It may be a brand new year, but here at the Guardian we’ve been looking back at some of the big stories to hit our district in 2014.
After last week’s review of the first six months of last year, here’s some reminiscing about July to December.
It was reported that Government cuts meant proposals to reduce the number of fire engines in the city from two to one were expected to be implemented in 2016. But worried firefighters, who had been campaigning for months, say the public and government needed to understand it would cost lives. The second Lancaster engine would be replaced by a retained service – which could mean delays of up to five minutes for the part-time crew attending an incident.
Major plans to redevelop Lancaster Castle had been put on hold. The castle’s owners The Duchy of Lancaster would however carry out a £3m programme of works over the next two years to repair 70 per cent of the castle’s roofs and deal with weather damage to the fabric of the 1,000-year-old Grade II Listed building. The work was due to start in late autumn and the castle would remain open, with some areas closed off to the public.
The Lancaster junction of the M6 motorway would move north under proposals to improve access to a planned university business park. Under the plans, discussed in Parliament, junction 33 (Lancaster South) would be moved north of Galgate to ease pressure on the A6 through the village. Alternatively a new junction – junction 33a – would be built providing more direct access to the greenlit £17m Health and Innovations campus plus accommodate housing development traffic in the area.
It’s one of the most recognisable heads in show business and it was back where it belonged after 48 hours on the run. Frank’s famous papier mache head – or more accurately, a replica version – was stolen from The Dukes theatre hours after a show paying tribute to the cult comedy figure. Two days later Frank’s head turned up ... in a cardboard box left outside on the steps. The safe return of the Sidebottom noggin was a relief to Dukes bar manager Simon Nixon.
Traders on Lancaster’s street market said they had been left in the lurch by the city council over the future of their stalls. The city centre was undergoing refurbishment as part of the Square Routes project, and some of the Charter market stalls had been moved to alternative pitches as a result. But the traders said they were concerned that there would no longer be allocated spaces for them once the work was complete.
Drivers of high sided vehicles were continuing to crash into a low bridge in Lancaster despite “sufficient” warnings in place. A double decker bus hit the footbridge over Damside Street near St George’s Quay, causing damage to the front top deck. There were no passengers on board and on injuries caused, but the collision echoed a similar scenario in January when another double decker hit the same structure in a crash which saw the roof of its top deck ripped off.
The first permanent structure had been installed on the Heysham to M6 link road. Road builder Costain said the frame structure of the new Shefferlands Bridge over Halton Road was in place, meaning Halton Road would be open to traffic again three months ahead of schedule. The frame was transported to the site from Northern Ireland via Heysham Port. Shefferlands Bridge will carry traffic over Halton Road on to the new Shefferlands roundabout, whilst joining the new Lune West Bridge which connects to Caton Road.
Good, bad or ugly – Lancaster’s newest £120,000 landmark divided public opinion. The new centrepiece in Market Square – which for the first time was to host live music – had run the gauntlet of critics. But it also met with praise from many quarters. The raised stone plinth also had a mixed reaction on social media and online. Bands and musicians will use the raised area as a stage. The plinth, which replaced the infamous fountain in Market Square, is part of Lancaster City Council’s Square Routes Project.
Lancaster had been hung out to dry by a well known architectural critic due to the way two of its buildings, in particular, had been redeveloped in recent years. In his architecture and design blog for The Guardian newspaper, Oliver Wainwright criticised the way in which developers incorporate new buildings into old frontages, known as “facadism”. He picked on the former bus depot in Kingsway and the City Block development in Penny Street as “two fine facadist contenders”, among others identified across the country.
ITV talent show The X Factor was back .... and so was Lancaster contestant Paul Akister. And this year Paul had already made a big impact on judges Simon Cowell, Melanie Brown and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini as he made his second attempt to win the singing show. The talented soul man, who reached the Judges Houses stages last year, impressed Cheryl and Mel B so much during a performance of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get it On, they performed a sexy ‘lap dance’ for Cowell.
Taxi drivers around the district were to display a sticker warning passengers they may be asked for payment up front. Members of the city council’s licensing committee voted unanimously in favour of the idea at a meeting after it was proposed by the police in a bid to cut down on taxi-related offences. The sticker was been provided by Lancashire Constabulary as part of their Safeguarding Taxi Drivers Campaign and endorsed any request from the driver to the passenger for a pre-payment of the fare.
Emotions were running at an all-time high in Lancaster as drivers struggled to cope with road closures for an £18m sewer repair project. Traffic chaos hit the city as part of Lancaster’s one-way system closed. United Utilities began the final and most critical stage of the project to replace the city’s crumbling Victorian sewer system. But queues stretched from junction 34 off the M6 through to Lancaster, up to Northgate, Morecambe and through to Heysham with 10 minute journeys taking more than an hour. Patience reached tipping point as commuters rushed to reach their destinations during rush hour.
Mum-of-two Marie Stephenson saved her tiny son’s life – by donating one of her kidneys. John had only a 50 per cent chance of surviving after being diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder as a baby. The condition meant he needed an early kidney transplant – and his mum was the perfect match. Both Marie and John fully recovered from the ordeal and are leading healthy lives.
