Letters: HS2 speeds the wrong way

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High-speed rail investment is essential if the UK is to compete economically. However, there are reasons other than those mentioned in your editorial ("High-speed rail: not the best way to spend £32bn", 29 January) why extension of HS2 is not the highest priority.

New infrastructure can only attract business where decision-makers are prepared to locate. From a national viewpoint, development in the less crowded North is clearly preferable, but in current circumstances we have to support investments that can only be made in the South.

The urgent priority for a new high-speed line should be on the route Birmingham, Peterborough, Cambridge and Stansted airport to London Stratford International, connecting via HS1 to the Continent. This would sustain the emergence of Cambridge as a world centre for science. It would provide additional capacity for trains to the North and enable development of Stansted airport, for which reason it should attract private funding.

Frederic Stansfield

Canterbury

I subscribe to no pressure group and my house abuts no route, but I am confounded by the folly of the high-speed train proposals.

Use your eyes and count the lorries: the vast bulk of goods flow through the road network, as do most of our sustaining services.

Even if we discount the possibility of those who need to travel from Manchester to London getting up an hour earlier, direct electronic communication is escalating and improving. A sum in excess of £32bn spent on carriageways, surfacing, route improvement, and indeed, even snowploughs, could improve the whole national infrastructure for all, and still offer some opportunities for offending the Tory shires.

B K Roberts

Durham City

"Tory anger at rail route", says your headline of 28 January. Nothing new there, then. The Tory Duke of Wellington objected to the introduction of railways in the 1830s on the grounds that "they would encourage the lower classes to move about".

Christopher McDermott

Crewe, Cheshire

The announcement of the proposed route of the HS2 reminds me of the story of the Londoner who visited Thirsk in North Yorkshire.

"Why on earth did they build the station so far from the town?" he asked.

"I suppose they wanted it near the track," was the reply.

Nic Siddle

Chester

Why parents choose to go private

John O'Farrell (Voices, 28 January) does not consider the main reason why people pay for a private school. It is because they offer choice.

We wanted our children to be able to study ancient Greek – it was my own degree and my mother's and we are passionate about the subject. We also wanted a school with excellent music. Some state schools may offer these but the only way you can access them is to move house into their area. Since we lived within walking distance from both sets of grandparents, moving house was not an option.

And yes, our children did go on to read Greek at university. Their music experiences were sublime; and they did cross-country running, and fencing, and drama, and debating. Their schoolmates, incidentally, came from a wide range of backgrounds.

We chose to pay for this, and had to economise accordingly: one cheap camping holiday a year, an old car, no meals out. In a radio interview Mr O'Farrell said that taxpayers subsidise private education because of their charitable status. He must be joking! We paid school fees out of taxed income; 12 per cent of our taxes are spent on state secondary education, and we got not a penny's worth out of that. So in addition to funding our children's education, we helped to pay for everyone else's. I'm perfectly happy with that – it was our choice, but please don't say we are the ones being subsidised.

Make all state schools offer excellent music, drama, sport, fencing, debating, car maintenance classes, photography classes, as well as small classes and a wide range of subjects to study, and private schools will wither on the vine. It's the state schools that have to change.

Alison Willott

Monmouth

I have no way of knowing whether Dr East (letter, 29 January) is right about the quality of his own local schools. What he goes on to say about the quality of our education system more generally is however demonstrably wrong.

The Learning Curve database, commissioned by the FT from the Economist Intelligence Unit, has just published the most authoritative data on the efficacy of education systems in the 50 most developed countries in the world. In terms of overall attainment the UK comes a creditable 6th out of 50. In terms of "educational" attainment, measured by the literacy of its school-leavers and the percentage of them who go on to take university degrees, we are second, after South Korea but above every other developed nation.

This impressive position has of course been achieved by a system made up largely of comprehensive schools, both primary and secondary. It's high time that people like Dr East stopped believing gossip and started accepting that all the empirical evidence shows that abandoning selection at 11-plus was the best educational decision this country ever made.

