INDEPENDENT 2024-03-04 16:34:47


Police order urgent lockdown as ‘hazmat incident’ declared at business park

Police have ordered a lockdown following reports of a chemical leak and major “hazmat incident” in a Manchester business park.

Several emergency service vehicles, including fire and ambulance crews, rushed to the scene in Trafford Park on Monday morning.

Residents and businesses nearby have been advised by officials to close all doors and windows while investigations continue.

North West Ambulance Service (NWAS) said it followed its major incident protocol and sent multiple resources following reports of a chemical leak.

Have you been affected by this? Email athena.stavrou@independent.co.uk

While a 300m cordon remains in place around the business – reportedly chemical manufacturer Lanxess Solutions – no injuries have been reported and everyone has been accounted for.

“At around 9am today GMP received reports of a hazmat incident at a business premises on Tenax Road in Trafford Park,” GMP said in a statement.

“Officers are currently at the scene along with colleagues from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service and North West Ambulance Service.

“There has been no reported injuries and everyone at the business premises has been accounted for.

“A 300m cordon is currently in place, with residents and business being advised on health grounds to close all doors and windows while investigations continue. A number of surrounding roads have been closed as a precaution.”

NWAS also released a statement confirming reports of the chemical leak and revealed that more than a dozen people were assessed.

“Following reports of a chemical leak at an industrial site on Tenax Road, North West Ambulance Service enacted its major incident protocol and sent multiple resources to the scene,” it said. “This includes its hazardous area response team and operational commanders.”

“Very quickly, we have been able to account for all potential patients, assessing more than a dozen people. Nobody has required further treatment.”

Lanxess Solutions opened in the Trafford Park in 1939 to manufacture phosphate-based plasticizers.

For the past 20 years, operations have been consolidated into flame retardants, lubrication/hydraulic fluid additives, and water-treatment chemicals.

The chemical believed to have leaked is phosphorus oxychloride, according to the Manchester Evening News.

Michael McIntyre cancels show after undergoing emergency operation

Michael McIntyre has been forced to cancel a comedy show due to an emergency operation.

The British comedian, who was one of the most-watched TV stars over Christmas 2023, was set to perform at Southhampton’s Mayflower Theatre on Monday (4 March).

However, an announcement has informed ticket-owners that the date will have to be rescheduled – days after the host of BBC game show The Wheel pulled out playing Plymouth Pavilions on Thursday (20 February) due to “illness”.

A statement shared by the comedy star’s team on Sunday (3 March) revealed that McIntyre is currently “unable to perform” after having “an operation to remove kidney stones”.

The announcement read: “We regret to inform customers that Michael McIntyre will be unable to perform on Monday 4 March at the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton. Unfortunately, Michael has had an operation to remove kidney stones. The show will be rescheduled to a later date which will be announced shortly.

“Tickets will remain valid for the new date. If you are unable to make the new date you will be entitled to a refund. We are very sorry for any inconvenience caused.”

McIntyre’s fans shared well wishes to the comedian, with many who themselves have previously had kidney stones posting particular sympathy for what he must be enduring.

The gig is part of the comedian’s world tour, which commenced in September 2024, and has seen him perform in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Forthcoming dates this month will see McIntyre grace the stage in Newcastle and Manchester.

McIntyre, 48, is one of the BBC’s most-watched TV stars, with his game show The Wheel and entertainment series Michael McIntyre’s Big Night regularly, pulling in huge audiences for the corporation.

In 2014, McIntyre made headlines after walking off stage when an audience member in the front row repeatedly used her phone throughout his set.

The frustrated comedian asked security to “sort it out” and promised the audience at Darlington’s Civic Theatre he would be back, before he left the stage.

According to the Northern Echo, staff spoke to the woman and some members of the audience chanted for her to be removed from the venue.

The comedian returned to the stage several minutes later and carried on his act

McIntyre often uses anecdotes about his marriage as part of his stand-up material but, in 2020, the comedian said there was one joke in particular he regrets making.

Thousands stranded as one of UK’s busiest train lines blocked

One of the UK’s busiest railway lines is blocked due to a serious track fault, causing difficulties for thousands of Monday morning commuters.

It is believed a train hit an object on the track.

South Western Railway (SWR) said it is unable to run any services between Woking and London Waterloo. It urged passengers to avoid attempting to travel on the route.

National Rail Enquiries said: “Due to a serious issue with the track at Walton-on-Thames all lines are blocked.

“Please do not travel as there are no services currently operating.

“Disruption is expected to last until the end of the day.”

A spokesman said: “At around 5.50am this morning, a South Western Railway train travelling towards London Waterloo struck an object in the Walton-on-Thames area.

“No-one was injured and all passengers were safely escorted from the train; however, the lines through the area are currently blocked while we investigate.

