High housing costs, Rejecting sweatshop economy in EU and others

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The Independent Online

High costs of housing and retail rents have led to 'clone towns'

High costs of housing and retail rents have led to 'clone towns'

Sir: The real cause of "clone towns" ("Clone attack? The two sides of High Street, UK", 7 June) has been the extortionate rents charged by landlords, and the high rates which are based on the market value of retail properties.

These have been forced up because of the inexorable rise in house prices. Landlords estimate the rentable value of retail properties on the house prices in any given location. The obscene cost of housing is having many unfortunate side effects which will inevitably damage the long-term future of our economy.

Last week we heard that the rate of saving had gone down. That is no surprise when most workers are left with very little disposable income, if any, after paying extortionate rents or repaying massive mortgages. (When will we start to see demands for larger pay rises to keep up with the cost of living?) What we need in this country is a concerted house building programme to meet the demand, and which provides suitable housing for most families. Hopefully we would then see house prices fall to a more sensible level, one where everyone would be able to afford a decent home with enough space to live comfortably. That should be one of our basic human rights.



Rejecting sweatshop economy in the EU

Sir: I wholeheartedly agree with Johann Hari in his article "The voters of Europe are demanding more democracy, not more free markets" (Opinion 3 June).

The problem has existed ever since Britain's entry in the 1970s. Successive British governments have been keen to appease those who were hostile to Europe, who opposed any dilution of sovereignty as they saw it, and who maintained a view of Britain's power and influence in the world which long ago disintegrated. As a result, our leaders have fought against any attempts to develop democratic structures to hold any supra-national bodies to account. Proposals to give the European Parliament meaningful powers have been fiercely resisted.

It is essential that pro-Europeans now speak out clearly and forcefully in favour of increased democracy in our Union. It is not our powers or sovereignty that will be diminished but those of the likes of Blair and Berlusconi who wish to fashion pan-European structures solely concerned with making Europe a long-hours, low-wage, easy-sack, no benefits sweatshop to compete with India and China.



Sir: In his appearances on TV before the referendum President Chirac clearly warned the French electorate that a "No" vote would have undesired consequences. Afterwards he said that the position of France in Europe had been weakened. Just as he chastised some new members of the EU for being uppity before their accession he now needs to chastise the French for not taking his advice.

How better to do so than by giving way on the Common Agricultural Policy, probably in exchange for a severe reduction of Britain's rebate? Mr. Chirac knows that he now has no chance in the next presidential election in 2007, but still has an opportunity to secure his reputation with a legacy for the Third World, who have long complained that the CAP severely restricts their terms of trade with the Union. It would also be in keeping with French presidential tradition, in the manner of de Gaulle, when contrary to the wishes of many of his compatriots he decided to abandon French Algeria.



Sir: Derek Brundish (letter, 31 May) has got hold of the wrong end of the stick when he states that the US financial lobbies will be rejoicing over the French "no" vote. It is precisely because of the liberal financial agenda, pushed by the British, and no doubt encouraged by the US in their bullying attempts to create global markets for the benefit of US business and capital, that the French voted no. Thank god for the French.



Affordable public transport is the key

Sir: The Government might just be on the verge of a real piece of "joined up thinking". With regard to Alistair Darling's ideas on road pricing (report, 6 June), if we use cars less, we will need and use local shops more, and our town centres can again buzz with the diversity and quality that so many have lost. Retired people, even those with cars, know this very well. Having the time and incentive to make more use of your own two feet is one of the joys of retirement, as is the opportunity to enjoy something other than the homogenised shopping experience of the supermarket and chain store. You feel better, you are fitter, you meet people as you come and go, and you rapidly lose the desire to jump in the car to go shopping.

But all this crucially depends on affordable public transport and accessible shops. This is where government can begin to tackle traffic, town centres, public health and the environment. Let's hope that at last someone starts to join up the dots.



Sir: Now Alistair Darling has the courage to talk about road tolls, with the election out of the way, is he going to offer the British public a viable alternative? Maybe planning permission rather than road taxes should be the tool the Government uses to deal with road overcrowding. Urban sprawl is to blame in almost every city, but still we continue to build vast housing projects in the suburbs and the green-belt borders. Shouldn't New York rather than Los Angeles be the role model? New York learnt decades ago that going up rather than out was the answer.

How about parking restrictions? In Japan you cannot register a car unless you can prove you have somewhere to park it. This would mean one car per family in most cases and would seriously cut down on congestion. It would be good to see this government coming up with a solution other than taxation for every problem.



Sir: Suppose the proposed vehicle monitoring system were in place and the police thought they could use information it supplied to help catch a notorious criminal. Wouldn't any sensible politician support this. The suggestion by Keith Barnes (letter, 7 June) that we would be "sleep-walking into a slightly delayed 1984" misses the point. There would be an absolute clamour for it.



Sir: As an incentive to car manufacturers and the motoring public alike, why doesn't the Government withdraw VAT on all hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius? This would increase the sales of the Prius and encourage other car makers to market and produce their hybrid cars on a larger scale.

At present, car companies do not have any incentive to change designs. It is not beyond the intelligence of man to produce an eco-friendly car. Therefore, perhaps a further incentive to car manufacturers to change their designs might be to make profits on the manufacture and sale of "green cars" in the UK tax free.



