Letters: Rents too high? Build more houses


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The Independent Online

The Mayor of Newham's drastic action in asking housing associations and other landlords outside London to house 500 families once again highlights the housing crisis gripping this country.

Proposing to move people hundreds of miles away from their families because their local council cannot house them is a desperate measure born of desperate times. Housing benefit cuts, combined with rising rents, have hit London particularly hard, making it difficult for councils to support people to stay in local homes.

Rents go up when there is a shortage of homes. If the Government, local councils and housing associations really want rents to go down, we need to build more affordable housing. That will not only provide homes for people stuck on waiting lists: it will create new jobs, save the Government benefit payments and boost economic activity.

With 350,000 households stuck on waiting lists, London is a first-class city with third-class housing. The Government and the new Mayor of London need to take urgent action.

David Orr

Chief executive, National Housing Federation, London WC1

London's housing shortage is not merely due to the slow pace at which new houses are built; it is also due to large-scale immigration, which continued under the last Labour government.

While mass immigration may be justifiable on economic grounds, making social housing accessible to new immigrants, who have not lived here long enough to contribute to the economy, is not. In India a British citizen of non-Indian origin cannot even buy a house, let alone become eligible for social housing.

London does need more homes, both private and council, but it also needs a new policy to determine who should qualify for council housing. The current policy, which places "need" above nationality, is grossly unfair to British nationals.

Randhir Singh Bains

Gants Hill, Essex

Your case study headed "Fruitless search for family home on a budget" (25 April) quotes a mother of four with the rent issues. Couldn't the children's father make a contribution towards their housing costs? I didn't see any reference to him in the piece.

Alan Marchant

Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire

Murdoch: the biggest scandal is Europe

The Leveson inquiry will be looking at how Rupert Murdoch has been manipulating British politics. But there is a strong argument that the charge sheet should be much longer. I maintain that he has interfered with the whole course of European integration.

By feeding the British public with a regular diet of anti-European propaganda and misinformation for decades, he has effectively dissuaded the British government from becoming more closely associated with the European project.

Is it too far-fetched to say that had the UK signed up for the euro – and been an enthusiastic, but level-headed and disciplined member – the euro crisis would never have happened and as a result the UK would not now be in the middle of a double-dip recession? He should not be let off lightly.

Dave Skinner

Tervuren, Belgium

Rupert Murdoch is trying to downplay the political influence his newspapers have had.

Has he forgotten the 1992 election when The Sun on polling day had the headline "Will the last person remaining in Britain switch the light out?" in reference to a possible Kinnock victory? It had its effect. My dancing partner at the time was persuaded to vote Conservative not Liberal Democrat. And of course, after Major's victory came the equally famous "It's The Sun wot won it!"

But perhaps we can forgive an octogenarian for having a bad memory

Tim Mickleburgh

Grimsby, Lincolnshire

The Tories have always been keen to get rid of Fox Hunt Laws, and they're almost there now.

Callum Campbell

London SE3

Local papers on the internet

Your failure to identify any way out of the problem of the decline of local newspapers and the press in general – government intervention is undoubtedly no solution, given the revelations of the Leveson inquiry – is itself a matter of concern ("Read all about it? If only ...", 24 April).

There is a sustainable way ahead already operating in America, one based on service, not profit, whereby the loss of daily and evening newspapers in major cities such as San Francisco has been replaced by internet sites supplying the vital news that local people need to know. That has been made possible by the support of charitable foundations and private donors who believe in the basic provision of the kind of local political, social, arts and community coverage, once the admired norm. And it is already happening here.

Marlborough News Online, set up by myself and three other professionals as the only co-operative internet news site in the country, has just celebrated its first birthday, and is currently undergoing a revamp to improve its presentation, flexibility and coverage.

We launched it in this Wiltshire market town because of the paucity of essential local news provided by the Wiltshire Gazette and Herald, part of the Newsquest empire. They have closed the paper's Marlborough office; the local reporter, due to retire later this year, is not being replaced; the paper is sub-edited in Oxfordshire, and its advertising is controlled in...India.

Marlboroughnewsonline.co.uk has been warmly welcomed, and as an allegedly retired journalist who began his local newspaper career straight from grammar school numerous decades ago, I am back covering town council and chamber of commerce meetings again, plus much else that gives a buzz in the community.

