Front gardens, Palestine and others

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The Government must cultivate the front gardens of Britain

The Government must cultivate the front gardens of Britain

Sir: A potentially significant land use change is currently gathering pace across many of our suburbs and towns, and there seems little that the planning system can do about it. This change is the removal of front and even side gardens and their replacement with sterile hard surfaces of paving, gravel or even tarmac.

Gardens make a strong and recognised contribution to local wildlife habitat and landscape character and are an important part of the overall quality of life that gives places much of their distinctiveness. This is now slowly being undermined and weakened by individuals who find, when faced by competing pressures of time and limited space, that their front gardens are more suitable as parking lots for their vehicles, caravans and trailers. The result is often ugliness, design failure and broken links with the natural world.

The pace of this pattern of change has increased in my home area and similar changes are occurring elsewhere. This incremental impact is beginning to give cause for concern. Should change of use like this require a greater degree of control or perhaps the introduction of conditions on house sales to retain front gardens for future occupants? Can we introduce locally applicable design principles that will require any proposals to remove front gardens, to incorporate in the design the key elements of local biodiversity and landscape character which will benefit the wider community and the occupants themselves? There is already good practice out there.

Sooner rather than later we must tackle this issue and a very useful first step would be for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to commission research into the scale, environmental impact and townscape significance of this important land use change.

School of the Built Environment
John Moores University

Palestine is the key to war against terror

Sir: Congratulations to Adrian Hamilton ("Forgotten victim of the US election", 26 August) for bringing back to the fore the subject of Palestine and the "buried road map".

While the Western world continues to live in constant fear of Middle Eastern terrorism, the answer to most of this lies in Palestine/Israel. When Tony Blair threw the UK behind George Bush's misadventure in Iraq, one of his justifications for his action was that it would offer an opportunity for the US and Europe to pursue a resolution to the Palestinian impasse; now that US election priorities have decided that Palestine is too tricky an issue there is not a whimper from Downing Street. And, with John Kerry sending his brother to assure Sharon that a Democratic administration would continue to support his position, we cannot expect too much post-November.

Until someone grasps the reality that Israel must accept and define its borders at pre-1967 lines - as mandated by the UN - then it will continue to establish facts on the ground with more illegal settlements on the West Bank. Do we really have to wait for Sharon and Arafat to pass into history? Is there any justification for hoping, as Adrian Hamilton suggests, that a younger generation will pursue a different approach?

If the West really does want to pursue "the war on terrorism" then it would be much more productive to bring all its diplomatic pressure to bear on Israel and the Palestinians to achieve what the UN has many times defined as a just and proper outcome. It is time to move this back to front-page campaigning.

Wantage, Oxford

Sir: Many thanks to Adrian Hamilton for reminding us of Palestine. Whilst I mostly agree with him, I don't believe a two-state solution is realistic any longer. What Israel is doing will ensure the Palestinians are enclosed in 10 per cent of historic Palestine, in a number of non-contiguous areas, with Israel controlling all entrances and exits to these areas, as well as the water resources. It is hard to imagine how this could translate into a state.

It appears to be wishful thinking on the part of those who wish for peace to continue to believe in the possibility of a two-state solution. What Israel has created is the end of the two-state solution, and perhaps it is time to consider the one-state solution. If the Palestinians can no longer have their own state (which they cannot), and if they are completely controlled by Israel (which they are), then surely they should be given Israeli citizenship and equal voting rights.

It is up to Israel to decide whether it wants to be an apartheid state or a democratic one. Apartheid states have no long-term future in today's world, but a state based on equality between the two peoples would be an inspiration and a model for freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

London NW3

Sir: How ironic that a year from the week that the Palestinians murdered 23 Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem, effectively ending the road map, you accuse Israel of ending a non-existent diplomatic initiative by proposing to build houses! The road map required a complete cessation of all terrorism, and the Palestinians had a myriad of other obligations including new leadership, new security services, an end to incitement and anti-Semitism, and an end to funding of terror organisations. Not one of these was accomplished, even by those entities under the complete control of the Palestinian Authority, such as the media.

All diplomatic initiatives require both sides to co-operate. If Israel is supposed to comply with the road map indefinitely without any Palestinian compliance, what incentive do the Palestinians have to comply at all?

Lakeland, Florida, USA

Speed cameras

Sir: I read with some bemusement the article by Mark McArthur-Christie, the Road Safety Spokesman of the Association of British Drivers (24 August), on how speed cameras are wrong.

There seems to be a victim mentality amongst drivers at the moment: put upon by fuel prices, plagued by Vehicle Excise Duty and now we have the humble speed camera. This not some horrific uniped from H G Wells. It's large, painted yellow and has warning signs before it, and you really have no excuse if you are caught by one. A recent survey found that most drivers don't know what a lot of road signs mean anyway, probably mistaking the speed camera symbol for "Camera Museum" or "Photo-Me Booth".

Reduced speed gives the driver more thinking time, reducing the potential for accidents. Speed cameras are not put there as a cash cow, nor as some cat-and-mouse game by the local constabulary against the decent driver. They are there to catch people driving irresponsibly. From the moans of "advanced" drivers like Mr McArthur-Christie, they seem to be doing their job.