Misuse of antibiotics has boosted MRSA

Sir: In your coverage of the hospital "superbug" (6 June), you rightly point out that there are many causes of this problem. One of the core issues is the over-use and misuse of antibiotics.

Andrew Berrington of the Department of Health's National C. difficile standards group is quoted in your main article as saying that although cleaning and hygiene are important, the main problem is antibiotic use. He says: "People are given antibiotics when they don't need them and when they need them they are given the wrong ones".

As a health care professional who too frequently sees people suffering from other common consequences of antibiotic misuse, I want to know when the practices, and if need be the training, of the doctors involved are going to come under government scrutiny. Are the pharmaceutical companies, who make a great deal of money from these products, marketing them ethically? After years of MRSA and other warnings from health watchdogs, is the medical profession going to be made accountable for it's errors?



Religious right and the founding fathers

Sir: As a Unitarian minister previously based in the United States, I share the concerns raised in your article "In God We Trust: America's Rising Religious Zealotry" (7 June). Today's Christian fundamentalists are either woefully ignorant or deliberately deceptive in claiming that the founding fathers held rigid religious viewpoints similar to their own. Without exception, those who signed the Declaration of Independence were liberals, with a deist rather than theist outlook. That's why the declaration refers to "the laws of nature" and "nature's God".

The scorn heaped upon revealed religion by the likes of Jefferson, Paine, Franklin, Madison, Adams and others couldn't be in sharper contrast to the narrow-minded rantings of today's religious right.



'Extra' MPs could be the second-placed

Sir: There are several forms of proportional representation, not all of them bad. I can sympathise with Roy Bradley (letter, 31 May) who dislikes PR because of the particular version he is saddled with in Scotland. It has always seemed to me that when PR was allowed for Scottish and other regional elections it was done so grudgingly, and the party list system chosen was the one that would give a bad name to all PR systems among the less-aware.

Would Mr Bradley be so uncomfortable with that variant of the additional member system which tops up party totals not with members chosen from a list, in dark, smoke-filled rooms, but with those candidates who have gained a large number of votes in a normal constituency but failed to come top of the poll? This would allow the electorate complete control over the members that enter the legislature, and reward those who have fought a good campaign but who came in second.

It would mean that all members have a constituency to peg their name to, would provide a truly proportional legislature, and avoid the crudeness of the first-past-the-post system that has so many glaring defects in it. Not all PR systems are the same: some of them are quite good.



Sir: Chee Hoong Chung (letter, 6 June) states that Oxford University has taken the lead with regard to a "none of the above" option through its inclusion of the "candidate","RON", an acronym for "reopen nominations", on student ballot forms. However, this is not unique to Oxford: both the Guild of Students at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, and the students' union at the University of Wales, Lampeter, and presumably others, offer a "RON" option for each position in their elections.



Sir: It is incorrect to say, as Chee Hoong Chung does, that Oxford University has taken the lead in including "RON" on student ballot forms: this practice was also common at York University in the early 1990s and has almost certainly been widespread elsewhere for some time.



Sir: Perhaps Tony Blair should give us a referendum on electoral reform. He could offer us a choice of maintaining the current system and a large number of other options such as various forms of proportional representation. Unfortunately, I suspect we would only get the chance to vote for one of the options and the first would win with less than half the vote.



Let's hear it for Africa  

Sir: Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is absolutely right ("Bob Geldof and the white man's burden", Opinion, 6 June). Bob Geldof misses Andy Kershaw's point. A multi-racial mix of bands would introduce voices and music to the rest of the world that we might never hear otherwise. The world should hear Africa in its glory not just its woe.



Extreme reaction

Sir: I noted with interest your warning that "extremists" might be intent on causing trouble at the G8 meeting in Gleneagles (report, 1 June). I can only assume that you mean the police. It has been shown beyond doubt, in a criminal trial, that scores of Italian police savagely beat and assaulted protestors without provocation at the Genoa G8 summit. It has further been shown, through video evidence, that peaceful marches of hundreds of thousands of people were attacked by the police, and that only then did protestors (understandably) react to defend themselves.



Armani Man encounter

Sir: This fellow gets everywhere. A friend of mine was in Gerrards Cross some months ago when a smart Mercedes stopped beside him and he was offered a suit at no cost because the gentleman concerned "did not wish to take it back to Italy". The offer was declined, like all the others appear to have been.



Two great sportsmen

Sir: Britain generally, and Manchester in particular, should be hugely proud of the boxer Ricky Hatton, as much for his humility and decency as for his skill and bravery in winning an epic fight ("Bloodied, bruised but on top of the world", 6 June). We in Australia of course still love the magnificent Kostya Tszyu for all the same characteristics, which are perhaps even more notable when shown in defeat. What a lesson so many other petulant, so-called sportsmen in far softer vocations could learn from these two mighty warriors.



Exeter v Hebden Bridge

Sir: In your article "Identikit Exeter branded Britain's worst clone town" (6 June) you compare the city's famous sons with those of Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, which scores the highest for retaining is own character. It is interesting to note that in the 1960s the poet Ted Hughes, hailing from Hebden Bridge, moved to the hamlet of North Tawton in Devon, near Exeter, and remained in the county for the rest of his life.