I thoroughly applaud the article by Michael Williams on an alternative to HS2 (28 October). The Great Central (which incidentally did not go to Birmingham as he stated – only in the present Chiltern Railways era have trains gone there from Marylebone) was built to the Continental loading gauge with a view to its becoming part of a through route from Manchester to Paris via the Channel Tunnel, a project which was also started at the same time.
It is a tragedy that the Government allowed it to be closed in the 1960s, at a time when the possibility of a Channel Tunnel was once again on the radar. It was closed because it duplicated the parallel Midland Railway route from St Pancras to the Midlands, yet now the Midland Railway route lacks capacity and we need the Great Central once more. What lack of foresight!
I would therefore urge that, before the Government goes further with the present exorbitant HS2 proposals (which involve the reuse of only some 15 miles of the former Great Central route in north Buckinghamshire), a very careful study is made of the relative costs of reopening as much as possible of the Great Central.
It is probably too late to save the trackbed in urban areas of the cities of Leicester, Nottingham and Sheffield through which it went on its way to Manchester, but with some relatively short stretches of new track around those places the majority of the remainder of the old line could potentially be reused, with enormous benefits to the costs of the project.
Peter Nixon, Richmond, Surrey
Michael Williams’ suggestion that the route of the old Great Central railway from London to Sheffield should be reopened instead of HS2 has rather garbled the facts.
Yes, it was impressively engineered and designed for speed (as were other late Victorian main lines), but it is sadly a myth that it can take today’s European-sized trains. The line went no nearer to Birmingham than Rugby, and its route to Manchester via Sheffield is very roundabout.
Among the obstacles in the way of reopening it are the need to bypass Leicester and Nottingham and to provide additional tracks alongside the existing route for the first 40 miles or so out of London.
Reopening it as a conventional commuter railway like the Borders line in Scotland might be relatively easy, but that is very different from the HS2 proposals. From a North-western (or indeed a Yorkshire) perspective it has little to recommend it.
Colin Penfold, Great Harwood, Lancashire
There was no fuss at all at Railtrack spending nearly £10bn on the West Coast Main Line, with years and years of disruption, yet the money was still insufficient to allow speeds higher than 125mph. And now £15bn is being spent on Crossrail and yet more vast sums on Thameslink, yet HS2 is getting inordinate attention for its cost of £32bn plus the vast Treasury contingency sum of £12bn. Up-to-date cost parameters are available from the HS1 project meaning the original £32bn estimate is credible.
So who is Michael Williams speaking up for? London, or the poor citizens in the rest of this country who pay vast sums in taxes and get almost nothing related to transport in return.
F F Mitchell, Haslington, Crewe
I can quite understand that an alternative to HS2 may cause considerable disruption, but that is not a reason for continuing with HS2.
At home, we are now in the third week of disruption as the result of replacing a kitchen not fit for purpose with one that is. We could have avoided the disruption by having, say, an ornamental water feature built in the garden, but the end result would not have been as beneficial, despite the saving in disruption.
Gordon Whitehead, Scarborough, North Yorkshire
Don’t forget, the fares on HS2 are expected to be double the standard fares. As with the private motorway, I suspect most people would prefer to take the cheaper option and grumble.
David Ridge, London N19
Believe it or not, the NHS does quite well
Since the Care Quality Commission report finding almost a quarter of NHS hospitals are “at risk” of giving poor care, readers might have noticed the upsurge in adverts for private medicine. Yet comparing NHS hospitals ignores the financial context of the NHS compared with the other 20 Western countries.
The main medical objective is to reduce feasible mortality, and our studies contrasting the NHS with other nations provide a more accurate picture of NHS efficiency. Between 1980 and 2006, 18 countries spent more GDP on health than the UK, yet UK adult all cause mortality had the fourth highest reduction, and for cancers deaths the UK had the second biggest. Soon-to-be-published research shows the NHS has achieved even more up to 2010.
The evidence is available in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Pritchard & Wallace, 2011, and in the British Journal of Cancer, Pritchard & Hickish, 2011.