Chris Dunne

Headteacher, Langdon Park School, London E14

John O'Farrell is absolutely right to urge Nick Clegg to send his children to a state school. Almost the entire Government consists of people who attended independent schools. It is no wonder that most of us don't believe for one minute that "We are all in this together", since we know that they don't have a single clue what the "it" is that we are all in.

Paula Saunders

St Albans

Mainstream Islam speaks out

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi's remarks (report, 24 January) made sombre but unsurprising reading: I fancy that few people would doubt that "mistrust of Muslims is in itself fuelling extremism". The Association of Chief Police Officers' statistics indicating that "between 50 and 60 per cent of all religious hate crimes are now perpetrated against Muslims" would appear to be only too true.

But here comes a most welcome sign of hope. Shaikh Shams Ad Duha's epoch-making sermon, indicting vigilante Islamic fundamentalist groups (report, 28 January), has the supreme merit of tackling the subject from within his own informed perspective as a Muslim cleric. His targets are themselves indeed "guilty of contravening Islamic law, not enforcing it".

What a transforming difference would be made in the very marrow of our apprehensive and mistrustful 2013 society if, week by week, similar figures of authority in the Muslim world were to make public pronouncements in the same vehement vein, and if these were given headline status in the media.

We are all absolutely desperate to see that perverted offshoot versions of the Muslim religion are recognised for what they are, and that mainstream Islam is determined to disown them as such.

Simon Parkinson

Dewsbury, West Yorkshire

Fate of Britons in Europe

If there is to be a referendum in the UK over continuing to be part of the EU, will those Brits who, like me, have taken advantage of the possibility of living in a European Union country be allowed a vote?

Were the UK to pull out of the EU and as a result the many hundreds of thousands of Brits living in Europe started finding life difficult (work permits, residence permits, driving licences, medical entitlement, general red tape) and we decided that moving back to the UK with our families was the sensible decision, would we be welcomed with open arms?

Peter Moody

Madrid

If the UK wants to influence the changes that the EU will surely have to make to accommodate euro and non-euro states then the UK needs to state that it is determined to stay in the EU, not threaten to leave it.

Yes, we might survive outside the EU, but why and how would the Brics or the US grant us some kind of favourable trading relationship? We need to stay firmly connected to the nearest and largest trading market and negotiate accordingly.

Brian Mitchell

Cambridge

Believe it or not, the NHS cares

We hear every day terrible stories of NHS failures in the care of the elderly. This is a different tale.

Last Sunday an ambulance was called for my husband. It arrived in 15 minutes and inched its way through snowbound north London to the A & E department of the Whittington Hospital.

From that moment until his discharge a week later (the hospital having checked his domestic circumstances and alerted his professional carers) he received professional care, humanity and kindness above reproach. He will be 91 in two weeks.

B J Cairns

London N22

Earl Howe writes from the Department of Health (letters, 26 January) that "the Health Secretary and the Department of Health [will retain] ultimate responsibility for the health service". I can only assume that shortage of space caused the editor to omit what must have followed: "Until it all goes horribly wrong, when it will be someone else's fault and we won't have known anything about it or, at least, will have forgotten."

David Gould

Andover, Hampshire

Snubbed by the Jewish Lobby

With reference to Jennifer Bell's letter (28 January) my issue with the Jewish Lobby is that I have been Jewish for 58 years and not once have they had the courtesy to ask me to join! How rude is that? Mind you, I used to say the same thing about the Jewish World Conspiracy; I never got invited to their parties either.

Or could it be that categorising a diverse group of people who may or may not share some DNA as having uniform opinions is inherently racist? Maybe she should read Owen Jones's excellent article, published on the same day. He probably knows the old Jewish joke: "Two Jews, three opinions."

Anne Gould

Caterham, Surrey

Real Suffolk

"This is the real Essex" you say (26 January). Let me put you right: the photograph across the river Stour from Dedham illustrates the Suffolk side of the Stour valley, on the other side of the river. That grand house in the centre of the picture is Stour in the village of East Bergholt, Suffolk, where Randolph Churchill once lived. Our post code may be Colchester, but we are in no doubt that the "real Essex" lies south of the river.

John Gamlin

East Bergholt, Suffolk

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