through the creation of many new jobs and act as a catalyst for attracting further investment."

Having scoured the internet, I can tell you now that this is one of the clearer explanations of how REITs (which you pronounce to rhyme with 'sweets') work, and I appreciate it.

I'm no accountant, which may explain why I'm still struggling to understand how those 143 British Land-owned companies registered in Jersey (0% Corporation Tax), as reported by Action Aid in 2011, fit in. I've asked BL for a bit more help on this, but welcome readers' contributions and experiences too. Perhaps it's something we can all have a go at?

Lancaster Vision 2020 sees Castle on horizon


The rainbow's end?
Lancaster Castle viewed from Aldcliffe
Lancaster Civic Society has launched a new group looking to encourage Lancaster to capitalise on the opening of the Castle. to be called Lancaster Vision 2020 (LV2020).   It is intended to include residents. local businesses and other stakeholders, who need not be members of the Civic Society, and it will liaise with a range of groups from Lancaster and beyond. You can check out their webpage at
http://lancastercivicsociety.wordpress.com/castle/

LV20 would like us to focus our minds on the following economic predictions:

- Lancaster Castle is to open to the public in the fairly near future (Full details of the Duchy’s proposals for the Castle may be found at http://www.lancastercastle.org/).
- the Castle is recognised to be one of the foremost historic buildings in the north-west of England 

- the opening of the Castle should bring many more visitors to Lancaster 
- this increased flow of visitors should provide both the resources and the economic case for improvements to the hotels, shops, parking facilities, and the environment and general ambience of the City centre 
- the City should be preparing more vigorously to take full advantage of this.

"If the City is to take full advantage of this important opportunity, it will need to develop more and better hotel accommodation, and more and better restaurants; it should develop more attractive and better-stocked shops; it will need to provide better access to the centre of the City  -  not just to the Castle, but as a whole; and so on.  Some of this is likely to happen anyway, as local and outside entrepreneurs respond to the increased trading turnover in the City; but it should be supported and guided by local people, with the aim of making sure that the new developments build on what is best about Lancaster."

The aims of the new group are:

- to bring together people and groups who have an interest in securing the best outcome and increased prosperity for Lancaster District with the opening of the Castle 
- together with these people and groups, to develop and promote strategies towards achieving this. 

Towards these aims, the group plans to meet and discuss plans with, for example, Lancaster City Council, Lancashire County Council, the Duchy of Lancaster, Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce, Beyond the Castle, the two universities, local cultural organisations, the Storey.....and so on.  Strategies are to be worked out at discussions among all these parties.

This is at an early stage, but we plan to move ahead quickly so that opportunities are not missed.

Double Vision?
NB: Just so you don't get mixed up, there is already an organisation in existence called City of Lancaster Vision 2020.  This is based in Lancaster, California.  Lancaster CA aims to become one of the world's first net zero cities for its electricity use by 2020.
For more about the Lancaster UK campaign on local sustainability issues go to the Transition City Lancaster website at http://www.transitioncitylancaster.org/

Castle Christmas Market
Don't forget, there will be a Christmas Market in the Castle courtyard this Thursday 20 December. It will be open from 12-9pm with choirs, brass bands, carols, lights, lots of proper stalls, hot food, mulled wine, late night shopping and cafes under the lights in town, free evening parking....  it's all coming together!

County Council calls for tighter regulation on 'fracking'

Lancashire County Council has welcomed new controls on the extraction of shale gas but called upon the government to introduce industry specific regulation of hydraulic fracturing.

In a unanimously approved notice of motion, the County Council also called for regular on-site inspections and considerable sanctions should any breaches take place, whilst stressing that regulation must ensure that local planning control is maintained.

County Councillor Michael Green, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Environment and Planning said: "Lancashire's reserves of gas are currently the focus of attention for developers of what may become a shale gas industry in the UK. We are adamant that planning decisions should continue to be taken locally, to ensure there is accountability to our residents. We are determined that the regulatory authorities do all they can to ensure that operations are as safe as they can possibly be for the people of Lancashire.

"The County Council has a statutory role in determining individual planning applications related to shale gas operations.
"We are obliged to consider any such applications on their own merits within the national regulations planning authorities are bound by.

"Any decisions will take account of all representations received on planning grounds, which would include guidance from those agencies responsible for determining the safety of the fracking process and any environmental impacts - namely the Department for Energy and Climate Change, the Health and Safety Executive and the Environment Agency.

"Naturally we're keeping a close eye on developments in this area, particularly in light of the recent announcement on national energy policy and the establishment of a shale gas office. It will be interesting to see what role and responsibilities such an office may have."

