Sir: The disappointment of Richard Thomas at Eurostar is understandable (letter, 25 October), but it is important to appreciate the bigger picture. Analysis shows that up to two-thirds of present Ashford users will switch to Ebbsfleet, because its strategic location means it is as close to or nearer their homes. This means most people will drive less far, reducing traffic.
The residual Ashford-Brussels demand will be too small to justify a direct service. More than 90 per cent of demand is to and from London, and the extra time to stop at Ashford would cost more than twice as many passengers as the few we would gain. The new Lille stop on the Disneyland train will enable passengers from Ashford to connect with TGV services to Brussels. Eurostar cannot operate a timetable that will reduce its French-Anglo-Belgian shareholders' revenues.
Ashford will retain direct services for five out of six present users. Three trains a day to and from Paris is on a par with regional airports, and they will be timed to suit business and leisure travellers.
Some 90 per cent of Eurostar users of Ashford travel by road. Ebbsfleet is 34 miles, not 50, from Ashford. The parking charge of £11.50 is the same at both stations and significantly less than at London's airports. Southeastern Trains and Fastrack buses will introduce free travel to both stations from 19 November for Eurostar ticket-holders. And, from 2009, domestic high-speed trains will integrate Ashford and Ebbsfleet.
Ebbsfleet International has a catchment of 10 million people and will help to regenerate a heavily deprived area of the Thames Gateway. Overall, Eurostar services stopping in Kent will increase from 12 to 16 a day. The small number of passengers who will, unfortunately, lose a direct Ashford-Brussels service is greatly outweighed by those who will benefit. We recognise Ashford's long-term growth plans and we have said we will consider reintroducing a direct service to Brussels, as and when demand grows.
Director of Communications, Eurostar, London se1
A canny look at Scotland's system
Sir: Your report on the many advantages of living in Scotland in terms of transport, health and education provision raises an important question (27 October).
If the English are right to say that all this is possible only because of subsidies from London, then of course the Scottish system loses much of its attraction. Given the complexities of unravelling the intricacies of the Barnet formula, judging the question of oil revenues, etc, this is a hard point to assess.
But what if the whole system of, for instance, free prescription charges, free pensioner transport and free tuition fees was perfectly affordable in any rich Western nation? What if the only reason that such provision isn't available in England too lies in the willingness of governments such as New Labour to believe the old "Tory" argument that basic social provision, however desirable, is simply unaffordable, even for one of the richest countries in the world?
We would then look pretty stupid at having put up with a supposedly left-wing government for more than a decade, wouldn't we? Better to go on believing that our Scottish Prime Minister and his Scottish Chancellor are just feather-bedding the Scots.
Dr Mark Corner
Sir: I was astonished to read the article on the SNP conference and accompanying "Brief history of the Union".
Associating Jacobitism with Scottish nationalism is myth, not history. The aim of the 1715 and 1745 rebellions was to restore the Stuart dynasty throughout Britain. More Scots fought on the Hanoverian side at Culloden than with the Jacobites and the result of that battle was widely celebrated in lowland Scotland.
Nor was the Union on the ballot paper in 1979. The result of that vote was a small majority in favour of devolved government but with an insufficient percentage of the total electorate to meet the requirements for success. And the SNP do not have the votes in the Scottish Parliament to introduce any referendum.
The Scottish health service may well be superior to that in England, and senior citizens enjoy free personal care and free public transport. This is as a result of the policies introduced over the past eight years by the Lab-Lib coalition.
And while the abolition of Tay and Forth road tolls and the graduate endowment charge will be welcomed by the roads lobby and the higher-paid, those who suffer will be public transport users (the SNP tried and, mercifully, failed to abolish the Edinburgh tram scheme) and those in non-graduate further education who have seen their resources taken from them to fulfil these populist pledges.
By the time of the next Scottish election in 2011, the SNP will have a budget double the size that Donald Dewar had in 1999. If, despite that, they again fail to win support for a referendum, the SNP will have to decide if they want to be a successful party of devolved government similar to their opposite numbers in Catalunya or whether they will follow the similar path of independence or bust, with the similar catastrophic consequences for jobs, industry, population and social cohesion as their fellow nationalists in Quebec.
This conference may well have seen them "in jubilant mood." Harsh reality awaits in 2011.
Darlington, Co Durham
Sir: The English are being forced by the Scottish Prime Minister and Scottish Chancellor to pay the highest taxes in Britain for using our own bridges, and face rising prescription charges. The last time I was in hospital it cost me £5 a day just to watch the TV; it didn't go unnoticed that the service was operated in Scotland, either.
All this money goes into the national pot to be redistributed by our Scottish Chancellor, to his own country. Yet the Scots do not contribute to these taxes. Why should we be closing wards and hospitals in England so the Scots and Welsh can have free prescriptions?
The Labour Party's legacy must surely be managing to turn the greatest health service on earth into a National Apartheid Service. The Auld Enemy mentality is alive and well and it flourishes in Westminster. They must be very proud of themelves today.
Driffield, East Yorkshire
Trust the experts who read the Treaty
Sir: The reason the right-wing press is clamouring for a referendum is obvious (letter, 18 October). The Treaty is not easy reading, so few will bother to look at it. Its details have, so far, been available only in The Guardian and The Independent. This makes it simple for those of the media who are against it to argue that it is a disaster for Britain.
If they can force a referendum, they have a good chance of persuading enough of the population to vote against it. Rupert Murdoch and his supporters may then be happy, but we would become marginalised in the EU, and a nation with independence but no influence. We vote in our MPs to analyse, and enact on our behalf, all new business of government. It makes sense for those who have studied the Treaty to make the informed decision.
