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Tuesday 10 March 2009
Letters: Council spending
Set councils free to spend more money on housing
Deborah Orr is right to call for more council housing (Opinion, 5 March), although some of her arguments are not up to date. For example, the Government has already announced plans to allow councils to keep the rents from new homes and the full receipts if any are sold under the right to buy.
However, she is on the mark when she says that the Prime Minister promised to remove any further barriers to councils being able to build, and there are several of these. First, contrary to what people think, council housing makes an overall surplus at national level, amounting to nearly £2 per week for every house. But councils aren't free to use this surplus to finance new homes. Second, they do not yet have access to grants towards new housing, although the Government has promised to change this. And third, their ability to borrow on the back of rents is limited by government rules, which (unlike elsewhere in Europe) treat borrowing for new homes as part of government debt.
Until the Government gives councils more control of their own finances, all the promises about new council house building will produce only limited results.
Policy Adviser, Chartered Institute of Housing, Coventry
Deborah Orr writes: "It beggars belief that anyone who could so easily avoid it, especially in the inner cities, would subject themselves to council-estate life".
This fails to recognise that estates are diverse communities and not everyone is forced to live in them. Some live there by choice: to be close to family and jobs, for example. Inner-city ex-local authority properties may provide affordable homes for those who wish to purchase on average incomes and prefer to live in a socially mixed neighbourhood. Communities rightly despair at the failure of successive governments to invest adequately in affordable homes or allow councils to recycle receipts from right-to-buy sales to improve or provide more homes and regenerate run-down estates.
Across the country, city-regeneration programmes are stalling, yet greenfield land continues to be allocated for development to meet the national target of three million homes by 2020. CPRE believes this is madness. With careful planning, we do not have to repeat the mistakes of the 1960s (high rise) and 1970s (cul-de-sacs). The way forward lies in mixed-tenure, mixed-use development.
Senior Planning Officer, Campaign to Protect Rural England, London SE1
Act now to avoid climate calamity
To avoid devastating climate change, the UK Met Office, known for its cautious and considered approach, is calling for a rapid reduction in global carbon emissions. ("Carbon cuts 'only give 50/50 chance of saving planet' ", 9 March)
Poor people around the world are already suffering the impact of climate change. When the European Union leaders meet next week to consider a 2020 target for EU emission cuts, they must heed the Met Office's scientific advice and take the needs of poor people seriously.
Current plans represent a less than a 15 per cent cut from 1990 levels in most EU countries; much of which has already been achieved. To show anything like the leadership required, the EU should set a target of a domestic cut of 40 per cent, and additionally support carbon reductions in developing countries.
As the Met Office warns, anything less will put us on course to calamity.
Dr Alison Doig
Senior Climate Change Adviser
Christian Aid London SE1
Sir Reginald Harland is incorrect (letter, 7 March) when he implies that there will be plenty of electricity available overnight without a large use of fossil fuels.
The data of electricity generation in the UK in the night hours of midnight to 6am over the last four months show that on average 79 per cent of it came from fossil fuel. This percentage was only slightly less than the daytime use of fossil fuels, at 81.4 per cent.
Indeed, during the past four months, the minimum overnight fossil fuel component (on 22 February) was 69.2 per cent, while on 6 January it reached 86.8 per cent. Thus the major part of overnight electricity is always derived from fossil fuels.
Indeed, the situation will get worse in the short term with the closure of our nuclear ageing plant, as despite a significant recent increase in renewable generation from wind etc, this has not kept pace with the loss of low-carbon nuclear capacity.
Dr Keith Tovey CEng
Reader in Environmental Sciences
University of East Anglia
As a tradesman, I wouldn't argue with the professors (letter, 25 February) about the advantages or disadvantages of nuclear power to produce electricity, but I do know that in the UK my last bill for electricity, 842kwh, cost me £118.34 and that in France my last bill, for 1,036 kwh, cost me €83.19. The electricity in France was produced from: 84.2 per cent nuclear; 7.1 per cent renewables; 3.7 per cent carbon; 3.2 gas gas and 1.8 per cent others
Money poured into a bottomless pit
I heard the other day that the amount of money the Government has thrown at failed banks equates to £70,000 for every working person in the UK.
I tapped in the relevant figures on my calculator to verify this assertion: £1,000,000, 000,000 divided by 25,000,000 Unfortunately my calculator could not accommodate all the noughts and flashed: "Error! Error!" A sentiment shared no doubt by many people with regard to the Government's reckless actions.
The actual figure is currently £40,000; although I'm sure, given the rapidly falling numbers of people in work and the rising amount of money poured into the bottomless pit that our banking system has become, the Government will soon establish the £70,000 figure as the correct one.
Bognor Regis, West Sussex
If the Bank of England is looking for measures to avoid deflation, why not ask Opec to increase the price of oil? That should do the trick.
