Water shortages, Road tolls and others

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The Independent Online

We should build more reservoirs to help ease water shortages

We should build more reservoirs to help ease water shortages

Sir: In your leading article on water shortages (2 June), you point out that some 3bn litres a day are lost by leakage from our water supply systems. You do not mention that about 180bn litres a day, on average, flow to the sea from England and Wales without entering any water supply system.

Our predecessors coped with expanding demand by storing a fraction of this - about 2 per cent of a year's run-off - in reservoirs to supplement summer flows, and by transferring it to where it was needed. Ample opportunities remain to continue this wise provision, although it has become unfashionable to do so. Plans to supply southeast England from the resources of the upper Severn were elaborated exactly 140 years ago.

There is nothing wrong with reducing losses of treated water and encouraging economy in use either by exhortation or by economic means, so long as that is not unduly expensive or inconvenient for the consumer. Nor is there any way of guaranteeing supply in all circumstances. But if we settle for frequent shortages it will be from choice rather than necessity, either because we are mesmerised by pseudo-environmental constraints or because we are too mean or short-sighted to invest in storage. Contrary to a popular view, storage of surplus winter flow does far more to enhance our environment than to impair it.



Road tolls would be disastrous

Sir: Alistair Darling's proposal for replacing fuel tax with a highly complex system of road tolls, monitoring every journey from space, looks like a recipe for disaster ("Road tolls of £1.34 per mile many be in place in five years", 6 June).

Climate change is a major threat to our society and the pollution that causes it is related specifically to the amount of fuel used. In your editorial you suggest that a graded toll could be introduced to reflect the type of car. But would it also reflect how well the engine was tuned, whether it had suitable tyres, what type of fuel it was using, whether the driver was driving sensibly, whether it was carrying a rack or towing a trailer, or any other factors which would affect the amount of pollution generated?

What we need is a planned increase in fuel tax, with the money being used to create a more effective public transport system. Cars are only part of the transport system, and we need less polluting alternatives. Congestion charging certainly has a role in many localities, but it should never be an excuse to stop taxing pollution.



Sir: There is an even greater problem than traffic congestion and that is its consequential emissions of carbon dioxide which are steadily rising. It is this which should be targeted.

One way to do this would be to provide every road user with a "ration" of carbon dioxide. The allowance could be embedded in a smart card which deducts the carbon content each time fuel is purchased. The card would be issued with the annual or half-yearly tax disc. If the allowance was exhausted there would be a punitive tax added to each subsequent purchase of fuel. Alternatively carbon credits could be purchased from road users with a surplus of credits via a carbon trading scheme. At the same time it would provide a strong incentive to switch to more carbon efficient vehicles.

In each case the price would be set by government and adjusted to reflect the nation's performance in meeting its carbon dioxide abatement targets. Obviously there would need to be fine tuning to redress the imbalance between rural and urban residents and to allow for the disabled and pensioners. But this would be far more cost-effective

than journey pricing based on satellite technology and would remove any suspicion that the prime purpose is to raise revenue.



Sir: With the Government considering monitoring the position of vehicles on the road, ostensibly to enable charging for road usage, yet another means of controlling the population becomes a possibility. We are already observed by a multitude of CCTV cameras and recorders and the location of an active mobile phone can be readily monitored. With further technological development it may soon be possible to have the proposed ID cards tracked continually, thus enabling the government, or other agencies, to keep tabs on us.

Is this creeping erosion of civil liberties what the people of this country really want, or are we just sleep-walking into a slightly delayed 1984?



Sir: I was appalled when the socialist mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, introduced the congestion charge which clearly discriminates against those on lower incomes. Now the Government is proposing road charging to reduce congestion. It would again be those on lower incomes who would be forced off the roads while the well-off would be highly delighted at being able to drive on clear roads. What kind of Labour government is this?



Expanding the EU was the mistake

Sir: Having been born in the aftermath of World War One with its legacy of maiden aunts, and having seen active service in World War Two, I was drawn to the movement to unite Europe and found it hard to understand its opponents. Business travel in the 1970s and 80s made the concept of a single European currency extremely attractive. I liked the idea of being a citizen of Europe. At that time we were twelve.

Then came the pressure to expand. I was sure that it came from those opposed to a closer union. Bigger rather than deeper was their motto. I suspected that the United States was pushing for a larger Europe to include the ten east European states and ex-communist countries beholden to their "liberators". Certainly the question of Turkey joining the EU, when it seemed not to qualify on geographical nor cultural grounds, is due to America's need for Turkish air-bases.

The question of Turkish membership has, I feel sure, been a major factor in the momentous rejection of the European Constitution by the people of France and The Netherlands. The results saddened me and I fervently hope that the Europe in which I believe will find a resolution to the problems brought about by the mistaken expansion.



Sir: The Government has no right to break its pledge to us to hold a referendum on the treaty establishing a constitution for Europe. Blair signed this treaty, so he is obliged to continue with the ratification process.

As the chairman of the constitutional committee in the European Parliament, Jo Leinen MEP, said, under the Vienna Treaty of 1969, which regulates international treaties, Britain and other EU countries must continue with ratification of the EU constitution. Article 18 of the Vienna Treaty commits countries that have signed a treaty "to avoid all actions which counter the objective and purpose of the treaty". So the Government is legally obliged to pursue ratification and therefore to hold the promised referendum.



