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Thursday 30 October 2008
Letters: Moving Heathrow
The problems with moving Heathrow to the east
Sir Peter Hall says putting Heathrow due west of London was a wartime mistake ("Should we build a new airport in the sea?", 27 October). But was it? At that time, much of the surrounding area was green fields and small villages and, although London's suburbs had expanded to the west in the 1930s, development was by no means at existing densities.
The real mistake was to allow urban expansion after the war without attaching covenants (as is sometimes done around US airports), making it clear that by choosing to live in proximity to a major airport the house-owner was thereby disqualified from objecting to Heathrow's existence or to its future development.
As for relocating Heathrow to the Thames Estuary, the economic case does not stack up and no mention is made of the many thousands of airport workers who would either lose their jobs or face the disruption of a move to the east of London. But if one wants the gesture of the grand projet, why not go the whole hog and relocate Heathrow to the open spaces of the Pas de Calais region, close to the Tunnel rail link. A quid pro quo perhaps for all those nuclear power stations EDF may build around our shores.
Sir Peter Hall and Willie Walsh demonstrate clearly the London-centric nature of the debate about airport expansion. In east Kent, at Manston, we have the answer to all of their various prayers: an existing runway, cheaper landing fees, and an experienced airport-management company awaiting business. The internal infrastructure required has land space available, and would bring real benefits to a part of the county, and country, in need of economic development and the jobs that would go with such an investment.
Boris Johnson could do more good to neighbours in Kent by listening to their offer instead of adding to the agony of residents near Heathrow.
Kent County Council Member, Margate and Cliftonville Division
Ross, Brand and a loss of perspective
No, Steve Mainwaring, (letters, 29 October) there are no parallels between two cutting-edge entertainers perhaps crossing the line and offending an elderly actor and a government taking us into an illegal war in which thousands of innocent people have been murdered or displaced, and the world moved closer to the edge of disaster.
I too am disgusted and offended; not by Brand and Ross (any more than I was by Lenny Bruce or Howard Stern), but rather by the greed that precipitated the economic recession and by the sight of thousands of African families fleeing yet again from the obscenity of civil war, by the illegal poaching of elephants and by an innocent man being murdered by police on the London underground.
When and why did this nation lose its sense of perspective? Or is it that a media story attracts a disproportionate amount of media attention? Let's leave Jonathan and Russell to do what they are paid to do – to entertain and shock – and if you don't like them, don't listen to their programmes. I look forward to the day that the BBC receives 20,000 complaints about the real horrors that we see every day on the news.
While it is everyone's right to express their disapproval, we must be careful to separate what is genuinely offensive within a particular context and what, by its expurgation, would amount to a moral guardianship catering for only the most fragile and sensitive of souls.
It is significant that until an entirely predictable over-the-top response from a certain newspaper, the number of complaints received by the BBC numbered two. Yet this reaction has spread at quite a pace; the one-sided condemnation felt by your correspondents and other voices on radio phone-ins bear alarming traces of the spirit of Mary Whitehouse.
Of course Sachs has a right not to be left borderline obscenities on his answer-phone, but this is really a BBC quality-control issue. I don't find Brand/Ross particularly amusing, yet many do. It would be disgraceful to censor them indefinitely because of an unfunny routine left on Sachs's answer-phone about his 23-year-old granddaughter who, being in a band called The Satanic Sluts and describing her marital status as a "swinger", seems not to be lacking a sense of humour.
Surely we are missing the point behind the Brand and Ross radio gaffe. A silly juvenile prank like this scarcely deserves a second thought, especially as it wasn't funny in the first place.
Instead, both entertainers have gained enormous media coverage at a time when they have seasonal books out. Ross's tome is even titled Why Do I Say These Things? Possibly for publicity, Jonathan?
Outrage over the most recent inappropriate comments by Brand and Ross seems disproportionate when their "cutting-edge" reputations are partly built on such vulgarity.
More questionable is why the BBC deem a character such as Ross, whose "talents" revolve around fawning interviews with celebrities on his chat show and providing banal criticism of films, to be worth millions per year. Hopefully, this episode will result in a review of his absurdly high remuneration.
In my work before retirement, as an occupational therapist in child and adolescent mental health, I was concerned by the distress caused to young people by bullying messages that they sometimes received on their mobile phones. I understand that teachers have to cope with this problem in school. What sort of example is being set by the BBC?
The BBC may apologise but many of its more progressive programme-makers will be well pleased, having broken new ground, and pushed the boundaries of "innovative, creative and provocative" entertainment.
The most depressing thing is that in another 10 years, this sort of thing will be commonplace and the number of people who think it worthwhile complaining will have shrunk even further.
