IT was striking that David Cameron’s belligerence at the World Economic Forum in Davos about the potential of fracking made no direct reference to the environmental concerns of people across Yorkshire who live within the vicinity of the many sites where shale gas could be extracted.
The Prime Minister was defiant when he challenged the European Union not to “impose burdensome, unjustified or premature regulatory burdens on shale gas exploration”, and warned that business investors will head elsewhere unless Europe follows America’s lead.
His words were the strongest yet on this emerging source of energy: “Just look at what shale gas has done for America... it has reduced industrial gas prices in America to about one quarter of those in Europe and it’s set to create a million more manufacturing jobs as firms build new factories.”
If this is the case, why is there now so much hostility towards this issue back home in Britain – and major protests by environmental objectors at those sites where test drilling has taken place or been proposed?
The reason is this: policy so far has revolved around possible incentives to buy the support of local communities rather than selling the benefits of a cheaper, and more reliable, source of power that makes Britain less dependent on imports from countries like Russia.
It is a void illustrated by the set of questions posed to Mr Cameron by the North Yorkshire MP Anne McIntosh – energy and environment policy is now inextricably linked, whether it be shale gas or other ambitious programmes to reduce carbon emissions such as the development of pioneering clean-coal technology at Drax power station or putting the Humber at the forefront of Britain’s emerging offshore wind industry.
This is why fracking is the third issue, after HS2 and the North/South divide, to feature as one of the Yorkshire Post’s agenda-setting Big Debates. As regular readers of these pages, or our online news coverage, will readily testify, energy policy is already one of the defining issues of this decade – new ways need to be found to keep bills in check without compromising future investment or harming the environment.
Mr Cameron certainly recognises the power of the economic argument, but the environmental concerns are still to be reconciled – and inevitably they will be far greater in a crowded island like Britain rather than the vast wildernesses of the United States.
This is why the Big Debate is so important; it is a means for the public to engage with politicians, and vice versa, on those issues that could have a profound impact on Yorkshire’s future and we would urge as many people as possible to take part in our discussion forums so their views can help to shape the policy agenda.
Obesity fight will be won at home
THERE is a reason why convenience stores and supermarkets sell high-calorie items like chocolate by the checkouts – these items sell. These impulsive purchases can also make the difference between a corner shop staying in business or not; their financial margins have become that tight.
Yet, while the Government did ask supermarkets to sign a ‘responsibility deal’ that put the onus on them to give prominence to healthier snacks, current trends are indicative of market forces and it would be very short-sighted, from a business perspective, if shops ignored this reality.
This is why the University of Sheffield’s research into ‘pester power’, and how children influence the purchase of parents, is naive. Yorkshire’s growing obesity epidemic is not the direct fault of supermarkets. It is the fault, however, of those families who do not provide a balanced diet for their children.
If the county is to become more healthier, this exercise needs to begin in the home with families accepting responsibility for both their food purchases – and the meals that they cook. This mindset will not change if the ‘nanny state’, whether it be interfering politicians or academics with high-minded ideals, continue to look for scapegoats when dictating social policy.
Dales must move with the times
IF the timeless appeal of the Yorkshire Dales is to endure, it will be because of evolution rather than revolution. Change is inevitable – the National Park cannot afford to stand still if communities are to remain sustainable for families who can trace their ancestry back through the history of the Dales or people looking to move to the countryside.
From a planning perspective, however, a careful balance needs to be struck. Any future planning applications do need to reflect the unique character and quaintness of the Dales. Yet this should not be an obstacle to progress. If a stone farm building can be turned into a home, or rural business, without causing irreversible harm to the surrounding scenery, then plans should be considered on merit.
For without a new generation of jobs and businesses to compliment the existing agricultural industry, the Yorkshire Dales – and other national parks, for that matter – will find themselves even more susceptible to unappealing changes that will frankly be incompatible with centuries of history.