River Wissey Lovell Fuller

September Soapbox

September 2003

Good news and bad news for Downham Schools and another windmill for Swaffham!

SOAPBOX - September

Good News -- Bad news?

It now seems likely that there will be a new secondary school in Downham Market. It may be ready in three years time, but by then it will be long overdue. Like so many of the supporting services in this area, schools have been seriously overstretched as the local authorities have happily given building permission for hundreds of new homes with no consideration for the need to increase the provision of public services. Nevertheless, better late than never, and a new school is good news.

The bad news is that it is to be a Church of England school. I have made the point in the past that I consider the provision of 'faith schools' divisive and undesirable and I have expressed the opinion that, as in the USA, where their constitution requires that "All schools maintained wholly or in part by public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence", so we in the UK should do likewise. If we do permit state funded schools to be aligned to a particular faith then we must recognise that we must allow some state schools to be aligned to Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, the Sikh religion etc, which is clearly divisive and threatens more future social discord.

It is proposed that the CofE should provide 10% of the capital for the new school, in return for which it will be regarded as a CofE school, and we need to ask exactly what that will mean. It will almost certainly mean the continuation of the indoctrination that occurs in so many of our primary schools, but it might have more significant and I believe more serious implications. This point is demonstrated quite clearly by what is happening in Wandsworth where they too are getting a new CofE school due to open this September: It was reported that in the first year of opening it is to offer 100 places to children whose families are practising members of a Christian Church and 50 places irrespective of religious background, with priority given to those with medical or social needs, or those living nearest to the school, which presumably might also include some churchgoers. With the result that over 70% of the places in the new school will go to churchgoing families. With church attendances falling to around 10% or less, how could a new publicly funded school be permitted such a highly selective entry on religious grounds? According to the report, a closer examination of the situation in Wandsworth reveals an even more dramatic situation; allowing for the existence of other religious secondary schools, including Roman Catholic schools, there are some 1063 places available to boys from a religious background compared with only 814 to non-religious boys.

It seems that, whilst the non-religious contribute to the financial provision of faith schools, discrimination is openly practised against the children of the non-religious and against non-religious teachers. Let us oppose any such discrimination in the new school in Downham, we cannot tolerate a situation where parents must believe in God in order to get their child into a good state funded school.

Wind Power

So we have another Swaffham windmill, even bigger than the first, with a potential power output of the order of 2MW and the trend in these windmills is towards even bigger units of up to 5MW. Even so, it would still require roughly 80 such turbines to generate the power output of one good-sized fossil fuelled station. Fortunately the government has set its thoughts on installing these monsters out at sea and that is a change to be welcomed, I would hate to see Norfolk covered with a few hundred of them. Of course wind power is advantageous because it makes more use of one of our natural resources, after all, the British Isles is a windy place, and we should welcome this proposed increase in the contribution from renewable sources, we have to realise, however, that wind power, despite the free nature of the wind, is expensive, estimates are that it will cost roughly two and a half times as much as that obtained from coal fired stations currently.

With the present policy of phasing out nuclear power we will be dependent upon fossil fuels and renewable sources in the future. Unfortunately, unless we are prepared to resurrect our coal industry, most of that fossil fuel in the form of gas and oil will be imported, leaving us vulnerable to foreign action. Strategically it seems like a wise move, therefore, to increase our utilisation of indigenous renewable resources and the government target (there's that word again) is to have 10% of our power generated from renewable sources by 2010. Even with this target of 10% we will still be looking for 90% of our power from other sources. With the emphasis on wind power as the principal renewable source we will be looking for 100% from these other sources when the wind doesn't blow. Apart from the increase in our vulnerability that also means that we need to have standby power plant or face the possibility of power cuts on calm days.

There are other renewable sources, tidal power in particular looks very promising and that can always be relied upon. I believe that we should see more government effort spent developing this. Unfortunately, because of privatisation of the industry and the consequent removal of the government's ability to plan strategically, there has been an over provision of oil and gas fired power stations. This has occurred to the extent that the most modern, most efficient and largest coal fired power station in the UK is threatened with closure. In order to reduce our vulnerability it is my view that, whilst we are developing and expanding our utilisation of renewable sources, the government should intervene to ensure the continued use of coal as a power source for a significant proportion of our requirements and should be giving serious consideration to maintaining a significant contribution from nuclear power by building some new nuclear plants.

Railways and Roads

Last month I drew attention to the inappropriate imbalance between the proposal to spend £54billion on the railways and only £7billion on the roads. Since then I have come across a few more statements which tend to reinforce my position:

1. Only 5% of commuters travel by train

2. North of Crewe the West Coast Line is restricted to 110mph. Isn't that fast enough? Is it worth spending billions of pounds just so that the trains can go a little bit faster? Exactly how many people will benefit from any increase in speed and how many of those will care that much?

3. It is estimated that to improve rail safety to the extent that there will be one less fatality/year costs £10M. To improve road safety to achieve the same result costs £100,000. Or, in other words, money spent on improving road safety will save 100 times as many lives as the same amount of money spent on improving railway safety.

4. Royal Mail are phasing out the use of mail trains.

5. A recent report concluded that we have the worst major road network of all the western European nations.

Ron Watts


"Practical politics consists of ignoring facts" Henry Brooks Adams (US Historian)

Ron Watts

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