Letters: One day we will learn to love HS2

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 4 August, 2013

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It was refreshing to have some common sense on HS2 from Oliver Wright (3 September).

To the list of completed projects that people now view differently from when they were planned, he could have added HS1 (Are we not now proud of London St Pancras International?)

Wright mentions groups such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Institute of Directors who have come out against the project. I ask myself where their members live – somewhere in the London area? Perhaps in the Chilterns? Am I being an ignorant northerner?

Wright also mentions Robert Stephenson’s London & Birmingham Railway, and how people objected to it before it was built. But L T C Rolt (in his book George and Robert Stephenson) writes of Stephenson’s death in 1859: “Seldom has the death of a commoner been more widely mourned or marked by tokens of respect.”

Perhaps one day the engineers who will build HS2 may be appreciated in a similar way, even if not to the same degree.

Ian K Watson, Carlisle

 

Oliver Wright raises valid points in his defence of HS2 but one vital issue he could have emphasised more is that our motorways are absurdly dominated by lorries.

No other developed western European country has such a scant rail-freight system; the reason for this being the typically short-termist reluctance of British governments to invest in large infrastructure. We desperately need to free up our roads from ecologically and economically disastrous reliance on road-based logistics.

Every trip on the M25 or M1 is a reminder of how backward we are in terms of transport.

Chris Mills, Market Harborough, Leicestershire

 

I’m sure your opposition to the HS2 project is well intentioned, but some of your arguments are a little bizarre. You say for example that it is not clear how Scotland, Wales or the West Country can expect to benefit from a high-speed line to the Midlands (leading article, 26 August).

Well, I would have thought that the benefit to Scotland was evident to anyone who can read a map. If you cut half an hour off journey times from London to the Midlands, you make the same improvement to journeys going farther north. Save an hour on journeys to Leeds and Manchester, and you save an hour on trips to Scotland as well. Do you really believe that the HS2 project has somehow failed to make this clear?

As for Wales and the West Country, I’m not sure that anyone has claimed that they will benefit directly from HS2. Neither do they benefit from the £2bn new Forth Bridge or the £3bn dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness. Likewise, living in Edinburgh I don’t expect to benefit much from the £16bn London Crossrail scheme or the £5bn Great Western Line upgrade.

But how is this relevant? If every infrastructure project had to demonstrate a benefit to all parts of the country, how would we ever build anything?

John Drake, Edinburgh

 

Do all those who object to HS2 refuse on principle to use Eurostar in solidarity with the citizens of Kent who as vociferously objected to HS1?

Canon Christopher Hall, Deddington, Oxfordshire

 

Has gun-slinging US diplomacy had its day?

Maybe the forthcoming vote in the US Congress over intervention in Syria will be a defining moment in history.

The US has always done what it wants and used its military might as it sees fit, regardless of the consequences or what the rest of the world thinks. In the past Americans were largely behind their leaders and went along with the gun-slinging, kick-ass approach because they believed in American exceptionalism and naively thought that the projection of American power was just and right and it benefited the rest of the world.

European countries that did not go along with this US power projection were perceived as weak. Maybe the other countries could see the long-term futility of such insensitive projection of military power.

The British have always sided with the Americans, but as the vote in Parliament has shown, even the British are now questioning the American approach.

When the British, who have never been shy of fighting a war or two, are inclined to desert the Americans, maybe it is time to rethink the strategy. Obama seems to have sensed the turn in history, whatever his bullish rhetoric.

There has to be a better way in the new multi-polar world of reining in errant dictators other than dropping bombs on them. Bombing creates more problems than it solves. Global leaders need to bang their heads together to find another way.

Peter Thomas  de Cruz, London W4

 

All-year-round Parliament

The Coalition Government’s defeat over Syria in the House of Commons highlights the stupidity of parliamentary recesses (other than in the festive season and for routine maintenance during party conferences).

Recalling Parliament inevitably over-dramatises events, and was particularly unwise and unnecessary when the new session would start only two days later.

