As we head into 2015, we take a look back at some of the big stories to hit our district over the last year, beginning this week with January to June.
Thieves who stole equipment worth more than £6,000 from a tree specialists near Carnforth could have put the public at risk, its owner said. High winds had made it a busy time for Bergen Tree Services, at Holme, which carries out work across North Lancashire and South Cumbria. Owner Andrew Hancock told the Guardian that had his staff not been able to continue working, the crime could have put people at risk. Thieves forced entry to the business by cutting through metal security bars and stole 11 chainsaws and two hedgecutters.
The family of a Lancaster bus driver who was stabbed to death while his daughter slept in a caravan nearby thanked police after his killer was told he may never be released from jail. Stagecoach driver Adam Stirrup, 28, died following the bloody attack at Stud Farm Holiday Park in Heysham. Gareth Mason, 26, of Westminster Road, Morecambe, was ordered to serve at least 24 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to murder and wounding with intent.
A driver was lucky to escape with his life when he abandoned his stricken car at a level crossing – moments before it was dragged 300m down a railway track by a nuclear waste train. The man was thought to have lost control of his silver Ford Fiesta on the bend approaching the New Road crossing at Silverdale. He managed to climb out and flee his stranded vehicle before it was hit by the engine and two empty wagons.
Payments to temporary or ‘locum’ doctors working in the A&E unit at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary had risen sharply over the past four years. University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust said that difficulties in recruiting full-time staff had led to the increase in the employment of temporary staff.
Crippling competition from city centre supermarkets forced the owners of a long-standing Lancaster business to shut up shop. Keith and Helen Clokey closed Aldcliffe Stores blaming the Tesco Express in King Street and Sainsbury’s Local in Penny Street for a 25 to 30 per cent drop in trade. Mr Clokey said his business, on Aldcliffe Road, had become unfeasible and the couple closed the shop for the last time after eight years.
Lancaster was experiencing a mini housing boom. House building was under way at Luneside West on St George’s Quay, a development that would see the creation of 400 new properties in a new neighbourhood called Riverside View. Also plans were approved by the city council for 71 new homes at Lancaster Leisure Park in Wyresdale Road, as well as 18 one-bed flats in Longmarsh Lane; and work was well under way at the former Moor Hospital, with planning consent for a total of 440 new homes both inside the building and on adjoining land.
A farmer had £30,000 worth of pedigree sheep stolen. Dan Towers said the theft of 58 pregnant Beltex ewes from his farm at Wray was a major setback for his business. They were stolen from a lambing shed at Scale House Farm, beside Curwen Hill Farm. Mr Towers, 22, had only recently taken over the tenancy of the 120-acre site to farm sheep and cattle.
Skerton High school celebrated its 80th anniversary with a day of activities and a community ‘high tea’ in the school hall. Teaching assistants and pupils from Year 11 took charge of the afternoon tea event which was well attended by ex-pupils and the community including Deputy Mayor, Coun David Kerr and his wife. The event also created interest for ex-pupils and local historians as photographs and memorabilia from the school archives were on display.
Millions of pounds worth of cuts to young people’s services and support for the elderly formed part of Lancashire County Council’s new budget agreement. A total management restructure and a review of the county council’s offices and accommodation were also in the pipeline as the council looked to identify £300m of savings over the next four years.
Up to 3,000 people were so hungry they required help from a Lancaster and Morecambe food bank in the past 12 months – including almost 1,000 children. Shocking figures revealed the full extent of poverty based hunger in the area – and it was getting worse. Food bank stocks were low and campaigners called on the Government to take urgent action to prevent a national hunger crisis.
New figures painted a grim picture of public health in the Lancaster district. The statistics highlighted a number of specific problems where the district was performing much worse than the rest of the country. They included:
* Life expectancy
* Smoking related deaths
* Early deaths (heart disease and stroke) which are the main causes of death in Lancaster
* Road injuries and deaths.
More than 200 jobs would be created as part of multi-million pound plans to bring budget clothing giant Primark to Lancaster’s former indoor market hall. Allied (Lancaster) Limited, the owners of Marketgate Shopping Centre since January 2008, confirmed the chain would move in becoming the city’s largest retail store at 50,000 sq ft. The news followed months of negotiations and divided opinion among shoppers, businesses and residents.
