Jonathan Brown’s otherwise excellent article on “rabbit-hutch Britain” (18 June) omitted some of the major reasons for the underlying trend of building smaller houses.
As a councillor dealing with planning applications, I regularly see plans for mixed development of three-, four- and five-bedroom homes being crammed on to ever smaller sites by developers to maximise profit.
The Government’s planning guidance in the National Planning Policy Framework encourages this high-density building to meet the housing needs of the future. The result of these two factors is rabbit-hutch houses that are built too close together, with pocket-handkerchief gardens that are not suitable for families.
This is not a recent problem. My own home, built in the late Sixties, is nominally a three-bedroom house, but in reality the third bedroom is barely able to accommodate a bed and wardrobe for my adult son. As more adult children, unable to buy or rent a home of their own, stay in the family home, we need bigger rather than smaller rooms in our homes.
I would support a minimum room and garden standard in new developments that can be enforced by planning authorities, but I suspect that such a policy would not be popular with developers or with the Government.
A family flat has three bedrooms, one for mum and dad and one each for the two teenage children coping with homework and puberty.
Here in London the rent being asked for these flats by such as my landlord, the philanthropic Peabody Charitable Trust, is proving to be too much for a couple of key workers with kids. They can only be afforded by three working adults living in multiple occupancy. This deprives our communities of the balance of young and old and it deprives hardworking families of family homes.
Our unfair system of education
Alan Bennett’s premise that private education is unfair, and promotes an unfair society, sounds simple enough, as most truths are (The Big Read, 19 June). My father, who died a year ago, always said that in order to move forward we had to nationalise the banks, and remove private education.
I managed to pass my 11-plus, went to a state grammar school (patchy teaching, not at all as wonderful as some people would have you believe), and was told to apply for Oxbridge. I immediately thought: “No, it’s not for people like me, from a Cardiff council estate.”
So I went to Leeds University, and the first 10 men I met there were public school boys. And I thought by going to Leeds I was at least going to be with likeminded people. Ha! And they were the ones who hadn’t even managed to get into Oxbridge.
Alan Bennett is right, the education system is unfair, and I have tried to spend the last 32 years righting that wrong, working of course, in the state sector. Not very effectively, it feels, as it remains as unfair as it ever was, much to our shame.
Lib Dems did their duty to the country
I recently stood as a candidate in the local elections for the Liberal Democrats. What struck me when out canvassing was how many people still blame the Lib Dems for tuition fees, even though they are the only major party opposed to them.
The fact that the Labour Party freely chose to break the principle of free education and set the precedent of tuition fees seems forgotten. They also set up the commission into university funding which reported in the first months of the Coalition recommending a virtual free market in fees, which no doubt would have led to a situation where only the children of the rich could attend Russell Group universities.
It was the Liberal Democrats, with only 65 MPs, who stopped that and changed the whole structure of fees so that even though the headline debt tripled the repayments were reduced. This has led to a larger number of students coming from low income families than ever before.
Of course a pledge was made and broken. They could have opted out of the Coalition, and left it to the Tories to form a minority government with the Ulster Unionists. However they knew that to keep the economy afloat the Government would have to keep borrowing. It’s unlikely an unstable minority government would have been able to keep borrowing at AAA rates. The Tories at the mercy of their own Tea Party faction would have been forced to slash and burn the welfare state, feeling fully justified in doing so.
The nation’s debt levels are astronomical. We could easily have had a depression on the scale of the 1930s. The fact that we haven’t is down to the stability of the Coalition. That the Liberal Democrats put the interests of the country before the interests of their party is why I still support them.
Have we forgotten how to be British?
Two years ago the Olympics legacy was supposed to have united us as one nation. Now, after such a short time, the Government has to start all over again by telling us how to be British. What happened? Perhaps relocating the World Cup from Qatar would help for a week or two.
So 95 per cent of Britons think that to be British you have to speak English (“Graduates four times more likely to back immigration”, 17 June). This seems distressingly restrictive. Is there no room for Welsh? Let alone Gaelic, Manx, Cornish? Have we really become so narrow minded?
Have you queued for a bus lately? In London, at least, an amorphous crowd forms, from which the most assertive compete to barge on first. If an orderly queue is an index of Britishness, I fear we are no longer British.
Greetings from the Black Country
As an incomer to the Black Country thirty years ago I observed the term “Ow bist” used as a greeting, in use along with many other terms such as “am” for “are”, and “we” instead of “us”. This transforms, locally, the name of a well-know toy chain store into “Toys am we”.
Moment of glory for England
My favourite moment in the World Cup (Grace Dent, 17 June) was when Sturridge scored for England.
I jumped in the air, ran into my garden shouting “Gooooooooal!” in the dark – and fell into my pond. Magic.
British jihadists ‘walk through’ airports
Concerns, recently articulated by David Cameron, referring to the number of UK and UK-based jihadists training and fighting abroad have been expressed by Special Branch and counter-terrorist officers for many years.
In 1995 at Heathrow I stopped two British passport holders who arrived from Pakistan, and the chilling documentation in their possession showed clearly that they had been comprehensively terrorist-trained.
Intelligence poured into Special Branch clearly illustrating the scale of the problem, yet in 1998 Jack Straw, then the Home Secretary, to the fury of police and immigration officers, abolished embarkation (departure) controls.
That means that even in today’s world, ridden with terrorism, 99 per cent of passengers will board flights in the UK without passing under the eyes of any UK law-enforcement officer.
The saving was £3m a year and successive Home Secretaries have ignored pleas for these controls to be reintroduced.
Former colleagues I have spoken to believe that despite the increasing number of arrests of returning jihadists, it is generally far too easy for most of these individuals to enter and leave the UK. As one despairing officer told me it’s a “walk in the park” and most trained UK jihadists remain below the intelligence radar.
Instead of shredding the morale of the police service, who of course will be in the front line when the predicted jihadist attack occurs, today’s Home Secretary, Theresa May, should listen to front-line counter-terrorist and Border Force officers and strengthen our borders.
The writer was formerly an officer with the Metropolitan Police Special Branch
It seems that David Cameron, the “heir to Blair”, is aping his hero in trying to stun the public into compliance with his paranoid policies (“Isis extremists plan to attack us in the UK, warns Cameron”, 19 June).
Only the “within 45 minutes” was missing.
Walsham le Willows, Suffolk