The countryside, Springer protests and others

We do not need high-rise 'villages' to save the countryside

Sir: I was intrigued by Helen McCormack's article, "Return of the high-rise" (3 January). Will Alsop is undoubtedly one of our most visionary designers. He argues: "Building up rather than out is the only way we can save our natural areas while having ready access to them." I beg to differ. At the University of Cambridge School of Architecture some forty years ago, Professor Sir Leslie Martin and I used elementary mathematics to demonstrate that low buildings did not necessarily require significantly more land than high ones. It is all a matter of the distribution of buildings in the landscape.

The most basic sum is to ask how much land each of us has to live on. In England and Wales there are some 47 million of us, and we occupy 150,000 square kilometres. This means that every woman, man and child may lay claim to half a soccer pitch of land, or three-quarters of an acre. It is a matter of political economy as to how this land is distributed: how much to national parks and wildlife preserves, to agriculture, to forestry ... and how much remains for our own private needs. In terms of urban/rural uses, the centre circle on the soccer pitch represents the proportion of land that is urbanised, or 8.6 per cent of the half playing field. This means that currently for each individual in England and Wales, our personal urban land use is circumscribed by such a circle.

Or take a road atlas. Mine grids the landscape at three-mile intervals to help me locate a spot. If I "urbanise" a single nine square mile cell along its edges to match the national statistic, the depth of development will average a mere 116 yards, leaving a distance of almost 2.9 miles of unurbanised rural land between edges. On the map a width of 116 yards shows up as the unscaled width of the symbol for a motorway. Yes, this is ribbon development!

But such a sparse, reticulated pattern demonstrates conclusively that a one- or two-storey home and garden for everyone is theoretically possible without consuming the countryside. The problem is to find appropriate and acceptable configurations at the local level to realise it. I fear that Will Alsop's stacked "villages" are another diversion, reminiscent of Sir Geoffrey Jellicoe's long-forgotten "Motopia" of 1961.

Stretham, Cambidgeshire

Springer protest is an attack on freedom

Sir: Following the violence in Birmingham that led to the closure of Behzti - and the lack of condemnation from politicians - Christian pressure groups have condemned the BBC's decision to screen the Jerry Springer musical, claiming it offends them deeply on religious grounds. Some now intend to take legal steps against the BBC, emphasising their rights as licence payers. What "rights" are these exactly?

These people should remember that many secular licence payers are equally offended by aspects of religion. Do we atheists attempt to pressurise the BBC to remove Songs of Praise from the schedules? The answer is no, because most of us choose not to impose our opinions and are content to let religious people get on with it; likewise most people with faith are happy to respect secular beliefs.

Both groups should be able to express their views, through protest if necessary, but when either side attempts to silence the other in a free country it puts truly precious rights at risk. The erosion of free speech is a price too high for all UK citizens - believers and non-believers alike.

Whitton, Middlesex

Sir: If the BBC fails to offend the narrow-minded on a regular basis I shall be withholding my licence payments. It is the prime duty of public service broadcasters to challenge the mores of society. My only regret is that there are now so many alternative channels that viewers are less likely to stumble accidentally upon the BBC's excellent and morally uplifting programmes - such as the Jerry Springer - The Opera.


Restorative justice

Sir: On 4 January you reported on a study concerning the effectiveness of restorative justice in reducing crime ("Saying 'sorry' no deterrent to crime"). The programmes in the study did not show a significant crime reduction effect and did not show an increase either, while at the same time revealing important benefits for victims. But the researchers themselves acknowledged that the limitations of their research design meant it was not possible to assess whether restorative justice was more effective than conventional justice in reducing repeat offending.

As a recent article in The Lancet points out, randomised controlled trials are needed to assess this precisely. The University of Pennsylvania and the Australian National University are leading 10 such trials in England after research in Australia found substantial crime reduction effects in violent crime, while another trial found increased repeat offending after property crime.

Sweeping conclusions about restorative justice are therefore premature and more testing is warranted to make the most of a strategy that shows substantial benefits for victims in all randomised trials to date in Australia, the US and the UK.

Director, Centre for Restorative Justice, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

Football pitches

Sir: Contrary to the impression given by your leading article (1 January) it is neither the case that "a large area of the Hackney Marshes" will be covered with tarmac nor that "many playing fields will be lost". No playing fields will be lost as a result of a London 2012 Games.

We agree entirely with the sentiment of your leader headline that "Our Olympians must keep their playing fields", and we are committed, through the Olympics, to bringing huge benefits to communities and grassroots sport. Indeed the Olympic planning conditions guarantee major upgrades to existing football facilities on Hackney Marshes, and enable a doubling of the amount of green space in the area.

The use of the small number of football pitches required for the Olympics is only temporary and, as we have already reassured local football groups, alternative pitches will be found for them during the time their usual pitches are borrowed by the Olympics.

Executive Director
London Development Agency
London E1

Sir: I must make some comments on your article regarding Hackney Marshes and the London Olympic bid, and the inference that grassroots football will suffer as a result of the plans for the games.