Lancaster’s Skerton High was to close despite a hard-fought battle to save the city’s smallest secondary school. The recommendation to close the Owen Road school was to be officially rubber-stamped by County Coun Matthew Tomlinson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools. Special meetings were held to inform children and their parents that the school was likely to shut from August 31.
Lancaster Castle’s unidentified remains were to be investigated thanks to a major cash boost. Plans were afoot to encourage more visitors by transforming one of the ancient site’s most historic areas into an attractive public space. And £60,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ‘Our Heritage’ programme would be used to further research into its Roman relics.
Drivers were caught in huge delays as the closure of one of Lancaster’s major routes caused gridlock. Costain, the company building the M6 link road, had to fully close Torrisholme Road after confusion over where a water main was located. The closure – from Russell Drive to Lancaster and Morecambe College – caused travel misery for motorists with journeys which normally took five minutes lasting 60.
The Lancaster firm which built the new Coronation Street set went into administration with the loss of more than 40 jobs. Askam Construction, based on Hampson Lane, suffered heavy losses on contracts over the last two years. The administrators told The Guardian they had sold off a number of contracts in a deal which saved 45 jobs. However, Askam’s construction division had creased trading.
A world famous goalkeeper travelled to Lancaster for a new tattoo – after headhunting a city artist. Everton’s Tim Howard, 35, who has also played for Manchester United and represented his native USA, visited Aurora Tattoo studio in Kings Arcade for his first tattooing session with owner Emma Kirzek. Emma started Tim’s new inking of his mother when she was a young girl on his left forearm.
Firefighters in Lancaster were going door-to-door in a bid to save their jobs – and save lives. Government cuts meant city fire crews had been told that they were to lose one of Lancaster’s two full-time fire engines from 2016. Instead, the appliance would be replaced by an engine crewed by volunteer ‘on call’ firefighters. They were urging the public to help fight their cause and had been campaigning and leafleting around the district.
Councillors had a ticking off over a planning decision which could cost the taxpayer tens of thousands. Members of Lancaster City Council were to be given extra training after the planning committee’s decision to refuse a housing development at Bolton-le-Sands was overturned and led to an appeal for costs. Oakmere Homes said the exact amount of costs being sought was “confidential”.
A team of youngsters from Slyne returned from a mission to Mexico to help build houses for homeless families. The teenagers spent two weeks helping to build four new homes from scratch, digging the foundations and building the properties. One was to be inhabited by a young couple and their four-month-old baby, who were previously homeless and had been unable to live together as a family. The group was made up of school pupils from Slyne’s Urban Saints Youth Club, run through St Luke’s Slyne-with-Hest Church.
A Lancaster couple lost a bitter 10-year battle with a tennis club over a tine six-inch strip of land. Michael and Jacqueline Higson were devastated after a court ruling put them tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket – for building a fence in their garden. An Appeal Court judge backed their neighbours Bowerham Lawn Tennis Club who said the fence was on their land and blocked access for tennis court repairs.
A brand new town in the Lancaster district was among proposals to tackle a serious housing crisis. The 5,000 new homes community on rural land north east of the city was one of several options being considered as Lancaster City Council attempts to put a roof over the heads of a growing population.
Residents near the Luneside East development in Lancaster were celebrating a victory for the environment and local community after developers changed their plans to save a tree-lined embankment. Persimmon Homes altered their proposals to retain the former railway embankment, which was under threat of demolition. As well as ensuring the future of this swathe of trees and its bird and animal life, the retention of the embankment meant there would be no housing fronting on to Long Marsh Lane.
A pilot project aimed at reducing anti-social behaviour on a Lancaster estate had been hailed a success by police. A six-month dispersal order allowing police on the Ridge Estate to send unruly youngsters home came to an end on May 31. It was the first time the powers – which allowed police to move groups of troublemakers away from a designated area – had been used in Lancaster and Morecambe, with children as young as six subject to the order.
The trust running the Royal Lancaster Infirmary was facing special measures as its leadership and patient safety came under fire in a damning report. There were major concerns over staffing levels in medical departments, according to a draft Care Quality Commission report, which rated services at the trust “inadequate” following an inspection in February.
Golfers watched in horror as a light aircraft crash landed in a field close to the Lancaster course they were playing on. The chairman of the green at Lansil Golf Club was first on the scene after the two-seater plane came down in a wheat field after its engine cut out. A father and his experienced pilot daughter were on board the plane, which toppled over when it hit the long grass in the field.