The papers: NHS 'at breaking point' and the 'parking cowboys'

In a very mixed day for newspaper headlines, the government's new guidelines on the extraction of gas and oil from shale deposits (fracking) is of major interest for the press.

The Daily Telegraph's sub headline says it is a "victory for countryside campaigners as new curbs are set on drilling for shale gas".

The new planning rules will "stop short of a total ban", but make it harder for fracking to take place in national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, the paper explains.

Image copyright PA

Nonetheless, the new raft of licences being offered could "lead to thousands of new wells" in Britain, it adds.

In its opinion column, the Telegraph says increased fracking is essential to "keep our nation's lights on" and lessen the reliance on imported fuel.

"But fracking sites are major industrial works: extreme care should be taken in deciding where it is suitable to place them," the paper continues, adding that it hopes the government's cautious approach survives the impending general election.

The Guardian also leads on the issue.

It says energy companies are likely to be particularly interested in shale deposits in the Bowland Basin of the north-west, a central belt of Scotland and the Weald in the south-east.

It adds "the Conservatives... are facing unrest on the backbenches about the prospect of fracking in rural constituencies".

The paper notes that the possibility that some fracking may be allowed in national parks has enraged campaigners, such as Green party MP Caroline Lucas.

She tells the paper: "Many campaigners have campaigned for decades to get national park status, and they are given for a reason.

"The idea that they could be offered up to the fracking firms is a scandal."

Greenpeace's Louise Hutchins tells the Daily Express "fracking won't cut bills, but it will damage our countryside while opening up a new source of carbon pollution."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Caroline Lucas firmly opposes fracking operations

The paper has a shale gas map showing the 37,000 sq miles to be made available for the new licences.

The paper's leader column says fracking could "make an enormous impact on our green and pleasant land" and the government must "listen to public concerns".

The Financial Times says the safeguards for areas of outstanding natural beauty were secured by Lib Dem energy secretary Ed Davey "after weeks of negotiations with the Treasury".

The paper notes the new licensing round is eagerly awaited by the oil and gas industry.

UKOOG - which represents onshore produces in Britain - says "the fact that the onshore oil and gas industry is one of the heaviest regulated industries in the UK and acts as an exemplar for the rest of Europe should be seen as a positive sign by all new investors".


Complex care

The Sun launches a major investigation into what it says is "the NHS in crisis".

Over three pages, the paper examines the health service which it says is "at breaking point" with "record numbers using GP surgeries", and "swamping A&E units when they cannot get appointments".

The paper lists the pressures on the 66-year-old state service - a record 10.6m Britons having some form of surgery last year; prescribed drugs up by 60% since 2004; GPs surgeries conducting 40 million more consultations than in 2009.

In a series of graphics, the paper shows some of the biggest annual costs for the NHS (including mental health services - costing £13.5bn and diabetes treatment, which takes a £10bn slice of the budget) and looks at waiting time for GPs.

In the worst areas - Bradford, Slough, Redbridge and Newham - around a fifth of people said they had been unable to get an appointment to see their GP, the paper says.

Even in the best performing area, Bath and north-east Somerset, 5% still couldn't book a consultation.

The paper has commissioned a YouGov poll suggesting that a third of those in England and Wales feel their local health services has got worse in the past year.

In its opinion column, the paper blames "lax immigration policy", increased obesity and people living longer, for the crisis.

"Funding quicker access to GPs is key. That will ease pressure on hospitals.

"But we must accept that long-term the old NHS model is failing and will only deteriorate.

"It must be reinvented with a far greater role for the private sector in treatment and care," the paper concludes.

The Times also headlines figures about lack of access to GPs, saying that patients will be turned away by doctors 40 million times this year.

The figures are from the Royal College of GPs.

Its chairwoman Maureen Baker tells the Times "Surgeries are being faced with no choice because they don't have the resources to cope with the increasing number of older people who need complex care, whilst also meeting the needs of families and people of working age.

"The profession has been brought to its knees by a chronic slump in investment and the fact that there are simply not enough family doctors to go around."

A government spokesman is quoted in the paper saying "we know GPs are working under pressure, which is why we have cut GPs targets to free up time with patients and are increasing trainees, so that GP numbers continue to grow faster than the population."


Scared

Most motorists may have had cause at some time or other to utter a silent expletive when they have found a parking ticket on their car, but the Daily Mail says a new "menace" is making matters worse.

The paper's lead story says "cowboy parking squads" employed by High street firms are hitting hundreds of thousands of drivers with £100 fines - and using threats to make them pay up.

The Mail says the firms are essentially "bounty hunters" employed by fast food chains, retailers and railway operators who issue parking notices that appear similar to council ones, but do not have the same legal standing.

Image caption Many wheel clamping companies have switched to issuing tickets on private land, the Daily Mail reports

"Many are being issued unfairly and - in some cases - without legal authority," the paper adds.

The Mail says many of the firms operated as car clampers until the practice was made illegal on private land in 2012.

AA president Edmund King tells the paper some firms use "cowboy tactics, scaremongering and bullying" to penalise motorists heavily for relatively minor parking infractions.

"Often motorists know that they are in the right, but when they get a letter that looks like an official fixed penalty notice followed by a letter that looks like an official bailiff's letter they pay up because they are scared."

Mr King says the British Parking Association, which regulates the industry, is paid for by car parking firms, a situation he says is akin to "inmates guarding the jail".

The paper doesn't say what the BPA makes of this charge.

The Mail's leader column says "we urge all motorists to stand up for their rights and defy the new generation of car-park cowboys".

More parking problems in the Daily Express which quotes an RAC survey suggesting a quarter of us now have to pay to park in places that were free last year.

And 67% of respondents said they were driving less because of the rising cost of car parking.

The express says the charges and fines had become "a cash cow" for cash--strapped local authorities.

But a Local Government Association spokesman tells the paper "parking revenue is spent on parking services" and other transport costs, such as repairing pot-holes.


Hotspots

In the wake of the apparent shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over the eastern Ukraine conflict zones, papers have been reflecting on how operators are reacting to the situation.

The Times says Emirates "one of the world's largest airlines" has decided it will no longer fly over Iraq, over concerns about possible missile threats from the ground.

Its CEO Sir Tim Clark says he expects other carriers may follow suit when they review the risks of flying over war zones, in the wake of the MH17 tragedy.

Sir Tim tells the Times airlines are working on a system that will share information over such hazards between themselves.

"Greater input from government intelligence agencies" on such hazards would also be welcomed, he adds.

The paper says the hundreds of flights daily fly over territory controlled by Isis militants in northern Iraq. The group is suspected of having acquired missiles capable of shooting down a passenger jet flying at above 30,000ft.

The Emirates move is expected to add 45 minutes on its flight times from London to Dubai.

Sir Tim adds that he is "beside himself with rage" at the MH17 incident, but "from out of this ghastly hideous murder - if we are going to get anything out of it - it is that the airline community are minded to try to improve what they do."

The Financial Times says another after effect of the Ukraine crash is that insurers are "reviewing" cover with a "threefold" increase in war cover in some cases.

Some insurers, the FT adds are demanding flight path details and considering withdrawing any cover for flights over "hotspots".

The paper says payouts on aircraft war insurance policies this year are expected to have reached hundreds of millions of dollars.

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