Hot air over energy policy

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YOU could not make it up. The much-maligned European Union makes available billions of pounds to help develop pioneering clean-coal and other carbon capture technology in order to reduce emissions.

The Government then creates a shortlist of possible locations – with both Hatfield and Drax featuring prominently. And, to cut a long story short, Ministers eventually came down on the side of the North Yorkshire site.

After years, it becomes the only scheme left in the running. All that is required is the Government to “match” the money made available by the EU – and work can begin on a trial scheme that could potentially transform energy policy and manufacturing. The financial rewards could be limitless.

If only it was this straight-forward. For, in a piece of obfuscation emblematic of the hapless Sir Jim Hacker in television’s Yes Prime Minister, the dithering of Ministers means that there is every chance that the EU will withdraw this unique funding opportunity.

The consequence is this – Drax potentially missing out on funding when it is on a shortlist of one because Downing Street and Brussels seem incapable of working together.

Yet, while cynics will argue that this is symptomatic of Britain’s increasingly strained relationship with the EU, this episode does expose a fundamental flaw in David Cameron’s argument at the end of a political week that began with the Prime Minister extolling the virtues of fracking.

The Tory leader believes the extraction of shale gas – the process known as fracking – could solve the country’s long-term energy shortage, despite the contrary claims of environmentalists, and provide some much needed security of supply.

However his aspiration will only stand a chance of coming to pass if the carbon-capture technology exists so emissions into the atmosphere are limited.

This is why the Drax scheme matters not just to Yorkshire – but the rest of the country. If it becomes possible for harmful emissions to be captured and stored underground, it will transform Britain’s ability to develop new sources of energy – and enable traditional manufacturing industries 
to comply with environmental safeguards.

Given the nature of Mr Cameron’s comments during a high-profile visit to the south of this region, why is his administration so ambivalent towards Drax? It is a question that now requires an urgent answer before some critics come to regard the Prime Minister’s energy policy as little more than hot air.

£6.7m road response inadequate

AT least the £6.7m that the Government has made available to repair flood-damaged roads is more than the £900 offered to the whole of North Yorkshire after key routes and bridges were washed away during torrential storms in 2012.

Yet it is still a proverbial drop in the ocean compared to the costs now confronting the many areas which suffered bad flooding over Christmas and New Year.

The mopping-up operation was only just beginning when the latest downpour started yesterday.

It is also another reminder that David Cameron is out of touch with the challenges facing those communities badly hit by flooding and other storm damage in recent years. He likes to be pictured with victims and told residents in Todmorden in June 2012: “The Government stands by to help in any way we can.” They were words that were soon proven to be empty and Mr Cameron’s confession that his “number one” priority for 2014 is “keeping the bald spot under control” gives credence to those who say the Tory leader puts style before substance.

The truth of the matter is that Ministers need to come up with a far more effective way of supporting councils after extreme weather, and the Local Government Association’s views need to be taken on board before the next storms.

If only trains could stop in this city

WHAT will the French, and other foreign visitors, make of public transport arrangements in rural North Yorkshire when they head to railway-free cities like Ripon for day one of the Grand Départ this July? They’re not likely to be impressed. They will discover an idyllic county where bus subsidies are being reduced, further threatening an already fragmented service, and an area still paying the price for the short-sighted Beeching cuts of 50 years ago.

At least the scenic Settle to Carlisle railway was eventually saved after a protracted campaign and the enlightened intervention of Michael Portillo, as columnist Malcolm Barker recalls so eloquently in today’s Saturday Essay. Yet this is little consolation to those campaigning for rail links to be restored to Ripon. Their task is already a formidable one – the Government’s cost-benefit analysis mechanism automatically favours those schemes in urban area where passenger levels will be the greater. However such a blinkered approach misses the point. If this approach was applied to every decision affecting the countryside, North Yorkshire would have even fewer key services. And how can campaigners in Ripon prove their case, and develop passenger numbers, without a railway?

Perhaps Mr Portillo can offer some answers.