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Saturday 3 September 2011
Letters: Affordable housing
Homes shortage is no reason to kill Green Belt
Your leading article on housing (31 August) combines inaccuracy with muddled thinking.
Neither the existence of an ageing population nor a supposed increase in divorce are relevant to the undeniable need for more homes. 2010 was the sixth consecutive year that the number of divorces has fallen, while old people are likely to be vacating larger houses for smaller.
The fact that house-building may have dropped to its lowest level for 90 years has little to do with the unavailability of land but much to do with the country's near-fatal financial collapse and the banks' refusal to lend on reasonable terms to builders and buyers.
You equate the Green Belt with "swathes of the countryside now dedicated to intensive farming" yet Green Belt land in England amounts to only 13 per cent of our land stock. The Green Belt provides accessible areas to town dwellers for exercise, recreation and pleasure while still encouraging continuing agricultural use, whether intensive or traditional.
It is rather to the redevelopment and more efficient land use of urban areas that you and local planning authorities should be looking to meet the need for more homes.
The National Housing Federation has stated that it expects home ownership in England to fall to mid-80s levels. In 2010/11 just 105,000 homes were built in England – the lowest since the 1920s.
I've just had to abandon a major scheme which would have provided over 750 new homes, 25 per cent of which would have been affordable, in an area of Essex which sorely needs them. This was because the amount of money the social landlords were initially able to pay for more than 180 homes was drastically cut as they had their funding cut. I simply couldn't afford to build 180 homes at a loss.
If the Government is serious about increasing housing provision, it needs to recognise that cutting funding to social landlords is not going to help.
Social landlords, in turn, need to start concentrating on helping the poorest households, not mid-high income earners. Currently the rules are so arbitrary that for some affordable housing schemes you can earn as much as £60,000 and qualify for assistance. Others aren't even means-tested, so you can earn £100,000 but still qualify for a handsome discount as long as you live or work locally.
Chairman and Chief Executive
Weston Homes Plc
So now it starts: developers and speculators, at first unable to believe what the Government's "presumption in favour of development" opens up, are jumping in with delight. We learn of plans for nearly a thousand houses plus a hotel on the green belt between Huddersfield and the M62. Similar developments being contemplated on the other side of the interchange will set in motion the development of a conurbation linking Huddersfield and Halifax. This will no doubt be starting to happen all over the country now.
Do people not realise what a very thin and fragile belt of green separates the towns and cities of the West Riding, and how easily and rapidly the whole area will coalesce into a conurbation stretching from Chesterfield to Ilkley and from Castleford to Halifax? And what unbelievably immense wealth the exploiters of those green lungs will amass?
Bureaucratic plans to throw overboard the present excellent planning system go back to the early 1990s; they were not dreamed up by the present government, which simply adopted these replacements of effective simplicity with incomprehensible complexity and added the final nail in the coffin of Green Belt protection with this all-embracing "presumption in favour of development".
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire
Even in Libya, times change
Martin Stern (letter, 30 August) warns that Libya is bound to fall apart, since it is composed of diverse peoples whose prime loyalty is tribal, and whose "division goes back to antiquity".
Perhaps there is even now a Libyan political historian warning that a particular north-western European country cannot hope to hold together, composed as it is of fiercely antagonistic rival tribes of Anglo-Saxons, Celts and Vikings, to mention just a few, whose division "goes back to antiquity".
Or perhaps that commentator is savvy enough to realise that times change, people change with them, and old rivalries, while never disappearing, can be subsumed within a wider, pragmatic loyalty to a functioning modern state, with all the benefits that entails.
Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf was the last information minister of Saddam Hussein. As "Comical Ali", he gained a cult following in the West with his own range of T-shirts. He was scorned for saying things like "We have no weapons of mass destruction" and "You are fighting the wrong war and will be bogged down in Iraq for years."
To have given credence to such nonsense one would have had to believe George Bush was an idiot and Tony Blair was lying his head off – both of which proved to be true.
Today the "Mad Gaddafi" claims we have "destabilised Libya and fuelled a tribal war which will rage for ever, turning the Maghreb into a North African Balkans". I trust David Cameron and his French friend will not proclaim "Mission Accomplished" any time soon or we will all get an ominous sense of déjà vu.