Sir: I refer to Bruce Anderson's anti-EU article "Blair must confront Chirac's Stockholm syndrome and secure the British rebate", (6 June). Why should the UK have a rebate? Gordon Brown keeps telling us how much richer we are than the other EU countries, and yet we cling to the rebate. We are like the Spaniards and the Portuguese who cling to their EU subsidies even though the new EU members in the east need them more. Every pound that we claw back from the EU in the form of a rebate is a pound stolen from the poor.



Live8, Africa and the Catholic Church

Sir: Andy Kershaw makes the excellent point that it is an absolute disgrace that the Live8 concerts, whose aim it is to raise the profile of Africa, are virtually devoid of African artists ("Africans not included", 4 June). The inclusion of African artists would not only resonate with the theme of the events but also contribute to the enjoyment of those attending.

I was,however, disappointed at his astonishing outburst against the Pope and the Catholic Church. I can only assume that he is ignorant of the central role this organisation has played in getting debt relief on the agenda long before politicians and pop stars got involved, as well as providing practical aid on the ground in the poorest African nations.

He also appears to be suffering from another "well-meaning, white, middle class, western" illusion that condoms will solve the Aids problem in Africa. Blaming the Catholic Church for Africa's poverty and Aids is as misguided and frankly bizarre as his distasteful comparison of the Pope with Dr Harold Shipman.



Sir: President Bush has America spending billions of dollars on the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but refuses to accept a new action plan on Africa to help eliminate poverty and encourage development, which would require doubling American aid. Isn't that a repugnant foreign policy?



Queensland voting system is best

Sir: Some of your correspondents have favoured the Australian preferential voting system as an improvement upon first-past-the-post. Under this system, where voters list candidates in order of preference, Bob Hawke's Labour Party got in with a minority of the vote on Green Party preferences. Minor parties suffer under the full preferential system as votes are distributed, in full value, to candidates less preferred if there is no immediate overall winner.

However, there is a better system, known as optional preferential voting, in the Queensland state elections. Under this system the voters have have the choice of listing their preferences in full, or partially, or of putting their mark next to one candidate only and thereby preventing major parties obtaining votes by appearing lower down on the marked ballot papers.

This sytem can help minor parties to get candidates elected, and can stop the vote drifting down to less preferred major parties. The OPV system is superior to the full preferential system, because one never has the dilemma of voting for a minor party and thus favouring a major party by default.



Sir: For the last 30 years I have voted for and often delivered election leaflets on behalf of the Labour Party, although I live in a constituency where the Labour and Liberal Democrat vote combined could not have ousted the Tory MP at the last election.

I am certainly not apathetic about voting, but I am increasingly dispirited about the waste of my vote. Tony Blair's claim that there is no public appetite for electoral reform defies credibility and speaks volumes about his arrogance. It is time the Prime Minister kept his 1997 manifesto pledge on this issue. I fully support your fine Campaign for Democracy, but I suspect it would take the backing of more of the media to force Mr Blair into action. Labour will not be in power for ever and if the progressive vote gets divided then the Tories will still have the platform in terms of seats to get back into power by default. If Blair really cared for the people Labour claims to represent then he would embrace a more representative voting system that would help keep out a future right-wing government.



Sir: Of those who voted in the French referendum 45 per cent were in favour of the constitution. In your reports on the outcome, you described it as a "resounding" defeat for the "Yes" camp. How does this fit with your campaign for more representative voting systems?



Badly behaved children

Sir: I can assure Angela Elliott (letter, 2 June) that in my experience as a teacher the vast majority of badly ill-disciplined children come from workless homes and indeed the continuing presence of a mother at home does not seem to produce better adjusted or higher achieving children. Indeed I suspect parenting classes are going to be most needed when the children are subject to few other influences.



The train to Poznan

Sir: Marian Podlubny (letter, 6 June) was ill-advised to buy a cheap flight to Warsaw in order to get to Poznan. The best bet is a cheap flight to Berlin and then to travel on the Euro-City Express to Poznan. If a slower journey is preferred, then travelling to Poznan via Kostrzyn and Krzyz is to be recommended. The latter will be a fine introduction to what Polish Railways are really like.



Frustrated cyclist

Sir: On Sunday I tried to travel by train from Wakefield to York with my bicycle, only to fall foul of the 24-hour rule: bikes have to be booked onto trains 24 hours in advance, and the day before I didn't know the journey would be necessary. In future I shall do my bit to clog up the roads and assist in adding to pollution by reluctantly using my car.



A British invention

Sir: Barrie Clement reports from Shanghai that the original idea of the Maglev trains is "said to be British" (Could Maglev trains be the far-sighted solution?" 6 June). Professor Eric Laithwaite of Imperial College in London designed the first magnetically levitating high-speed train in the 1950s.



Sir: I recall Professor Eric Laithwaite demonstrating the "Maglev principle" with a working model in the 1960s. The scientists of the "white heat" Wilson government dismissed the idea as unworkable. Plus ça change.



Anarchy in Edinburgh

Sir: It is reported that anarchist groups are planning to take over the march to Edinburgh next month, but surely it's Bob Geldof and the Live8 gravy train that is hijacking what is traditionally an anarchist protest.