Here is a model for others to contemplate. Let us hope that the latest exposures of the Leveson inquiry – and those yet to come – will not obscure the true value of a responsible press not seduced by so-called celebrity and sensation, and encourage charities, foundations and individuals to support this new and vital initiative.

Gerald Isaaman

Marlborough, Wiltshire

What children knew in 1916

I recently found a school entrance exam paper taken by an uncle when he was around 13. There were two subjects, English and geography. The English section required an essay, the demonstration of a working understanding of English grammar, and some knowledge of literature. One question was, "Name the parts of speech of each word in the following sentence: Will you lend Tom that book if you have finished it?"

The geography section gives clues to the ethos of the school. One question reads, "What are the principal industries in Worcestershire, South Staffordshire and Coventry? Give examples in each case".

The paper was for entrance to the Smethwick's Municipal Junior (Day) Technical School in June 1916. Some years later, my uncle's younger brother, my father, gained entry to the same school.

When my father left at 16, his leaving certificate recorded that he had "completed a full course on the Engineering and Constructive Trades side of the school. This course includes instruction in Chemistry, Mechanics, Physics, Woodwork and Pattern making, Engineering Drawing and Engineering Workshop Practice, as well as the usual subjects".

Technical schools were swept away after the Second World War when national politicians got stuck into meddling in education with grand schemes. Now we have box-ticking inspections, silly national "league tables" and "teaching to the test". And it is still only too possible to leave primary school after six or seven years either illiterate or innumerate, or both.

Professor Guy Woolley


Iraq's legacy of horrors

Thank you to Robert Fisk for keeping the issue of birth defects in Fallujah General Hospital in the public eye ("The Children of Fallujah – the hospital of horrors", 26 April).

He is right to point out that no clear explanation has yet been found for the disturbing frequency of birth defects in newborn babies in the hospital. Iraqi doctors and various civil society groups have carried out studies, the most recent looking at retrospective reproductive history studies and the analysis of hair samples. The World Health Organisation will include questions on birth defects as part of a larger study. Well-funded and comprehensive research is urgently needed to build on these efforts.

Two years ago Michael Fitzpatrick, Director of Strategic Communications for the US Military Health System, told the BBC: "No studies to date have indicated environmental issues resulting in specific health issues." The fact that we don't know why 15 per cent of babies are being born with birth defects should be a trigger for urgent research, not a defence for inaction.

Marion Birch

Director, Medact, London N1

In brief...

Water straight down the drain

The drought is in part a result of the absence of joined-up political thinking. By restricting parking on roads, our local council has forced many residents to pave over their front gardens, so rain goes straight into drains rather than benefiting ground-water levels.

J Longstaff

Woodford Green, Essex

Silliness on the Eurostar

Actually I was aware of the "Eurostar loophole" (Terence Hollingworth's response, 26 April, to my letter, 25 April) and indeed a friend of mine has been employed on Lille station as yet another extra person to deal with all the silliness caused by countries not cooperating sensibly together regarding Brussels to London Eurostar train services. Making the UK join Schengen has to be the way of saving the most money.

H Trevor Jones


In a flap

It was very nice to see a review of my revised edition of Arthur Morrison's A Child of the Jago in The Independent last Friday (20 April). Alas, quoting Alan Sillitoe's observation that Morrison's characters "lived in a zoo" seems to have misled your reviewer into the belief that the novel's main character is "Dicky Parrott". It is in fact "Dicky Perrott". I need hardly say that I am sick as a perrott.

Peter Miles

Cribyn, Ceredigion

Sic transit ...

Browsing in a local charity shop, I came across two books which caught my attention. One was The Blair Years by Alastair Campbell, and the other was A Journey by Tony Blair. If purchased together, they could be bought for the grand sum of £1. I can't wait for the likes of David Cameron and George Osborne being offered at a similar bargain price.

Ivor Yeloff


No light matter

Your article on the Olympic torch (25 April) says it will be "lit at Mount Olympus on 11 May". The Olympic flame is always lit in Olympia in the Pelloponese, which was the site of the ancient Olympic Games. Mount Olympus, the mythical home of the Gods, had nothing to do with the Olympics.

John Caloghirou