Letters: Rights-of-way

Beware of the lurking threat to our ancient public rights-of-way
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The Independent Online

Sir: Before anyone gets too excited about the possibility of opening up coasts to public access, let alone rivers (letter, 20 February), they should look at this Government's record on access to the countryside.

Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2001, it created the so-called "right to roam". An extremely expensive mapping exercise followed, adding a limited number of areas of open access, in a handful of counties with areas of high moorland.

All people wanted was for a limited number of closed moorlands to have a network of public rights-of way-created across them. This could have been done with a small pot of money under existing legislation. But this Government sneaked into the Act (with a Defra amendment the day after the Bill was published) a "cut-off" date for existing public rights-of-way, under which those not added to the official rights-of-way map by 2026 will cease to exist.

To get a right-of-way on the map requires a bureaucratic process that has been failing for 50 years. It is in the hands of local authorities. They will consider only a detailed case and a formal application that the authority is legally required to act on. Typically, they have a 10- to 20-year backlog of applications.

English Nature has been funded for a national "lost ways" project, to capture some of the many missing rights-of-way, and get them on the map, but we are six years down, and there is no sign of results.

Many public rights of way not shown on the map will be lost, and many of those that are have minor flaws and anomalies (short gaps). Under existing law, these do not matter, because the definitive map is still subservient to the ancient common-law rights. But when the CRoW Act cut-off falls, landowners and developers can exploit the flaws to make the whole right of way unusable.



Blair's Iraq 'legacy' or reform at home?

Sir: Simon Carr probably has more insight than most when he suggests that Tony Blair "may have crossed the thin line that separates lunacy from insanity" (Sketch, 21 February); and I recognise the "ambiguous evasiveness" identified by Steve Richards in the same issue.

I particularly enjoyed the irony of Mr Blair's claim that troop withdrawal "means that the next chapter in Basra's history can be written by Iraqis", as though various Iraqis had not already spent four years writing their own chapters.

But Mr Blair, as a master of verbal dexterity, is able to mesmerise Parliament. In particular, he has managed to sell us the question of his "legacy". This is fantasy.

What should be occupying our minds is first, his impeachment for waging an illegal war, then a thorough reform of our flawed electoral system to preclude virtual dictatorships. Whether we can also keep out skilful deceivers is a more difficult question.



Sir: Your front page,"The retreat from Basra" (22 February) is a disgrace to this country, the armed forces and your newspaper.

Nothing this government can do in Iraq will have your support, and your constant criticism and anti-Americanism is awful to see. You sit in your comfortable offices in safety (provided by the same armed forces) and criticise from the sidelines. That's cowardly.

It is not a retreat from Basra. You have been calling for withdrawal from Iraq since we entered Iraq and now that it is beginning to happen - because the Iraqis are beginning to be able to look after themselves, in Basra at last, mainly due to the great efforts of the British Army - it appears you are taking an opportunity to put the worst possible spin on it and thus show up the Government, without a care for the impact on the armed forces nor the brave soldiers, sailors and airmen doing their best in difficult circumstances.



Sir: As the Government appears unable to bring "freedom and democracy", how about bringing our troops back from the adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and wasting the savings on the 2012 Olympics instead? That would save lives and recycle the cash into our own economy.



This pittance is an insult to carers

Sir: The Government has announced an additional £25m grant to local authorities to provide emergency respite for carers. A few days later, the Government blocked a private Member's Bill to increase respite care for parents of disabled children and another for palliative care of the terminally ill. And the reason given? It would cost too much.

At this rate of progress, it will take thousands of years before carers are properly funded. In Leeds, and throughout the country, respite care is being cut, so all this will do is make the cuts smaller. It will be spread so thinly that what Leeds may get will be a pittance.

And £25m will not even scratch the surface, although Britain's invisible army of carers subsidise social services and the NHS, saving the taxpayer an estimated £57bn a year. Assuming there are six million carers in the UK, this is little more than £4 per carer per year. Respite nursing care costs £1,000 a week, so this will assist only one quarter of 1 per cent of carers.

I hope people will see this for what it really is, not a gesture but political propaganda for the May elections, and an insult to carers.



We need a proper plan for energy

Sir: I follow with interest the debate on nuclear power and the UK's energy mix. Proponents of various solutions such as wind, wave, tidal barrages, tidal stream, clean coal, concentrated solar power, biomass, geothermal, decentralised generation, microgeneration, hydrogen, photo-voltaics, demand management, fission etc have all contributed.

What I miss is a discussion about the necessity for energy planning. In other northern European countries, where in the coldest of winters having access to energy for heating can be a matter of survival, energy planning has been a legal requirement for years.

In a future of rapidly developing technology, increasing energy demands, dwindling resources and increased environmental concerns, what we need in the UK is for the leading parties to put forward detailed plans for how energy needs can be met.

Then a useful public consultation could be had, hopefully, one that would be far more meaningful than that done during the energy review that has recently been shown to be "misleading and seriously flawed" precisely because there was insufficient information for consultees to give an intelligent response.



Sir: A letter on 22 February about light bulbs suggests the UK needs to learn lessons from Australia about tackling global warming. In 2002 (the latest reliable international comparison), Australia produced the highest per capita figure of any developed country for greenhouse gas emission, even above the US. (Other comparisons place Australia just below the US.) So among developed countries, Australia is one of the world's worst polluters.