Godalming, Surrey

Sir: Mr McArthur-Christie asks if there is some physical law that makes speeding dangerous. Well, yes: specifically, the fact that the kinetic energy of a moving body is proportional not to its speed but to the square of its speed. In other words, in a collision, a car travelling at 30mph does not 50 per cent more damage but 125 per cent more damage than the same car travelling at 20mph.

This is fairly basic physics. If Mr McArthur-Christie doesn't understand it, he has no business being a "road safety spokesman".

Nuneaton, Warwickshire

Sir: Mark McArthur-Christie, in his defence of what he sees as his right to drive as fast as he likes, ignores the danger of speed and the good work speed cameras are doing in cutting road crash casualties. In the 24 speed camera areas in operation in 2002-03 there was a 40 per cent reduction in people being killed or seriously injured at camera sites, saving around 105 lives.

The Government, police and road safety camera partnerships are doing their best to make the roads safer for us all but organisations like the Association of British Drivers seem to be desperate to undermine these efforts.

Nowhere is this backlash against common sense more obvious than the rise in the use of speed camera detector equipment. These in-car devices are hugely irresponsible because they encourage drivers to stick within speed limits only when alerted to the presence of a nearby speed camera. At other times motorists know they are free to break the law. Newspapers that carry adverts for these devices help to fuel the myth that speed cameras do not perform any useful function.

Motorists who like to drive fast might not like speed cameras, but most people do. Opinion polls consistently show that more than 70 per cent of people support the use of speed cameras.

Communications Manager
Transport 2000
London N1

BBC old and new

Sir: Although I agree with Elizabeth Bray (letter: "BBC shuns the old", 26 August), I regret the way broadcasting, like so many aspects of life today, has been broken up into age-related segments. From this point of view, it is almost beyond belief that the controller of BBC Radio 2 has decided to end, on Sunday next, a tradition that has proved immensely popular and socially highly desirable for the past 60 or so years, from "Forces Favourites" to "All-time Greats".

Over that time Sunday lunchtimes have, in many thousands of homes, been accompanied by a programme ranging over the whole catalogue of recorded music from the 1920s to the present day. The effect of this was that the listeners, often of all ages, were exposed to all sorts of music and this broadened their taste and their tolerance of others; and the programmes also created or cemented a link between the generations.

Now, however, the controller has decreed that this shall be scrapped, and after 23 years the current presenter Desmond Carrington and his programme are being banished from this slot.


Sir: While agreeing 100 per cent with John Humphrys' attack on the vacuousness of most TV nowadays (report, 28 August), I was surprised to read that he himself has not watched TV for the past five years, and had to request samples from several stations in order to come to his conclusion.

Where has he been all this time? Has he never had to endure the scathing looks of others who regard you as a freak when you explain that you have no idea that whatsisname is having an affair with his step-mother's uncle, or who got ganged up on in the house because they talked behind the ugly fat one's back, or have never seen that programme where stuntmen stuff fireworks up their backside and run headlong into walls for a laugh? "Dumbing down" is putting it politely.


Voice of reason

Sir: Pandora reported (27 August) that the Mayor of Doncaster and his deputy used taxpayers' money to pay £1,300 for voice training at Rada. Money well spent I say! Local council meetings and presentations are often boring and badly presented.

Elocution lessons, as they used to be called, are nothing to do with "talking posh". They teach people to communicate clearly and effectively, to motivate, and to hold the audience's attention. The voice is still the most important communication tool we have; powerful enough to make men march, and make men cry.

Most chief executives and chairmen of public and private organisations take a course in presentation skills because they want to be professional. It isn't an innate skill, and there is no merit in appearing to be an amateur. Doncaster's opposition councillors shouldn't scoff at anyone who wants to do the best they possibly can for the town.

Bowdon, Cheshire

Toll charge

Sir: Miles Kington is right to dispense with the services of Professor Evan-Evans ("Ask not for who the bell tolls...", 27 August). Some may think it pedantic nowadays to insist on "whom" where "who" would be grammatically incorrect, but the professor's greater crime is in misquoting Donne, who wrote, "And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls."


Dialling code

Sir: Unnoticed by most people, the Morse code (letter, 28 August) is still in use by millions everyday - to signal the receipt of a text message on mobile phones. Unless you have changed the default, the code is Morse for S M S: dot dot dot, dash dash, dot dot dot.


Writing history

Sir: Adam White's essay title (letter, 26 August) reminds me of an old A-level history question: "Who won the Thirty Years War? Do not spend more than two hours on your answer."

Navarra, Spain

Sir: I don't propose to try to answer Adam White's AS-level question and doubt that I could have made a stab at it at any time in the last 25 years. However, 25 years ago, I don't think I would have found it any more challenging than the question "What was the importance of the development of the Anglican High Church and Oxford Movement in the 1850s?" This was an O-level question of 1977.


Guinea a minute

Sir: I recall in the Eighties spending much time joining appeals to the then Prime Minister for the release of Nelson Mandela. Is it appropriate to suggest that there might be something of a role reversal now?

London SE4

Sir: May I commend to Sir Mark Thatcher, should he come to trial, the defence that he was acting in good faith? That appears to validate any course of action.

Catterick, North Yorkshire