Hospital visit

23May2014 Hospital Visit

I go all the way around the park listening to the Men from the Ministry: Our heroes face a terrible fate the have to care for a pigion Priceless

I go and visit mary in hospital

Scrabbletoday, two games I win one game Mary wins the other, perhaps I’ll win tomorrow

Obituary:

Helene Pastor Photo: MATRIXPICTURES.CO.UK

6:02PM BST 22 May 2014

CommentsComment

Hélène Pastor, who has died of gunshot wounds aged 77, was, as an heiress of the principality’s greatest real estate fortune, Monaco’s richest woman.

Known locally as “la vice-princesse”, Hélène Pastor was the senior surviving member of what is, in effect, Monaco’s second dynasty after the ruling Grimaldis. The Pastors, however, came from the humblest of origins. Hélène’s grandfather, Jean-Baptiste, was a stonemason from Liguria who arrived in the small seaside town of Monte Carlo as a young man in the 1880s. Having made good in a modest way as a public-works contractor, he was commissioned in 1936 by Prince Louis II to build the principality’s first football stadium — the beginning of a fruitful association between the two families.

After the Second World War, Jean-Baptiste’s son, Gildo, amassed waterfront land cheaply and in the 1950s he began building the stylish apartment blocks with harbour views which formed the modern cityscape of Monte Carlo — and became bolt-holes for the world’s rich in search of ultra-low taxes combined with the Riviera lifestyle. Conservative in their business methods and averse to debt, the Pastors were eventually reckoned to own outright more than 3,000 apartments, or 15 per cent of Monaco’s entire housing stock, loosely valued at €20 billion.

On Gildo’s death in 1990, the empire was divided between his three children, Victor, Michel and Hélène — contrary to Ligurian tradition, in which daughters were not allowed to inherit. While the low-profile Victor, the more flamboyant Michel (a noted art collector dubbed “le boss de Monaco”) and their offspring continued to develop new properties and acquire interests in many other aspects of the local economy, Hélène quietly managed her portfolio of half a dozen prestigious addresses along the avenues Princesse-Grace and Grande-Bretagne.

Tailored by Chanel, she was known for her elegant but reticent style and taciturn manner: she avoided grand social events but could occasionally be spotted walking her dog without a bodyguard and spent much of her time in an office decorated with photographs of her father, assessing the suitability of prospective tenants and reinvesting her substantial cash flows.

On May 6 a man armed with a sawn-off shotgun shot both her and her long-serving chauffeur, Mohamed Darwich, who has also since died of his wounds. Speculation in Monaco as to the motive for the attack have inevitably focused on the possible involvement of mafia or Russian gangsters; there have also been stories of a recent blackmail attempt against the family. Organised crime and money-laundering are a high cause for concern in the principality, but never previously associated with the Pastors.

A wealthy Italian family, the Marzoccos, have been competitors in local real estate dealings since the 1980s, but any tensions were thought to have been resolved by the marriage in 2012 of a Marzocco daughter to Michel Pastor’s son Jean-Baptiste. Hélène herself is reported to have told police before her death on May 21 that she knew of no one with a grudge against her. Monaco’s ruler Prince Albert has expressed his “deep support” for the family.

Hélène Pastor was born in 1937. Her brothers predeceased her, Victor in 2002 and Michel in February this year. She was twice married and divorced, and is survived by a daughter of the first marriage and a son of the second (to Professor Claude Pallanca, a prominent Monegasque dentist who was also the honorary consul of Russia and who declined to comment on her death, saying: “Je ne veux pas avoir de problèmes.”) Their son Gildo — a denizen of local gossip columns with a passion for fast cars, to whom his mother had not yet passed a full inheritance — was struck down by a heart attack earlier this year. Hélène was leaving the hospital in Nice where she had been visiting him when she was attacked, and he too has refused to speak to the press.

Hélène Pastor, born 1937, died May 21 2014

Guardian:

There is rightly much concern that many jobs may be lost in this country should Pfizer succeed in its takeover of AstraZeneca (AstraZeneca board holds firm against rebels, 22 May). Last week the Veuve Clicquot businesswoman of the year award went to Harriet Green, who on becoming chief executive of Thomas Cook “axed 2,500 jobs”. I look forward to the time when a businessman or woman receives a prize for increasing the number of jobs in their organisation – that is, jobs paying above the living wage and not on zero hours contracts.
David Watson
Nutley, East Sussex

• Careers in jeopardy, public money spent/wasted and endless bickering. All because Andrew Mitchell did not have the good manners to comply with a perfectly acceptable request to get off his bike and push it through an open gate (Officer said Plebgate could topple Tories, 21 May).
Janet Jobber
Huddersfield

• Your editorial on Prince Charles comparing Vladimir Putin to the Nazis (May 22) suggests that the correct approach is keeping stumm. Surely mum’s the word.
John Petrie
Leeds

• Royal male in trouble once again?
Petrina Stevens
Sherington, Buckinghamshire

• Your article on Fidel Castro’s purported life of luxury (Report, 21 May ) has little claim to be reported as international news. Since the revolution Fidel Castro has been the target of slander and lies almost unequalled in recent times. Why you give credence to this nonsense is beyond comprehension. (If your article appeared as a book review, I would have no problem.)
Les Roth
Chobham, Surrey

• Idées au dessus de son gare (French find new trains too wide for platforms, 22 May)?
Don Keller
London

• It seems to me entirely appropriate to call the area where Peggy Guggenheim’s 14 dogs are commemorated the Nasher Sculpture Garden (Guggenheim family revive decades-old art feud, 20 May).
Theresa Graham
Bristol

As well as the coal miners killed in disasters, Simon Jenkins (A dash for renewables won’t rid us of the horrors of coal, 16 May) could have added their occupational illnesses, as well as the diseases suffered by everyone as a result of breathing air polluted by burning coal. The great London smog of December 1952 killed more than 15,000 people. Electricity has a high political profile but only represents about 12% of end user power consumption, and unlike other fuels, electricity cannot be stored, so generation and consumption must be simultaneous. As peak electricity use only occurs for about 20% of the day, there are idle generators for more than 80% of the time.

The biggest UK energy problem is not supply but waste. By 2026 100% of German houses will be zero energy consumers. In the UK it will be under 5%. Thirty years ago more than 60% of electricity was coal-fired; today the figure is 38%. Electricity generation wastes nearly 60% of input energy. Other EU countries have combined heat and power stations that are 70% efficient. The most wasteful sector is transport at nearly 80%, and 99% dependent on oil. Indeed, more than 80% of all UK oil is now used for transport, as other oil uses have been replaced mostly by gas. There is as yet no economic alternative to oil for transport, but there needs to be: toxic transport fumes kill about 29,000 people a year, and all UK cities breach both the WHO and EU air standards.
Professor LJS Lesley
Liverpool

• Simon Jenkins states that “wind generated electricity … but not much”. The Department of Energy and Climate Change published statistics in March showing that renewable energy provided a record 15% of the UK’s electricity in 2013, leading to a 3% drop in the UK’s use of coal and a 1% drop in use of gas. For the last quarter of 2013 the figures are even better, with renewables generating an all-time high of 18% of the UK’s electricity.

That meant that the amount of coal being used to generate electricity was 7% lower in the third quarter of 2013 than a year earlier, with the share taken by gas also falling to the lowest for at least 15 years. Jenkins is incorrect to state that “wind power has driven up fuel poverty”. The increase in the price of gas over the last few years is the main cause of rising fuel bills. Last year, wind energy powered more than 6m homes, and helped lead to a decrease in use of fossil fuels.

These are real achievements of which the UK should be proud. When it comes to taking practical action against climate change, wind energy is a key player.
Jennifer Webber
RenewableUK

• Three cheers to Simon Jenkins for his reference to Wade Allison’s book Radiation and Reason. If coal, oil, gas, etc operated to the equivalent safety level of nuclear power, they would be prohibitively expensive. To make further environmental progress, the government should back an immediate investment in a thorium nuclear plant – smaller, safer and can’t be weaponised (which is why governments ignored it 60 years ago).
Dominic Rayner
Leeds

Theresa May

Home secretary Theresa May told the Police Federation to ‘face up to reality’. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

First in 1986 and then again in 2002 I worked with a University of East Anglia team, the Home Office, the police and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on successive reforms of police training. These were part of Home Office attempts to change the culture of policing by introducing a different kind of officer – informed, committed to democratic and responsible policing, critically reflective both of their role and of the policing organisation and skilled in the exercise of independent judgment.

On both occasions our proposals were accepted by the Home Office and by ministers and also by the service – especially those in middle ranks. In both cases the reforms were eventually scuppered. Resistance came not from rank-and-file officers – far from it – but from chief officers and the Police Federation.

