Letters to the Editor
Wind farms, mobile phones and punishment for crime
I was interested to read your soapbox article on wind turbines. Ron Watts is right in identifying visual impact as the major cause of concern associated with electricity generated by wind power. This however is subjective with people divided about the beauty of these structures. As with all subjective assessments, deciding whether one or more wind turbines should be constructed involves weighing many factors. Ron's article highlighted some of these but they need a little clarification.
Ron mentions the danger to bird life posed by wind turbines. This has been a problem in the USA where they use different types of turbine. However in this country there is very little risk to birds from wind turbines. The blades of wind turbines turn slowly and normally birds fly through safely. The main exception to this is if a turbine is placed in the flight path of large migrating birds such as swans. The RSPB is routinely involved in the consultation process necessary before wind turbines can be built to avoid this being a problem. Yes birds may still fly into a turbine particularly during high winds but this would appear to be the result of there being a physical object there for them to fly into rather than a feature of wind turbines. Your house and especially its windows are a major hazard to birds.
Ron comments that wind turbines are "not the picturesque windmills of former times." Firstly these "picturesque" windmills form part of Norfolk's industrial heritage. They changed over the years as new technology came along, as the displays at Denver Mill make clear. Modern wind turbines may not be exactly the same as Norfolk's old windmills but beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I, along with many others find them no less picturesque. A modern wind turbine continues the good Norfolk traditional ingenuity of using the free and plentiful Norfolk winds. A modern wind turbine shows that Norfolk is more than just a museum for tourists, they show that Norfolk life, wisdom and traditions have been kept alive by Norfolk people.
Ron questions the practical usefulness of wind power. He is right when he points out that the electricity produced by a single turbine is far less that that produced by a conventional generator. However Swaffham is unusual in having only one turbine. Usually electricity is generated by wind farms with a number of turbines. Such wind farms do have the potential to make a real contribution to our electricity needs particularly in suitable areas such as ours. They will are unlikely to provide the whole answer but unlike coal, oil or nuclear power stations they are totally clean and they do not contaminate the land on which they stand. If in the future we decide to remove our wind turbines the land on which they stand can be easily returned to its former use. This cannot be said for conventional power stations.
There is a saying that "your own pigs don't smell." Meaning that if you are more likely to be tolerant of something that benefits you directly. This principle is generally used when new wind farms are being considered. Hence people living in the vicinity of a wind farm usually benefit (cheaper electricity etc.) directly from the wind farm. A further benefit to Norfolk people comes in the form of less carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide is one of the main causes of the rapid climate change (global warming) that is threatening to disrupt our life on this planet. The reason that we in Norfolk should be concerned is because the two most reliably predicted outcomes of this climate change are sea level rise and more violent weather. Norfolk is generally low-lying and extremely vulnerable to the effects sea level rise. We of all people should be doing all that we can to reduce or slow down the impact of sea level rise through doing all that we can to combat climate change.
We may be able to build better sea level defences but these may have to protect us from seas that are several feet above where many of us now live. With more violent storms these defences are going to have to be very substantial indeed and far less picturesque than even thousands of wind turbines. Sea level rise will mean that thousands of us will live in constant fear of hearing an siren and having to race to safety ahead of sea water rushing in from breached defences. If you think this fanciful, just talk to the people up from Great Yarmouth who already live under such a threat.
I do not have shares in wind farms but I do hope that this is useful following Ron's article last month.
Environmental Advisor to the Bishop of Ely
I was pleased to see Graham Forster's letter last month complaining about people driving whilst using a mobile phone and I am very pleased to learn that there is a Private Member's Bill to make it illegal, I wish it success.
Unfortunately, when our politicians in Westminster do bring themselves to introduce a new law, which they are often most reluctant to do despite crying needs, they think that they have solved the problem. But, passing a law achieves nothing unless it is enforced, and there are countless examples of laws which are not enforced:
As I point out elsewhere in this issue, there is a law against dropping litter, but how often do you hear of anyone being charged?
Did you know that the speed limit for goods vehicles over 7.5 tonnes max laden weight on a single carriageway road is 40mph? Anyone travelling on the A17, the A1122 to Swaffham or the A134 to Thetford would know that that is a joke. Even on a dual carriageway they are limited to 50mph, but you won't find many doing under 60mph on the A14. The corresponding limits for Transit type vans are 50 and 60mph. It maybe that those limits are no longer appropriate, if that is so they should be changed. We should not permit a situation where the individual is allowed to ignore a law simply because he doesn't like it.
There is a law against keeping a child off school without good reason, with penalties of a fine of up to £2,000 and/or a jail sentence. There are also opportunities for introducing curfews for youngsters in areas where vandalism and youth crime is a problem. Why are these measures not employed before talking about removing child benefit?
There are laws against driving without a driving or vehicle licence, insurance or MoT, but what are the chances of getting caught? If you are caught driving without insurance, an unforgivable sin in my view, the maximum penalty is a fine of £200, less than the premium for one year for most drivers. What incentive is there for the unscrupulous to take out insurance?
The list goes on. I hope we do have a law prohibiting driving whilst using a mobile phone, but on past experience the likelihood that it will be enforced is not great.
I agree with all the views that Ron Watts expressed in his Soapbox article on being tough on crime. The present system of punishments obviously is not working. We, as an establishment, are too soft. Penalties must hurt and deter in some way, otherwise lawlessness will continue to increase. Also more appropriate sentences for crimes must be hammered out (I don't pretend to have the answer). What is the purpose of putting someone in prison, who is no threat to the community; we see it happening so many times, the latest being the mother, who was sent down for two months because her two daughters were perpetually truanting. That cannot be right and, in fact, could have a serious adverse effect.
My second point is the lack of consistency in sentences handed down. To return to the case above, two months with two months suspended was also given to a young man convicted of using threatening behaviour and having an offensive weapon. This makes no sense at all. Even if you look at the Lynn News, each week you will see totally different penalties being handed down for exactly the same crimes. Surely there has to be another tier of legislators above local and county courts, who can ratify sentences before they are finally promulgated. I know that this means more bureaucracy but it would restore faith in our judicial system to the public. And may be it could be self-funding if crime could finally be reduced.
Am I naive in thinking that things might change? Possibly, but I do know that they must to some measure if we are to live in a safe society. We should lobby our MP and if possible get onto the Norfolk Panel - these are two things that immediately spring to mind - but certainly we must all do something to improve our way of life.