Blame construction, not cars, for London’s poor air

Miles Brignall’s article was a surprise since, bearing in mind it affects so many, there has been little information or comment on the extension of theultra low emission zone (“Final countdown: Londoners have a year to ditch their old polluting cars”, Cash). A “public consultation” attracted around 40,000 responses – in an area affecting 8 million residents. A petition on change.org against the extension has attracted more than 120,000 signatures, and comments often reflect the views expressed by the AA – namely that it will adversely affect poorer households.

Urging everyone to walk and cycle is not practical unless you are fit, and relying on public transport that is expensive and unreliable is not attractive in bad weather. Additionally, I have yet to understand – in terms of ecology and biodiversity – how the electricity to power vehicles will be generated or how the batteries will be disposed of.

Can we now discuss the fact that 34% of particle emissions in London is due to construction, compared with 27% from road transport? Ambient air pollution is not an issue regulated by the Health and Safety Executive, making it difficult for construction companies to know what measures, if any, they ought to put in place to mitigate the risk posed to the public and employees by air pollution. But then that would mean querying the mammoth number of enormous construction projects in our cities – and who wants to do that?
Anna Farlow
London NW22

Undervaluing universities

As CEO of a mission group representing professional and technical universities across the UK, I read with outrage Will Hutton’s opinion piece (“I saw up close the trials of university life in a pandemic. We should have done better…”, Comment ).

He says “few beyond the Russell Group go beyond online lectures to offer online seminars and tutorials, so raising questions about the justification for £9,250 tuition fees”. This claim is inaccurate and disingenuous. There are armies of academics and professionals working in and beyond Alliance universities who pride themselves on delivering innovative teaching, including that provided by the virtual learning environment. Most were providing advanced digital learning opportunities for their students long before the pandemic required it.

Alliance universities, like most in the UK, used this expertise to move quickly over the summer to provide a “blended learning” approach for all students; combining face-to-face teaching where possible, aligned with engaging online provision.

Although Hutton has since apologised, this undervaluing of services provided by universities outside the Russell group is nothing new. The reality is that all of higher education serves students, future employers and the nation extremely well, delivering highly employable, job-ready graduates with skills that the nation actually needs.
Vanessa Wilson
CEO, University Alliance
London E1

Call that controversial?

Liberal Judaism’s decision to allow its rabbis to officiate at ceremonies for Jews and non-Jews under a canopy (chuppah) is hardly a “controversial break with centuries of tradition” (“Historic break with Jewish tradition for mixed-faith weddings”, News). Its rabbis have had discretion to officiate at such ceremonies for many years, albeit without a canopy. However, an opportunity was missed to allow clergy of other religions to fully co-officiate together with rabbis and to do so in non-Jewish places of worship. That would have been a radical innovation worthy of a liberal movement.
Rabbi Guy Hall
London N3

Brushing up on our history

I’m grateful for the presence in the media of journalists like David Olusoga (“Black History Month is now an established part of the year. Let’s celebrate its success”, Comment). As someone who was at school in the 1950s and early 1960s, I feel there should be adult education opportunities to re-examine how our generation were taught history and to address the deficiencies in it. Publications such as Olusoga’s Black and British are most welcome, but how about a TV examination/series on the racist views of a generation formed by the postwar curriculum? The leap from Tudors to Victorians has left a huge gap in my and my peers’ knowledge of the “empire”, its history and the legacy with which we’re now living.
Ruth Thompson
Teddington, London

Enter a politician, stage left

David Mitchell is professionally well qualified to ask “Hands up who takes Laurence Fox seriously” (The New Review). Along with his polite demolition of Fox, he throws the spotlight on a certain area of politics that rarely gets an airing. Of all the people who come into politics with a recognisable face from a serious hinterland, I would expect actors to be the experts at knowing what role they are playing and allowing it to impact on what they say and do.

Glenda Jackson may well be the ultimate class act at successfully making the transition. In an earlier generation, Honor Blackman was always a great asset for the Liberals when it came to party broadcasts, while Tracy Brabin, Jo Cox’s successor in the Commons, is perhaps Labour’s current most watchable ex-thespian. By definition, it is impossible for these people to hide their past – unlike, for example, some of those coming from industry or financial services.
Geoff Reid
Bradford

A level playing field?

Regarding her desire to ditch “privilege and chumocracy” and achieve “levelling up” through equality of opportunity, can Justine Greening explain what she would do with those who are unable to take advantage of such opportunity (“We Tories must ditch elitism and embrace true equality”, News commentary)?

As a comprehensive school teacher of more than 30 years’ experience, I can assure her that there are many children who would not be able to achieve what, for instance, Sajid Javid has achieved. Equality of opportunity does not create “true equality” – merely a meritocracy.
David James
Rodley, Leeds

A novel for our times

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, reviewed by Alex Preston (“Man of the house”, the New Review), is not the first novel inspired by that artist. The Welsh poet Catherine Fisher published Incarceron in 2007. It, too, is about being imprisoned in a labyrinthine parallel universe from which there seems to be no escape. Unfortunately, Incarceron was published as a children’s novel and so received none of the fanfare that has accompanied Clarke’s. Nevertheless, I recommend it as a striking, original and memorable fiction that is particularly suitable for a second lockdown – not least because its protagonists escape.
Amanda Craig
London NW1


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