But what enabled this resistance in both cases was the lack of commitment of the Home Office itself and the dismantling of national police training through severe cuts. Both reforms were aimed at tackling precisely those “cultural” pathologies cited by the home secretary (Police Federation must reform now or government will intervene, May warns, 21 May).

The only route to cultural change in policing is police education, and this demands a national system of training. In 2002 HMIC declared police training “unfit for the 21st century”. Today, it is a shadow of what is was then. The “Fed” is, indeed, in serious need of reform, as the home secretary insists – but reform begins with system managers.
Professor Saville Kushner
Ex-Home Office adviser, Auckland, New Zealand

• Martin Kettle may think that Theresa May ripping up the Tory pact with the police is a smart move (21 May). In an emergency, the police run towards trouble. The politicians run to the nearest spin doctor to find out how to blame someone else. Choosing between them isn’t hard.
Wendy Tagg
Uckfield, Sussex

On 23 May 2013, President Barack Obama made the last major speech in which he again pledged to close Guantánamo Bay. His many pledges on the matter remain purely rhetorical. On Friday, human rights activists and organisations will take part in a global day of protest in more than 40 cities in nine countries to remind Obama of his broken pledge. In London, we will hold a public demonstration in Trafalgar Square from 12pm to 2pm.

Last year, Obama asked the American people: “Is this who we are?” With on-going torture, indefinite detention and the latest ruling by a US federal judge on force-feeding of prisoners, his actions have responded in the affirmative. Although he has released 11 prisoners, the slow progress after so many years shows there is no real intention of ending what can be considered a mass hostage crisis. For the 154 remaining prisoners, held almost wholly without charge or trial, rhetoric is not good enough.
Aisha Maniar
London Guantánamo Campaign

The debate on housing takes on more and more of the logic of Alice in Wonderland (Britain’s building crisis – and how to solve it, 20 May). First and foremost, the debate is wrongly framed in terms of assets and finance and not housing. Thatcher’s right to buy was an asset wheeze not a housing policy. Its contingent effect was to actually undermine supply by reducing the effective market for private-sector homes. The parallel attack on local authority building under the pathetic smokescreen of increasing housing association output has had the same effect, with output collapsing from 113,000 the year before she was elected to 1,500 the year the Tories left office, before then sliding further under Labour.

However, in the 40 years since 1970, through all the financial ups and downs and the tireless meddling of politicians in the planning system, the private sector built at a fairly consistent level of about 160,000 until 2010, since when it has collapsed to 100,000 (all UK figures) During a roughly comparable period, real house prices have increased by about two-and-a-half times.

The idea that the private sector can build twice as many houses as it has achieved on average since 1970 and that this will buck the trend of the increase in asset price is not credible. The further assumption that property-owning turkeys would vote for such a Christmas present is fantasy. Until housing is seen as a basic right, the rental market is completely transformed and democratised and land values are taxed, the tinkering suggested by your contributor and others will be doomed to be swamped by unintended consequences, just like Help to Buy.
Neil Blackshaw
Little Easton, Essex

• The article by Hilary Osborne appears, as with most commentators, to concentrate on the supply side of the housing problem. Savills is quoted as saying that if building does not increase quickly, there could be a shortfall of 160,000 homes in the south of England in the next five years, and the Home Builders Federation claims house-building needs to effectively treble to 350,000 dwellings a year to control house price inflation. Should not an analysis of the problem include reference to the demand side? In particular, that if net inward migration continues at current levels, then in five years there will be a further million or so people needing homes. Surely allowing this influx of people to continue unchecked is counterproductive when we have a shortage of housing and – relative to other European countries – a shortage of space in which to build them?

If we are building only 115,000 dwellings per year on average, as Osborne’s article states, yet have an annual net inward migration of 200,000, then it is only a slight exaggeration to say that we are only building at a rate which will house newcomers to the UK. These numbers should surely be part of the debate.
Anthony Ingham
London

• Mark Carney and the coalition leaders try to pin the responsibility on each other for doing something about the housing market, which Carney correctly states has “deep, deep structural problems” (Report, 19 May). In response, Cameron quickly passes the buck again by saying: “We have given the Bank of England the duty to make sure that bubbles are dealt with in the economy.” But housing bubbles are best dealt with by an anti-inflationary tax on property such as the old JS Mill land tax, which measures how much land goes up in value in a year and taxes that. This is the province of the politicians but they are loth to jeopardise elections by even the appearance of threatening the homeowner vote in any way. The Labour Land Campaign seriously considered branching out from lobbying fellow socialists by approaching the banks saying: “Get behind LVT: you are the first to lose when housing bubbles pop and wipe out inflated mortgages in your collateral.”
DBC Reed
Northampton

• Simon Jenkins’s denial (Comment, 21 May) that a housing crisis exists may strike a chord with some other comfortable, multi home-owning baby boomers but to describe what Mark Carney calls the “biggest risk to financial stability” as a construct of the Home Builders Federation’s campaigning verges on the absurd. In recent years, even many of those in their fifties and sixties who have often opposed new home-building have seen, through the experiences of their children or other relatives, quite how difficult things are now for people who want to buy or rent their own home, put down roots and perhaps start a family. That is the most potent influencer of opinion, rather than mere official statistics and the like, and why polls are increasingly showing that housing availability and associated costs are an issue of growing importance.

There are, of course, countless studies and reams of data to evidence the need to build more homes, even if Mr Jenkins may think they are all “meaningless”. Social housing waiting lists have lengthened by 65% since 1998; 50,000 families live in temporary accommodation; the national average house price to income ratio has all but doubled in the last 15 years; and in the same period we have seen 1 million more 20-34-year-olds living at home with their parents. In the case of the last fact it may be that this is the product of a cultural phenomenon that means a growing number of young adults simply enjoy the company of their mums and dads or perhaps the long-term lack of supply is restricting the choices that people of Mr Jenkins’ generation were better able to make.

Mr Jenkins’s defence of the countryside is laudable and any sensible person will agree on the need to preserve our environment, but the situation he characterises is at odds with reality. Over the last decade, the green belt has actually expanded and proportionally far more new homes are now built on previously developed land in towns and cities. The diagnosis and suggested remedy put forward by Mr Carney over the weekend was strikingly simple: the dysfunction in the housing market has been caused by decades of undersupply and the only effective long-term cure is to build more homes. The debate about how, where and by whom is now the right one to be having. The question of whether or not the problem even exists is really one that belongs to 2004 rather than 2014.
Stewart Baseley
Executive chairman, Home Builders Federation

• I must applaud your article regarding Woodberry Down (The remaking of Woodberry Down, G2, 19 May). I have lived here for over 22 years and served on the estate development committee from the moment the regeneration was proposed almost seven years ago. I have read the rest of the papers’ articles about WD. You took the time to talk to us. Thank you so much. At the beginning we had almost 2,000 homes here, all of which were social-rented. We now have 1,142 homes social-rented, 3,342 private and 1,126 shared-ownership. We were promised everyone would be rehoused; we lost homes, not gained. Your article was the only one that told the truth.
Debbie Sinanan
London

• Why not bring back schedule A property tax?
Hypatia Yavashli
Deal, Kent

• Ten years ago I commissioned the late Professor Peter Ambrose to write the Zacchaeus 2000 Memorandum to the Prime Minister on Unaffordable Housing. Tony Blair hadn’t asked for it; we thought he needed it. Lord Alf Morris sent it to him and he replied he had read it with interest. It was sent to all parties. Ambrose repeatedly stated that the rising commitment to house purchase loans from 23% to 72% of GDP since 1980 was unsustainable. He also reported that the main factor producing relatively low rents for council housing over many decades was not the subsidy from central government but the arrangements by which rents were averaged or “historically pooled” across the stock of an authority. Affordable council house rents continue to be whittled down by transfers to building societies, by boosting the right to buy and by relating social rents to market values so increasing the need for, and the cost of, housing benefit. The more it is needed the more the present government cuts it.

That is ethically indefensible from the point of view of both the council house tenants and the taxpayers. The additional costs arising from parliamentary mismanagement of UK housing arrangements, from 1980 to the present day, fall on society as a whole. Good management should address the mismatch between average and low incomes and spiralling rents an prices of a decent home.
Rev Paul Nicolson
Taxpayers Against Poverty

• Surely there is a sixth action missing from Hilary Osborne’s list of measures to fix the housing crisis – getting the skilled workforce needed to build the homes. Put simply, if the construction industry fails to recruit and develop a skilled workforce, the predicted crisis will become a reality. Most urgently, the construction industry will need 120,000 new apprentices in the next five years. Industry is taking the lead to make this happen with initiatives such as higher level apprenticeships – equivalent to a degree. But we also need to do more to attract young people into construction. The challenges we face are significant, with recent research showing that 35% of careers advisers believe that a career in construction is unattractive. At CITB we have challenged employers to get into schools and sell the benefits of a career in construction.

