If you have been following the discussion about fracking between Kathleen Hassal and myself here you will have realised that our main concerns are centred around one simple – but seemingly extreme – problem:getting hold of the facts. I suggested that there was one area of disagreement between us and that is to determine the level of government that should be taking decisions regarding what is somewhere between being the extraction of valuable fossil fuels at no great cost and risk to operations that will destroy our environment to the extent that it can no longer support us. Obviously the truth lies somewhere between those two extremes so, just for the sake of argument, let us rate fracking as being potentially from 1 to 10 where the lower the number the better – the higher the number the greater the risk to the environment.
It seems, from the available evidence, that there are some locations where a score of about 2 could be achieved – others that would struggle to keep down to 9. If we accept that argument then each individual well need to be rated and a political decision taken as to what is acceptable (e.g. anything which scored 3 or less).
Agreement as to the mechanism that should be employed should be a national matter: it would be a nonsense if the criteria set for one part of the country was different from another. It is, of course, important that the right criteria are chosen and that would not be easy but unavoidable. Another national matter would be the construction of a tight set of regulations that set the required standards to be met by all operators.
However, determining what “score” a given application to frack should be given should, I feel, be made on a local basis. The reason is simple: the local people will be better informed about conditions in their area. Likewise it should be local people who ensure that operators meet regulations. Again the reason is simple: the local people will be more aware of infringements than a centralised body far away from the action. Furthermore, it really is time that people began to take a proper interest in what is happening in their communities: much of the detachment from politics
A similar argument can be put forward when considering flood defences and dealing with floods. Since the middle 1990’s these duties have been centralised. This has not proved to be a success. Local knowledge has been lost and local initiatives have been squashed. Even worse, the concept of constant boring maintenance has been lost: all that boring work that ensures that drains are at least always clear even if they then prove to be inadequate, that pumping stations where required function properly and so on. Here there are two problems: there is no kudos to be gained for a politician who overseas the sort of work that is carried out with no publicity and no incentive or a politician on a short term contract to think in the long term – an absolute requirement when considering problems such as this. Instead the mantra runs through: it was not my fault guv, but theirs, and now there are some difficult decisions to be made. The latter is, of course, indicating that the right decisions will be of little use come the day of the election and it is far better to keep the ball in play until then so as to avoid risking upsetting anyone.
Clearly if one of the power houses, the wealth creating centres, in the country is at risk it is right and proper that general taxation should be used to meet the demands of protecting that power house. The difficult decisions come when a large number of voters are to be asked to fork out for the benefit of the few. This is a difficult decision: the country cannot afford to ensure that everyone is properly protected. However, a country that can afford to consider HS2, afford to maintain Trident, afford create a wildlife sanctuary at a cost of some £31,000,000 should be able to afford the basics that are required.
We have moved away from “hard protection” towards a softer approach. For example. The sea wall protecting the countryside from the waters of the River Humber has been breached and, in a controlled manner (which, of course, means an expensive manner) the adjoining farmland has been converted into a marshy area where water can be held until levels drop. Try explaining this technique to the Dutch.
The problem with hard protection is cost – but the cost of constantly maintaining sea walls, breakwaters and the like pales into insignificance when considering the costs incurred when they are breached. Back to the hard decisions.
One possible way forward which will appeal to very few is to take a look at how many of the features were built in the first place. They used a lot of manpower and very simple tools. The manpower lived in caravans and huts close to where the men were working. Now we have many thousands of fit and healthy youngsters unable to find a job. Is it beyond the wit of man to bring these two thoughts together and to start looking after the infrastructure of our country properly?
Let me admit that I chose this word for alliterative rather than rational reasons but, despite that, it is about right. I refer, of course, to the way our politicians at local and national levels have been behaving recently.
For once in my life I find myself feeling very sorry for our politicians. Years and years of diverting money away from all those boring jobs – see above – into trying to buy the electorate have resulted in chaos on a scale that is greater than we have seen here in the UK for a very long time. Not only have our transport links proved weak but thousands of people are suffering from flooded homes and workplaces. There is, of course, nothing that the politicians can do – or very little. They could have used serving members of the armed forces to help people cut off by floods or doing all possible to contain the water but apart from that realistically speaking nothing at all.
No, the people in the driving seat now are the ones on what we love to call “the front line”. The people doing everything they can to contain the damage, to bolster the people affected and so on. All the politicians can do is to make flying visits, grab a few photo opportunities, make a few inane speeches and return from whence they have come.
Did I say inane speeches? Well, our Prime Minister whilst visiting Dawlish promised us a “resilient” railway. Sorry Mr Cameron but we don’t want a resilient railway that can bend in the face of every wave – we want a robust one that will serve us in the face of increasing violence in the weather and a secondary route into the south west (even if slow and inconvenient) to keep some connection with the rest of the country when the coastal route fails.
Yes it will cost money but it would be money well spent as it would increase the productivity of this part of the world and that would benefit everyone in the UK.
I fear this is not so much a blog as a rant but I needed to get some of it out of my system. Not only have I been feeling sorry for our politicians for they too are well out of their depth, I have been shocked at how angry I feel about the way they have behaved in the face of all the suffering – much of which has been caused because, frankly, they have been failing in one of the main reasons for having a government: to protect the people. That does not always call for an aircraft carrier. Sometimes all it needs is a couple of pumps and a dredger. Above all this is not the time to be playing party politics. Now is the time to pull together in order to make things work again and to keep them that way.