Surely if foreign money is flooding out and our banks are short of money to lend to business, interest rates should go up, not down.
Derek J Cole
St Leonards-on-Sea, East Sussex
British complicity in US 'rendition'
Amnesty has documented that on at least one other occasion UK forces in Iraq were involved in the case of a foreign prisoner detained by US forces and flown out of Iraq for interrogation ("We did hand over terror suspects for rendition, Hutton admits", 27 February).
This is the case of Khaled al-Maqtari, a Yemeni man originally detained by US soldiers in a "sweep" in Fallujah in early 2004. He alleges that UK forces were involved in collecting him from the notorious Abu Ghraib jail, where he was detained, and driving him around Baghdad as part of their operations before handing him back to his US captors.
According to a detailed account given to Amnesty, he was then moved from prison to prison in three different countries (including to a secret "black site" detention facility) over a nearly three years. Al-Maqtari's testimony includes an account of how he was tortured by his US captors, including by being beaten, suspended upside down by chains from the ceiling, terrorised by aggressive dogs and threatened with rape.
Ministerial "corrections" or referrals to the Attorney General are no longer sufficient over Britain's alleged complicity in human rights abuses in the "war on terror". Only a full public inquiry will now suffice.
Amnesty International UK
Warning to green custard 'terrorists'
R J Alliott (letter, 9 March) likens the custard-throwing antics of Leila Deen to a seditious act of terrorism which undermines the rights of citizens on which our society is built.
The 2006 Terrorism Act criminalises actions "likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom it is published as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism".
I'd seriously advise the Chuckle Brothers to keep their heads down for a while.
Leila Deen's application of green custard and the pompous responses from John Prescott and the Tories leave a number of important questions unanswered. Why are "public people" such as Mr Prescott allowed to invoke the name of democracy without ever being required to explain what they mean by it? What do politicians think causes their need for ever-increasing "security" from the voters and taxpayers? Who is protecting the voters and taxpayers from the politicians?
B J Fearnely
Sadly, Leila Deen's attempt (7 March) to justify her throwing green custard over Peter Mandelson served only to undermine any legitimacy her action might have had. She was clearly motivated more by personal antipathy towards him than by a desire to highlight environmental issues. Were I to meet her, I wouldn't bother explaining any of this, of course: I'd just throw slime over her. I'm sure she'd understand.
Time to welcome Chambers back
It is time the sporting world stopped treating Dwain Chambers as a pariah and welcomed him back fully into the "family of sport" where he can show, as he did by winning gold in the 60 metres in Turin, what he can do as a "clean" athlete.
He has served his ban and that should be an end to the matter. I would also applaud him – rather than his being criticised – for publishing his autobiography to give his side of the story and set the record straight.
As for his lifetime Olympic ban, this clearly is an unreasonable restraint of trade and, therefore, illegal and should be lifted to allow him to compete in London in 2012.
Professor & Fellow, The International Sports Law Centre, The Hague
Mother and son
How does Yasmin Alibhai-Brown know that Julie Myerson is being "brutally honest" (opinion, 9 March). Even assuming that she has read the book, she only has one side of the story, and that presented in the form of a novel – not even a memoir, which might be more appropriate but less literary. All I know is that Julie Myerson is making money out of stories featuring her son and apparently he has not given his consent.
Johnson the radical
Richard Ingrams is right to exult in Samuel Johnson and probably right to say that this sex-nagged age does not celebrate him as it should. But in no pejorative sense was Johnson conservative, even with a small "c". This is the man who drank a toast to "the next rising of the negroes in the West Indies". It was Johnson who, when reproached for always giving alms to beggars, which "they would only spend on drink", replied: "And are they to be denied such sweeteners of their existence?"
Thormanby, North Yorkshire
Mary in the Bible
Bring back Bible study. What are we coming to when the editor of The Tablet, Britain's major Catholic journal, can tell us in a book review (6 March) that in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary "dies, goes to heaven and disappears"? There is just one reference to Mary in Acts, in chapter one (1:14), where she joins the disciples in prayer. After that there is no evidence for what happened to her, only pious legends.
Not the Oscars
The Olivier Awards for work in the British theatre received approximately 70 words (Britain in Brief, 9 March); a bare resumé which did not even name best actor (male) or best actor (female). A few weeks ago the Oscars ceremony, an essentially American institution, was awarded pages and pages, even to the extent of telling us what clothes the nominees and audience happened to be wearing on their backs, and, in some cases, only on their fronts. Your readers may not be as indifferent to the live theatre as you appear to be.
Bird of steel
In Rural Notebook (4 March) Alex James says he caught sight of a "stately heron . . . colour of liquid steel" – a Grey Heron. Your accompanying photo shows a Great White Egret, a rarity in the UK. Admittedly, the shadow it casts on the water is not unlike the colour of liquid steel, but its plumage is pure white.
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