However, industry cannot do this alone and the message is clear – to avoid a housing crisis, government, industry and education must to work together to build and retain a skilled workforce.
Stephen Radley
Construction Industry Training Board

• Missing from Hilary Osborne’s analysis: right to buy – is any expansion of social housing simply going to lead to another buy-to-let bonanza in 10 years’ time?; the Growth and Infrastructure Act, which actively invites developers to renegotiate (ie abandon) affordable numbers; any mention of environmental capacity – water, clean air, etc – in London and the south east; or of the impact on the rest of the country of continually insisting that bright young people can only succeed if they move away.

She also fails to understand, in her first recommendation, that, constrained and starved of resources as they are, local authority planners are just about all that stands (with some dedicated thorn-in-the-side civic societies) between communities and even worse design and space provision than we currently have.
Judith Martin
Winchester

• Whether or not you share Simon Jenkins’ view that better management of the existing housing stock is what is required, not more new build, there is no doubt that large house builders throttle the rate of new building. After all, it’s in their self interest. Costs to build stay static in times of low inflation but house selling prices rise as demand increases. The lag between inflation and selling prices enables the house builders to profit. When inflation picks up the supply is throttled. Isn’t this the same situation with oil? If the Middle East oil producers responded to cries by the west that petrol is too expensive by increasing supply, their profits would fall and their reserves would reduce. It’s in their interest to control the production of oil all the time petrol prices remain high.

As with so many things, the middle way is probably the way we should go. New house building should be carried out by both the public and private sectors. Both sectors need to provide both rented and owner occupied tenures. But simultaneously, unoccupied town and city homes need to be brought back into use. In the 1970s, Haringey council in north London did just that. Instead of spending on bed and breakfast for homeless families, money was spent on making habitable houses purchased for redevelopment.

The next step is to accept that “affordable” housing is a stop gap until we can pay enough for people to “afford” housing, and not and end in itself.
Richard Bull
Woodbridge, Suffolk

• Vince Cable says that something like 300,000 new houses need to be built each year in order to stabilise house prices (Lloyds set Mortgage cap as London property fears rise, 21 May). This view that house prices are simply regulated by supply and demand is often repeated to justify demands for rolling back green belts and building over public spaces. However, recent government statistics state that new house building has increased some 30% from last year, while at the same time house prices have risen sharply (in London). Does this not imply that there must be something other than supply vs demand going on here?

The fact remains there are thousands of empty homes in London and elsewhere which are simply not up for sale or rent because they are held as investments either by individuals or (more likely) large companies. If it is true that something like 60% to 70% of new house purchases in London have been for investment purposes (many from offshore companies), then this is a “demand” of sorts for property, but not from people who want to live in it.
Joe Hartney
London

• Simon Jenkins suggests that the demand for more housing is driven by the middles classes looking for ” an investment, a hedge against inflation and old age, a golden gate to otherwise impossible wealth”. He has things completely back to front. Housing can only be the financial investment it is because it’s so rare. Individual wealth is not the problem – lack of supply to meet housing demand is.

He generously suggests ever more property be crammed on to inner-city brownfield sites, but in my short commute to work by train through south London, not a single awkwardly shaped plot of land, mostly adjoining train lines, remains undeveloped with multi-story rabbit hutches. But these piecemeal developments have absolutely no impact on the wider housing need, only on the healthy bank balances of those developing them. Jenkins suggests that all the poor want is “somewhere cheap to live, near work”. How patronising to assume the poor don’t want homes to grow and develop their families and lives in. He reduces their housing needs to little more than the Victorian rooming house – in modern terms, Air BnB – where bodies are briefly recharged with sleep before the next working day.

Jenkins may want to live in a commune, or share a room in a house, or have the government dictate how he uses the space within his home to best effect. I just want to not have to spend three quarters of my monthly take-home pay on rent in my apparently unreasonable demand for a one-bedroom flat to myself. We need to build, now, in cities and in fields.
Justine Brian
London

• I grew up in the Woodberry Down area in the mid to late 80s. My family has lived there for nearly 40 years, though most of us have left now. But I visit on a nearly weekly basis to reminisce and take in the changes. Your article was really well-researched and interesting. I am pleasantly surprised that a newspaper would devote so much leg work on a local issue. It is really easy to rely on a Berkeley Homes survey telling us “they’re worth it”, like the Times did, or going to the resident associations who have to kiss the hand that feeds them – I am the head of my local resident association and know how representative they are. At the best they represent the most articulate and well-spoken tenants or in some cases tenant. The only way to do this is to get out on the scary estate and talk to as many people as possible – and that is what you guys did.

As a child, I was a great fan of the Commando comic books. One of the reoccurring characters was the cheeky chappie cockney who served as a gung-ho private or seaman. It was only many years later that I realised that those old men preventing me from trampling on their flowerbeds were very probably those very characters. They carried themselves heavily those days, the brightness had gone and a look of betrayal was in their eyes. I realise now that they felt betrayed by a government who had reneged on the post-war settlement of the welfare state. In the last years of their life, they saw their dream of a fair deal for the “working-class Londoner” being taken from them as their “homes for heroes” were allowed to decline, allowed to decline to the state that Tony Pidgley can crow over them, telling us that “it looks like a concentration camp”.

He should say that to the faces of those residents in Spring Park Drive with their proud beautiful gardens. I notice that even now, despite the threatening compulsory purchase orders plastered on their walls, some of the residents still keep their gardens beautiful. He should say it to my father who enjoyed walking through that lovely street after prayers on the sabbath. “It’s like being in the countryside,” he would say. He should say it to the hundreds of Jewish residents who lived proudly in those heroic flats. He should say it to the German Jewish refugees who loved living in those flats because they could catch a short bus ride to Sadler’s Wells to see a performance. I visited a friend, a lawyer in a City firm, who remembered growing up in Nichol House. “It was a posh place to live in until the 80s,” he said.

The one thing I remember about the residents was that they were modest. They were modest, generous, simple people. I wonder what they would say when they see those billboards plastered all over the place advertising exclusive swimming pools and gyms for slim, wealthy white people wrapped in bouncy white towels. I wonder what they would say to people who “cross the road to avoid us”.

I now realise after reading your article that the estate and health centre I took for granted and thought eternal and normal as a child was a precious short 30-year experiment in kindness, goodness and fair play and now all of this is handed back on the plate to the generosity and kindness of the private sector and the generously paid concentration camp expert, Mr Pidgley.

So this article has thrown some light on things. I understand why in Upper Clapton, a large housing estate and sheltered accommodation for the elderly was knocked down and is now being marketed by Savills. I now understand that all of Hackney’s aging council estates are being eyed by the generously paid and I understand what a black girl in Narrow Way meant when she said to me: “We’d better get our act together; they don’t want us here anymore! They don’t want us here anymore!”
Mayer Abraham
London

• In the interests of transparency, I wonder if Simon Jenkins could tell us how many spare rooms he has and how many of them he rents to lodgers? Although it is very true that we could make more efficient use of our existing housing stock, the fact is we have not built new homes in sufficient numbers for decades. Let’s take empty homes, for instance. In London there are just under 60,000 empty homes, yet we have 354,000 families on council waiting lists. We should absolutely work to bring empty homes back into use, but Jenkins is kidding himself if he thinks it will come anywhere near to solving the problem.

The Greater London Authority’s strategic housing market assessment estimates that we need to build 62,000 homes per year in London every year for 10 years if we are to meet growing demand and clear the existing backlog of homes. Unfortunately, Boris Johnson has settled on an inadequate figure of 42,000 homes per year as his housing target.

Jenkins’s ideas may have some merit, but it is fanciful to suggest that anything other than a mass house-building programme will solve the housing crisis.
Tom Copley AM
London assembly, Labour housing spokesperson

• Rising house prices hurt all those that do not own housing. They make it harder for the next generation to buy. They raise the cost of providing rented accommodation and hence put up costs to tenants. They represent a massive transfer of wealth to the baby boomer generation and widen the gap between rich and poor which then cascades down the generations.

The causes of the problem are clear enough. Planning restrictions limit the supply of new housing, particularly where constrained by the green belt. Where house prices rise faster than construction costs, developers make more money by hoarding potential building sites than by building on them. Demand is stoked by the favourable tax treatment that most home-owners are blissfully unaware of. The abolition of schedule “A” property tax in the 60s means rented housing is taxed more heavily than owner-occupation. Exempting owners from capital gains tax makes home-ownership ludicrously profitable; so much so that our houses have increased in value by more than the total cost of purchasing them including all the interest paid on mortgages. No wonder everyone scrambles to climb the housing ladder.

