THERE’S a public meeting taking place in Keswick’s Queen’s Hall on Friday as part of what is becoming a concerted campaign against plans to explore the Allerdale and Copeland areas and assess their suitability for a radioactive waste repository.
I know this because banners have begun adorning roadside railings bearing the plea to “Save Lakeland” from the dark threat that is looming.
I don’t suppose similar banners will be plastered across West Cumbria where it’s near heresy to question the nuclear future of the west coast and the employment which locals believe any new schemes will bring to an area that has few alternatives. They would soon be torn down.
There has already been a consultation process and meetings, but it’s clear these have not satisfied opponents of the underground repository.
As a non-scientist, I have listened to the arguments on both sides — and become more confused. The experts may know their stuff, but it depends which side they are on.
The reality is that the debate has Cumbria split. Those in favour of further exploration will not hear a word against nuclear while the opposition is largely coming from people in parts of the Lake District who fear damage to the key tourism industry and question the long-term safety of any underground burial site because of what they have been told about the geology.
It’s become a stalemate because I can’t see either side yielding and there is no compromise — it’s for or against with no middle ground to negotiate.
When decisions are made on issues such as nuclear waste and wind farms, my concern is that they should not be affected by blackmail or bribery. In West Cumbria’s case jobs should not be the consideration. The key determining factor must be safety — and if there’s any doubt then the project must not go ahead.
When it’s not blackmail over employment, there is a growing concern that proposed wind farms, fracking sites and nuclear power stations could attempt to buy off rural communities with millions of pounds.
An article in The Sunday Times at the weekend spoke of “bribes for blight” and claimed that payoffs could cut local people’s energy bills, help pay for university fees for children, build village halls and finance home improvements.
So where are we going here? Bribery say critics, justifiable compensation say Government ministers. Energy Secretary Ed Davey says that too many communities have seen the wind farms, but not the windfalls, and that could be about to change.
There is talk of 20 turbines being worth up to £10 million to a community that is willing to accommodate them on its doorstep. One energy company in Scotland is promoting local organic farming and a pipe band as part of its deal with the residents!
There’s a general feeling that we’ve borne our share of wind farms in this part of the world. They dominate the coastal view from West Cumbria and they menace the Lake District from its fringes like triffids just awaiting the word to advance.
But what would happen if a company came along with the sort of money a small rural community only dreams of? How much does it take to bribe people into tacit acceptance? And would there be a quid pro quo for poorer parts of Cumbria for further nuclear development that was almost impossible to refuse? Everyone has a price, or so they say.
But, to have bribes and blackmail at the root of decisions that could affect future generations would truly be a cause for despair.
CAN I JUST SAY …?
MAYBE I’m not barmy after all. In fact a leading neuroscientist actually believes that talking to yourself is perfectly normal behaviour.
In her book My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor argues that speaking out loud is a way of your conscious brain giving a clear set of instructions to your other-than-conscious brain, thereby making your mind more focused.
I confess that, when planning my Herald column, I often go walkabout, talking to myself, working out what I want to say or giving myself a stern lecture if the words won’t come to hand.
Some years ago author and TV’s Pebble Mill host Bob Langley lived in the Lake District and I often spied him wandering the highways and byways and fells, chuntering away into his chest. People said he was stand-offish. So did I until I realised he had a tape recorder concealed in his coat and was rehearsing a script or planning a chapter for his next book. I don’t have that excuse. And to be honest I was getting a bit concerned about all this talking to myself until this week when another of those so-called experts, psychologist Gary Woods, said vocalising one’s thoughts “can be very productive”.
So when I start talking to myself it’s not galloping insanity or the first step on the Liverpool Pathway, but “healthy mind management”. Just thought I’d tell you, in case you happen to come across some silly old codger muttering nonsense to himself. No need to report him to the home as gone missing. It’s only me doing the weekly column.
WHAT DID MK MAKE OF TIKKA TOWN?
HERALD correspondent Gordon Longworth, from Eamont Bridge, may have been even more prophetic about Penrith’s future than he intended in his letter to the editor in which he referred to “Penrith New Town, the Milton Keynes of the North”.
For, during the very week in which his plaintive soliloquy about Penrith’s fast disappearing character appeared, who should try to interview me on that very topic but a bunch of bright and polite young lads and lasses — from Milton Keynes.
What did I think about the New Squares? What was good and bad about Penrith and what did I think of the latest architecture, including the handsome property coloured, to borrow Mr. Longworth’s evocative description, “chicken tikka yellow”.
I had an obvious question of my own after being nobbled in King Street. What were two minibus loads of youngsters doing treading the streets of Penrith surveying shoppers?
They explained they were on a trip to the Lake District, resident for the week at the former Blencathra sanitorium, now a field studies centre, and had been sent out into Penrith as part of a project to ascertain local opinion on the recent developments.
Unless the Herald’s letter writer had himself been tackled by Milton Keynes’ finest, then it seems an unsettling coincidence that he should make comparison with the town best known for its concrete cows, just as I was chatting to the young people from that very place.
I suppose we will never know what the youth of Milton Keynes really thought of Penrith. They did tell me that Penrithians they had already approached did not have too many good things to impart on the subject of the New Squares.
However, if chicken tikka yellow figured in their report then the residents of MK may consider their town, with all its modern architecture and art, missing out on one component unique to Penrith.
I approve wholeheartedly of honours for unsung heroes like our Cumbrian mountain rescuers who represent a marvellous bunch of men and women who give up their time and offer their skills voluntarily to provide an invaluable and highly professional service.
But those celebrities and time servers who crawl and suck up for their gongs make my flesh creep. Especially the likes of Tracy Emin, a rebel who could not resist joining the Establishment when her turn came. And don’t get me started on Cherie Blair’s CBE.
So many famous people have devalued their honours. Alex Ferguson is a Sir, but behaves like a street corner bully. And already some of the Olympians and Paralympians are moaning that they didn’t receive the New Year’s present they thought they were worth. I don’t object at all when our top sportsmen and women are honoured, but surely it should come at the end of their careers.
They should think on because these Sirs are following in a rather tainted tradition when you consider that Jimmy Savile, Fred Goodwin and Robert Mugabe all had knighthoods bestowed on them.
So all praise to film director Danny Boyle, the man who gave us that spectacular Olympic opening ceremony. Reputed to have been offered a high honour, a Sir maybe, he turned it down on principle. Let’s face it, after a magnificent show like that, he does not need his reputation gilding any further.