The North of England has secured £50m of the government’s levelling-up funding for a new eco-attraction, the Eden Project.
The proposal for the Lancashire tourist attraction has been named as one of more than 100 schemes to have won a share of the £2.1bn funds, as part of a government pledge to narrow economic divides.
The project plans will change Morecambe’s seafront and will be a sister site to the original Eden Project near St Austell, Cornwall. The funding, for the already approved plans, will cover half of the overall £100m cost to build it and promises to ‘reimagine’ the North.
Eden Project North will feature three large shell-shaped pavilions and is scheduled to open in 2024, with the Morecambe and Lunesdale Tory MP David Morris saying it was ‘mind blowing’ news.
Mr Morris added: “Five years of work has finally come to fruition and, after lobbying four prime ministers and six chancellors, and more meetings and debates in Parliament than I can count, I am absolutely delighted.
“What started off as a dream has now become reality and this will secure prosperity in Morecambe for generations to come.”
Chief executive Rob Chatwin said it was a ‘historic moment’ for the town and the surrounding area, adding: “We will now continue to work hard with our partners to make this vision a reality.”
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it represented ‘new transformational funding to level up local communities across the UK.’
“By reaching even more parts of the country than before, we will build a future of optimism and pride in people’s lives and the places they call home,” he added.
Plans for a £40m carbon neutral Blackpool based education campus have also been given the go-ahead. The ‘multiversity’ is set to teach cutting-edge skills, including artificial intelligence, to help young people secure ‘jobs of the future’, according to a spokesperson.
Other levelling-up initiatives include a £20m grant to transform Accrington town centre and £20m for Wigan Borough’s Haigh Hall.
Parents of missing Nicola Bulley say they ‘dread’ never seeing her again
‘The girls are desperate to have their mummy back home safe with them.’
The parents of a missing woman who disappeared while walking her dog have said they dread the thought of never seeing her again, as the huge search operation to find her is into its seventh day.
Nicola Bulley, 45, was last seen walking her dog next to the River Wyre in St Michael’s on Wyre, Lancashire, at about 09:15am on Friday January 27th. The mum-of-two had just dropped her two girls, aged six and nine, off at school and went out to walk her springer spaniel, Willow, along the towpath as she did regularly.
Her parents, Ernest, 73, and Dot Bulley, 72, told the Mirror their grandchildren were ‘sobbing their hearts out’ because ‘mummy is lost’. The couple said their daughter had been in good spirits and her disappearance was totally out of character.
Ms Bulley’s phone was found on a bench by the river, still connected to a work conference call. A harness and lead for her dog was also discovered. Police were called after a member of the public alerted them to the dog running loose in the area, just off Garstang Road.
A huge search operation has been deployed in the area where Ms Bulley went missing, including the use of a police helicopter, drones, sniffer dogs and dive teams. Despite efforts, no trace of Ms Bulley has been found. Her father told the Mirror: “There was no sign of a slip or falling in, so our thought was ‘has somebody got her?’
“I asked the sergeant from Fleetwood a few days ago, ‘Is there any chance of her being taken?’ and she said, ‘I don’t think that’s the case’. I said, ‘How can you know that?’ It’s such an isolated area, the only way that has happened is if it was someone who knew her.
“We just dread to think we will never see her again, if the worst came to the worst and she was never found, how will we deal with that for the rest of our lives?”
Ms Bulley’s partner, Paul Ansell, 44, has described the situation as ‘perpetual hell’
Lancashire Police have said they are keeping an open mind as to what could have happened and did not believe Ms Bulley had been attacked. Officers also tracked down a man they believed to be a ‘key witness’ and spoke with him on Tuesday.
In a statement, her family said: “The girls are desperate to have their mummy back home safe with them and your ongoing efforts have provided comfort to them whilst we await news on Nicola. We ask for anyone who thinks they may have any information that may help the police find Nicola to please come forward and help them with their inquiries.”
Supt Sally Riley said: “I must stress at this time that this remains a missing person inquiry and at this time there is nothing to suggest any third-party involvement in Nicola’s disappearance.
“We appreciate there is also a great deal of concern in the local community, and we appreciate people want to help.
“However, parts of the riverbank are treacherous, and we would ask that nobody puts themselves in danger and that the police and partner agencies’ efforts to find Nicola are not compromised.”
Debt collectors from British Gas break into homes to force-fit prepayment meters
‘It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills’
British Gas routinely sends debt collectors into the homes of vulnerable people to fit pay-as-you-go meters, an investigation has revealed.
An undercover reporter for The Times joined Avaro Financial Solutions, a debt-collecting company used by the energy firm, where he accompanied agents in below-freezing conditions as they broke into homes with the help of a locksmith.
Among the British Gas customers this practice happened to was a single father of three young children and a mother with a four-week-old baby, amidst the rising costs of energy bills and a cost-of-living crisis.
According to job notes The Times reporter had seen were other vulnerable customers, including a woman in her fifties described as having ‘severe mental health bipolar’, a woman who ‘suffers with mobility problems and is partially sighted’ and a mother whose ‘daughter is disabled and had a hoist, and electric wheelchair’.
After British Gas’ owners Centrica were approached for comment on their practices, the firm announced it had suspended all ‘warrant activity’.