The full text of the notice of motion reads:

Lancashire County Council recognises that:



The UK will face energy supply problems in the next few decades which are unlikely to be solved by current efforts to promote renewable sources of energy supply. Moreover, particularly in terms of security of gas supply, the UK is vulnerable to political actions in its sources of overseas supply.



It follows that new sources of energy supply that involve controversial technologies and methods should not be rejected out of hand but be subject to careful scrutiny and regulation. One such process is Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking) of shale type rock to release entrapped gas in commercial quantities.



Unfortunately there are no specific onshore exploration or extraction regulations for natural gas and the offshore regulations developed in the 1990s are not sufficient to address all the issues that arise from moving the process onshore especially in populated areas of Lancashire.



Lancashire County Council welcomes the new controls on seismic activity announced today, but calls on the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to introduce industry specific regulation of hydraulic fracturing for the UK shale gas industry and to ensure that there are regular on-site inspections by the regulatory body with rigorously enforced regulations and considerable sanctions should any breach of regulations take place. Such industry specific regulation must ensure that local planning control is maintained.

For more on local fracking issues and campaigns see our previous story:

http://virtual-lancaster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/anti-fracking-campaign-to-continue.html

Thursday, 13 December 2012

The Really Heavy Greatcoat Review of the Year 2012


The Really Heavy Greatcoat by myself and Lancaster-based artist Nick Miller was published fairly regularly for about 20 years, last featuring in the comics news magazine Comics International in 2009. The strip was published for many years in alternative Lancaster titles such as On The Beat and Off the Beat and online on downthetubes.net and virtual-lancaster.net.

When last seen in a regular strip, Kevin, the current owner of the Greatcoat - a talking garment with transcendentally dimensional pockets - was a student. He was clearly not postgraduate material so Nick and I reckon he's in a bedsit in Skerton, Lancaster somewhere, eking out a life on benefits...


If anyone ever offered to pay us to write it, it might still be running today - but Nick still creates an annual Review of the Year, bless him!

• More by Nick at: http://teamsputnikblog.blogspot.com

Greatcoat Review of the Year 2011

Greatcoat Review of the Year 2010

Greatcoat Review of the Year 2009
 
• The Really Heavy Greatcoat Archive: www.downthetubes.net/fiction/strips/greatcoat/about.html 

Creative deadline for Storey Gallery Company

The Storey Gallery space
Lancaster City Council is taking a 'tough love' approach with the publicly-funded Storey Art Gallery Company, underwriting the rent for its office space at the Storey building until the end of February 2013 but closing the gallery space.  

As we reported in March 2011, Arts Council funding for the Gallery was cut after 2011/2012.  At that time  Lancaster City Council reaffirmed its support for the local arts organisation.  At the Cabinet meeting of 4 December 2012 cabinet unanimously agreed to underwrite the rent and service charges on the office that the long established local arts organisation currently occupies in the Storey Institute, until the end of February 2013, to allow them sufficient time to prepare a fresh funding application to the Arts Council.

The Council Cabinet also reaffirmed its decision taken on the 9 October 2012 to keep the previously planned £10,700 grant to the company held back until detailed proposals regarding any specific project are brought forward by the company for consideration by Cabinet.

The Storey Gallery has been based within the Storey building for the past 21 years. John Angus, Director of the Storey Gallery Company, told Lancaster City Council:

"Our revised vision and plan focuses on the delivery of a variety of art projects outside the gallery, but in the local area, and involves the collaboration and cooperation of a variety of both local residents and regional organisations.

"We think that this mode of operation could be delivered with the support of the project grants, and could expand and contract as available resources allow.  We also think that it has the potential to reach and engage a larger and more diverse audience than we were able to do through gallery exhibitions, and so it could provide increased value for money.

"This plan involves little if any use of the gallery spaces in the Storey Institute.  We were reluctant to take
such a step as the physical gallery spaces are a significant asset, and they provide an ideal place to display certain types of visual art practices.  However, we concluded that, given the reduced level of funding which we are now receiving, and can expect to receive in future, we will not have the resources to continue to run a continuous programme of gallery exhibitions.  We would still be interested in organising occasional exhibitions, but this might depend on the future management arrangements for the building."

You can find out more about the Storey Gallery Company at http://www.storeygallery.org.uk/ or visit them on facebook.