A nightclub boss wrestled a burglar to the ground after a dramatic chase through the streets of Lancaster. Rob Dookie called for help as he chased the culprit after catching him red-handed breaking in to 5ives nightclub on North Road. Two staff from a nearby shop joined in the pursuit and the three of them caught the man in the middle of a busy road, pinning him down until police arrived.
Passionate pleas had been made by Lancaster residents in a bid to stop green spaces being turned into new council house developments. Residents on the Ridge and the Marsh spoke out against proposals to build new council properties on ‘priceless’ and ‘loved’ areas of green space, that provided places for children to learn about nature and communities to spend time together. City council officers had been working on locating space for up to £8.5m worth of new council houses, largely due to a desperate need for one-bedroom properties.
Guardian readers launched a withering attack on the state of bus services in our district. Bus users slammed Stagecoach for their “extortionate” ticket prices and poor service. Passengers’ fury came as a councillor revealed plans to give bus users a voice against mounting problems with services in the Lancaster and Morecambe area. Ticket prices had soared in recent years, with the cost of a return fare from central Morecambe to Lancaster bus station rising from £3.40 in 2009 to £4.15 in 2014.
A major £4m redevelopment of one of the Lancaster district’s landmark buildings was on the cards. Developers put forward plans to turn Galgate Silk Mill into a 107-bed student apartment block and a museum of silk weaving. The mill is the oldest mechanical silk mill in the world, and dates back to 1792. Preston-based Ayub Hussain, of newly formed UK Mills Limited, said that Lancaster had “forgotten” about the mill, and that it had to be preserved for the future.
A talented Lancaster schoolgirl endured physical discomfort and emotionally challenging scripts to play the daughter of serial killer Fred West in a TV drama. Six-year-old Lexi Wilson-Fish, who goes to Moorside Primary School, played Charmaine West in Channel 5’s Fred and Rose West: The Untold Story. Charmaine was murdered by Rose West, Fred West’s wife, when she was eight-years-old. Lexi has also appeared in short videos, a TV advert, and a number of modelling shoots and enjoys Jiu-Jitsu and gymnastics.
A dad-of-three who almost died in an horrific motorbike accident defied the odds to take his first steps. Warren Veale, 49, was left in a coma following the smash and not expected to live. But he battled extensive injuries astonishing doctors and his family when he survived. He was told he would never get out of bed – let along walk – but with help from a Lancaster charity and a city gym he has now learned to walk again, and will even take part in a triathlon.
City florists said a decision to ban flowers from wards at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary would have a major effect on their businesses. University Hospital of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust implemented a no flower rule in the interests of the safety of its patients, visitors and staff. The move was in line with the majority of other acute trusts nationally.
A quiet Sunday night in front of the TV was interrupted when neighbours realised a car had crashed into two garden fences. Residents of Willow Lane in Lancaster heard a loud bang “like fireworks going off”. Duncan Moore rushed out of his house to find the driver hanging out of the smoke-filled car across the road, his legs trapped in the wreckage. Mr Moore, who works for the Trust Medical private ambulance firm in Morecambe, checked the man over whilst hie wife called emergency services.
The Royal Lancaster Infirmary, Westmorland General Hospital or Furness General Hospital would not close as part of proposals to shake-up Morecambe Bay’s hospital trust. But plans to consolidate services – including elective surgery – at one or more sites will form part of the Better Care Together strategy – proposals for the future of the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust. Speaking exclusively to the Lancaster Guardian, Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt spoke out to refute claims by local Labour campaigners that the ‘very existence of the Royal Lancaster Infirmary is under threat’.
Shocking new figures revealed that the number of children being taken into care in Lancaster had tripled. A Freedom of Information request by the Lancaster Guardian showed the five-year rise was mainly due to high levels of poverty and abuse, mental health and substance misuse – described as “a toxic trio”. There is also a desperate shortage of foster carers in the county.
Lancaster introduced free parking after 3pm in a desperate bid to bring shoppers back to the city in the run-up to Christmas. The move came after businesses reported a slow recovery following roadworks and improvements to the city centre, which had particularly affected independent traders. With less than two weeks of festive trade to go, Lancaster BID negotiated a deal with the city council to provide free parking on its car parks every day after 3pm until Christmas Day.
A love of Christmas prompted a Lancaster web developer to create an online app that ‘proved’ to children Santa really does exist. George Askew, 31, created www.TheSantaVideo.com around five years ago and had developed a mobile application that brings Father Christmas right into your living room. The app allowed the user to submit a picture of their lounge, which was then manipulated to have the big man superimposed on top of it. The video showed Santa eating a mince pie from a table off screen, singing a song and other actions.
The Station in Caton was crowned Lancaster’s Best Bar as voted for by Lancaster Guardian readers. Anthony Rooker, landlord at the Hornby Road pub said he was “gobsmacked” by the win, after only being in charge since August. The pub faced fierce competition from other pubs – the other nine in the top 10 were all situated in the city centre of Lancaster. The Borough, in Dalton Square, came runner-up.