There are few enterprises sadder, in retrospect, than those whose timing is wrong: Navy Dockyards built for wooden ships in 1830; grand plans for canals in 1840; Edwardian country houses built just before war swept away both wealth and servants; British Railways steam locos built in 1960, and scrapped in 1965.
To which list will surely be added in future, the "new aviation hub" that you propose (leading article, 19 January). Rising energy prices are driving up the costs of all forms of travel; measures to reduce CO2 emissions add yearly to these costs; and disposable incomes are shrinking year on year.
While these trends reduce recreational air travel, IT developments are making serious inroads into the business market: why spend three days and £5k to be jet-lagged at a meeting in Hong Kong, when you can Skype it for free?
Henry Ford said: "If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said 'Faster horses'". Behind the trend as ever, our politicians have completely missed the cultural shift, and are still trying to accelerate the horses.
Hinton St George, Somerset
In your leading article concerning a possible Thames Estuary airport you convey the bizarre idea that "Boris Island" and the Isle of Grain are in east London; of course, both sites are firmly in Kent.
Although the Isle of Grain did once contain an oil refinery, it is part of the Hoo peninsula, a rural area of high-grade agricultural land, panoramic landscapes, magnificent skyscapes, attractive shorelines, seascapes and two RSPB reserves.
The peninsula is full of ancient villages and churches, including St James at Cooling, the churchyard of which is the setting for the opening chapter of Great Expectations. This area of north Kent, including nearby Rochester and Chatham, are known, worldwide, as "Dickens Country"; he lived and died at Gads Hill Place in Higham, on the western edge of the peninsula.
The greatest concern is that any development will spread over the whole of this quiet, unspoilt, rural area and destroy it forever.
Boris Johnson's grand idea for an airport in the Thames Estuary is nothing new. Older readers may recall that in the 1970s there were two public inquiries in the search for a third London airport site. Both enquiries came to the same conclusion – Maplin Sands. Neither was acceptable to the government of the time and it took a third inquiry to come up with Stansted, which is what the government wanted in the first place. The attraction of Maplin Sands was not dissimilar to that of "Boris Island". It would have been "new" land with sufficient space for a very large airport with approaches over the sea. It is conceivable that it could have replaced Heathrow completely, thus releasing a lot of very valuable land for redevelopment.
Benefits cap targets the poor and weak
Mary Ann Sieghart's defence of the Coalition Government's benefits cap is a best disingenuous and at worst despicable (23 January). Large families may receive what seems like a large amount of benefit, but the amount they will have to subsist on per person will, in reality, be paltry. Defending the cap also assumes that if claimants migrate to cheaper areas, lower-cost housing will be easy to find.
Sieghart suggests that many traditional Labour voters stayed at home at the last election, "because they were angry with the party's positions on welfare and immigration". As a traditional Labour party supporter myself, I stayed at home at the last election due to disgust at the way the party had lurched to the right and now saw its role as representing the middle classes rather than standing up for the poor and low paid. I do however deeply resent the way the mega-rich evade tax and that senior bankers are not being held to account for the deficit they caused.
The Government's proposed benefits cap will be easy to avoid. All that is required is for one parent in a family to carry out some sort of work for 16 hours per week to qualify for Working Tax Credit, which makes them exempt from the cap. Following a recent ruling, it appears working as a Big Issue seller for a few hours a day would qualify.
This would enable those such as the Somali family Mary Ann Sieghart describes to retain extensive taxpayer funding, as their continued benefits would dwarf earnings, even if they were forced by other Housing Benefit changes to move to a less salubrious area.
Your leading article of 23 January totally misrepresents my position on the Government's proposed welfare cap.
You say my "decision to add my voice to all those campaigning against the Government's proposed cap on welfare payments is regrettable". It would be if I had done this. But I did not.
On the contrary, as I repeatedly made clear in the Sky interview to which you refer, I do not oppose the Government's proposals for a cap. I am strongly in favour of a benefits cap, but am concerned that, as currently proposed, the transition mechanisms for this are not yet right.
Mr Duncan Smith is proposing an overall and much needed reform to the welfare system which I strongly support. But he himself acknowledged that there was further work to do on the transition mechanisms before introducing the benefits cap, when he said in the Commons, "We recognise that there must be transitional arrangements... We will make sure that families who need transitional support will receive it."