In Review: 'Deck the Hall' at Lancaster Castle


Amy Worth in Deck the Hall 2011

Review – Deck The Hall With Boughs Of Holly
Performed by Demi~Paradise Productions

Produced by Steve Tomlin
devised and compiled by Sue McCormick
directed by Sue McCormick and Sarah Thurston
music by Five in a Bar, directed by Jude Glendinning
The Shire Hall, Lancaster Castle

Wednesday 12 – Saturday 15 December 2012 at 7.30pm
Adults £13/ Children £6.50

Reviewed by Michael Nunn

Well, Demi~Paradise Productions certainly did what the title says – the Shire Hall looked splendidly bedecked with some fine, robust holly from Williamson’s Park, and the atmospheric space was suitably and subtly lighted to create a wonderful season atmosphere as soon as we walked through the door.

And the promise of a seasonal celebration was continued for some two hours with a delightful selection of prose, music and verse from across the centuries and throughout the world.  Sue McCormick’s thoughtful and varied choice of nearly thirty short pieces and songs vividly explored the whole range of emotions and the tensions of ‘this time of year.’  From Dickens to Joyce Grenfell, American writers and Dylan Thomas to a correspondent from 1914 and a specially-commissioned new pantomime, there was something to appeal to everybody.

The music, too, from female a capella group Five in a Bar directed by Jude Glendinning, included mediƦval Wassails, later traditional carols and a number of modern ditties classical and otherwise.  The five readers’ offerings were neatly interspersed nicely with the songs, and all the readers participated effectively in some of the larger ensemble vocal pieces.

It would be pointless to highlight my own favourites as the Christmas Spirit moves each one of differently.  The excellent notion of serving mulled wine and mince pies in the interval also added to the essence and aroma of the evening’s entertainment.  On a bitterly cold, frosty night as we walked home, our ears were ringing with a happy mix of jolly tunes and evocative words.  We could still hear the words of Dickens and others, the timeless carols of the Christmas Spirits echoing in our ears and warming us inside.  And to crown this special Lancashire celebration, I could also sense the genial figure of Stanley Holloway smiling down on us all.

Copyright © Michael Nunn
11 December 2012

Four charged over alleged mistreatment at local care home

After consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service four people have today (Thursday, December 13th) been charged with offences under the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

After a number of arrests earlier in the year, The charges are the result of a complex investigation by Lancashire Constabulary into alleged mistreatment of vulnerable adults at Hillcroft Nursing Home in Slyne-with-Hest, Lancaster.

All four are charged with being a carer involved in the ill treatment and wilful neglect of a person with lack of capacity. This is contrary to the Mental Capacity Act 2005.

They are: Darren Smith, 34, of Howgill Avenue, Lancaster, who is charged with eight offences; Katie Cairns, 26, of Riverview Court, Westgate, Morecambe is charged with four offences; Carol Moore, 53, of Ripon Avenue, Beaumont, Lancaster is charged with six offences and Gemma Pearson, 27, of Hill Street, Carnforth is charged with one offence.

There are a total of 19 charges in relation to eight victims. The charges relate to a period between May 2010 and September 2011.

Those charged have been bailed to appear at Lancaster Magistrates Court on Thursday 3rd January, 2013.

Three other people arrested as part of the long running investigation have been released no further action. They are a 27 year old man from Morecambe, a 57 year old woman from Morecambe, and a 23 year old man from Lancaster.

Another person attended the police station voluntarily and has been released no further action.

Eat out with confidence this Christmas

Residents in the Lancaster district who are planning to go out for a meal this Christmas are being encouraged to download a new smartphone application.

With Christmas fast approaching, Lancaster City Council advises that when checking out the menu it’s wise to check out the food hygiene rating of restaurants before you eat.

This can now be done by downloading the new Food Hygiene Rating Scheme smartphone app.

Restaurants, pubs, hotels, (as well as cafes, takeaways and other places that sell or serve food) are rated from 0 - 5 on their hygiene standards when a food hygiene inspection is carried out by Lancaster City Council.

The business's score is based on observations on hygienic practises and food safety management demonstrated during the visit.

Lancaster City Council has been running the Food Hygiene Rating Scheme since November 2010 and in that time the number of food businesses classed as broadly compliant and score a  '3 - generally satisfactory' has increased to more that 95%. The district currently has  878  five star food outlets.

Councillor Karen Leytham, cabinet member with responsibility for environmental health, said: “Nobody wants to have their Christmas festivities ruined by illness and as far as food hygiene ratings go there’s certainly safety in numbers. 

"Food businesses display their food hygiene rating voluntarily so with the launch of the new app, it’s now easy to check the hygiene and food safety management standards in a restaurant, shop or takeaway if they are not displaying their rating before enjoying food there.”

• The food hygiene rating app is available to download via Google Play for Android phones or iTunes for iPhones.  Alternatively you can visit www.food.gov.uk/ratings

Campaign aims to prevent sexual assaults over festive period


A hard hitting campaign aimed at people out celebrating the festive period has been launched in order to cut the number of sexual assaults that occur over Christmas.