Iceland exposes lie of UK terror laws
Icelanders are more than justified in their outrage at being the victims of "anti-terror" legislation (report, 24 October). Obviously they are not terrorists, which is, equally obviously, small comfort to them; they are in fact merely the first victims – the "collateral damage" – of draconian powers which, we were assured, were to be reserved for use only in the face of the direst threats to our national security.
In actual fact, we all owe Icelanders an enormous debt of gratitude for their unwitting exposure of the utter emptiness of these government assurances. They have opened our collective eyes to the rampant danger of allowing our elected representatives to get away with the relentless erosion of our liberties that they have been pursuing for the last decade, and that they are now promising to escalate.
This government has proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that it is unable to resist abusing powers that it has granted itself (scarcely before the legislative ink had dried). So we must ask ourselves: what does it intend to do with the DNA database, the proposed email/phone call database, and the promised ID cards? Can we all please wake up and demand our civil liberties back?
No such thing as a 'free' GP
In "How to be the perfect patient" (27 October), Dr Pauline Brindlecombe makes helpful points with which I agree. But the author states that patients do not see GPs as a resource because "they are free". It is a misconception that the service GPs give is free. Seeing a GP is free only at the point of delivery and is paid for by patients, the public, out of taxation.
The total NHS expenditure is now more than £100bn a year, which is far from free. Further, it would have been helpful if Dr Brindlecombe had stated the real cost of a GP consultation. Is the £25 she mentioned for a 12-minute consultation the reality?
National Association for Patient Participation, Woking, Surrey
Conflicting beliefs for a humanist
Howard Jacobson asks if we humanists have any convictions (Opinion, 25 October). I certainly do, but, as with most people, I presume, they conflict. I am intellectually convinced that our marvellous universe proceeds without the intervention of anything resembling an anthropomorphic god.
But I am equally convinced about the crucial importance of universal human rights and respect for one another. So if people whose views I greatly respect continue to believe in God, I have to listen to them and try to understand them. I think they are expressing needs which I deal with in other ways. But perhaps not. "God probably doesn't exist" is OK with me.
Elizabeth Sidney OBE
Getting an edgeon knife crime
The Metropolitan Police link a drop in knife crime in London to a dramatic increase in stop and search in the past year (report, 24 October). Presumably, this increase includes stop, search and confiscation from the baggage of passengers leaving Britain by Eurostar from St Pancras International station, done by civil security acting by proxy on behalf of the Met.
Knives confiscated by these means are an easy "cop" for the Met. The figures look good on the Home Secretary's desk but do nothing to reduce knife crime in London, because the passengers are leaving the country. Confiscation causes great inconvenience to travellers with knives in their baggage for legitimate purposes, for example, campers and backpackers.
N C Walker
Duirinish, Kyle of Lochalsh
Ugly home truth
I find it absolutely appalling that the profligate financial institutions that would not hesitate to throw you out on to the streets if your mortgage fell into arrears are being given £50bn out of the pockets of those they would happily dispossess.
Lower Moor, Worcestershire
A carbon-neutral Olympic flame is all very well (report, 27 October), but even a rocket-fuelled inferno would be only a tiny proportion of the overall environmental impact of 2012. Public and media-friendly sustainability measures must be backed with real tough choices, not just window-dressing. We should be using existing instead of wasteful temporary venues, and not cutting corners on the cash-strapped village. Unless London's Olympic organisers jump every hurdle, not just the low ones, they will have delivered greenwash, not green Games.
Green Party London Assembly Member, London SE1
When Russia invaded Georgia in August, the US condemned the Russians for their violation of another country's sovereign territory. The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said: "The free world cannot allow the destiny of a small, independent country to be determined by the aggression of a larger neighbour." Last weekend, US helicopters flew into Syrian territory from Iraq and attacked a farm, leaving eight civilians dead, four of them children. I doubt that this sort of hypocrisy will change, whoever turns out to be the new incumbent of the White House.
Pubs are shutting at an alarming rate because successive governments have used alcohol as a convenient way of raising money without much protest for years. I cannot think of a Budget where alcohol tax has not risen. The Chancellor should remove altogether the tax on draught sold in pubs. This would remove the ludicrous situation where the price of a pint of beer in a pub is nearly £3 and a can of beer in a supermarket is 92p. How much better if it were the other way round?
Who's the dunce?
In Philip Hensher's article "More pearls of wisdom from our priceless Prince" (27 October) he referred to the University of Primorska in connection with the Queen's state visit to Slovakia. The University of Primorska is a Slovenian, not a Slovakian university, in the Slovenian coastal town of Piran. Slovenia had the honour to host HM Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh on a state visit from 21 till 23 October. From Slovenia, the royal couple paid a state visit to Slovakia.
Ambassador of the Republic of Slovenia, London SW1
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