Letters: Cars are a social disaster. Long live the railway

These letters appear in the November 13 edition of The Independent

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Your pro-motoring editorial (11 November) claims almost nobody uses only train, bus and bike. Speaking as an almost-nobody, no shortage of us can be found in London, Cambridge and Oxford, cities where walking, cycling and public transport play their rightful roles.

Even if motoring could be made as environmentally sound as these modes (it can’t), car-centric planning is a social disaster: it excludes children, the elderly and the disabled, and creates built environments that are both unpleasant and dangerous. Self-driving cars would solve few of these problems.

Holiday traffic makes the A303 an extreme case, and its upgrade may well be justified. Holidays are one thing, but I know almost nobody who regards daily driving as desirable rather than an unfortunate necessity.

You write that rail is often not an option, invoking Beeching. When £15bn is on the table, many things are possible. In Scotland, a 30-mile stretch of the former Waverley route is being rebuilt with a budget of under £300m. At that rate, the £15bn earmarked for roads would rebuild 1,500 miles of double-track railway, 30 per cent of the amount cut by Beeching. A modest but sustained investment would yield a comprehensive rail network within a generation.

Equating road-building with “economic revitalisation” is out of date by at least 40 years. Prioritising the car has been a failed experiment.

Dr Stephen Kell
Grantchester, Cambridgeshire


I have used Eurostar many times and find it excellent. It would be mad to fly. (“Why I’m a Eurostar sceptic”, 12 November.) However, when I get to Paris it’s another story.

The Gare du Nord is a mess, but many busy stations are. But when it comes to going wherever in Paris you are heading for, you enter a world of pain.

Last time I went, in August, arriving there at 9pm, there was a queue of 150 people, and three taxis vaguely coming in. Wait time? Who knows? Two hours? So I took the Métro.

Everywhere steep staircases and very few escalators anywhere. With a suitcase, more pain. Stations like Montparnasse, Châtelet and Invalides a nightmare.

I know Paris very well, lived there for years, love it. But it has fallen way behind London in these respects.

David Halley
Hampton Hill, Middlesex


Your article on Eurostar neglects the true difficulties of the present routing, that is the major termini in Brussels and Paris.

Leaving aside the appalling facilities, both stations are threatening environments where predators lurk ready to prey on vulnerable travellers in a Dickensian manner.

In Brussels, rail stations appear to be no-go areas for police and the problem in Paris extends to Métro links. It is no wonder that passengers prefer the relative security of the airports patrolled by armed guards.

Carole Lewis
Solihull, West Midlands


Where is the ‘better’ world they died for?

One great sadness of Remembrance is recalling how so many millions gave their lives for a better world that has never come to be.

So today, the 85 richest people control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population. In this country, there are around 100 billionaires, while a million go to food banks. Billions are wasted on weapons such as Trident, while millions struggle across the globe for basics, such as water.

In the meantime, people vote for parties committed to the sort of intolerant policies on Europe and immigration that caused so many to go to fight in the world wars. The sad conclusion is that they may have given their tomorrows for our todays but we squander and insult that legacy by the way we behave today.

Paul Donovan
London E11


Left to the market, we’d all be in trouble

No, Paul Sloane (letter, 12 November), you are naïve, not the writer of the editorial you criticise.

I think we all know by now that in conditions of a surplus of labour, employers will screw wages down as far as they can – to starvation levels if they can get away with it.

If we are to have a stable civilised society, we need strong trade unions or statutory minimum wage controls, or possibly both, otherwise the less skilled will be ruthlessly exploited.

Do we learn nothing?

Dudley Dean
Maresfield, East Sussex


The most striking feature of the CBI report, “Better Off Britain”, published to coincide with its annual conference, is the near total absence of any direct action from its members to alleviate the hardship of employees. They expect the vast majority of measures to come from government at the taxpayers’ expense.

Geoff Naylor


Prosperity hinges on a combination of skills

Nicky Morgan’s choice of language in your report was unfortunate (“Want to keep your options open? Then do science, says Education Secretary”, 11 November). The UK has an unrivalled reputation for its arts and humanities teaching and research, and the world comes to us for these subjects, as also for our eminence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The arts and humanities fuel the success of our creative industries and provide millions of young people with the training to prosper in today’s knowledge-based economy.

The fastest growth over the past four decades has been in the services sector, and has been dependent on the combined skills that come from the humanities, social science, science, technology and medicine. We walk hand-in-hand with our colleagues across all research disciplines, because it is the combination of all this expertise which guarantees our future success.

The British Academy’s project Prospering Wisely shows how the humanities and social sciences contribute to our economy, our culture and our society.  They help us understand what it is to be human and how societies function and occasionally malfunction – and as such they are an essential part of the eco-structure that supports the UK’s health and prosperity.

Baron Stern of Brentford FRS
President, The British Academy, London SW1


We should champion EU migration

All the evidence shows that EU freedom of movement is a boon, not a curse for the UK. European migrants contribute hugely to the economy, and while 2.2 million EU nationals live in the UK, more than 2 million British citizens reside elsewhere in the EU.

But free movement should mean the right to work, study or retire in another EU country, not the right to move and claim benefits. That is why the European Court ruling this week (“EU migrants can be denied unconditional benefits”, 12 November) is so important, as it clarifies this long-standing principle in EU law. From now on, when there is an issue with benefit tourism, it will be clear that the problem lies with UK law, not with Brussels.

The Coalition Government has already tightened up the rules in the UK, including by ensuring that EU arrivals cannot claim benefits within three months of arrival. Now there is a need to build on this and address outstanding issues, such as child benefit being sent abroad. That way, we can champion the advantages of EU free movement and put any concerns about benefit tourism soundly to bed.

Catherine Bearder
Liberal Democrat MEP for South East England


London attracts the best teachers

While I agree that the ethnic diversity of pupils contributes to the London effect (“Hard-working ethnic minority pupils lifting schools’ results”, 12 November), I think another factor is the calibre of teachers London attracts. It has so much to offer in the way of culture compared with the rest of the country.

Having taught in London for many years and just retired from teaching in the North-west, I found that here a number of teachers went to local schools, trained at local colleges and then returned to teach in local schools, and had not the breadth of experience and sometimes enthusiasm of London teachers.

Mary Ripley
Silverdale, Lancashire


Why not widen EU arrest warrant?

If the European Arrest Warrant is not an early step towards a pan-European justice system, why isn’t the concept extended to all those countries to which and from which we would be prepared to extradite suspects, whether within the EU or not?

Robert Edwards
Hornchurch, Essex


Victoria (and Albert) like to keep it clean

David (front page, 11 November) has always been in his glory in the V&A. Johanna Puisto has simply given him a bath.

PS: Queen Victoria may have been “shocked” by the statue, but do we know what David thought of her?

Malcolm Addison