Letters: Crazy or visionary, HS2 could be back on track

These letters appear in the Tuesday March 18th edition of the Independent

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Extending HS2 Phase One to Crewe, as proposed by Sir David Higgins, is a substantial amendment to the original plans, which have gone out to recent public consultation, and may be seen in some quarters as a distress signal for the entire project.

With the cities of Derby, Sheffield and Stoke all making convincing cases for city-centre stations, and digital technology radically changing the way that business is conducted, is it now time to go back to first principles and design a scheme which meets the aspirations of the UK as a whole?

High Speed Rail and the expansion and modernisation of the existing UK rail system are both excellent objectives, but we need to future-proof them and make them attractive to private investment.

Dr John Disney, Nottingham Business School, Nottingham Trent University

The Government’s enthusiasm for HS2 is difficult to comprehend. Apparently, we don’t have the funds to support the disadvantaged in our society. Neither can we afford to carry out basic maintenance work. The national debt stands in excess of £1trn and we know that further massive cutbacks will have to be made following the next general election.

Miraculously, however, we apparently do have in excess of £40bn to spare to fund this rail scheme. Never mind that, by the Government’s own figures, the business case for it is at best flimsy, at worst, non-existent. Apart from being morally outrageous, HS2 appears to be financial madness on an epic scale.

Keith O’Neill, Shrewsbury

Hear, hear for HS2. We invented railways. The UK is small and overcrowded, ideal territory for railways. This will take freight off the roads. Japan has had bullet trains for decades; Europe is well trained.

We should start building it from the north and south now, not least while money is cheap. And there are the jobs – please, priority for UK residents.

Protesters have justifiable worries. As in France, HS2 should be in cuttings, landscaped, tunnelled. The sooner we do it the better.   

Ebbsfleet on HS1 is to be developed. HS2 will do the same for the North. It will make for a more united country.

I hope all the political parties will support this endeavour.

Rosanne Bostock, Oxford

Crimea votes to go back to Russia

Isn’t the furore in Western governments about the referendum in Crimea a bit rich? They say the vote is illegal because it took place under conditions of Russian occupation. So does that mean that the elections in Iraq and Afghanistan which took place under Western military occupation where also illegal?

I wonder how Western governments would have liked it if after they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan China and Russia had imposed sanctions on them?

Mark Holt , Liverpool

We all are horrified by the appalling behaviour of the Russians; they have invaded land that is not legally theirs. We have gone to the UN to prove our case. But all the people who have looked at Crimea know the wishes and preferences of the majority of those who live there. However we in the West are now about to impose sanctions to try to reverse their aggression.

But hang on, did not our PM, that principled politician, denounce sanctions against Israel being called for on behalf of a people whose land is being invaded and constantly stolen by that country, or am I missing something?

Peter Downey, Wellow, Somerset

Crimea was part of Russia for centuries. The Russian government has merely reversed Khrushchev’s arbitrary 1954 decision to give Crimea to Ukraine.

This is a unique case. Nowhere else has been given away, without its consent, by its government. There is no need for alarm.

Will Podmore, London E12

From Bath to  Brussels with Ukip

Steve Richards (Voices, 11 March) visited Bath and observed: “The Lib Dems face a daunting challenge at the next election. I spent a few days in Bath last week, a seat currently held by them, and kept on bumping into people who had voted for Clegg’s party last time but who insist they will not do so next year even if that means the constituency elects a Tory MP.”

It is true that the popularity of the Lib Dems has plummeted nationally. They cannot rely on the incumbency factor in Bath because the Lib Dem MP Don Foster will be retiring in 2015. Labour do not have much support in Bath. However it is not at all certain that the Tory candidate would be elected.

Ukip has a local candidate, Julian Deverell, who has plenty of good contacts and roots locally. The Tory candidate has been parachuted in from London, and his campaigning to date has been sporadic. Ukip has an excellent chance of electoral success in Bath.

The first King of all England, Edgar the Peaceable, was crowned in Bath in 973, in the Anglo-Saxon Abbey Church. It would be fitting for a patriotic Englishman to be elected to represent Bath in 2015.

Hugo Jenks, Bathampton, Bath and North east Somerset

Is there any European measure that Ukip would vote for? I ask because, having checked what UK MEPs did in last week’s European Parliament vote on forcing mobile phone manufacturers to all use the same design of charger, I see that Ukip’s MEPs voted against.

Ukip bangs on about supposedly defending Britain from Brussels meddling, but if that meddling means I can recharge my iPhone when I forget to take my charger with me to work, then I am all for it. Ukip seem so blinded by their rejection of anything European they’ll even vote against perfectly sensible measures like this.

Stuart Bonar, London W1

Earworms show a brain in good shape?

Howard Jacobson (15 March) bemoans the presence of the earworm, the tune that lodges in the brain, and suggests that it might be ruinous to our mental health.

But hold on. In an experiment conducted by the teacher of a class of excessively disruptive boys, she found that playing classical music quietly in the background  had a calming effect on their behaviour. She went on to discover that the music of Mozart was more calming than that of any other composer. I am sure Howard Jacobson would understand that.

The theory was then put forward that by composing his ethereal music, Mozart was treating his own Tourette’s syndrome, often associated with the exclamation of obscene words, or socially inappropriate and derogatory remarks.

In a ward of people suffering from Alzheimer’s, I often found that despite the absence of any memory for the past, they would sing songs in tune and word-perfect, presumably indicating that the part of the brain in which Howard Jacobson’s “earthworm” had burrowed had remained intact. So the ohrwurm is not all bad news.

Dr Nick Maurice, Marlborough, Wiltshire

The case for taxing mansions

Nick Eastwell writes that the “mansion tax” is unjust because some people may never have had enough income to pay, and that they will only be subject to the tax because their house is an asset that bears no resemblance to the original purchase price (letter, 12 March). 

In other words they have a substantial potential, but not realised, capital gain. In principle this is analogous to a family who have a child at university and thus have a spare bedroom. The Government expects them to downsize if they have insufficient income to pay council tax. Why should the same not apply to those who live in mansions?

Vaughan Clarke, Colchester, Essex

That dog is a German spy

Spy dogs (Natalie Haynes, Another Voice, 14 March) were apparently taken seriously during the Second World War, when my aunt and uncle and their young son left London to live in Hythe in Kent.

My cousin had always wanted a dog, and became very attached to one belonging to neighbours, which regularly followed him to school. As a newcomer, wanting to impress the other children, he invented a tale about the dog being a German spy, parachuted on to the beach.

My aunt knew nothing of this until two very intimidating policeman arrived at the door, wanting to know where the dog had come from.

Laura F Spira, Oxford

Talking the talk with Tony Benn

I totally get that Tony Benn talked a lot of good left-wing stuff. But can someone please tell me, what did he actually do about it? 

Prue Bray, Winnersh,  Berkshire