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Tuesday 20 March 2012
Letters: Road pricing
Do governments learn nothing? Privatising roads will inevitably lead to putting profits for road company shareholders before infrastructure investment, as with utilities and railways. The 1989 water privatisation, meant to sort out 19th-century pipes and sewers, is still nowhere near completion after nearly 25 years.
Apparently, predicted growth in car ownership, despite their dependence on finite and ever-more costly fuel resources, underlies the need to expand road networks. Should we not be much more radical: defy the car lobby, ban private cars from cities unless eco-friendly and for socially necessary purpose. Improve roads linking cities, as a publicly funded project to create jobs, and, if appropriate, charge for their use, with the revenue coming back to the public coffers.
For the past 30 years the neo-liberal privatisers have been running rings around their ideological opponents. When the last road is taken out of public ownership they will be able to congratulate themselves on having finally succeeded in dragging politics into the gutter.
Under the Government's road privatisation plans, I wonder what the feelings of the average householder would be at the prospect of their home being compulsorily purchased by a private company for a speculative toll road.
With the relentless extension of the "free market", we have to pay for services which were previously free at the point of access. The Conservatives would privatise the air we breathe if they could.
At last, we are getting worried about water
Water restrictions in seven water catchments will be imposed in April. Why? This should have happened weeks ago. How many wake-up calls do we need?
The present drought in the southern half of Britain isn't just the result of two dry winters. Low rainfall, over-abstraction and declining river flows have been an unfolding story for a very long time; and we have been warned, with compelling independent scientific evidence, about the catastrophic consequences of climate change and our failure to respond urgently. Yet the public are failing to get the message that water is an increasingly scarce and precious resource. We have ignored the need for water conservation and efficiency.
But successive governments have failed to act responsibly, too. Problems of water stress have been caused by unfettered demand and too much growth in parts of the country that cannot sustain it. Unless the Government and the water companies invest huge sums in smarter and more innovative drought-resilient technologies, capable of delivering water to a growing population, water restrictions and asking the public to use less water will not be enough and more drastic and deeply unpopular measures will be needed.
Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management
An offer from someone living in the North-west to those in the South who are facing water shortages and hosepipe bans. You can have some of our water if you let our new railway line through. The necessary pipelines and track could follow the same route for much of the way.
Archbishop of a divided church
Your coverage of the resignation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury (17 March) makes much of his attempts to hold the Church of England together. Such attempts have infuriated some liberal and conservative believers alike, but his desire to maintain unity within the Anglican Communion was surely the right one.
We live in a world where there are bound to be disagreements on quite fundamental matters of beliefs and values, and one of the great strengths of the Christian gospel is the idea of a shared humanity living in a spirit of love. Indeed the church should be (though it often isn't) a model for living with uneasy tensions.
The great challenge for our liberal democracy is to find a way to accommodate diversity among people of good will without the compulsion of political correctness. The problems of the Church of England are not so very different from the problems of our pluralist society. This kindly archbishop is a beacon, and our politicians would do well to follow his example in working together for the common good.
While Dr Rowan Williams is a marvellous thinker, writer and author of a number of influential books, the internal debates about gays and women in leadership roles in the Church of England, as well as the worldwide Anglican communion, have rumbled on for far too long.
Those who oppose the prospect of gay and women bishops should have been told at an early stage in the debates that it was not their job to judge on such issues. They should also have been instructed that these changes would be coming in slowly and incrementally in future, where local Church constituencies were able to accept such candidates on their other merits; for example, on the basis of spiritual leadership and understanding of the needs of a particular Church community.
To oppose gays and women in leadership roles on the basis of sexual orientation and gender alone is simply wrong, because these judgements throw out otherwise extremely good candidates before the proper assessments can be made of their suitability for any particular post. To avoid extremely long, damaging and painfully protracted debates on gays and women in the Church, it would have made sense to have applied some strong and directive leadership at the outset on these issues.
It is sad that these internal debates have overflowed into the public perception of the Church of England as internally split on issues on which the rest of society has "moved on". It is also sad that these issues have distracted from the real role of the Church in all our communities.
Elizabeth J Smith
Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
Invest in new antibiotics
There are compelling reasons why pharmaceutical companies should urgently reconsider their lack of investment in the development of new antibiotics ("Health chief warns: age of safe medicine is ending", 16 March).
Firstly, those individuals who contribute the most to their revenues – that is, the unhealthiest members of the population – will be the most likely to die from infection from the new multi-resistant bacteria, at which point their contributions will cease. Even if the development of new antibiotics makes little or no direct return on investment to the pharmaceutical companies, not developing them will inevitably result in a huge (and possibly very rapid) loss in revenue at some point in the future.
If that is not compelling enough, the directors of pharmaceutical companies should reflect on the fact that neither they, their children nor their shareholders are immune from infection.
Once again we get a warning about antibiotic resistance caused by prodigal use of drugs on factory farms. This time it is on high authority, the head of the World Health Organisation: "Greater quantities of antibiotics are used in healthy animals than in unhealthy humans."
Animal-welfare societies have been beating this drum for decades. Again and again they have seen squalor, injury, suffering and death and evidence of heavy drug use inside factory farms. The drugs, of course, are necessary to keep an acceptable majority alive until slaughter. I'm not sure that "healthy" is exactly the right word.
But the whole thing is kept quiet. I fear that many more people will have to die of uncontrollable infections before there is any change.
When averages are all pretty average
In seeking to chastise Dave Hyden with the distinction between mean and median, Dr Alfred Venables (letter, 19 March) has taken a sample of five where only one (20 per cent) was below the median, and assumed that such an outcome would be possible with a large sample; but with a large sample, such as a year cohort of school pupils, such a difference is plainly impossible. For the whole year cohort mean and median are going to be close if not identical.
Keighley, West Yorkshire
When expressing education in terms of average achievement, it is neither a surprise nor a disgrace that some pupils "achieve below average standard". It is inevitable and would still be true even if all achieved A grades.
No future in this country
What is going on behind the scenes of this recession is the systematic disempowerment of lower-middle-class working people. If your household income is under £60,000 and you have children it is highly unlikely they will have any economic stability or real wage growth in adulthood. Quantitative easing will lead to hyper-inflation which will erode all pensions, so millions of ordinary working people will be trapped.
I plan on moving to Germany, as I feel my country and government do not wish me to have any quality of life here. I'd rather speak German in my old age than see my meagre assets be decimated by Con-Dem policies designed only for their rich friends.
Rooks and crows
Michael McCarthy's delightful piece "Reason to be cheerful. It's rook-building time" (15 March) reminded me of the often repeated assertion of my late mother (who was Suffolk born and bred) that if the rooks build their nests high in the trees then we shall have a lovely summer (with the converse being equally true). However, she was never able to explain to her children's satisfaction quite how the rooks knew this. Perhaps more credible is the Suffolk way of telling a rook from a crow. "If you see a rook thass on its own, thass a crow."
Your article about extreme weather and heritage buildings (17 March) was interesting, but often simple measures like keeping moisture out would help. You featured Norwich's city wall, which consists mainly of shapeless blobs of flint and mortar masonry with no roof and therefore no long-term future. The walls have been declining in size for decades as flints gradually roll off in the night. It's time to stop being so precious: either restore them to full height with protection from rain, or knock down the eyesore now.
It was puzzling to see 32 column inches (17 March) devoted to a horseracing bet. Not so puzzling, however, as your use of the word "deserve" in the headline. Quite how does anyone "deserve" money that is so easily come by? Have you been talking to those greedy bankers again?
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