Tackling the root causes will not be popular with the electorate; but the longer things are left as they are the more painful the solutions will be.
Dave Treanor
London

The use of any animal for medical research rightly attracts public attention (Jane Goodall and Peter Gabriel urge Air France to stop ferrying lab monkeys, theguardian.com, 20 May). But the majority of people accept that animal research is currently essential to help deliver life-changing and life-saving new medicines. In the UK, it is illegal to use an animal in research if a validated non-animal alternative is available. Nevertheless, the carefully regulated use of animals remains a vital tool in improving our understanding of disease and ensuring the safety of new medicines.

The use of primates understandably provokes strong emotion. As your report recognises, they currently account for less than 0.1% of all animal procedures licensed by the Home Office, yet their highly regulated use has been of great importance in major medical advances such as life-support systems for premature babies and deep-brain stimulation to relieve the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

The use of primates in research today is focused predominantly on major infectious diseases, such as treatments for tuberculosis, important neurological studies and new treatments for paralysis. In addition, UK and international law is clear that the vast majority of medicines intended for human use cannot be licensed without testing on animals, and primates are used for some of this testing, but only where they are shown to be the most appropriate species. While the coalition recognises the importance of such use of animals, we are implementing a plan to develop and adopt more non-animal alternatives in the UK and globally.

In the meantime, transport operators such as Air France, which is prepared to carry animals for research while ensuring high welfare standards during their journey, should not be criticised for adopting a socially responsible role in facilitating life-saving medical research.
David Willetts MP
Minister for universities and science

Your report (Foreign Office secrecy continues over archive of illegally held files, 11 May) is a welcome addition to previous demonstrations of the Guardian’s ongoing concern for the hundreds of thousands of historic documents hidden away at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office high-security facility at Hanslope Park.

Until late last year their existence had been concealed for decades, and they were held contrary to the provisions of the Public Records Act until the belated grant of a legal instrument regulated their status. As well as records of the Colonial Office dating back to the 19th century, these so-called “special collections” include papers on slavery, files created in colonial Hong Kong and records relating to the cold war spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean.

Another opportunity to discuss both this collection and the “migrated archives” returned from former British colonies (also the subject of a Guardian investigation) will be provided by a conference in London on Thursday 29 May, The Secret Archive: What is the significance of FCO’s migrated archives and special collections? The conference will bring together historians, archivists, lawyers, journalists and civil servants to examine the background to the long concealment of the documentation.

Consideration of the best means of securing the future survival and release into the public domain of these special collections will be facilitated by a round table discussion with Ian Cobain of the Guardian, Patrick Salmon (chief historian at the FCO), David Anderson (author of Histories of the Hanged) and Maurice Frankel (director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information). For details and registration, see the Institute of Commonwealth Studies School of Advanced Study website.
Dr Mandy Banton and Dr Susan Williams
Institute of Commonwealth Studies, School of Advanced Study

Independent:

I have just exercised my franchise. I had a choice of 11 parties in all – Britain First, British National Party, Conservatives, Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrats, No2EU, Plaid Cymru, Socialist Labour, Socialist Party of Great Britain, and Ukip. I only received information through the door from three of these, and none of these mentioned any local meetings or public debates. 

Whatever the outcome, with so many small unknown parties to the extreme right and to the left to divide the vote it is unlikely that the views of the majority of voters will be reflected in the result. No wonder people do not vote when it is so difficult to do so in an informed way, in spite of the media coverage.

I can’t help thinking maybe we were right in the Sixties when we said: “Don’t Vote; it only encourages them!”

Sue Hamblen, Cardiff

 

Voting for Ukip in the European elections this week was bizarre.

I can understand voting for them at general elections if that is your preference. The UK Parliament will ultimately decide whether or not we remain a part of Europe, not the European Parliament.

To vote Ukip into the European Parliament means that we will be represented by a party that does not want to be there, hardly a party that will look after our best interests in the meantime.

Derek Tate, Melksham, Wiltshire

Had Parliament made it compulsory to publish the number of spoiled ballot papers along with the registered votes for candidates it would have provided a way of registering a protest without encouraging the likes of Nigel Farage.

Unfortunately it was better for politicians to ascribe low turnout to people being content enough not to bother voting, rather than being fed up with the lot of them and having nowhere to show it.

Ashley Herbert, Huddersfield

In some countries, youthful anger and despair produce suicide bombers. Here, middle-aged dissatisfaction produces suicide voters.

Trevor Pateman, Brighton

 

Do your homework and boost Britain

So sad if, as Alice Jones (17 May) predicts, National Work at Home day passed largely unnoticed.

A shift towards working from home, which could transform our national lifestyle, supercharge our national productivity and be the laxative required to relieve our constipated national infrastructure, is constantly undermined by prejudice and moral cowardice. Businesses recoil at the idea that they might trust their employees, and politicians lack the vision or conviction to fight this fear: Boris Johnson’s “skiver’s paradise” soundbite says it all.

How can we escape from this paralysing paranoia? An unambiguous demonstration of courage and commitment from Government would be a great start. Rather than constantly slipstreaming public opinion, perhaps they could lead from the front. What if they actually embraced the digital highway and relocated the House of Commons online? MPs could live in their constituencies, accessible to their electorate, free of the prowling lobbyists and unencumbered by second homes.

Of course if this example were followed it should mean that commuting, and therefore further massive road and rail investment, would be curbed; it could mean that the population drift towards London, and hence demand and price of property, might be reduced; it might mean that Britain would lead the second industrial revolution, rather than endlessly playing catch-up with countries that have overtaken us since the first. How the lobbyists will howl, but MPs will be insulated in cyberspace!

Gordon Watt, Reading

Alice Jones misses the big point. The increase of 62,000 who work from home is due to their becoming self-employed in their own speciality after finding themselves unemployed and unable to find replacement employment. It has very little to do with “exit from the office”.

She dismisses the advantages of working from home. You are your own boss. No one to overrule or pressurise you, no one to control your income or give you the sack. To work at one’s own speed in one’s own home creating a result to suit your own family needs is very satisfying.

Bob Barker, Norwich

Schools turn away from Europe

The troubling decline in the number of UK nationals on the European Commission’s staff reported by James Ashton – a drop of 24 per cent in the seven years to 2012 – contrasts with the long queues of graduates seeking jobs in what has since become the EU during the period around the completion of the European Single Market in 1993 (“My week”, 17 May).

That was a time when universities old and new were growing provision in European languages, sometimes in conjunction with non-language degree programmes such as engineering. They were also acccelerating the development of European studies as a degree subject, and encouraging the evolution of subject combinations which were conducive to employability in the European context, not least because they often included the possibility of a European work or study placement.

Since then, the UK has witnessed the decimation of languages provision in secondary schools, the subsequent retreat from European language provision in many of our universities (a development that has been particularly marked in the former polytechnics), the shrinkage of European studies at degree level, and the decline in the number of graduates with a European-flavoured degree and/or with a European placement under their belt. In short, there are now fewer students graduating from the nation’s universities who have the outlook and the confidence that would enable them to undertake the challenge of working at high level in other EU countries, let alone in EU institutions. The sad fact is that our schools and universities have become less European than they were and in so doing have reduced the employability of our graduates in the EU context.

James Ashton reports that UK nationals now make up less than 5 per cent of the European Commission’s workforce, despite the UK’s accounting for more than 12 per cent of the EU’s population. If this shameful state of affairs is to be remedied, the language learning revival in schools needs to be given fresh impetus and the monoglot, more insular parts of UK higher education need to rediscover Europe.

David Head, Navenby, Lincolnshire

Prince Charles’s Crimean war

I join in the condemnation of Charles’s comments about Putin behaving “like Hitler”, not merely because it is not his place to make comments over political issues but because they are a regurgitation of much of Western right-wing propaganda on the issue.

Although Crimea has been absorbed into the Russian Federation it has happened with the overwhelming support of the local population. There seems to be a case of double standards here – self-determination is OK for Kosovo, Gibraltar, the Falklands and Scotland but not for Crimea.

Phil Nicholson, Glasgow

If Prince Charles would compare President Putin to a megalomaniac tyrant perhaps Oliver Cromwell or any one of the many home-grown plunderers and looters of other nations might be a better choice.

Denis Ahern, Stanford-le-Hope, Essex

None of your correspondents on the subject of Prince Charles’s reference to the parallels between President Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Hitler’s takeover of the Sudetenland seems to be aware of the much closer parallel of the Soviet Union’s takeover of the Baltic States and eastern Poland under the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Putin would doubtless look on any comparison to Stalin as a compliment.

Marina Donald, Edinburgh

Charles Windsor is a foolish old man who represents nobody but himself. Why anybody, least of all Russia, should take his burblings seriously is beyond me.