A significant number of rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol and there can be a rise in reports during December due to more people going out drinking.

Hard hitting posters aimed at potential offenders – detailing the medical procedure carried out to collect evidence of a sexual assault - will be placed in pub and club toilets. Posters aimed at potential victims, which highlight that many sexual assaults occur in a person’s home, will be put up in leisure centres, GP surgeries and other local businesses. Both poster designs will also appear on Facebook.

Detective Chief Inspector Neil Esseen, Lancashire Constabulary, said: “It does not matter what a victim is wearing, how much they have had to drink or if there has been physical contact already – no means no and if there is no consent then there should be no sex. Alcohol can impair the ability of a person to give that proper consent  – so if in doubt, don’t.

“This latest campaign has been launched during the festive period to highlight the fact that Lancashire Constabulary is committed to tackling rape and serious sexual assault, and the campaign is very much aimed at prevention.”

He added: “Rape and sexual assault can be a taboo subject. The images used on our posters have been chosen to grab a person’s attention, create a talking point and raise awareness of the issue.

“Rape is often perceived as an offence committed by strangers. In order to keep people safe, we need to challenge that perception, as we know that in the majority of cases in Lancashire, the victim and the offender know each other. This is often through meeting on a night out where alcohol is a contributory and influencing factor.

“The message to offenders is very clear but uncomfortable - you will be arrested, we will take evidence from you and you will be brought to justice.

“We also want victims to know that they will be treated with compassion and that everything possible will be done to trace those responsible and take action against them. We hope that this will encourage more people to come forward and report what has happened to them.”

• For more information, help and advice on how Lancashire Constabulary deal with reports of rape and sexual assaults visit www.lancashire.police.uk/operation-nexus

• To report an incident contact police on 101. In an emergency always dial 999

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Get ready for Panto!


ITV have released this behind-the-scenes promotional image for Panto!, a festive comedy dram airing on Boxing Day, shot in and around Lancaster recently.

Liverpool comedian John Bishop and Sheridan Smith lead an all-star cast in Panto!. Pictured are Samantha Spiro (Di), Ami Metcalf (Chantelle), Mark Benton (Francis), John MacMillan (Finlay), Sheridan Smith (Tamsin), John Bishop (Lewis Loud), Daniel Bishop (Paul), Chesney Hawkes, Dean Whatton (Greg), Michael Cochrane (Johnny Darby).


Co-written by John Bishop, partly shot in Lancaster's Grand Theatre, the comedy drama will hit the screens at 9.00pm on ITV1 on Thursday 27th December.

Other locations getting a share of the limelight in this festive production include Market Square, St. George's Quay and Williamson Park.

Photo ©  Lola Entertainment / Baby Cow Productions Ltd., courtesy ITV

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Councillors fury at Morecambe MP David Morris over Chatsworth Gardens EDM

Local councillors have challenged Morecambe MP to withdraw his Early Day Motion presented to the House of Commons over the future of Chatsworth Gardens.

The councillors argue what the wording of the controversial EDM is largely based on his failure to meet with councillors about the project.

Noting Lancaster City Council has gained the the funding to match the Government's £1.9 million earmarked funding for the redevelopment of Chatsworth Gardens, Mr Morris claims there were "real concerns" raised by him and resident that the project might have been shelved because the Council was "seemingly unwilling to match-fund the Government after successfully securing this funding".

While the Motion also "applauds the Council for pledging to go ahead with the project" Labour councillors are furious at the MP's comments

"It is unsporting in this season of goodwill for David Morris to use his privileged position to put down an early day motion in Parliament that both criticises and applauds the City Council in the same breath," says Councillor Ron Sands.

"His applause is justified, but his criticism is based on his own misunderstandings, coupled with his repeated failure to meet with elected Council Leader Eileen Blamire  and Deputy Leader Janice Hanson.

"These two councillors have worked tirelessly to resolve the issues surrounding the Chatsworth Gardens Project in the West End of Morecambe," Ron continues.

"Mr Morris' duty is now clear," he feels. "You must mend your fences with these councillors - who regularly hold very positive dicussions with your fellow MP in Lancaster.  Councillors Blamire and Hanson wish nothing more than to enjoy civilised conversations with you about your constituency - free from any party political bias.

"This is a moment for MP and city council to celebrate the the resolution of what seemed an intractable problem.  Let us rejoice together, and not abuse arcane parliamentary procedures to score political points - something that the British public rightly abhors."

Mr Morris other EDM support or proposals have recently included concern at the government withdraw of visas for Chernobyl children, near hysteria at the number of wind farms in the Irish Sea and fury over a congestion charge levied on Morecambe resident James Quinn, a volunteer driver in the NHS who drove a 10 month old baby to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital for critical brain surgery back in May, calling the fine "deeply unfair".