We understand the concerns voiced by some individuals who currently use the East Marsh; nobody is more aware than me of the significance of these pitches to our national game. The Football Association devotes a lot of time and resources to the protection and improvement of such playing fields. That is why we took the time to examine closely the plans for the temporary use of East Marsh during the Games in 2012.

The FA is fully confident that the planning conditions mean that East Marsh will be fully safeguarded for the short time it is out of use, and would also bring significant improvements for footballers who use the Marshes, including new changing-rooms and pitch upgrades. Moreover, the London 2012 bid has focused attention on the area, and we have commitments from the London Development Agency and others to look at the long-term vision for improving Hackney Marshes, so it can continue to thrive and be enjoyed for football and by local communities.

FA Director of Football Development
London W1

Reading to children

Sir: I cannot be the only primary-school teacher left spluttering with indignation after reading Sarah Cassidy's article "How do you make children articulate?" (3 January).

The implication in Mr Bruton-Simmons' comments that reading (and talking) to children in school is somehow a new concept, not to mention his suggestions as to how and when it should be done, is deeply insulting. What does he think we do all day?

In my 11 years of teaching I have yet to meet a single teacher who does not believe that the (often twice) daily reading to their class of a wealth of beautifully illustrated picture books and more challenging chapter books is both a fundamental and integral part of every child's education.

There are few more wondrous moments in a teacher's life than to glance up from a book you are reading and see 30 rapt little faces hanging on your every word, nor more joy than in the loud chorus of pleading and begging for more that usually accompanies the snapping shut of a book at a crucial point in the story.

London E9

Tsunami lessons

Sir: Rosie Fellner says her faith was deepened by surviving the Asian tsunami (Opinion, 8 January): "I somehow knew through my prayers that we would get through." So, all is right with the Divine's plan. Those who died must have just had bad karma or displeased their deity in another way, although the deaths and survivals seemed to have been shared irrespective of which deity was the target of prayers.

But whatever the disaster indicates in terms of people's faith in an unknowable metaphysical being, it is strong evidence against the idea that creationists' theory of intelligent design is on a par with the theories derived from the sciences of evolutionary biology and, even more significantly in this context, geology and the movements of ill-fitting tectonic plates.

London W4

Sir: David Boulter is entitled to his view that observing a three-minute silence as an act of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the Asian tsunami and their families is mawkish (letter, 6 January). As a Quaker, I find no difficulty in the idea of allowing people a period of silence to think their own thoughts and offer their own prayers. The act of worshipping in silence with others can be extremely moving and powerful.

I happened to be in Gothenburg at the relevant time on Wednesday and indeed found the experience to be moving.

Redditch, Worcestershire

American culture

Sir: Since arriving in Britain in 2002 I have found myself gradually compelled to adopt a position that is, for most Canadians, unfamiliar: that of defender of my sometime neighbours, the Americans. The latest of the apparently endless supply of sour-faced Brits humourlessly recounting tales of philistine Americans and their supposed inability to grasp irony is Janet Street-Porter ("The banality of American popular culture", Jan 6).

My experience of British television, and indeed popular culture, differs considerably from Street- Porter's. However, the obtuseness with which she observes American culture is less offensive than the stereotypes she imposes upon the Americans. Her condemnation of Americans' "level of conversation", her reference (again!) to an "irony-free zone", her abhorrence of the thought of living in America - these are the marks of prejudice.

Bromley, Kent

Sir: Can the Janet Street Porter who is so scathing about American popular culture be the same person who recently took part in a banal British TV show where various minor celebrities pretended to survive in the jungle?

London N10

Victims of disaster  

Sir: I know that we didn't kill as many people in Iraq as were killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami, but when I saw your front page photograph (8 January) I wondered if there was a wall containing the pictures of the dead and missing that Jack Straw could visit in Baghdad?


Give Blair a chance

Sir: The attacks on Blair are becoming nauseating. As a socialist, I'm no Blair fan. However, I realised that the damage caused to civil society and our public services would take a long time, maybe 20 years, to repair. We are only eight years into this process. The Tory press hounds him for being something they don't like about labour leaders - capable and articulate. The labour movement hounds him for not being more left-wing. They should all realise that it will take a long time to put right this country devastated by Thatcher.

Bebington, Wirral

Salt ration

Sir: Your article on healthy eating, "Carrots without the stick" (4 January), repeated an allegation from Joanna Blythman that Asda's "Good For You" lasagne contains 60 per cent of an adult's daily recommended salt intake". This is not true. Our "Good For You!" lasagne contains 0.4g of salt per 100g and a total salt content of 1.6g, which we calculate is around 27 per cent of an adult's 6g per day recommended salt intake.

Asda "Good For You!" Manager

Passionate hunters

Sir: It's good to know that hunting folk show "passion and commitment" (Letters, 8 January). That makes it OK for them to abuse wild animals for fun. It also explains the violent intimidation which has on occasion driven rural opponents of hunting from the homes - hunt supporters were just being passionate.

Waverton, Cheshire

Sir: On Friday I saw to my astonishment a young fox cross Carey Street and make rapidly towards the rear entrance of the Law Courts. Could it be that he or she wished to intervene in the pending proceedings about the hunting ban and, if so, in support of which party?

London NW1