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Issue 15 - September 1973
The Keilder Saga
Anyone who reads the local press will be aware that the north-east is so short of water we will have to inundate vast acreages of Northumberland and/or Cumberland to ensure that we can all continue to drink and wash ourselves after the year 1975.

Furthermore the government has grandiose industrial plans for the region including the famed steel complex at Redcar, which will further increase future demands for water. It is proposed, therefore, to stave off the ultimate cataclysm for a few years by flooding the Keilder valley in Northumberland, thus creating the largest man-made lake in Western Europe - tis rumoured. Water will then be carried from the lake to the industrial areas of the Tyne, Wear and Tees in a complex system of pipelines - no doubt the most complex in Western Europe (who else would attempt anything so ludicrous?)

But Mr Geoffrey Ripon, Minister for the Environment and MP for the constituency in which Keilder lies (Hexham) refused to allow the scheme to go ahead, for reasons he has never discussed in great depth. His decision was met with howls from the scheme's promoters that Mr Ripon should not allow his duties as an MP to interfere with the interests of the nation, which should be his chief responsibility as minister for the environment - an argument which is proof to anyone who is sufficiently awake that our constitution needs changing. The result of this outcry was the opening of another enquiry into the affair.

At this enquiry the scheme's bitterest opponents will also get another chance to speak. They consist of Keilder farmers who will lose their farms and, as farms very rarely come on the market, never be able to replace them, and environmentalists both from the area and from outside it who always make the point that our natural beauty spots are being whittled away until, very soon there will be nothing left. The environment lobby, of course, will be asked to look to their priorities (someone else's priorities) and the farmers will be told that minorities in a democracy must consider the wellbeing of the majority and be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. As we know, anyone outside the nation's most vicious and clamorous minority - the rich industrialists - is generally obliged to take the rough.

Listening to the Keilder scheme's apologists one would think that the north-east's whole future depended on it. For instance the Redcar steelworks, which is going to be such a boost to the economy of Teesside, will need the water. But the Redcar steelworks will close before the end of the century and what will Teesside do then?

The increased water supply made available by the Keilder reservoir will encourage, they say, further industrial development in the job-hungry regions of Wearside and Tyneside. But if you listen to another aspect of their argument, this water will already have been used to meet the demand of people and industries already in these areas. If all this industrial development is to come to pass how much more land will have to be flooded to maintain a large enough water supply? Since rural Northumberland makes very little contribution to our GNP perhaps it could be completely submerged?

As another illustration of the fact that our future is in the hands of incompetents it is worth noting that the Forestry Commission have already planted a large number of trees in the Keilder valley. This is part of a valiant nationwide attempt to compete with Finland in the wood pulping business or, failing that, to keep the country in matchwood for a week in the event of total war. If the valley is flooded these trees will presumably fulfil neither purpose.

It can be said in the scheme's favour that the majority of the inhabitants of Keilder have voted for it. Do they know what they are in for? The carrot dangled before them is that of more jobs, which means turning the reservoir into a tourist trap (which could be done better without the damp surely) and introducing light industry, which will discourage tourists.

Apparently the region is short of water even for present demands and it seems we do need more reservoirs, but is it absolutely necessary to fill one valley in Northumberland and pump the water fantastic distances? We do appreciate that to have the biggest and bestest something in Western Europe would be a boost to our national ego, but there are limits.

The arguments surrounding the Keilder project must make it obvious, to anyone who still needs persuading, that the fate of the north-east is in the hands of incompetents who do not appreciate the region's needs and who expect it to live from hand to mouth. Who really stands to gain from building the reservoir? Why did Geoffrey Ripon refuse to grant permission? Could it be that he and his callous and insensitive colleagues in the government are being sensible for once? Muther Grumble would love to hear from her readers any information that might throw light on the matter.