Morecambe man jailed after 6,000 indecent images found on computer

A man who worked with the local Boys Brigades who kept over 6,000 images of children on his home computer has been jailed.

36-year-old Steven Watt, of Ashton Road, Morecambe, was arrested in January after concerns were raised about material in his possession. Officers found a significant number of images, of varying degrees of indecency, on his computer and on DVDs seized from his home.

Watt, who has worked in schools and colleges in both Lancashire and Cumbria and who was involved in the local and regional Boys Brigade, appeared at Lancaster Magistrates Court and pleased guilty to making and  possessing indecent images of children.

Appearing at Preston Crown Courty yesterday, Watt was told he would serve six months in prison, with a further six months on licence. He was disqualified from working with children, was put on the sex offenders register and a Sexual Offences Prevention Order was also put in place.

Speaking after the sentencing, Detective Constable Mark Greaves, Lancaster police, said: “Watt had contact with children both through his employment and his recreational activities and it is disturbing that he had such a large number of indecent images of youngsters in his possession.

"He is now behind bars, but the ban on working with children and the SOPO will also ensure that controls are in place once he is released to make sure he is not a threat to our community.”

Monday, 10 December 2012

Dion Lee, Head of international crime gang jailed for drugs and firearms offences

Dion Lee
Dion Lee
The former Lancaster man responsible for organising a major drugs supply chain spanning the UK, Europe and South America was jailed for 24 years earlier.

36-year-old Dion Lee was arrested in Lagos, Nigeria in September 2011, under the power of an international arrest warrant after three years on the run from police. His extradition in May 2012 by Lancashire Police officers, in partnership with the Serious and Organised Crime Agency and the Nigerian Drugs and Law Enforcement Agency, was the first ever extradition of a UK citizen from Nigeria.

Appearing at Liverpool Crown Court today he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to supply class A drugs; conspiracy to supply cannabis; conspiracy to transfer weapons and conspiracy to transfer ammunition. He was then jailed for 24 years.

Lee’s arrest was the 28th and final arrest in connection with Operation Greengage, a Lancashire Constabulary investigation into the importation of cocaine, cannabis, firearms and ammunition into the United Kingdom. The operation was led by the force’s Serious and Organised Crime Unit.

The main subject of the initial investigation was Ivan Hue, of Robin Street, Preston. Further inquiries uncovered a network of couriers transporting funds to Amsterdam to pay for drugs that would then be imported into the UK. During numerous trips between the two countries, drugs and firearms were smuggled into the UK via specially modified vehicles.

As the investigation progressed, an extensive organised crime group operating across England, Scotland and Europe was identified, with couriers importing high purity cocaine stored internally. The cocaine was sourced direct from Bolivia and transported to the UK via Argentina and the European mainland.

Lee was the mastermind behind the scheme, heading up the Netherland’s based organised crime gang and linking in with the gangs in Preston and Scotland.

27 other gang members from Preston, Lancaster, Leeds, Surrey and Poland have been jailed for a total of 348 years. Lee’s sentence brings this total to 372.

Detective Inspector Martin Kane, Lancashire Constabulary, said: “Lee’s guilty plea and subsequent sentencing brings to conclusion an operation that began in 2006 and which has completely shattered a large, sophisticated crime group, spanning the UK, South America and mainland Europe.

“In doing so we have prevented untold quantities of drugs and firearms being brought into Lancashire and indeed the rest of the country. Had those drugs and firearms been allowed to infiltrate our local communities, the consequences could have been incredibly serious.”

He added: “Operation Greengage highlights the determination of Lancashire Constabulary in bringing these people to justice. It has taken years of hard work from a dedicated team of officers, as well as the CPS, to build a strong enough case to secure the conviction of Lee and his associates.

“This case should serve as a warning to people who commit organised crime – whether you commit your crime in Lancashire or elsewhere, if it affects the law abiding people of Lancashire we will find you and you will be caught and punished.”

Drug and firearm smuggling on a huge scale

The Crown Prosecution Service notes that from Autumn 2006 to Spring 2008, the defendants were part of an organised crime group that imported drugs, firearms and ammunition from mainland Europe and South America into England and Scotland and were supplying towns and cities across the UK including the North West.

The gang smuggled firearms and large quantities of cocaine in hidden compartments in vehicles and some of the defendants acted as human couriers or drugs mules to bring the cocaine into the country. Dion Lee who is originally from Lancaster, was one of the senior figures in the conspiracy and organised shipments of drugs and firearms mainly through the vehicle smuggling route from his base in the Netherlands.