In a recess, ministers are out of touch both with each other and with MPs, enabling one or two (such as in this case William Hague) to ratchet up expectations and their own influence. The vacationing Prime Minister clearly had no idea of how attitudes were developing, and allowed himself to be stitched up by Ed Miliband.

It also meant that on such a vital issue, almost 100 MPs did not vote, permitting a hardly overwhelming majority of only 13 against the principle of military action.

 Governments govern 52 weeks per year and require constant scrutiny by Parliament – if necessary on only three days a week – with staggered holidays like normal enterprises.

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife

 

Tate switches to a new role

I’m feeling emotional. In a move of amazing philanthropy, the Tate, an institution previously concerned solely with art, has stepped in to buy Martin Creed’s seminal (I think that’s the right word) Work no. 227: The lights going on and off” (“Tate saves Turner Prize winner for the nation – but is it still a turn-off?”, 3 September).

OK, the office where he installed it wasn’t amused, but the Tate saw it for what it was: a cry for help. Yes, it was the Tate that took the time to promote the future of this young would-be tradesman, trying his damnedest to make it against all the odds. 

Let purists carp! Why shouldn’t the effete world of art come down from its plinth once in a while to help someone like Creed pursue his dream of becoming a professional electrician? I applaud this bold, humane act. It gives hope to hundreds of similar youngsters, as well as those not-so-young, with no skills but with a burning dream to succeed. How about it, Mr Saatchi?

Martin Murray, London SW2

 

Traveller’s tale from South Tyrol

You report on the dispute over biligual place-names between the German and Italian speakers in the Italian region of South Tyrol (27 August). I enjoyed a happy motoring holiday in the South Tyrol, stopped in a beautiful mountain village and went into the local hotel to ask for a room. 

“Buona sera,” I began, then realised everything was in German and continued: “Haben Sie ein Zimmer frei, bitte?”

“Ein Moment.”

Then the maid came back in and reported: “It’s a GB.”

“Ja, wir haben drei.”

I chose a room with a beautiful view.

When I came down, a young Italian couple came in, and asked: “C’è una camera per due, per favore?”

“Nein!”

While I was enjoying my dinner, from a German menu, a family from Stuttgart arrived, asked for two rooms and got them straight away.

However, when I had to fill in the official form, it was in Italian!

Brian Ellis, Wigan

 

Shakespeare travesty

Peter Evans (letter, 3 September) reminds us of the credit: “with additional dialogue by Sam Taylor”; but Sam Taylor, who directed the film, did not rewrite Shakespeare; neither did Baz Luhrmann, who, despite the change of setting, showed great respect for the text, as did the actors.

Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim created a new work of art out of a Shakespeare play, as did Verdi and Shostakovich.

A film of Shakespeare with the dialogue rewritten is a travesty; what is more, it is completely unnecessary.

John Dakin, Toddington, Bedfordshire

 

If tax laws fail, pass new ones

“Vodafone’s £84bn tax avoidance bonanza” said your headline (3 September) and then the story went on to expose yet another muddled attempt by the Public Accounts Committee, setting great store about the fact that the company is avoiding tax.

This is piffle. The laws are decided by MPs. Our tax laws and international ones are in place to do a job. If companies find ways around that and they are legal, why the fuss?

Martin Sandaver, Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire

 

State of confusion

Steve Connor’s well-written and fascinating story about tuberculosis (2 September) contains a small but irritating error. The story  quotes Professor David Alland of “Rutgers University in New York”. Rutgers University is the state university of New Jersey, the state across the Hudson River from New York City. New Jerseyans are touchy about such matters. For the record, Professor Alland teaches at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, in Newark, New Jersey.

Ken Branson, Media Relations, Rutgers University

 

Champions of liberty

Although obviously written with good intentions, the article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown regarding how we will benefit  from losing our special relationship with the US was naive (2 September). I’m no great lover of the US, but whether we like it or not we are heavily dependent on our “cousins across the pond” for our safety from both present day and future despots.

Steve Rodhouse, Northampton

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