David Wheeler, Carlisle

Ancient answer to a Greek crisis

Christine Berry suggests (letter, 20 May) that we have been told about the trickle-down effect for decades. Trickle-down economics has a far longer history. In his Ways and Means of 354 BCE the politician, general and all-round know-all Xenophon explained to the Athenians how to get out of an economic crisis.

They should attract rich foreigners with special privileges, who would then get the economy moving, thus eventually benefiting the lower orders.

I have no idea whether this worked for Athens or not, but I have my suspicions.

Roger Moorhouse, Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Times:

Western Antarctic ice sheet: its collapse could raise the global sea level by 60cm Getty Images

Last updated at 12:01AM, May 22 2014

Where scientific research can affect public policy, accuracy must the priority

Sir, Peer review does not begin and end with the publication of a paper, as Cameron Rose (letter, May 21) appears to suggest. Reaction to the published paper is at least as important as the reaction of the reviewers, and will determine whether the science in the paper stands up or not.

Mr Rose may not have had the opportunity to read the reviewers’ reports on Professor Bengtsson’s paper. They identify mistakes both of calculation and of analysis. Essentially they say that where the paper is correct it is insignificant, because it says nothing new; and where it is significant it is incorrect, because of the errors they identify — and not only is it incorrect, it “open[s] the door for oversimplified claims of ‘errors’ and worse from the climate sceptics media side”.

Robin Levett

Beckenham, Kent

Sir, You reported (May 16) an accusation that a research paper submitted to Environmental Research Letters ( ERL ) was rejected because it took the position that the human impact on the climate system has been overestimated. This was based on a comment that this paper would be “harmful” to the discussion of climate change.

Like most respected journals, ERL rejects over half of all submitted manuscripts; we reject about 65-70 per cent. In response to your report, we took the exceptional step of obtaining permission from the peer-reviewers to release their reviews of the paper. The reviews show that the paper was rejected because it contained significant errors and that its overall originality, accuracy, and contribution were rated very low.

The reviewers also suggested that the authors look at their work again, reformulate it and, if they were able to, resubmit it. This clearly shows that the reviewers were not trying to “suppress” the research.

Daniel Kammen

Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Research Letters, University of California, Berkeley

Sir, Stephanie Flanders’ BBC documentary on polio gave a balanced view of the research which led to successful vaccines but it also showed the dark side of research. I am now retired from active research but as an independent, mainly hands-on medical research scientist of many years I have seen plagiarism in abundance, exploitation of juniors, arrogance and unwillingness to co-operate in achieving a common goal. The worst are the “gurus” who stake claims to particular fields and regard themselves as oracles above questioning. Unfortunately, it is the guru who attracts funding and easier access to publication while those ploughing lonely but potentially fertile furrows, struggle.

The peer reviewer, often such a guru, of projects or publications is not beyond criticism when he/she uses anonymity to be less than objective — in fact there are so many obstacles, it is wonderful that the modest researcher persists. Ms Flanders’s descriptions of Flexner, Sabin and Salk showed the extreme egotism of the guru phenomenon to perfection, I have seen it replicated many times in my long career.

Dr Robert J Leeming

Coventry

Sir, The best description of peer review that I know is that is it the process whereby one group of scientists does its best to prevent another group from publishing.
I think that explains it precisely.

Professor Tony Waldron

UCL

Sir, The riposte to Akbar al-Baker, of Qatar, by Daniel Moylan (letter, May 20) was mild by any standard. I lived under the flight path for over 20 years, in Horton, Berkshire, so close that the shadows of aircraft taking off and landing at Heathrow would fall across the house. Those who don’t live close to the flight path of an airport cannot understand that you “never get used to the noise”, though you can tolerate it to some degree.

It is galling to hear a leading person from Qatar lecturing the UK on the “excesses of individual freedom” and for “making a fuss” — in Qatar any anti-government speech or writing is enough to have you thrown out of the country.

Richard Coates

Hayling Island, Hants

Sir, Daniel Moylan rightly draws attention to the one million or so people who would be subjected to unsafe noise levels if a third runway goes ahead at Heathrow. Few seem to realise that a third runway, some half a mile north (and slightly west) of the existing runways would bring incoming aircraft over the heart of Central London half a mile further north of the existing flight path for the northern runway. Most of the City, West End, Belgravia, Chelsea, Kensington, Hammersmith and Chiswick will be right under the flight path. Pollution as well as noise will spread right over the centre of our capital city. Can any economic or operational argument justify this attack on Londoners’ quality of life?

Henry Kronsten

London W6

Sir, Mr al-Baker says “If you live under the flight path, I assure you, over a period of time you will not even hear the aircraft passing over your house.” I lived in Datchet for 12 years and I can assure Mr al-Baker (who has clearly never lived in a place such as Datchet) that you always hear the planes flying over your house and you do not get used to it. You do not appreciate how bad it is until you actually live there for a time. It is the non-continuous nature of the noise. Maybe in winter the noise is reduced when you are indoors but the problem is mainly the summer months. Windows are open and the noise of the planes is very disruptive when trying to have a conversation or listen to what is being said on the TV. Early morning planes wake you up and being in the garden is a very loud experience. I moved away as soon as I could.

Martin Rimmer

Woking, Surrey

Sir, Apropos “Boris attacks untold misery of Heathrow open 24/7” (May 20) I was explaining that Gulf airlines are so successful because our airports are open 24 hours a day. Europe’s growth is being impeded because airports are closed between 11pm and 5.30am, a critical period for east-west transfers.

If Heathrow or Gatwick do not expand, London will be overtaken by other airports which are open longer and expanding. The Mayor advocates a new airport to the east of London, but it is Heathrow that has helped London remain a magnet for air travellers.

It is the gateway to Europe and the logical plan is for a third runway to be allowed to enable British carriers and airports to grow as strongly as airlines like Qatar Airways have done in the Gulf.

Britain’s national interest is the same as mine — expansion of the best infrastructure already in place. That is Heathrow.

Akbar al-Baker

Qatar Airways

Having to study mathematics and the sciences in Welsh is a disadvantage for school pupils

Sir, Christian Heinrich says hiring private tutors is “insane” (May 19), but in South Wales the independent tutoring business appears to be booming, especially for children at Welsh-medium schools. Mathematics and science tutors are sought because kids in Welsh-medium schools are being taught solely in this restrictive language. Compare this with the thousands of foreign students opting to learn mathematics and science via the medium of English in order to establish a sound foundation for higher education or employment in science and technology.

Even in English-speaking schools here, Welsh has core subject status and is mandatory at all stages. So Key Stage 4 students in Wales have reduced options at GCSE level. Compare this with students in England who can opt to study a second foreign language.

In Wales neither schools nor the system can be trusted. If a child is to reach the levels of competency in English, mathematics and the sciences achieved everywhere else in the UK, some form of tutoring is necessary.

Ray Kingdon

Cardiff

If rising house prices in the southeast prompt higher interest rates that burden will fall unfairly on poorer areas

Sir, I hope that I am not the only householder who becomes increasingly irritated by the constant headlines regarding the “house price bubble”. Here in North Wales the extreme price rises of the southeast of England are as distant as the condominium prices of Malibu or villa prices in the south of France.

So when the Governor of the Bank of England begins to hint at an overheating economy and probable increases in interest rates this is equally irrelevant and divorced from the reality of property prices in our area. Why should we be penalised with increased rates as a consequence of the excesses of the southeast?

Perhaps devolution not only to Scotland but also to Wales and perhaps even some regions of England is the natural consequence of this continued inequality?

Dylan Jones

Abergele, Conwy

Telegraph:

SIR – Today and tomorrow, the British Medical Association’s Local Medical Committees’ Conference will discuss a motion that supports charging patients for using NHS general practice services. We categorically oppose the introduction of user charges for GP services.

User fees are a disincentive to accessing health care, and they target the poorest disproportionately. They lead to worsening care for chronic conditions, and to more people seeking treatment at A&E.

We acknowledge that there are serious issues that need to be addressed in the delivery and financing of primary care. The solution has to be better public funding of GP services, and sustainable investment in primary health-care services. The poorest and sickest in society must not foot the bill for the lack of political commitment to sustainable funding for GP services. The BMA must side with patients, and oppose charging people for using the NHS.

Dr Clare Gerada

Ex-Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, London

Dr Clive Peedell

Co-Leader of National Health Action Party, BMA UK Council Member, Yorkshire

Dr Louise Irvine

MEP Candidate for National Health Action Party, BMA UK Council Member, Lewisham

Dr David Wrigley

BMA UK Council Member, Lancashire

Dr Jacqueline Davis

BMA UK Council Member, London

Professor John S Yudkin

Emeritus Professor of Medicine, London

Jackie Mcandrew

Academic adviser, Hull

Muiread Milton

Accountant, Colnbrook

A prefabricated ‘micro compact home’ designed by British architect Richard Horden  

6:58AM BST 22 May 2014

Comments33 Comments

SIR – Richard Statham’s call to bring back the prefab (Letters, May 20) has much to commend it. The post-war prefab – compact, cosy and comfortable – became a firm favourite of many who lived in it.

