Letters: Tidal power

We must take a holistic approach to the Severn plan
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The proposals for harnessing tidal power demonstrate a lack of co-ordinated thinking by the government, which sees such a scheme as an entity in itself (front page and leading article, 27 January). There are indeed concerns about the significantly reduced periods that the mudflats would be exposed, which would affect wading birds.

But not on the shortlist is a double barrage or barrage/lagoon scheme where the resulting basin or lagoon is split in two with one part filled at high tide and the other emptied at low tide. This latter area would provide a longer period of mudflats than is the case at present, and provide an increased habitat area, albeit slightly displaced from the conventional areas. Electricity can be generated at any time by allowing water to flow from the upper reservoir to the lower one, unlike a single barrage or lagoon which will generate only with the tidal cycle which, admittedly, is more predictable than wind, but frequently is out of phase with peak demand. With increased renewable generation, the need for more storage must be addressed and factored into the financial costs.

Although such a double basin/lagoon scheme would cost more, the additional benefits provided by storage for power on demand may outweigh these addition al costs and help preserve the environment. The proposed new nuclear stations are inflexible in varying with demand and, unlike France, we do not have the luxury of being strongly integrated into the European grid; pumped storage provided by a double scheme would be an effective way to provide varied demand.

We must adopt a holistic and integrated approach to our energy policy which minimises environmental damage and enhances flexibility of energy supply.

Keith Tovey

Reader in Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia, Norwich

Sri Lanka still faces conflict

The situation in Sri Lanka looks as though the war with the Tamil Tigers is almost over, although, over the past 25 years, the LTTE has demonstrated several times the ability to recover from (leading article, 27 January). But even if the Tamil Tigers are crushed militarily, major questions will remain about the future political make-up of the island, and the conflict will remain unresolved in the long term.

The quest for meaningful devolution of power has dominated Tamil politics since the mid-1970s, since parliamentary options were effectively closed, leading to armed conflict between the Tigers and the Sri Lankan armed forces.

The role of Norway and neighbouring India needs to be brought back into the picture to help broker a lasting peace. Although India has its domestic problems, such as tensions with Pakistan and forthcoming elections, its interests in regional stability should be used as a positive influence in Sri Lankan politics.

Of course, India got its fingers burnt with the experience of sending soldiers to the island between 1987 and 1990 to keep the warring factions apart, and subsequently Rajiv Gandhi, the architect of a peace accord, tragically lost his life as a consequence of that intervention.

Clearly there is a significant danger in the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa assuming all-out victory. The increased attacks on journalists also echo the darkest days of the Premadasa regime in the 1990s, an era that ultimately led to war resuming with an even mightier force on both sides.

Dr Alan Bullion

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

Yet another stealth tax

I read your excellent article on stealth tax with interest (24 January. This is not the only recent stealth tax on recession victims. This tax, in the form of rates payable in respect of empty properties, will kick many businesses when they are downsizing to combat the recession.

The tax is payable on empty properties where the rateable value exceeds £15,000, and will affect many retail and industrial units of even modest size. It is payable at a time when losses and expenses are being incurred by the unfortunate ratepayer. It will affect tenants trying to assign their leases and the property owner where there is no tenant. The property owner expects to meet expenses such as insurance, repairs and the mortgage, but the additional burden of rates on empty property will be a savage blow.

John Keighley


Pupils benefit from rounded education

Real success will always elude schools which specialise in specific subject areas. As research shows, not only does this ap-proach fail to achieve significantly better results in the targeted areas of expertise but more importantly, it fails to deliver an education which properly prepares pupils for the world outside the school gates. ("The Big Question: Is the success of specialist schools an illusion resulting from extra funding?" 23 January).

Yes, clever scientists need to be stretched by learning with other clever scientists but they also need to act in a play or sing in a choir so they learn different skills and get to mix with boys and girls of different abilities and talents. All pupils get on much better in life when educated in schools that provide a well-rounded education.

At our college, classicists, economists and scientists rub shoulders with students of media studies, theatre, music and dance, and everyone benefits. Year on year, we see pupils achieving better results than expected from their attainment on entry and academic high-flyers developing astonishing talents outside the classroom.

So instead of encouraging schools to develop expertise in specific subject areas, the Government should consider backing measures that help schools deliver a well-rounded education that does well by all pupils, whatever their talents, and whatever their interests.

Peter Roberts

Headmaster, Bradfield College, Reading, Berkshire

Challenges for energy industry

Your leading article "The energy giants must be brought into line" (23 January) raises many challenging issues. But we take issue with the allegation of "sharp practices" in the industry. The energy regulator Ofgem has recently completed an exhaustive market probe, the results of which categorically state that prices do not go up faster than they come down, and that there is a clear time-lag between changes in the wholesale market and when we see price changes on our bills.

Customers and suppliers alike are faced with the dual challenge of reducing demand and increasing energy efficiency. Our resources are dwindling and demands for renewable energy generation increasing. The energy sector needs vast investment in the next 10 years for new generation capacity that we need. The money for this will come only from the industry.

