Ian Birrell’s solution to England’s housing crisis (“How to end the housing crisis: forget sentimentality and build on the green belt”, 23 March) does not stand up to scrutiny. If we loosened green belt controls we’d simply allow more land to be built on, in places where developers can get the best prices.
The recent experience of countries such as Spain and Ireland has shown that this approach is blunt, ineffective, and highly damaging to the countryside. Meanwhile, the government reforms that Mr Birrell praises have made it more difficult to build affordable homes in the rural villages and inner London boroughs where they are so desperately needed.
In 2014, a CPRE report found that there is enough suitable brownfield land, available now, for at least one million new homes. We should use this land before even considering going into the green belt.
Green belt provides the countryside-next-door for 30 million people: whether it’s for horse riding, walking, or just relief from tarmac. Any reduction of the green belt on the spurious basis that it is of low environmental quality will only encourage speculators to degrade green belt land they hold in the hope that it will encourage planners to allow building on that land, too.
Moreover, with the growing global pressures of climate change and population growth, the farmland that we currently have – both within and outside of the green belt – will become more valuable in every respect.
Planning Campaign Manager, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), London SE1
The problem does not lie with the planning system. The building industry is unable to provide the numbers of homes required and is reluctant to build the right kind where they are needed. When Ed Miliband promised last year that Labour would be building 200,000 a year by 2020 (still not enough to keep pace, let alone deal with a shortfall of one million today) the industry called this unrealistic, citing shortage of skilled labour and the cost of imported materials. Firms also tend to concentrate on putting up the most profitable houses in the more desirable locations.
Tackle the price of land. It is ridiculous that the community, which can increase the price of land tenfold overnight by a grant of planning permission, sees that rise reflected as the main element in the price of the homes that local people are asked to pay. A much larger share of the enhanced land price should be retained for the provision of new public facilities. In fact, the functions of the developer and builder need to be separated, with local authorities becoming the clients of builders.
Building new homes on the green belt would certainly help with the shortage of housing but there is a bigger issue.
The density of housing in cities in the UK is just too low. In terms of homes per hectare the UK average is about 40, London is 80, Paris 300, Barcelona 500, New York 500 and Hong Kong 1,500. We need more good-quality tower blocks in London containing affordable flats.
Tower blocks have a bad image in the UK because of previous poor build qualities, but you do not hear people in Dubai, New York or Hong Kong complaining. We can and should build much more densely on available sites in our cities. How else can we provide the affordable homes that are needed?
Budget blunders leave UK undefended
The USS Theodore Roosevelt off Portsmouth reminds us of his famous quote: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Mr Cameron has been speaking loudly in regard to the current crisis in Ukraine, in spite of the fact that he possesses a little stick, at best.
The percentage of GDP that you spend on defence is not important. It is what you get for your money. The 2 per cent of GDP spent over the past five years has been wasted.
Much went on specialised kit for the Afghan war, which has no use on the 21st-century battlefield, while the armour and heavy artillery required to support the infantry have been much reduced since these forces were deployed with much success to the Gulf Wars. Yet the war in Ukraine shows there is still a place for armour and heavy artillery on the battlefield.
The naval budget has been wasted on two white elephant aircraft carriers with little hope of becoming operational with air wings until the early 2020s. Tens of millions were wasted on a reserve recruiting effort that resulted in a net increase of a few score new reservists. The RAF has lost its fleet of long-range surveillance aircraft leaving the coasts open at a time of the risk of a new Cold War.
Hopefully the new government, in whatever combination of parties, will take the defence of the realm as a serious responsibility and spend the funds required. No matter the percentage.
George D Lewis
It has been said that foreign-policy issues do not decide the outcome of elections. This may be true, but I find it hard to comprehend the paucity of serious research and informed debate in the media election coverage of the escalation of tensions in Eastern Europe.
While the US parades its military hardware through countries bordering Russia in response to fabricated claims of Russian threats, all we read and hear about in the UK is the squabbling over domestic issues among our politicians.
On 24 March Michael Fallon reiterated the Russian threat to the Baltics without offering one shred of evidence. He raised the spectre of Russia arming Argentina, failing to mention the UK’s £5bn arms exports to dictatorships around the world.
Within the past few days the US tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in California, announcing that it sent a message to the world of its nuclear capabilities, and yet hardly a word in the mainstream media or from any of our so-called leaders.
International events may seem remote and not as important as the privatisation of our NHS or welfare cuts but ultimately will decide our destiny.
One hundred years ago the world slipped quietly and effortlessly into the First World War. Have we learned nothing?
State funding for political parties
You suggest that our political parties should receive state funding instead of relying on the generosity of their donors (Editorial, 23 March). This would perpetuate the status quo forever, with state funding preserving the major parties in the embalming fluid of state cash.
Instead, why not let the state pay all political parties participating in the election process? Base the funding on the number of votes cast for each party at, for example, a general election. This would give the newer, more relevant parties room to grow and hopefully put the older, zombie ones to a peaceful death. And every vote would count.
Complaining versus making a complaint
I wish to make a complaint. Terence Blacker rails against moaners and complainers (19 March). However, he fails to differentiate between complaining and making a complaint.
I agree that moaning is impotent and negative. Complaining between fellow complainers is equally pointless. However, making a complaint can be a completely different kettle of fish. If a complaint is justified and is appropriately aimed and framed, it can be a very positive and affirming exercise.
He concludes: “Think positive. Angry about something? Sign a petition.” Quite. Or, maybe, make a complaint.
Password fatigue in an online age
I was almost agreeing with Howard Jacobson (20 March) but then I thought of all the purchases I make online.
Instead of dragging myself to the shops to find they don’t stock what I want I turn over in bed and order exactly what I need and have it on my doorstep next day. Instead of the hell of Ikea, I have a house full of quality Ercol furniture off eBay for half the price and no confounded meatballs. I have no bank queues and supermarket shopping is delivered for breakfast.
And then I thought “I must get a ticket for Howard’s literary festival”, but when it asked me to log in I chickened out. It was just one confounded password too far.
There’s more to football than this
The elitism and myopia of your 21 March football sports section is staggering. In a week when the Premiership clubs have performed appallingly in Europe, you choose to omit any reference to the excellent and compelling race in the Championship. Get a life outside the Premiership bubble!