Intended to meet an urgent demand to replace the homes destroyed by bombs, and to house returning service personnel and their new families, the little prefabs soon became a familiar sight.

They were supposed to last for only 10 years, by which time the housing shortage was expected to be over. Yet they became so popular that their owners were loath to leave them, and many remained occupied long after their intended “use-by” date.

We have long had flat-pack furniture in our homes. Is it beyond the Coalition to emulate its forebears and organise some “flat-pack” prefabs to go with it?

Richard Shaw
Dunstable, Bedfordshire

229 Comments

SIR – I thoroughly agree with the Prince of Wales, who allegedly stated that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is behaving like Hitler.

Putin’s recent actions in the Crimea and Ukraine speak for themselves. Coupled with the horrifying news that Jews are again required to register, or be expelled, his actions smack of Nazism in the Thirties.

Sir Gavin Gilbey Bt
Dornoch, Sutherland

SIR – Why all the fuss about Prince Charles? Putin is doing now what Hitler was doing in 1938-39. The only difference is that Putin has not (yet) issued those infamous words: “This is my last territorial demand in Europe” (Hitler, Berlin, September 1938).

Brian Foster
Shrivenham, Oxfordshire

SIR – Lord Tebbit speaks wisely of our failure to understand the Russian position on Ukraine (Letters, May 20).

If Ukraine joined the EU/Nato, Russia would face the prospect of Western arms on its borders. This would be unacceptable to Russia and a threat to world peace.

It would not be unlike the shipping of nuclear arms in 1963 from the Soviet Union to Cuba, an action which took us close to a third world war.

The West has failed to see such consequences and makes vague threats instead of entering realistic negotiations.

Barry Bond
Leigh-on-Sea, Essex

Pushing it

SIR – I am fed up with Andrew Mitchell and the “Plebgate” affair. If only he had had the decency to push his bike through the side gate, as 99.9 per cent of the populace would have done after being requested to by the police, none of this would have ensued and he would still, however arrogant and brisk-tempered, be a useful member of the Cabinet.

Richard Snailham
Windsor, Berkshire

Fowl plague

SIR – Our village has been plagued by three rogue peacocks since February.

Short of shooting them, can anyone suggest a way to get rid of them?

Marysia Pudlo-Debef
White Colne, Essex

Pan gloss

SIR – Geoffrey Hodgson, who dislikes the term “pan fried” on menus (Letters, May 20), is being a little unfair. Any cook knows that the results of frying in a shallow pan and deep-fat-frying can be quite different in taste, texture and nutritional value, particularly with fish.

Adding a three-letter word to the menu seems a small price to pay for the useful information conveyed.

Robert Jackson
Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire

SIR – Even worse is “hand-made in our kitchens”. In other kitchens, do people use their feet?

Sally Whittall
Leominster, Herefordshire

SIR – Having waded through puddles to get to the restaurant, I don’t want see “drizzle” on the menu.

David McCowan Hill
Edinburgh

SIR – “Oven-baked” takes the biscuit. Where else would one bake?

Dinah Walters
Southsea, Hampshire

In opera, looks are more relevant than ever

SIR – I sympathise with Rupert Christiansen regarding the furore caused by his review of Der Rosenkavalier. To blame is the casting director who assigned the role of Octavian to Tara Erraught. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, performances were often just concerts in costume but now, in the age of high-definition video, the ability to act and look right for a role is very important.

As a retired opera singer who sang with the Glyndebourne company on tour and in the season, I am quite aware that the singer’s life is not an easy one. Rejection is par for the course. For certain roles, such as Azucena, looks are less relevant, but for younger female roles, especially in travesty, they are important. Male singers have an easier time because there are more character parts in the repertoire for them.

I am sorry that certain female singers have said that this is about sexism.

Barbara Kendall- Davies
St Brelade, Jersey, Chanel Islands

SIR – Before making unflattering observations about the appearance of the young mezzo-soprano singing Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier, Rupert Christiansen might have reminded himself what Eva von der Osten, the role’s creator, looked like.

Miss Erraught bears a striking resemblance to the singer chosen by Richard Strauss himself to create the part.

Gerald Dowler
London EC4

SIR – Audiences attending just to hear the singer will do best to buy a CD: it will be much cheaper, and intonation and diction will often be more assured.

Michael Steen
Mattingley, Hampshire

SIR – Opera should be accessible. Perverse casting only attracts accusations of elitism and risks alienating audiences.

Felicity Thomson
Symington, Ayrshire

Till tips for M&S

SIR – If Marks & Spencer wants improved sales, it should make it easier for shoppers to pay. I frequently abandon a purchase either because I can not find an open till, or because there are long queues at the only open till.

Gill Locking
West Ella, East Yorkshire

SIR – I used to be able to make a trip to M&S to buy trousers, shirts and jumpers knowing that they would fit. Not any more. For example, a “40-inch” waist can vary by an inch in different designs. If this is rectified, sales will climb.

Mike Ingham
Bristol

Antique treat

SIR – I recently won a box of chocolates, donated by a Women’s Institute member, in a raffle. On inspection, I found the best-before date was 2011. I am unsure whether to eat the contents.

Charles Dobson
Burton in Kendal, Westmorland

SIR – Most Conservative voters, including me, would respond well to a package that set out proposed Conservative reforms on the European Union market, human rights, employment legislation, EU laws in general, sovereignty, immigration, and further ceding of powers to the EU. They should combine this with a plan detailing how they would go about these reforms.

David Cameron either can’t or won’t do that and, as a result, voters like me recognise that we are being viewed as peripheral spectators rather than participants in a democratic process.

There is a case for partial involvement in the EU, but if Mr Cameron is not prepared to tell me what he proposes, then I, and many others, won’t vote for him.

Tony Farrar
Nottingham

SIR – Voting in the European elections is about how much influence and power the EU should have over Britain. The EU already has exclusive “competences” over trade deals, competition rules and Britain’s fisheries. It also has significant influence over our agricultural policy, energy, transport, security and justice, as well as growing sway over foreign and defence policies.

The question is: does Britain want this?

Rory Broomfield
Director, Better Off Out Campaign
London EC4

SIR – Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, buys a full-page advertisement (May 19) to deny that Ukip is a racist party and then, in the same advertisement, peddles the lie that all Romanians are thieves.

Sasha Simic
London N16

SIR – David Martin (Letters, May 21) misunderstands the role of MEPs in the European Parliament. Nigel Farage cannot introduce legislation in that chamber. It is the unelected European Commission which does that.

All that the MEPs can do is vote on what is put before them – often rules and directives to be pushed through in quick succession without time for them to be scrutinised. The question is whether there is the desire in the other 27 countries to change the system. I think not.

Elizabeth Ashwell
Witney, Oxfordshire

SIR – The abiding memory of this election campaign will be the relentless mud– slinging at the front runner.

No one should be surprised if there is a low turnout.

Frank Tomlin
Billericay, Essex

SIR – Mr Farage has, at least, raised the profile of the European elections that otherwise would have been ignored.

Peter Amey
Norwich

Irish Times:

Sir, – Having journeyed with people who are homeless or in need since 1969, I am appalled that despite being alerted to the increase in numbers of people accessing services such as the Capuchin Day Centre, the current housing crisis has been allowed to develop and that it took until two days before an election before it reached the agenda of the Oireachtas.

We became aware of the new situation regarding homeless families in early 2013 when parents asked for take-away food for their children because they had no access to food or other facilities in the evening or at night.

Every day here in the Capuchin Day Centre we meet the tragic human casualties of failed policies that have reached a new level of social neglect by our Government.

While the Government’s new-found realisation that we have in fact a homeless crisis has resulted in a promise of “urgent action” by the Taoiseach, going by past experience we have found that these “promises” soon get swamped under layers of bureaucracy and passing the buck between different departments, local government and other agencies when it comes to their practical implementation. We have seen precious resources being frittered away on meaningless surveys and failed action plans.

Perhaps the State could learn something from our “strategic plan”, which is based on the principles of St Francis of Assisi – “Start with what is necessary and do what is possible”.

We now have a three-tiered homeless population and it is my fear that those most at risk will be plunged to the bottom when it comes to priorities and all three are competing for the same limited resources.

Regarding rough sleepers – the diversion of funds from emergency accommodation and the cessation of the night bus with its ring-fenced accommodation (following the previous action plan) means we have more people at risk of dying on the side of the road than when we started the centre in 1969.

How many of these people will even be alive for next Christmas?