That said, the energy industry recognises it has a role to play in lessening the impact of higher prices for the most vulnerable. No other industry delivers more direct help to the most vulnerable.

Garry Felgate

Chief Executive, Energy Retail Association, London SW1

Cats slaughter our songbirds

It's always entertaining to read Richard Ingrams's comments about the strange behaviour of media moguls (17 January). How ironic then that, as a mini-mogul himself, he should use the same column to return to his own obsessive campaign against the restoration of our native birds of prey to more natural population levels.

Given Mr Ingrams' laudable concern for the welfare of our songbirds, he should perhaps direct his attention to the depredations of their most numer-ous and lethal enemy, the dom-estic cat.

But it may be that he views the hunting instincts of the cat as being more noble in character, being motivated, just as with the human upper classes, by love of the chase rather than by the base considerations of nutrition and survival that apply to birds of prey.

An alternative explanation could be that he recognises that many Oldie readers own cats, while few, if any, own red kites.

Roger Davis


The imbalance in BBC coverage

In April 2006, an independent panel for the BBC governors on the impartiality of BBC coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reported: "One important feature of this is the failure to convey adequately the disparity in the Israeli and Palestinian experience, reflecting the fact that one side is in control and the other lives under occupation ... it is so marked and important that coverage should succeed in this as if in nothing else."

We now see how far the BBC is prepared to go to make sure that the imbalance, referred to by the report commissioned by its governors, is perpetuated and compounded. The BBC's claims that public opinion is shifting in favour of its refusal to broadcast a humanitarian appeal for Gaza is based on thousands of computer-generated emails emanating from Israel and the USA. This regular email bombardment was pointed out by the impartiality review when they submitted their conclusions.

When complaints from the USA and Israel are subtracted, public opinion in Britain is more fairly reflected. While the BBC is happy to show Israeli-produced programmes and use unmediated, non-attributed IDF propaganda footage, it would be hard to imagine the Corporation giving air time to a film produced by Palestinians. This is the context to their inhumane, unjust decision over the Gaza appeal.

Diane Langford

Whitstable, Kent

I read, in disbelief, Jimmy Powdrell Campell's assertion that the "BBC's shameful and compassionless pro-Israeli stance" is a result of the "widespread ignorance of the historical and current context of the illegal Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian territories" (letters, 26 January).

A history lesson: the last, legally binding document relating to the disputed territories was ratified in 1922 by all 51 members of the League of Nations, which designated the entire area west of the Jordan river, including the Gaza Strip, for the future Jewish state as of right, and called for its "close settlement" by Jews.

On the dissolution of the League of Nations, this was incorporated into Article 80 of the United Nations, and remains valid till the present day. Jordan illegally annexed the West Bank in 1950, an act recognised only by Pakistan and Great Britain. Egypt illegally annexed the Gaza Strip. There is no such thing as the Palestinian territories, because Palestine has never existed as an independent or recognisable legal entity; but why allow the facts to spoil the theory? Thus the idea of "occupation" of land one owns, is absurd.

Roslyn Pine



Payback time

If, as reported (19 January), the Tory Party treasurer Michael Spencer's company gave investment advice which cost councils £470m, shouldn't he be reimbursing council taxpayers rather than funding the Tory party?

Alex Black


Dangerous fool

The Labour MP Graham Stringer describes dyslexia as a cruel fiction (Comment, 17 January). He is half right. It is cruel but it is not fiction. I had heart surgery 18 years ago. After I had came round, I bought a newpaper and discovered I could not read. I had had a stroke and was suffering from a rare form of dyslexia. Deborah Orr called Graham Stringer a fool. I agree with her. He is also a dangerous fool.

Ron Alston

Ipswich, Suffolk

Not free of fees

Parking fees still operate at three Scottish hospitals (letters, 24 January). This is because they were built under public/private agreements where it was specified that the contractors would receive the fees from parking for the next 30 years. The Scottish Parliament did buy out the contracts for collecting bridge tolls, which were for a much shorter period, but it was presumably an expense too far to buy out such a long-term agreement.

Ann Duncombe

Tullibody, Clackmannanshire

Young as you feel

I was called to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital ("NHS is ageist", 27 January) to attend a clinic in the plastic surgery department last week, after a biopsy about the return of a tiny rodent ulcer on my ear, barely more than a touch of dry skin at present. The consultant took a look at my notes and said: "I think we'll remove that. After all you're only 78." What a boost such a remark gives.

Albert Chatterley


Call for Frost?

Is our under-pressure Prime Minster not looking, every day, more like the disgraced former US President Richard Nixon? Let's hope it stops at looks.

Terry Duncan

Bridlington, East Yorkshire

Tiresome tonic

The possibility of preventing prostate cancer by masturbation when over the age of 50 (report, 27 January) will certainly be of interest to middle-aged men. But I am in my eighties and I would be more than grateful to learn of something less exhausting.

Robert Vincent

Wildhern, Hampshire