He fled to Nigeria in an attempt to evade capture and a European arrest warrant was issued for his arrest.

Joanne Cunliffe CPS Crown Advocate for the North West Complex Casework Unit said, “Dion Lee was one of the main organisers of this large drugs operation. He went to great lengths to evade capture and probably thought he would not be found in Nigeria, but Lancashire police has remained determined to track him down and the CPS has been determined to bring him before a court to face these charges.

“His guilty plea towards all charges today is the final piece in the complex jigsaw of this case to convict 28 people for their part in this organised crime is a measure of how committed we and the police are to cracking down on those who try to profit from smuggling drugs and firearms onto the streets of our towns and cities.”

More Music Morecambe hosts new Paris photography exhibition


Paris,Winter, a new photographic exhibition by Jill Abbott, has just opened at More Music in Morecambe.

A collection of candid street photography and pictorial views of Paris taken on an unusually cold and snowy January in the French capital, the images are showing upstairs at More Music in Morecambe until 18th January 2013.

Originally from Blackburn, Jill was given an old SLR 35mm camera and enrolled on evening classes at the local college to learn how to use it. She went on to further her studies in photography by attending college full time for two years, gaining experience in portrait, wedding and studio photography, followed by a degree in Linguistics with Visual Studies/Art History.

After a few photography-free years working in education she moved to Lancaster. Connections with the burgeoning local music scene led to requests for photographs for promotional material and CD covers. A renewed interest in the medium followed and Jill now carries a camera with her wherever she goes, capturing people in their environment, urban landscapes, gigs and events, cities and rural locations, and documentary images from sailing trips from various parts of the world.

She believes that photography is not just about capturing the moment but creating stories, and attempting to transform the banal into the beautiful.
Admission to the exhibition is free.

• More Music in Morecambe is open during office hours (9.30-5pm Monday to Friday) and during evening events. For more information on events and classes at More Music see www.moremusic.org.uk or contact info@moremusic.org.uk



"Big Local" initiative brings Lottery boost for Morecambe’s West End

The West End of Morecambe is to benefit from a £1 million boost to help improve the area and pull together local residents, businesses and community groups plan to make their community an even better place to live in the future.

And the power will be directly in the hands of the community as it will be up to the people of the area to identify where the money should be spent.

The funding for the West End comes from the Big Local programme,  launched by the Big Lottery Fund in July 2010 to support 150 small urban and rural communities to come together to make their areas even better places to live.

Funded through a £200m Big Lottery Fund investment and managed by Local Trust, Big Local is helping 150 small urban and rural communities across England to make their areas even better places to live.

Each Big Local area will receive at least £1m Lottery funding to spend over the next 10 years, enabling residents to identify what matters to them and take positive action.

This could include anything from creating new community facilities to training and employment schemes, tackling anti-social behaviour, or providing more activities for young people. There are no preconceived ideas on what the money should be spent on.

Residents will also benefit from a range of support, training and networking opportunities to enable them to make best use of their funding.

Councillor Janice Hanson, deputy leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “This is fantastic news for the people of the West End of Morecambe.

"Over the last 10-15 years much has been done to try and improve the area, but there is still so much to do if we are to ensure that the community can thrive and develop.

“There is a real community spirit in the area and this money will help local people realise their ambitions and make real improvements to both their lives and those of others.”

Bill Livesey, acting chief officer of Lancaster District CVS, added: “I've lived in the Lancaster area all my life and spent a lot of time working in the West End.

“It saddens me to see what has become of a once thriving and prosperous community, despite all the efforts over the last 15 years or so. This opportunity, for the people of the area to be involved in their own destiny is exciting.

“I have enjoyed working with Big Lottery so far on this project and I hope that CVS can continue to support the West End community as they develop and grow in strength with the aid of the 'Big Local' investment."

• More information on Big Local is available at www.localtrust.org.uk

Police issue warning to mum’s on the school run

Police are issuing a warning to Mums on the school run to think about what they have drunk the night before.

Lancashire Constabulary’s annual Christmas Drink Drive campaign kicked off on December 1st and checkpoints are carried out across the county everyday.

Whilst very few people are being caught over the legal limit, officers have been left shocked by the number women on the school run that still have alcohol in their system.

“It really is alarming the number of women on the school run that we have pulled over for a random stop check who still have alcohol in their systems," notes Sergeant Claire Pearson from the Road Policing Unit.

“Although these people are not breaking the law as they are not over the limit, driving with any alcohol in their system significantly increases the chances of being involved in a collision. If they are involved in a collision then they are potentially putting their children’s lives at risk.