Regarding the new poor who have been squeezed out of the private rented market, if the current appalling situation is not addressed we will be paying the health and social consequences for generations. What is to become of these children who are uprooted from their schools, friends and families? Little children and their stressed-out parents cannot put their lives on hold.

Regarding owner-occupied households, Peter McVerry has predicted a “tsunami” of possibly 35,000 homes being repossessed by banks from people who cannot pay their mortgage. Apart from the human and financial cost, the social consequences of such a situation are unimaginable.

For those sleeping rough, the night bus and emergency accommodation services should be restored to even 2010 levels.

For families in private rented accommodation, reinstate the rent supplement or force landlords to accommodate people adequately.

Recently an intervention by Senator Fergal Quinn led to legislative changes in upward-only rent reviews for commercial property. Surely someone in Government could take up the gauntlet for a similar piece of legislation on behalf of private rental tenants that would prohibit landlords from exploiting vulnerable people who have no other means of providing a home for their families.

Stop the banks who owe the Irish people billions from repossessing homes.

In conclusion I would like to say that while there is a “tsunami” of homelessness, from our experience here in the Capuchin Day Centre, there are good people who do all in their power to help and show concern for the wellbeing of their brothers and sisters who have fallen on hard times. Every day I thank God for the many people who have continued to help us over the years in spite of all the difficulties. – Yours, etc,

Bro KEVIN

CROWLEY, OFM CAP

Director,

Capuchin Day Centre,

Bow Street, Dublin 7.

Sir, – One cannot deny the existence of a housing crisis for many people in Ireland today. However, bringing empty homes into use has received little attention in the current discourse. The CSO’s Census 2011 showed that there were some 17,597 unoccupied vacant houses in Dublin (not holiday homes). Some 7,995 of these were in Dublin City, 4,070 were in Fingal, 2,786 in South Dublin and 2,746 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

In addition, there were 25,333 vacant flats (again not holiday homes), with 16,321 in Dublin City, 2,823 in Fingal, 2,439 in South Dublin and 3,750 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown.

Could it be that these are all now occupied (or for sale) and that the Government must relax planning laws and other regulations to drive the building of more homes in Dublin? Indeed, the figures are the same for all other urban centres. – Yours, etc,

Dr PADRAIC KENNA,

Centre for Housing Law,

Rights and Policy,

NUI Galway.

Sir, – It may not be popular, but it needs to be said – the sentencing of Pat Scanlan to 15 years in prison for importing 4.8kg of cannabis is monstrous (“Restaurateur jailed for 15 years for importing cannabis”, Home News, May 21st).

The merits or otherwise of cannabis can be debated; what is absolutely certain is that its criminalisation has done nothing to diminish its popularity, and it has been freely available in Ireland for over 40 years. It has remained popular because people who use it know it is not in any way equivalent to heroin or other hard drugs. A sentence of 15 years is completely out of proportion to the crime committed, and in due course will come to be seen as barbarous. – Yours, etc,

EOIN DILLON,

Ceannt Fort,

Mount Brown,

Dublin 8.

Sir, – Eamonn McCann seems unable to stop himself from bashing the Catholic Church in his Irish Times columns (“Why do we rarely give the Devil his due?”, Opinion & Analysis, May 22nd).

He’s gone from complaining about the diplomatic status of the Vatican to grumbling about the church’s canonisation procedures (why should an atheist care?) to poking ridicule at Pope Francis for his expressed belief in the Devil. Does he perhaps yearn to be a religious affairs correspondent?

Perhaps this attitude is only to be expected. After all, Mr McCann’s personal faith of radical socialism has been devastatingly disproven by history and human experience, while Christ remains the light of the world to tens of millions of people, educated and uneducated. We should allow Mr McCann a little bit of rancour, I suppose. – Yours, etc,

MAOLSHEACHLANN

Ó CEALLAIGH,

Woodford Drive,

Clondalkin,

Sir, – I could not agree more with Barry Walsh (May 22nd) about the reasons for the low representation of women in Irish local politics, but I would go a bit further. I worked alongside local politicians for many years and in my humble opinion there are many differing and complex reasons why a person would subject themselves to the public scrutiny and the hardships required to get elected. They have to be either highly motivated to make a contribution to the common good (a few), hardworking (most), cheerfully available day and night (most), ambitious (all) or just egotistical (plenty).

They are expected to be on call to their electorate 24/7, they are expected to solve everyone’s problems and can be subjected to all sorts of abuse and misinformed comment. And they are not really that well paid for their efforts. It must also be said that many collude in the confusion that exists about what they actually do and what they actually can do.

Maybe the truth about the low percentage of women going forward for election is simpler than the statistics suggest. Maybe they are just smarter and do not wish to waste their time and energy in the chaotic political scene that is local government, Irish-style. – Yours, etc,

GER MULVEY,

Kells Road, Kilkenny.

Sir, – I strongly reject the assertions in the article by Frank McDonald suggesting that recent amendments to the building control regulations are leading to a decline in building activity. The only source used appears to be an online blog with a clear vested interest to discredit the new regulations (“Dramatic fall in number of buildings being started”, Home News, May 19th). There has been no attempt to provide balance or at the very least check the accuracy of the assertions of the blog. The article is disingenuous with respect to the decline in the construction sector, inferring that the new regulations have further contributed to that decline.

The fact is, as noted in the Construction 2020 Strategy published last week, commencement notices have been falling year on year from about 1,450 per week at the peak of the building boom in 2006 to about 100 per week last year. Around 840 commencement notices have been validated or are at various stages of lodgement in the 10 weeks since the new regulations were introduced. That is about 80 notices per week, which does not constitute a dramatic fall in building starts.

Claims that architects, surveyors and chartered engineers are reluctant to take on the assigned certifier role are completely unsubstantiated. The fact is that over 2,000 registered construction professionals have set up user accounts on the Building Control Management System (BCMS) to date. And the BCMS, far from creating an avalanche of paperwork, has streamlined the administration involved, providing local authorities with easy access to the information they need. Indeed, I am aware that building control staff are already using the BCMS to intervene in a number of projects currently under way in relation to compliance matters that may previously have gone unnoticed.

Furthermore, the new regulations do not prevent self-build or building by direct labour. They do not require the appointment of a main contractor. Self-build projects are known to have been lodged on the BCMS, so the new regulations are clearly workable in such scenarios.

Perhaps Mr McDonald is against providing better building regulations and would prefer to continue with the same sloppy practices that led to the terrible outcomes, such as the disastrous living conditions experienced by the residents of Priory Hall? I am on the side of the home owner and better protection for the consumer. – Yours, etc,

PHIL HOGAN, TD

Minister for

the Environment,

Sir, – Kieran Ryan, chief executive of the Irish College of General Practitioners, makes some interesting points (May 20th) regarding the HSE engagement of a Harvard professor to advise it on strategy.

I believe the HSE should at least be commended for the consistency of its initiative. It appears most appropriate that an organisation that doesn’t understand or engage with general practice in Ireland should engage the services of a person who also does not understand or engage with general practice in Ireland, nor does he live in Ireland.

General practice in Ireland has been the only adequately functioning aspect of the Irish health system for many years, while managing 98 per cent of the Irish population’s illnesses. Patient satisfaction levels are in excess of 90 per cent. The problems in the health system are therefore largely outside of general practice.

However, the HSE has decided to focus its current attention on that one element of the health system that has been working, at a time when the HSE and Minister for Health cannot deliver the other 2 per cent of medical care from a huge budget.

The HSE has claimed that the cost of this two-day initiative, at €150,000, represents an “immensely cost-effective” measure. When one adds in the salary, travel and accommodation costs of the 470 delegates, the cost of the event must be close to €500,000. If the HSE view is that such an outlay is “cost effective”, one must wonder how such an organisation can manage its own finances.– Yours, etc,

MICHAEL AHERN,

Lucan,

Co Dublin.

Sir, – Without commenting on the merits of Ireland becoming a member of Nato, it is remarkable to see the continued lack of knowledge as to what Nato actually is and how it operates (May 20th). Nato members are committed to common defence through its Article Five, but the manner of how to contribute is left up to individual states. Hence when Article Five was invoked after the September 11th attacks, many Nato states had only a limited role in military operations in Afghanistan. The alliance’s supreme political decision-making body, the North Atlantic Council, makes decisions on the basis of unanimity. That is, each Nato member has a veto over Nato policy. Irish opponents of Nato policy should be clamouring for a seat on the council!

The historical experience has shown that far from being dominated by America, Nato’s smaller members have had a strong role in the development of the alliance and its operations. Those who speak of a “Nato foreign policy” or putting “our sons and daughters into the Nato military front line against those who do not share the American world view” fundamentally misunderstand what Nato is, what it does, and how it does it.

