Many of us in the East Anglian Fens are feeling great sympathy for the plight of the residents of The Somerset Levels. The Environment Agency (EA) party line that dredging “is not a panacea” is also frequently chanted here.
Fortunately, following the devastating floods of 1947, a very well thought-out flood protection scheme was implemented, and it has protected the area until now. However, our system has also been compromised in recent years by a lack of EA maintenance activity.
Low-lying land in England and Wales is usually managed locally by one of many Internal Drainage Boards (IDBs). The boards dig and maintain arterial ditch systems and, if required, provide pumping stations to convey water to the rivers. The EA is responsible for the rivers and outfalls to the sea. All the land within an IDB area is subject to a drainage rate of which about 50 per cent is passed on to the EA. Individual property occupiers also pay a contribution to the system via their council tax. The EA is also in receipt of payments from farmers for the right to abstract water for irrigation and from boat owners and fishermen for permits to enjoy themselves. To paraphrase the late, great Pete Seeger, where has all the money gone?
River management has suffered from a lack of continuity of personnel. For example, over the past 50 years, the Great Ouse has been managed by the Great Ouse River Board, the pre-privatisation Anglian Water, the National Rivers Authority and now the EA. Each organisational change has been accompanied by a loss of some very experienced drainage engineers, frustrated by the resulting chaos.
We are now in the hands of an organisation with so many hats it does not know which one to wear first.
Les Walton, Soham, Cambridgeshire
I am unsympathetic to the fate of those dwelling in the Somerset Levels.
It rained a lot more than normal. The flood plain is flat and in some places below sea level. The water doesn’t drain away easily. It has always been like this since the beginning of habitation and we will never be able to deal with the extreme recurrence of precipitation. It has been suggested that this flood has a recurrence interval of 1:100 years. It’s more like 1:1,000 and records have not been kept for a thousand years anyway.
People don’t live where it is too hot, too cold, too dry or too wet. Why live on a flood plain known to flood every now and again?
Chris Harding, Parkstone, Dorset
Italy’s broken justice system
Italy has the dubious distinction of being the Western European country with the highest number of negative judgments made against it by the European Court of Human Rights – and by a considerable margin. It has just staged its latest show trial, one worthy of North Korea or Iran.
Judge Nencini delivered guilty verdicts on Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito when no credible evidence against them exists and the real murderer was convicted five years ago and will be out on parole later this year.
When are the Italian people going to rise up and do something about their country’s broken justice system?
Nigel Scott, Member of Advisory Board, Injustice Anywhere Organisation, London N22
Italian justice reminds me of European referendum results: keep staging them until you get one you like.
Steven Calrow, Liverpool
The rich are taking over the state
Discussions concerning tax and wealth disparity concentrate on the “fairness” or otherwise of the top rate of income tax. Fairness is subjective and it will never be possible to reach agreement on this.
There is another and much more important issue involved, and that is the political influence which huge accumulations of wealth can buy.
This can most obviously be seen in this country in the composition of the government front bench, and in the US in the influence of the Bush, Kennedy, Koch and other families.
In both countries we are rapidly moving away from the ideal of a one-man-one-vote democracy towards government by an unassailable permanent rich elite so powerful that it can dictate government policy.
The only way to remove the stranglehold of this elite is to remove a lot of their money by taxation. The democratic health of the country requires it.
Dudley Dean, Maresfield, East Sussex
I cannot understand what all the fuss is about the 50p tax rate. Does it really make that much difference to someone who earns £160,000, for example? They would receive £5,000 of their “extra” salary, as opposed to £5,500 – hardly something to cry about.
And if, as you say, the tax rates for everyone will have to increase after the election, something “neither side is yet willing to admit” (editorial, 27 January), perhaps Ed Balls should be applauded for being at least partially frank.
Norman Evans, East Horsley, Surrey
Pace Charles Foster (letter, 28 January), you don’t free the poor by fostering a mentality that anyone who struggles to find paid employment is free to sleep under a bridge and beg, while anyone who benefits handsomely from the way we have arranged our national affairs owes nothing to others.
Stephie Coane, Windsor
Lord Digby Jones comments on Labour’s proposed 50p tax rate: “If it creates wealth let’s kick it . . . really go for the energy companies.” I would like Lord Jones, whom I had always considered to be a left-leaning business leader, to explain why we should consider the mostly foreign-owned energy companies as wealth-creating. It’s not how most of us see them.
Keith Frayn, Oxford
Leaving ‘Europe’ isn’t that simple
May I add a footnote to Tim Brook’s excellent letter on Britain’s prospects after it left the EU (30 January)?
To qualify for membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) the UK would have to subscribe to the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement which provides for “the inclusion of EU legislation covering the four freedoms – the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital – throughout the 30 EEA States. In addition, the Agreement covers co-operation in other important areas such as research and development, education, social policy, the environment, consumer protection, tourism and culture, collectively known as ‘flanking and horizontal’ policies. The Agreement guarantees equal rights and obligations within the Internal Market for citizens and economic operators in the EEA.”
As well as surrendering sovereignty in relation to the key items listed by Mr Brook, the UK would also have to agree to free movement of persons – in other words immigration from the EU countries would continue unabated.
Given that those wishing to take the UK out of the EU usually use loss of sovereignty and immigration as their key vote-winning arguments, then joining EFTA would appear to be a non-starter.
John E Orton, Bristol
Why are fewer boys going to university?
Your editorial of 31 January (“Don’t panic: if young men are choosing not to go to university, so be it”) demonstrates the bias inherent in some aspects of the gender debate as it relates to males.
It is not seen as a problem that fewer men go to university, and the assumption here, once again, is that it is related to choice rather than structural factors. If the roles were reversed, rest assured that the media would introduce evidence of structural patriarchy as a key determinant.
The decline in men in all aspects of education, from professional to support roles, is evidence of appalling gender discrimination.
Jon Kingsbury, Totton, Hampshire
It doesn’t surprise me that female school-leavers are a third more likely to go to university. As a school teacher, I have seen over many years that girls work harder than boys and consequently achieve better results.
The big issue here is why don’t boys work harder? Is it because the curriculum is far too focused on academic knowledge rather than technical knowledge, which turns boys off learning.
Kartar Uppal, West Bromwich, West Midlands
You inform us that girls are heading off to university in droves while boys increasingly pass it by. Yet on the BBC's University Challenge, the weighting is the other way round.
I wonder why this would be. Is there some inherent reason for males to be more strongly represented? Or does the BBC have a prejudice? Mastermind, also, exhibits this preference – at best one token woman – and both programmes are hosted by men.
Perhaps some great seat of learning could establish a field of research on the subject.
The Rev Peter Sharp, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Derbyshire