Health Secretary Hunt calls for “openness” about the shortcoming of the NHS but ignores the fact that the NHS is chronically under-funded but achieves more with less.
Colin Pritchard, Research Professor in Psychiatric Social Work, Bournemouth University
Back to conflict in the workplace
Owen Jones’s article about the Grangemouth dispute (28 October) took me right back to when I was an undergraduate at Liverpool University in the 1950s. At that time the management and unions in the shipbuilding industry were having so much fun knocking the spots off one another that they quite forgot to build any ships that any customer would want, with the inevitable result that shipbuilding on Merseyside has virtually disappeared.
It is clear from what Owen says that something similar was happening at Grangemouth. The agenda of the union leaders appears to have been to bring down the company so the plant would be nationalised, and they used the workers as their weapon. The management also seem willing to play on the same playing field, and apparently made no attempt to engage the workers.
The workers, caught in the middle, didn’t know whether they owed their loyalty to the company or the union, but Owen rightly points to the relief of the workers when the plant was “saved”.
Unless the management of Grangemouth really learns from this near-disaster, and treats its workers as the fantastic resource they are, the union bosses will be back and the whole thing will start again.
David Pollard, Salen, Isle of Mull
Being a lifelong Tory, I can’t totally agree with Owen Jones’s implied call for a revolution. But I find myself increasingly sympathetic to his views, as our infrastructure gradually falls into the hands of foreign shareholders, whose interests and objectives may differ from ours in the UK. I find this very frightening.
James Dunlop, Whaley bridge, Derbyshire
Look to the tax laws
While we applaud the good work of Margaret Hodge MP and her committee, together with some of the more responsible press, including The Independent, is it not time for her, and her committee, to focus on the cause, not the results, of these vast corporate tax mitigation activities?
There can be little doubt that the majority of these major UK trading concerns have the tax law on their side – and if they don’t, it will be the tax advisers’ professional indemnity insurers picking up the costs. The cause has to be the inept, outdated, UK corporate tax laws.
The corrections have to come from within Mrs Hodge’s own House. Until these laws are rewritten this public breast-beating will remain the hollow sound it currently is, and HM Treasury will continue losing many hundreds of millions of tax revenue through the activities of the super-bright tax-mitigation experts.
John Seymour, Ashington, Sussex
No chance to be lonely
I had to smile when I heard that two leading charities have said more than a third of older people are suffering from loneliness.
You see, at the age of 87 I am the sole carer for my 60-year-old autistic, insulin diabetic, asthmatic son, who lives with me. I love him to bits, but the continuous years of strain and the fact that more and more cutbacks mean that there is even less help available than ever, makes me wish I could have the opportunity at times to be lonely!
Barbara MacArthur, Cardiff
Not too clever
Steve Richards (29 October) claims that “Balls has displayed astute judgement on the big issues in recent decades.” How astute was he with regard to his support for tearing up regulatory controls on the big banks, keeping interest rates very low throughout an unsustainable boom, and allowing government debt to increase during the years of strong economic growth? If his views on all these issues are astute, then perhaps we need less astuteness from Ed Balls.
Professor Michael W Eysenck, London SW20
The Government is to allow drivers who overstay their allocated parking time a period of five minutes’ grace before a fine is imposed. I guarantee that within a week of this becoming law we will hear of somebody complaining that they were only in their sparking bay for one minute over this new time limit and it was just an overzealous traffic warden coupled with an obsessive desire for local authorities to bleed the poor motorist dry that caused them to be stung.
Michael O’Hare, Northwood, Middlesex
Power of protest
Will all those busily campaigning against wind and solar farms (“Most treasured landscapes ‘can be vandalised by developers’ ”, 28 October) be the first to volunteer for the inevitable power cuts if their efforts prove successful?
Anthony Batchelor, Bromyard, Herefordshire
A suspicion of paedophilia is today’s trigger for witch-hunts. When you have witch-hunts, innocent people get killed (“A modern British murder”, 29 October). Many of us are not as civilised as we like to believe.
Nigel Scott, London N22