“I would remind people that if they are drinking the night before they should make alternative arrangements to take the children to school or travel to work as they could still be over the limit.

“Drink driving can have devastating effects on people’s lives and the simple solution is to not drink and drive.”

If you suspect anyone of drink driving then call the police on 101.

Lancaster Comedy Club Line Up announced

Comedian Dan Nightingale, at Lancaster's Comedy Club in January
Here's a quick lost of the Comedy Club dates at the Borough Club coming up in the next weeks and months. The line up looks as lively as ever and many of these events have been known to sell out fast, so book early!

Sunday 30th December:  Chris Cairns, Sully O’Sullivan, Brennan Reece
£9/£7 advance or meal deal £12 Show starts 8.00pm
MC Peter Otway

Sunday 13 January: Cole Parker, Kai Humphries, Danny Sutcliffe
£9/£7 advance or meal deal £12 Show starts 8.00pm
MC Mike Wilkinson

Sunday 20 January: Dan Nightingale, James Cook, Peter Brush
£9/£7 advance or meal deal £12 Show starts 8.00pm
MC Hayley Ellis

Sunday 27th January: Tudur Owen, Danny Pensive, Kevin Shevlin£9/£7 advance or meal deal £12 Show starts 8.00pm
MC Dave Williams

Sunday 3rd February: David Ward, Marc Lucero, Amadeus Martin
£9/£7 advance or meal deal £12 Show starts 8.00pm
MC Scott Bennett

• All events are at The Borough, 3 Dalton Sq, Lancaster LA1 1PP. Either pop into The Borough and ask behind the bar or book by credit or debit card on 01524 64170. The Club are unable to reserve tickets that have not been paid for. 

• Web site: www.lancastercomedy.co.uk

Santa Needs Stewards!

On Saturday 15th December the Gregson Festival Group has organised for Santa to visit the streets of Freehold and Ridge on a float to give out lollies to local children. His elves will be collecting money to go toward future community events as well. 

The float will set off from the Corner Shop on Ullswater Road at 6.30pm.  

To make this event a safe and successful one the Gregson need volunteers to help with stewarding on the night.

A briefing for stewards will be held at 6.15pm outside the Corner Shop on Moorgate.

• If you can spare an hour and a half from 6.15pm on this coming Saturday and are willing to help out please get in touch with Billy Pye at billypye64ATaol.com

Lancaster Athletics Club announce April date for Three Bridges Race

Lancaster and Morecambe Athletics Club is accepting entries for their annual 3 Bridges 10k running race which will be start from their Clubhouse at Salt Ayre Sports Centre at 11.00am on Sunday 28th April.

This is always a popular race with runners from all over the north west taking part, often as a fast preparation for spring marathon races. It has a flat, fast and scenic route and there will be a medal for all finishers.

The race meets UK Athletics Rules, is Certified Accurate and there are prizes for the first three men and the first three women finishers.  There will also be prizes for each veteran category, from 40 for men and 35 for women. 

This year there is also a £50 Bonus prize for any male or female runners achieving the course record for their category.

Entry fees are only £10 per person, or £8 for members of Running Clubs.  An extra £2 is charged for entries on the day.

• There is still time to pre-enter and save a £2 on the late entry fee, either by entering on-line at www.shoestringresults.com or by requesting an entry form from Steve Perry, 10 Parkfield Drive, Lancaster, LA1 4BU or email: steveperry10park@tiscali.co.uk

Sunday, 9 December 2012

New book offers fresh perspective on Lancaster's "Letters"

Local publisher Fastfoot Press have recently released A Lancaster Alphabet: Letterforms from the Stones of the City, which offers a take on Lancaster's architecture that may have offer readers a new perspective on buildings you might simply walk past every day without a second glance.

The book is a study of Lancaster's hidden architectural lettering that uses these often neglected and largely unseen elements to explore the social history of the urban environment. The 26 letters of the alphabet span almost 1800 years of Lancaster's history, with each letter and its location providing insights into the development of Lancaster's industry and socio-political development, as well as discussion of the design features of the letters themselves and reproductions of historical documents.

Printed on Fedrigoni stocks, perfect bound and stitched with a dust cover, the work was part of a two year study of architectural lettering in the the city and includes photographs of each of the twenty-six letterforms a guide map to their location, and a glossary of architectural and design terms.

• More details can be found at: www.fastfootpress.co.uk/publications/lancasteralphabet.html

• And copies are available online at: http://fastfootpress.bigcartel.com

 

Friday, 7 December 2012

Lancaster gets leading tax avoider on Action Aid blacklist


The laboured story of the Lancaster Canal Corridor development site took yet another twist around the block as members of the local Green party noted this week that Lancaster is again being wooed by offshore tax avoiders, in this case British Land.