As to the moral and ethical components of the debate, I struggle to defend Ireland’s policy of neutrality in the historical context. Ireland faced the same threat from the Soviet Union during the cold war as the rest of our European neighbours, yet contributed nothing to its common defence. The same was true during the second World War, when we let others fight and die in Europe against the threat of Nazi barbarism, which would have consumed our State as well if left untouched.

There are extremely good arguments for and against Ireland’s entry into Nato as it actually exists, and how to address the security situation in Europe as it actually exists. It serves no-one to base a debate on portrayals of either that have zero relation to reality. – Yours, etc,

Dr DARAGH McDOWELL,

Thomas Street,

Bath,

Sir, – The letter from Donagh O’Riordan (May 22nd) concerning his elderly parents is indeed harrowing. The notion that our elderly should be harassed and threatened while suffering from dementia and advanced Parkinson’s disease is certainly “barbaric”. All those who live with Parkinson’s disease can empathise with the feelings of fear and vulnerability which this disease brings on a daily basis. It is this fear of what the future holds for someone living with Parkinson’s that has the power to depress, disable and destroy. Is it not ironic that those who purport to be the providers of care and stability for our elderly and sick people are seen as the purveyors of that instability and fear which make life more difficult? – Yours, etc,

DECLAN MORIARTY,

Clancy Road,

Finglas, Dublin 11.

Sir, – Michael Harding’s welcome promotion of Bundoran as a remedy for melancholy (Life, May 20th) echoed that of a friend of mine from Belfast in the 1970s who expressed it alliteratively: “Beautiful bracing Bundoran banishes the blues”. Tourism Ireland please copy. – Yours, etc,

CORMAC MEEHAN,

Bundoran,

Co Donegal.

Sir, – The Irish Water website states that “The meter will be installed at the stop-valve on the public footpath, and so while it is possible to read the meter it is not envisioned that you will need to do so”. What if I “envision” that I want to do so? I wonder who did the “envisioning” for Irish Water? – Yours, etc,

TONY BURKE,

Abbey Park,

Baldoyle, Dublin 13.

Sir, – Alice Leahy’s letter (May 22nd) regarding the use of newspaper cuttings as toilet “tissues” reminded me of a fellow lodger many years ago complaining to the “woman of the house” that the newspaper adorning the toilet floor was always out of date. – Yours, etc,

TOM GILSENAN,

Elm Mount,

Beaumont,

Dublin 9.

Sir, – I was in Dublin last week and walked through St Stephen’s Green, admiring the trees with their fabulous spring foliage. Although I’m a gardener, I could not identify many of the more exotic species, and I thought it a pity that they were not labelled. It would be wonderful if they were. The OPW provides plenty of useful information about the Green but not its trees. – Yours, etc,

NOEL GALLIVAN,

Ballinahow,

Tipperary.

Irish Independent:

Published 23 May 2014 02:30 AM

Having journeyed with people who are homeless or in need since 1969, I am appalled that despite being alerted to the increase in numbers of people accessing services such as the Capuchin Day Centre, the current housing crisis has been allowed to develop and it took until two days before an election before it reached the agenda of the Oireachtas.

Also in this section

Letters: A slice of common sense is required on sugar in yoghurts

Letters: Government repeating same old property mistakes

Letters: Let’s see what MEPs are really fighting for

We became aware of the new situation regarding homeless families in early 2013 when parents asked for take-away food for their children because they had no access to food or other facilities in the evening.

Every day here in the Capuchin Day Centre we meet with the tragic human casualties of failed government policies that have reached a new height in social neglect by those charged with “cherishing all the children of the state equally” (the very principle that our forefathers gave their lives for).

While the Government’s newfound realisation that we have a homeless crisis has resulted in a promise of “urgent action” by the Taoiseach, going by past experiences we have found that these ‘promises’ soon get swamped under layers of bureaucracy.

Having survived over four decades of the social situations that foster and nurture homelessness with practically no help from the government, perhaps the State could learn something from our Strategic Plan which is based on the principles of St Francis of Assisi: “Start with what is necessary and do what is possible.”

We now have a three-tiered homeless population and it is my fear that those most at risk will be plunged to the bottom when it comes to priorities and all three are competing for the same limited resources.

Rough sleepers have been affected by the diversion of funds from emergency accommodation and the cessation of the night bus with its ring-fenced accommodation (following the previous action plan). This means that we have more people at risk of dying on the side of the road than when we started the centre in 1969. How many of these people will even be alive next Christmas?

We must reinstate the night bus and emergency accommodation, even to 2010 levels.

In addition, the new poor have been squeezed out of the private rented market and if the current appalling situation is not addressed we will be paying the health and social consequences for generations. What is to become of these children who are uprooted from their schools, friends and families?

Families in private rented accommodation must get more help. We should reinstate the rent supplement or force landlords to accommodate people adequately.

Recently an intervention by Senator Feargal Quinn led to legislative changes in upward only rent reviews for commercial property. Surely someone in government could take up the gauntlet for a similar piece of legislation on behalf of private rental tenants that would prohibit landlords from exploiting vulnerable people who have no other means of providing a home for their families.

BROTHER KEVIN CROWLEY OFM CAP

CAPUCHIN DAY CENTRE, DUBLIN 7

Don’t forget this Leinster hero

Brian O’Driscoll and Leo Cullen, of Leinster and Ireland, have each had their large and deserved public send-offs in recent weeks, but another crucial rugby figure who will be departing the stage at the conclusion of this year’s RaboDirect Pro12 competition on Saturday week, after six years’ service, will be Leinster’s revolutionary forwards coach, Jono Gibbes.

A New Zealander, Gibbes, took up the role of forwards coach at the beginning of the 2008-09 season. By the end of that season, Leinster Rugby had won its first Heineken European Cup.

During Mr Gibbes’ time as forwards coach, Leinster added a further two Heineken Cups, making Leinster the most successful Irish province in European Cup history and one of the most successful in Europe.

Until the arrival of Jono Gibbes, Leinster’s forward pack was considered to be the perennial Achilles’ heel of the team.

The top teams in Europe knew that Leinster’s famously talented backline could be rendered impotent by the targetting of the team’s soft underbelly up front. Mr Gibbes found a way to put an end to this problem which had dogged Leinster for many years by developing a vastly improved technique and hard-edge within Leinster’s forward play.

As forwards coach, Mr Gibbes succeeded in fixing the problem beyond recognition to the point where Leinster’s greatest asset is not its (still potent) backline, but its forward pack. It was Leinster’s revolutionised forward pack which made the province’s three Heineken Cups possible, and Jono Gibbes must be thanked for that.

Leinster Rugby showed vision in sourcing Jono Gibbes from New Zealand and taking a chance on him as a young coach. The contribution of Gibbes was a powerful demonstration of the value of sourcing coaches from that land which constitutes the Oxford and Cambridge of rugby coaching, New Zealand.

Mr Gibbes’ ability to form a complementary working relationship at Leinster with such superb (but diverse), successive head coaches as Michael Cheika, Joe Schmidt and Matt O’Connor is also a testament to his character and lack of ego. The standard which he has raised Leinster’s forward play to will pose a worthy challenge for his successor to maintain.

JOHN B REID

MONKSTOWN, CO DUBLIN.

Solving Kennedy conundrum

A sure way of immortalising the names of Jacqueline Kennedy and Father Leonard would be to sell the letters and give the proceeds to the Peter McVerry trust.

MATTIE LENNON,

BLESSINGTON, CO WICKLOW

Geopolitical priorities

K Nolan asked whether the European Court of Justice will instigate proceedings against the Americans for activities in Europe that are similar to the offences with which five Chinese military officials have been charged by the US government (Letters, May 21). The difference between both cases is that the US government is part of Western civilisation but the Chinese government poses a threat to Western civilisation.

CIARAN MASTERSON

CARRICKANE, CAVAN, CO CAVAN

What atheists believe

In response to A Rogers’ letter (‘The beliefs of atheists’, May 20), atheism is a position on one subject only – the existence of a deity. As for the beliefs listed in the letter as being necessary to atheism, were Mr Rogers to look into it he would find that atheists have many different views on all of these subjects. This atheist, while not having a firm position on the origin of the universe, is more than happy to say ‘I don’t know’, and leave it at that until more evidence comes along.

ALISSA DUNSKY

CRUMLIN, DUBLIN 12

Shatter has cake and eats it

An interesting report, emerged yesterday, whereby deputy Shatter was being snapped while leaving a city cafe, and allegedly told the snapper to get lost.

Now, I would support anybody taking such a line in defence of their rights to privacy, but in the light of recent goings-on, this was surely a case of the ex-minister wanting his cake immediately after eating it.

RJ HANLY

SCREEN, CO WEXFORD

Irish Independent

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