Centrica chief executive officer Chris O’Shea said: “Protecting vulnerable customers is an absolute priority and we have clear processes and policies to ensure we manage customer debt carefully and safely.
“The allegations around our third-party contractor Arvato are unacceptable and we immediately suspended their warrant activity. Having recently reviewed our internal processes to support our prepayment customers as well as creating a new £10 million fund to support those prepayment customers who need help the most, I am extremely disappointed that this has occurred.
“As a result, on Wednesday morning, we took a further decision to suspend all our prepayment warrant activity at least until the end of the winter. More broadly, there are clearly significant challenges around affordability and unfortunately, we don’t see that changing anytime soon.
“We need to strike a balance between managing spiralling bad debt and being aware that there are those who refuse to pay and those who cannot pay. We think Government, industry and the regulator need to come together to agree a long-term plan to address this and ultimately create an energy market that is sustainable.”
Grant Shapps, the business and energy secretary, ordered an urgent meeting with British Gas, adding: “I am horrified by the findings of this investigation and would like to thank The Times for shining a light on these abhorrent practices.”
Energy regulator Ofgem has announced it will launch an investigation. A spokesperson said: “These are extremely serious allegations from The Times which we will investigate urgently with British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.
“It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so. We recently announced a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it.
“We are clear that suppliers must work hard to look after their customers at this time, especially those who are vulnerable, and the energy crisis must not be an excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.”
Energy companies can apply to magistrates’ courts for warrants to force entry into customers’ homes and fit a prepayment meter if they have fallen behind on bills.
This means that customers can only use their supply to heat their homes and cook if they top-up their meter card at a shop or do so via a top-up app. British Gas then takes £6.50 per week from top-ups as repayments — and hundreds of pounds extra is added to the customer’s bill to cover the debt collectors’ costs.
Arvato Financial Solutions told The Times it acted ‘compliantly at all times in accordance with the regulatory requirements’.
Police search abandoned home near where missing Nicola Bulley’s phone was found
Officers have tracked down a man who they believe to be a ‘potentially key witness’.
In a huge search operation to find missing Lancashire mum-of-two Nicola Bulley, police have now scoured an abandoned house close to where she was last seen.
Ms Bulley, 45, disappeared after she left her home in Inskip to walk her dogs on Friday morning January 27th. She was walking her pet Springer Spaniel, Willow, along the river towpath off Garstang Road, in St Michael’s on Wyre and was last sighted at 9.15am by a member of the public.
Her mobile phone was found on a bench connected to a conference call and her dog was left roaming loose close to the same bench by the River Wyre. Rescuers have searched an abandoned home located on the opposite side of the river and the site where she left Willow and her phone.
It comes after police confirmed today they have tracked down a man who they believe to be a ‘potentially key witness’, describing him as around 70-years-old, white, six feet tall and well-built.
He is said to have ‘spoken to a woman in the area’ before walking in the direction of Rowanwater. Lancashire officers are now speaking to him to see what information he can provide.
Police said previously there was no evidence of any criminal activity or that Nicola had been attacked. It is understood Nicola had dropped her two young children off at St Michael’s-on-Wyre Church of England Primary School, and leaving her car parked nearby, went on the walk with her dog.
Kev Camplin, of Bowland Pennine Mountain Rescue, led a team of 25 trained volunteers on the day Nicola – known as Nikki – went missing. Speaking to the Mirror, he said: “The abandoned house is right opposite the bench on the other side of the river, over a 10ft garden wall. It’s quite posh.
“We didn’t go into the house. As a volunteer search and rescue team, we don’t actually go into buildings. We might go into a barn or something. We leave that to the police. While the team was searching the grounds, the owner was there for some reason, and we asked him to go in and he had a quick look around and she wasn’t there.”
The team used equipment including a pickup truck and trailer in-tow, carrying floatation devices. One of their Land Rovers, which stores medical kits, broke down during the search.
All the volunteers carry mountain rescue radios and are coordinated by an operator inside a control van with mapping systems. Kev said the team was contacted at around midday on Friday and he was at the search site within an hour, before they left at about 8pm.
“We probably searched a mile north upstream and then we probably searched three miles downstream. We covered quite a bit,” he said.
Kev said his team only gets called out to ‘high risk’ cases that are not considered dangerous; for example, suspected criminals on the run. “We only go to despondents, and suicidal cases and people with dementia – and people who are generally lost,” he added.
“Nicola lives in Inskip, about three miles from where she went walking. She drops her kids off at St Michaels and then apparently she walks eastwards to where the woods and the river are, something she does daily with her dog. So it’s not an unknown area for her, and it is a popular area for walkers and dog walkers alike. It’s actually quite a beautiful spot”, Kev said.
“Leaving the phone on the bench and then disappearing, it is quite odd. We don’t normally get that. Sometimes we go to a search, classed as a lowland search. You do get a car… where somebody has left their car. That’s the initial planning point.
“But her car was at the school and her phone was the initial planning point. Later we find out she was on a team’s work call. We didn’t know that on Friday. I knew the phone was there, but not on a work call.”
Police dive teams, fire service drones, search dogs, helicopters and mountain rescue volunteers have all been deployed to the area to carry out extensive searches. Officers say they are also supporting Nicola’s family and remain in close contact with them.