Reacting to the news that cabinet members on Lancaster City Council have welcomed the acquisition of the Mitchell's site on the canal corridor by British Land, Green councillor Chris Coates said:

"A recent Action Aid report showed that British Land is the organisation with the most subsidiary companies based in Jersey - with 0% Corporation Tax. The Government is urging action to stop tax avoiders such as Starbucks, but the City Council is actively supporting a massive tax avoider in British Land. I think this sends out an appalling message to tax payers in the district."

In response to a recent question regarding tax avoidance measures, Cllr Janice Hanson, Lancaster City Council's Cabinet Member for Economic Regeneration and Planning, said that 'offshore companies regularly featured in many major developments and projects across the country and were therefore not an issue of general concern.' Read the full Q&A here

However council ratepayers receiving final demands should maybe not read this as a message that the more widespread tax avoidance is, the more acceptable it becomes. The current grave problems in the Greek economy have been directly attributed to widespread tax avoidance practices and 'creative' accountancy, to which, in hindsight, government institutions were assessed to have been overly sympathetic.

The Action Aid report can be found at http://www.actionaid.org.uk/doc_lib/addicted_to_tax_havens.pdf.

Lancaster adds ITV's Panto! to growing list of local film and TV shoots

 John Bishop and Williamson Park Operations Manager Will Griffith, snapped during a break in recording for Panto! Photo courtesy Lancaster City Council
Another prime time TV production has been filmed in Lancaster over the past weeks – one of several shoots supported by Lancaster City Council, which it hopes will boost interest in the area.

Comedy drama Panto!, co-written and starring Liverpool comedian John Bishop at the city’s Grand Theatre will hit the screens at 9.00pm on ITV1 on Thursday 27th December.

Other locations getting a share of the limelight in this festive production include Market Square, St. George's Quay and Williamson Park.

Bringing with it an all star cast including co-star Sheridan Smith, Mark Benton, Samantha Spiro and 1990s pop star Chesney Hawkes, Panto! is the latest in a long list of productions for the Lancaster district, following hot on the heels of the BBC1’s award winning Turn Back Time: The Family earlier this year, shot largely in Morecambe's West End.

Both productions, along with many more, have benefited from the help of Lancaster City Council to turn an artistic vision into a reality watched by millions.

To assist Baby Cow Productions in the filming of the festive comedy drama, city council officers were called upon to both find and provide film locations which ticked all the right boxes as well as temporary office, storage and parking facilities.

Councillor Ron Sands, Cabinet member with responsibility for culture and tourism, said: "The filming of Panto! is another fantastic coup for the district and it is hoped that this star studded production will put the district under the national TV spotlight again and promote what it has to offer to millions of potential new visitors.

“At the same time, when it appears on TV, it should give everyone who lives in our district a tremendous sense of pride that our beautiful area is in such great demand.”


As with all media assistance provided by Lancaster City Council, for the benefit of both local people and the local economy, they do not levy a charge for supporting such shoots. However, if the council's support requires for example, the letting of council buildings, normal fees and charges would apply.

Ron Sands told virtual-lancster:  "Economic growth is a key priority for Lancaster City Council.   With its natural assets attracting the film industry on a regular basis, it is important that every golden opportunity to showcase what the district has to offer to a national audience through filming is encouraged and embraced, with a view to putting it firmly on the map as being a great place to live, work and visit."

"Lancaster provided us with absolutely perfect locations for the filming of Panto!" Anna Lee, Location Manager on the shoot reveals.   

"The charm of the Grand Theatre and all the other locations alongside the help and friendliness of everyone in Lancaster was exceptional.

“The support and help that we received from the location owners, council departments, local businesses and people made filming Panto! an extremely successful and enjoyable production to be involved in.  I strongly recommend Lancaster as a filming location for other productions."

Both working and living in the district during filming alongside the cast and other members of the production team, Line Producer, Richard Moat, said:  "We found Lancaster to meet all our needs during our shoot for Panto! based at the fabulous Grand Theatre with a range of other locations close by to suit our requirements.

“Costs of accommodation for all our crew were competitive with great support from local services including local council departments. I can certainly recommend Lancaster as a suitable base for any future productions."

Recent assistance given to film and TV production companies by the city council being the first port of call for filming in the district include Wall to Wall TV's BBC1’s five part series of Turn Back Time: The Family, Flog it (BBC), 16 kids and counting (Lion TV), Supersize vs Superskinny (Endemol UK), Escape to the Country (Talkback Thames TV), Marrying Mum and Dad (CBBC), Embarrassing Bodies (Maverick TV) and Celebrity Wedding Planner (Renegade Pictures).