Dr John Cameron
St Andrews, Fife
If we persist in calling the administration in Libya "the rebels", why do we not so refer to the administration in Zimbabwe?
Godfrey H Holmes
George III's real madness
In her otherwise excellent review of The Madness of George III (1 September), Elisabeth Davis perpetuates the myth that George III had porphyria.
When it was first proposed in the late 1960s, this diagnosis was strongly contested by experts in the field. However, non-medical historians accepted it unquestioningly and this passed into Alan Bennett's play, the film which it inspired and the collective public wisdom.
Many have proved that George could not possibly have had porphyria and the currently favoured diagnosis is one of a rare form of manic-depressive illness called unipolar mania.
The form of porphyria he was supposed to have is carried by a single dominant gene. If George III had this form of porphyria, then hundreds of members of the royal families of Europe must be afflicted, and yet no such cases have emerged.
Institute of Psychiatry
King's College, London
Persecution made in China
You report on the Chinese government intensifying its persecution of Catholics (30 August).
The People's Republic of China, as we all know, prides itself on its cultural superiority to other nations as well as on its growing economic status. It must surely therefore be humiliating for that country to have its insecurities exposed by reports such yours.
The Chinese government's fear of freedom of speech and Christian worship shows clearly how shallow its current economic achievements are.
"Made in China": I see this on virtually every category of goods I pick up in the shops. In future I will remember that it also means "Made Where Persecution is Legal".
Words on the Web
John Walsh laments the decline in sales of reference books (1 September). He should have a look at his local library's website, as it will probably offer him access to the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, complete with etymologies.
It is easy to feel nostalgic for the traditional reference library but the truth is that the internet, when correctly used, gives us near-instant access to a wealth and quality of reference data most of us never had ready access to in the past. Perhaps nostalgia isn't what it used to be.
No rights for the unborn
Matt Pallister (letter, 1 September) claims, in the context of the abortion debate, that the unborn have human rights; this is incorrect. In the case of Vo vs France the European Court of Human Rights stated that the right to life does not apply to foetuses. In addition the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights."
Rightly or wrongly human rights do not apply to the unborn.
If, as Michele Bachmann says, the US earthquake and hurricane were attempts by God to influence politicians, should not prosecutions follow for conspiracy leading to the extensive damage and deaths? The Divine Being itself would no doubt successfully elude arrest, but its representatives on earth should not be hard to find.
Perspectives on the disruption of an Israeli orchestra's Prom concert
They are living on my land
Zubin Mehta's special pleading misses the point (29 August). What happened at the Royal Albert Hall was a legitimate protest against Israel's abominable treatment of us Palestinians.
He is proud to be an Israeli. I am proud to be a Palestinian. He is living on my land, for which I have land deeds dating back hundreds of years. Mr Mehta was born an Indian in Mumbai. I was born a Palestinian in Nablus. Mr Mehta left India in his twenties. I left Palestine as a babe in arms to live in the Palestinian Diaspora.
Would Mr Mehta join us in seeking peace within which Palestinians would join his music playing as they did with his fellow countryman Daniel Barenboim? Would that not be better than patronising us by saying that when we "Arabs" can play music competently, we will be invited to Tel Aviv?
Dr Faysal Mikdadi
BBC's act of censorship
I have lost count of the number of times that Radio 3 listeners have been told that every Prom concert is broadcast live. So why not the one by the Israel Philharmonic? Apparently the orchestra played the published programme. However, the radio listeners only heard the first item and were then told that the remainder would be replaced by recordings because of disruption in the Albert Hall. At no stage where we were told the nature of this disruption – as if somehow the protesters' case did not fit in with the BBC agenda.
Such censorship may be acceptable in some state-run broadcasting organisations in totalitarian regimes, but if the BBC chooses not to broadcast something live then the reasons should be clearly stated.
This was anti-Semitism
I struggled for Palestinian rights back when it was unpopular (I had lived in Arab Jerusalem and had to see it conquered by Israel and my friends killed to British and American applause). But the behaviour of the shouting protesters who stopped the Israeli orchestra from performing in the Albert Hall was not pro-Palestinian. It was anti-Semitic.
Lyme Regis, Dorset
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