River Wissey Lovell Fuller


May 2006

Ron has a critical look at several local proposals

A New Downham Secondary School

A headline in the Lynn News recently was "Does Downham need a new school?". It was reported that the proposal for a new Christian 'faith' secondary school has now moved much nearer, The Ely Diocese and the Methodist Church have received £14.5 million from government funds in order to build a new school. Regular readers will know of my objections to the concept of faith schools funded by the state, I understand also that, at the time of writing, it is likely that the teacher's unions are likely to express their disapproval of state funded faith schools and other 'trust' schools, it cannot be right that, by virtue of contributing a relativley small proportion of the initial cost of a school, those with wealth and influence should be permitted to control, to some extent, the curriculum of the school and thereby indoctrinate the pupils with their own views and beliefs. Without doubt there is widespread concern at the potentially societal divisive nature of more faith schools and of the manner in which, in some faith schools, religious beliefs may be presented as scientific theory. Perhaps then, the first question one might ask is; if we do need a new school should it be a faith school? The second question is do we need a new school at all? Certainly it appears that there is some doubt as to the need in terms of anticipated student numbers and there can be little doubt that, if there is an increase in student numbers, a further expansion of the existing schools would be a more economic option.

The primary reason given for building the school is to improve parent choice but, since the school will be permitted to apply some selection criteria, which will inevitably be related to the religious beliefs of the parents, it will only be a choice for those who hold those beliefs, others, almost certainly the majority, will be excluded and continue to have no more choice than at present, making believers a privileged group at the taxpayers' expense. All state schools suffer with a number of disruptive children whom they are forced to accommodate but, by virtue of its selection procedures, this new school will be able to operate a policy of exclusion making it possible for them to operate with a better learning environment. It is in this way pupils attending this school will be privileged.

The proposed site for the new school is on the west side of the A10 roughly half a mile north of the Bexwell roundabout, with a proposed new roundabout at the school entrance; contrary to the stated aims of persuading more children to walk to school, the only practical way of approaching this one would appear to be by road. No doubt a faith school of this type would appeal to some parents over a wide catchment area which will inevitably encourage longer distance travel by cars and buses.

Currently there is supposed to be public consultation of the proposal, although it is not clear who is being consulted or how the 'public' might participate. According to the Lynn News, however, by the time this appears in The Pump the consultation will be over and the decision will be made on April 28. I have little doubt that the decision has been made already and that the school will be built. Clearly, if I had had the chance to contribute to the consultation, I would have opposed the proposal most strongly.

House Prices

It seems as though house prices are on the rise again, with the current levels of prosperity combined with a national shortage of houses, it was inevitable. Not a bad thing for those of us owning our house, whether it be mortgaged or not, or for those in some of the extremely well paid jobs that some seem to enjoy. It is extremely worrying, however, because of the manner in which it tends to prevent those not so fortunate from ever getting a home of their own. Buying a first home is becoming dependent upon the property status of the generation before, the children of those with property are likely to have property, those without property now will, more than likely have no property in the next generation. We are producing a division in society between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', a 'propertied' class and a 'non-propertied' class.

It is a situation, generated partly by draconian planning restrictions which ensure the continuance of the housing shortage. It is inequitable and should not be permitted to persist in a just society. Tackling the problem is not easy in a free market economy but there are things that the government can do. They could use their power to force an increase in the land available for building. They could also use inheritance tax as a means of helping to redistribute wealth. Whilst none of us like inheritance tax it should be recognised that much of the wealth that people have has arisen because of the manner in which the property market has behaved over the last many years, it is unearned wealth and, in all justice, deserves to be taxed at death. The alternative of regarding the increase in value of one's property as capital gains for tax purposes annually would be even more distasteful. Inheritance tax is an appropriate tax, but it is unfortunate that those with real wealth appear to have ways of avoiding paying their dues.

Fat Cat

Bob Diamond was appointed head of investment banking at Barclays in June of last year. His annual salary was £146,000, he was also given Barclays shares worth £1.9M. At the end of the year he received a bonus of £4.4M. In total he 'earned' (?) £6.4M for six months work, not bad going. Can anyone really be worth those sort of rewards? Who says the banks aren't ripping us off?

Global Warming

I make no apology for returning to this topic yet again since the media and the public are continuing to deal with the subject as though we in the UK have the ability to significantly influence the situation. Perhaps it is a hangover from the days when we thought we were, and perhaps were, the most important nation in the world. Perhaps we still can't believe that, in this instance at least, since we are only responsible for generating 2% of the global production of greenhouse gases, it hardly matters what we do. The Government wanted to appear to be doing its bit, however, so it set targets for reduction in CO2, which it hoped to meet by encouraging the switch from electricity generation from coal to generation from gas. Unfortunately this has had the effect of increasing our vulnerability to foreign interference, since we are having to import an increasing amount of gas, and of leaving us open to market forces which have seen a return to coal as prices of gas have soared, thereby undermining the possibility of achieving the targets. Their other contributions have been the building of hundreds of wind turbines and the introduction of a higher road tax for 4x4s, along with a lower tax for small cars. The fuel used for even a modest annual mileage in a 4x4 must cost roughly £2000, anyone wanting a 4x4 is hardly likely to be influenced by an extra £2/week on road tax. Does anybody really think that this change in road tax will make any difference to global warming?

A few hundred windmills, as we know, might just enable us to shut down one coal fired power station, except that when the wind drops we will have to restart it again. Despite the continued planned expansion of wind power the government's own estimate is that wind power will reduce our CO2 emissions by 1.6% by the end of the decade, a 0.04% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, which will be negated completely by just one of the hundreds of coal fired power stations that are currently planned in China. Furthermore, by the end of the decade, wind power, because of the heavy subsidies it receives, will have cost us £1bn more than if that power had been produced by conventional means. Much of this money will have gone overseas because there are no manufacturers of wind turbines in the UK.

If we really want to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases we should be concentrating more on reducing energy use in the home. Most people use two or three times as much energy in their homes as they do in their cars, yet attention is often focussed on the car as a primary culprit. Subsidies spent on wind power could be far more effectively used subsidising home improvements.

From a national point of view, at a time when the demand for oil is starting to exceed the ability of the producers to meet that demand and at a time when those nations who control the oil supply are not particularly friendly, our national aim should be to ensure that our energy supply is as independent of foreign influence as possible. This means a big expansion in the production of bio-fuels, an expansion in the use of coal, using clean technology, and the building of new nuclear power stations. To date the government has tended to concentrate on symbolic actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that have maximum visibility rather than maximum effect, a sop to public opinion.

If global warming due to greenhouse gases really is a serious problem 'one of the greatest problems facing the world' some say, then, we need to see more emphasis on bio-fuels and on carbon entrapment, but these are developing technologies and rather long term. At the moment the one sure way of reducing greenhouse gases is the expansion of nuclear power, on a global basis. It is really a decision as to which is the greater danger, global warming or nuclear power? Perhaps neither of them is such a serious danger.

Ron Watts

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