In 2002, Australia emitted 28 tonnes per head and the figure is rising. In the same year, the UK emitted 9.43 tonnes per head. Moreover, in the UK, emissions have been falling on the way to our Kyoto target.

The reason the Australian government is having to introduce welcome steps such as "banning incandescent lightbulbs" is because of its serious failure to make more fundamental changes. An environmental statement in Australia describes the government there as failing seriously to meet its international and local responsibilities, and there is much concern about the influence of the coal-producing lobby.



Sir: An afternoon entertaining a couple of bored teenagers turned out to be very instructive when we decided to measure the power household appliances drew on standby.

The standby power of the TV was a staggering 74 watts, enough to light the whole house using energy-saving bulbs. And the common myth that leaving fluorescent lights on rather than turning them off and on saves electricity proved a fallacy. The startup surge of a fluorescent lamp amounts to only a few seconds' worth of run-time consumption.



Home ownership is no help to the needy

Sir: Joan Bakewell (23 February) rightly calls into question this country's unhealthy obsession with home-ownership. The National Housing Federation believes everyone should have access to a decent home, affordable to their means. Housing policy should be driven by this social priority.

The housing market shuts out the poorest households, and government initiatives promoting home ownership, however well-intentioned, do little to help those in the greatest need. These households, all 1.5 million of them, require affordable rented accommodation.

We need to increase the number of affordable homes built each year to 70,000. We need to be building communities, not just houses. In a well-functioning society access to decent housing must sit alongside employment, training and other opportunities, as many housing associations already offer.

The Government's forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review is an opportunity to invest in the healthy, mixed communities this country so desperately needs. But does the political will exist to do so?



Clowning glory of having fun

Sir: First, a hearty clap on the back for Howard Jacobson, who has perhaps ousted his childhood clown trauma by publicly ranting about it (Opinion, 24 February). Until recently, I might have agreed with him.

I worked with a clown for a month on a pantomime. There was no wig, no silly nose, no make-up and no ridiculous, over-sized clothing. This peaceful man's raison d'être was simply to amuse everyone, all the time.

His charming, varied act was as warm and funny every night as the last, and audiences, far from cowering beneath the glare of a "malicious, vile" monster, were lit up by his presence, and warm applause consistently made his curtain call the longest, to his acute embarrassment.

Backstage, he would rarely speak, preferring to see if he could fit in a small box, or practise balancing a hat on the end of his nose. I was not alone in being entranced by him. I see this desire on his part as a gift to us. Clowning grounds and bonds us, proving fun transcends age. In fact, it transcends pretty much everything, doesn't it?



There are 23 ways to hit the bullseye

Sir: I feel I have been given a special reward for my committed scouring of The Independent since its beginning: a double page directed specially at me.

Late on my 75th birthday, other less important matters having intervened, I came on your double page on 23. My birthdate is 23-2-32. By honouring its palindromic nature, reading left to right then right to left, I find I am linked to this apparently significant number no less than four times.

I almost believe you were speaking to me alone, especially since, by a mystical twist, I have always considered my lucky number to be 2, the one remaining digit unused by the palindrome.



Sir: Be thankful your reporter's calculator displays only 11 digits. Microsoft's Windows calculator, for example, declares 2/3 to be approximately 0.66666666666666 66666666666666667.



Sir: Gosh! You've got me hooked. I was 23,963 days old when your article on the significance of the number 23 appeared; 2+3+9+6+3 = 23. The ages of 23 and 46 (twice 23) were important in my life as far as love is concerned, my football team last won the FA Cup in 1958 (1+9+5+8 = 23), I have 23 green clubcard points at Tesco and I have just spent 23 minutes working all that out. I'll tackle 24 tomorrow.



Terror on the NHS

Sir: Killed by terrorists in 2005: 52 British residents. Killed by the British Government, courtesy of bugs delivered by its wholly-owned subsidiary the NHS: more than 5,400. Our Government's health practices kill 104 of us for every one killed by terrorists. Have we perhaps got our priorities wrong?



Salute was racist

Sir: Uefa's conclusion that Rangers' fans, captured on camera offering a one-arm salute in Israel last week, were not in fact taunting their Israeli hosts, but referring to the Red Hand of Ulster, beggars belief. There is no tradition in Ulster of raising your arm outstretched in salute. These morons were raising their arms in a Seig heil gesture. If Uefa is serious about ridding the game of racism they must act accordingly and not accept the lamest of excuses.



Daffodil's a lily

Sir: The Oscar organisers would be appalled to find that anything as humble as the daffodil was to find its way into their venue (Extra, 22 February). The flowers being handled in your photo are Zantedeschia, common name the Calla Lily.



Turner painted truth

Sir: Turner, says Tom Lubbock, of the engine depicted in his "Rain,Steam and Speed" (poster, 19 February), "can't resist making its blazing furnace visible from the front", as if this was a symbolic distortion of the truth. Thirty years ago, the late Alderman Harry Lucas of Bolton, a railway engineer and for 70 years a Turner enthusiast, pointed out that the glowing effect was produced by the casing of the firebox heating when the engine is speeding.



Game, set and ...

Sir: Why doesn't the LTA run the men's and women's Wimbledon tournaments independently (letter, 26 February), with separate sponsorship and TV deals? The prize money would then be split correctly.