“Early investigations show the front wheels of the train are derailed, therefore it’s likely to take us some time to get the railway reopened.

“We’re really sorry for the disruption and will update customers on the repairs and timescale for reopening as we know more.”

Services are expected to be disrupted for the rest of the day.

The disruption comes a day after rail fares across England and Wales rose by nearly 5%.

The increase in fares could add £190 to an annual season ticket from Woking to London, taking the cost from £3,880 to £4,070.

It could also see flexi season tickets for travel between Liverpool and Manchester on two days per week over a year rising by £92.60 from £1,890 to £1,982.60.

ORR figures show the Westminster administration provided £4.4bn of funding to train operators in Britain in the year to the end of March 2023.

Last July’s retail price index measure of inflation, which is traditionally used to determine annual fare rises, was 9 per cent.

The consumer prices index, which is a more commonly used inflation figure, was 6.8 per cent in July 2023 but fell to 4 per cent in January. Westminster and the Welsh government set the cap for rises in regulated fares at 4.9 per cent.

These include season tickets on most commuter journeys, some off-peak return tickets on long-distance routes and flexible tickets for travel around major cities.

Northern Lights seen in parts of UK – and there’s more in store tonight

The Northern Lights have lit up the night skies across the UK, with hues of green and purple dancing across the skies as far as Cornwall.

People also reported seeing the display, called the aurora borealis, on Sunday night across Scotland, Merseyside and Wales.

According to the Met Office, the northern lights are usually best witnessed in Scotland, North England, North Wales and Northern Ireland.

However, under certain, space weather conditions, they can be seen throughout the UK.

The natural light display is caused by charged particles from the Sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field.

The colour display depends in part on what molecules the charged particles interact with.

Red and green colours tend to be hallmarks of oxygen, pink and red the signs of nitrogen with blue and purple being the results of hydrogen and helium.

Dr Minjae Kim, research fellow, Department of Physics, University of Warwick, said: “During periods of heightened geomagnetic activity, the auroral ovals expand, allowing for sightings further south in the UK.

“While auroras are more commonly observed in northern regions like Scotland, seeing them in other parts of the UK, as seen last night in southern UK, is exceptionally rare.”

Late September to mid-March is generally considered the best period for aurora sightings.

Clear, cloud-free skies in dark locations with minimal light pollution, facing the northern horizon offer the best conditions for seeing the display.

Dr Kim said thar some of the best places for aurora viewing include: Brecon Beacons National Park, an international dark sky reserve in Wales; Exmoor National Park, an international dark sky reserve in England; Galloway Forest Park, an international dark sky park in Scotland; and Kerry international dark sky reserve in Ireland.

The prime viewing times are during the darkest hours usually from 11pm to midnight, but the lights are typically visible between 9pm and 2am.

Forecasting when the Northern Lights will be visible from the UK again is difficult but, according to the BGS Global geomagnetic activity forecast, no significant enhancements are expected.

Dr Kim said: “Geomagnetic activity is forecasted to remain relatively quiet for the remainder of this period.

“As a result, it might be challenging to observe the aurora.

“However, tonight (March 4-5) appears to be the most promising night for aurora viewing, albeit still not highly active.”

To see the Aurora conditions must be dark and clear, with as little light pollution as possible, and the Northern Lights are usually best seen in high latitude regions closer to the Arctic, such as Scandinavia.

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

In the interest of the nation, the Budget must look to the long term

When the chancellor of the Exchequer rises to present his Budget in the Commons on Wednesday, he will be addressing two distinct audiences. The first will be made up of his fellow Conservatives, including MPs on his own benches, who will be hoping against hope that he can conjure up some stroke of genius that could save them and their party from the seemingly inevitable rout at the general election.

The other will be made up of the broad swathes of voters and their families, who have grown weary of a political process that has given them three prime ministers in as many years, without leaving most people any better off in any sense. On the contrary, per capita GDP has declined over the past year gone; NHS waiting lists are at record levels, and many local authorities have been cutting back public services for want of money. As every government surely knows, the purse of the nation is the key to the health of the nation.

Jeremy Hunt’s dilemma is that what may suit the interests of the first constituency is unlikely to do much to help the second, and vice versa. This is why, however difficult it might be for such a seasoned party operator as Mr Hunt – and for a prime minister who must know that the removal vans will almost certainly be drawing up at Downing Street as soon as the general election results are in – it is essential that, between them, they choose the latter.

What are fiscal rules and how will they affect the spring budget

On Wednesday the chancellor will present his final spring Budget before the next general election.

This will be one of the last opportunities for the government to set out its plans for the economy and increase the Conservatives standing in the opinion polls.

Jeremy Hunt has been keen to show that his party will be fiscally “prudent and responsible” and will not commit to any unfunded tax cuts.