These proposals have not yet been published. My Lib Dem colleagues in Government, led by Nick Clegg, are pressing for this. If and when they are published and contain proposals which do, as Mr Duncan Smith promised, provide the most vulnerable families with the transitional support, I shall have no difficulty in supporting these proposals.
Until this is done, I cannot give them my support. That's what I said – no more.
Norton sub Hamdon, Somerset
May I suggest that a far more appropriate target for Iain Duncan Smith is the universal Child Benefit? If ever there has been electoral bribery on the grand scale it is payment to comfortably off people of money they do not need just because they have children. It is almost as blatant as the much smaller bribe tendered to married couples.
Kenneth J Moss
Does the Labour Party not find itself in an awkward position on the Coalition's proposed benefits cap because it has lost touch with those from whom it took its name? People who labour, or work as we usually say now, which is the vast majority of us in the increasingly squeezed middle.
Physiotherapy is the way forward
I read with interest Harriet Walker's "Notebook" (6 January) regarding lack of physiotherapy resources in the NHS. As an orthopaedic surgeon, I have for years fought for good post-operative physiotherapy in order to not only improve the results but also prevent complications.
Unfortunately pressures on the NHS are now such that even diligent and conscientious surgeons have to prioritise. We at the Droitwich Knee Clinic have been trying to spread the gospel on the importance of good rehabilitation post-surgery and while we agree that in many cases physiotherapy may not make a difference to the long-term outcome, there are many patients who do need significant help post-operatively and the only way to identify this is a good physiotherapy assessment. Even that is denied to some patients, not only in the NHS but in private practice too.
Unfortunately the attitude among some orthopaedic surgeons is: "My surgery is so good that physiotherapy is unnecessary."
Mohi El-Shazly, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Droitwich Knee Clinic Worcestershire
Double standards in City of London?
Residents of the streets around St Paul's will be fascinated to learn (report, 19 January) that lawyers for the City of London Corporation have argued successfully in the High Court for the eviction of the Occupy London protesters on the ground that "alcohol and other stimulants fuel noise levels that have caused complaints".
This is the same Corporation that licenses bars, clubs and pubs to operate late into the night in the area regardless of complaints about exactly the type of anti-social behaviour to which it here objects.
Clearly, the Corporation takes a different view of what constitutes a public nuisance when the offender wears Prada. It will be interesting to hear what its officers have to say when its lawyers are quoted at the next licensing hearing.
This mansion is my family home
In 1970, my husband and I bought a wreck of a house with a jungle for a garden in Highgate for £18,000. Slowly, over the years we tended it, improved it, and raised our family in it. Now, as my retired husband approaches 80 years old, Mr Clegg informs us that it is fair to tax people, which would include retired people on fixed incomes, who live in houses worth more than £2m. Does he really believe that it is reasonable to force elderly people out of their lifetime family homes by imposing taxes they cannot possibly afford to pay because of the vagaries of the London housing market?
Judith M Steiner
Save the date
Outside Holland Park in London there is a plaque confirming that Lt Lapenotiere R.N. arrived there on 5 November 1805 with the news of Nelson's victory at Trafalgar. So we can legitimately continue to remember and let off fireworks on the glorious 5th, without celebrating the abuse of Roman Catholics or the preservation of governments as opposed to peoples. Rebranding the date with honour may also help to take minds off the coming humiliation of being kicked out of the last outpost of Empire in the Falklands.
Little Sandhurst, Berkshire
How standards have dropped at Royal Ascot. Your report (23 January) quoted the race organisers as requiring men to wear a "jacket and tie" in the Royal Enclosure. The correct name for the upper half of a gentlemen's suit is a "coat". As the redoubtable Hardy Amies once said "The only thing that has a 'jacket' is a potato".
David Cameron has a blind spot where fairness lies. This, I think, is self-evident. But surely even he can see that a royal yacht paid for by a bunch of UK tax-avoiders is a royal yacht paid for by UK taxpayers.
Cinema sound (Letters, 23 January) is loud to drown out all the munching of popcorn throughout the auditorium, so keep the decibels please...