Cold shoulder for hard-shoulder idea
Sir: So use of the hard shoulder on motorways during busy times is to be allowed (report, 25 October), but I have not seen any amendments to the statutes controlling use of the roads, or any revisions to the Highway Code.
So who has right of way at a junction when the hard shoulder stops abruptly? What happens if the slow lane and the hard shoulder are both being used to queue for a junction? How fast will the average motorist react to clear the hard shoulder if there is a broken-down vehicle? How many helicopters will the government buy the ambulance service to rescue the injured?
This insane idea is going to cause accidents and cost lives. The only people looking forward to this are personal injury lawyers.
Election delight for Poland
Sir: I am delighted that at least one of the Kaczynski twins has been booted out of office ("Polish opposition claims election victory", report, 22 October).
Most of the progressive Poles I come into contact with, including many in the UK, have been embarrassed and eager to apologise for their elected leader.
I am also heartened that many Poles in Britain have seen the way their leader was derided in the outside world. I can only assume that they fed the message back home. Let's hope Poland's new government will stand up for human rights, including a woman's right to choose.
Mary Honeyball MEP(Labour, London), Brussels
Danger looms of US attack on Iran
Sir: George Bush's request for an extra $46bn in emergency funds from Congress by Christmas is the latest indication that he is preparing an attack on Iran before he leaves office.
This demand comes hot on the heels of a series of unambiguous military and strategic manoeuvres. The troop surge meant an additional 28,500 US troops deployed in Iraq. They were not used to secure the troubled Al Anbar province and Baghdad as originally called for but were largely sent to Diyala province directly between Baghdad and the Iranian border.
In Barqa, four miles from the Iranian border, the Americans are building their first military base and a series of fortified checkpoints are being constructed along the frontier. The US and French naval presence in the Gulf has been bolstered to three aircraft carrier groups, the largest naval force since the 2003 invasion.
Gordon Brown and David Miliband repeatedly refuse to rule out military intervention against Iran, and British troops from Basra palace have redeployed directly to the Iranian border. Unlike in the US, British military action against Iran will be politically unpopular but whether the new Brown administration is as in thrall to the neo-con agenda as its predecessor remains to be seen.
Hove, East Sussex
New storage means rise in food air-miles
Sir: The 2006 increase of almost a third more food air-freighted into Britain in a single year ("Food miles soared by 31 per cent in a year", 26 October) is possible only with the requisite infrastructure, in particular temperature-controlled handling and storage, at many of our country's ever-expanding airports.
In 2005, British Airways World Cargo opened up an additional floor at their Heathrow perishables handling centre, allowing for an increase in throughput for 90,000 to 140,000 tons. Virgin has also opened more cold-storage facilities at Heathrow this year.
Other developments include the Manchester air-freighted perishables handling and distribution centre, which opened in March, with a planned tripling of throughput to 18,000 tons within two years. Infrastructure for food imports is also likely at business parks aligned with smaller airports including Carlisle and Robin Hood.
Temperature-controlled goods, which predominantly consist of food and flowers, make up one of the largest and fastest-growing air-freight sectors. Overall, freight is rising faster than passenger numbers, with aviation industry estimates of a threefold increase over 20 years.
Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
Ninny nanny state
Sir: In its efforts to foist its idiosyncratic morality on us, the Government has barred cigarettes for 17-year-olds, and prohibited a Christian couple in Chard, Somerset, from fostering any more children unless they tutor them in gay dating etiquette. Presumably, 12-year-olds who do not wish to sleep around will be likewise re-educated. I look forward to seeing how the Government boneheads will fulfil their pledge to eradicate child poverty.
Speed does kill
Sir: In Salisbury, reports Colin Small, nobody keeps to the 20mph speed limit and there is no enforcement (letter, 25 October). This does not make the limit wrong but does show the arrogance of drivers and riders who are cavalier about the danger they pose. There are many pedestrians and cyclists in the city centre, and such limits help reduce death and injury in urban areas, in the same way that even driver groups argue that speed limits should be enforced outside schools. When next in Salisbury, I will keep to the limit and urge all drivers to comply with the law.
Hang on, there
Sir: DaVinci's Last Supper is not painted on canvas and hanging on the wall of the convent refectory in Milan ("Visitor's dust threatens DaVinci's Last Supper", report, 27 October) ? If only that were so, restoration would be a lot simpler because it could be taken down and removed for the work. Unfortunately, it is painted on the surface of the wall and cannot be removed. Hence, fresco. Even then, DaVinci did not use the proper technique and that is one of the several reasons for its deterioration.
St Albans, hertfordshire
Sir: Your correspondent Duncan McFarlane (letter, 25 October) states that, "Badgers are an endangered species. Cattle are not". He is wrong, unless he wishes to exclude the North British Dairy Shorthorn, Chillingham, Irish Moiled, Lincoln Red, Shetland, Gloucester, White Park, British White, and my own Red Polls. The loss of just one of these animals from a herd can have a devastating effect on the gene pool of these endangered species, all of which are supported by the Rare Breed Survival Trust.
Mickle Trafford, Chester
Drive for excellence
Sir: The suggestion from the Learning and Skills Council that young people should try to be like WAGS (report, 24 October) is appalling. While some of the wives and girlfriends of the football players apear to have done reasonably well academically, most appear to have GCSEs at best. Celebrating mediocrity is something this country has become very good at. It is time the Government preached that striving for excellence in everything a student does is a duty and not merely desirable.