A united effort to deliver more homes
Dear Editor, Working in the construction sector, Brown's ambitious housing targets have been a popular topic for debate ever since the launch of last July's Green Paper.

The news that the Regional Assembly's proposed 365,000 new homes was rejected as 'insufficient' to deliver the Government's house-building aims is shocking but symptomatic of the responses being faced by many other regions.

As a result, we are stuck with the unenviable task of building 55,600 more homes than we originally thought possible.
Initial responses to this news have been united, with "It's goodbye to the Green Belt then".

Arguably, this reaction is to be expected, the Green Belt has long enjoyed an almost mystical place in the public's mind, associated (rightly or wrongly) with the protection of England's infamous rolling fields and rural idylls. Debate as to whether this perception is in fact true is not necessary here - what must be communicated is that alternatives exist to concreting over the countryside and Brown's targets can still be met.

At the tail end of last year, John Callcutt released his much-anticipated review of England's house building industry. His research concluded that England's house building industry is in shape to deliver the homes we need for future generations and is capable of delivering 240,000 homes by 2016. In detailing how this is possible, Callcutt raised one very important point: that urban renewal and regeneration must be prioritised as a key means of meeting Brown's targets.

In essence then, a need has been recognised to make use of our existing stock - our 680,000 empty homes or those dwellings deemed uninhabitable - and to increase existing housing densities.

This solution is both viable and in many circumstances, preferable, to placing 100 per cent emphasis on building new homes.

As Decent Homes construction partnerships such as ours are already proving, there are substantial benefits to be gained through the improvement of existing homes. Not only with regards to creating better living environments but as a means of generating community pride and providing for a sustainable long-term future for residents.

The construction industry has the ability to deliver Brown's housing targets and provided they are given the necessary support from government, there is no need for the amount of green field development to be anything other than minimal. Policy makers must take pains to utilise the wealth of refurbishment experience on offer and be flexible in their approach to delivery.

We are all united in our desire for more, affordable homes - let's take a similarly collaborative approach to delivering them.
 SIMON PARRY, Sandwell Decent Homes Partnership

Why would Ken help?
Dear Editor, Why is it that the Government en-bloc or through its Ministers always believes that it knows better than locally elected people who have nurtured the city to its present exalted position or the populace at large, the great British electorate?

Conservatives and Liberals who are in control of the city council believe Ken Livingstone has nothing to offer Birmingham, so why does Mr Byrne believe he can go over their heads?

As The Post has frequently pointed out, London, Manchester, Cardiff and other cities are competition to Birmingham, so why should Mr Byrne think that London - in the form of Mr Livingstone - will have a genuine desire to help?

Before Christmas, Mr Byrne was asking where the industrial and commercial leaders were to enable Birmingham to vie with the top cities in Europe. They are right under his nose: Tony Gallagher, Rod Ackrill,

Tim Brinton, Sir Anthony Bamford and many more. Why hasn't he called them in for discussions at the highest level?

It is quite clear that the Stalinist approach is the one they favour - that's why we still have a West Midlands Regional Council - the idea of which is a dead duck since the Geordies in Newcastle-upon-Tyne voted and threw it out.

And that's why they voted for a treaty in Europe because they know the British electorate will reject a constitution as the French and Dutch did.

These are dark days for us and not just because the economy is on the blink.

Moving the education goalposts
Dear Editor, Your report on the Government's latest school league tables writes off some 300,000 teenagers as leaving school without the three Rs.

What these statistics show is that the goalpost has well and truly been moved by the Government because now, it seems, a teenager cannot read or write unless they get a C grade at English GCSE.

There are problems with this notion. For instance, the fact the girls massively outperform boys at English GCSE. Is it possible that the exam is measuring emotional literacy rather than reading and writing?

As an example, Birmingham's education scrutiny committee asked the city's statistics department to do a basic check on the young people who failed to get C-grade English. This showed that some 947 teenagers who failed to get C at English did achieve a C grade in subjects such as history, religious studies and Geography, all of which are traditional humanities subjects that require a high degree of literacy. That was well over a fifth of this year's "failures".

Similarly some of the schools that you write off, such as King's Norton High, have made great strides in recent years by encouraging young people to do vocational courses, which can ensure they are equipped with the level of numeracy and literacy they need to live in the real world. The Government in its wisdom has decreed that these no longer count.

What price schools turning to the new vocational diplomas that are being introduced this year when they gain no credit for their endeavours?
 Coun JON HUNT, Chair, children and education scrutiny, Birmingham City Council

Improving rail access
Dear Editor, Bravo to The Post for making the need for London to Birmingham rail improvements a front page issue.

I am also very encouraged that Ruth Kelly is thinking about this. At a time when our city council and Centro are happy to build on our disused railway station sites and consign disused Beeching railway lines to be used only for trams, it is encouraging that the Transport Secretary is thinking carefully about how to use such assets and how to improve rail access to and from Birmingham.

Shame on our local politicians that they are not taking the lead.

Without prejudice to the Maryle-bone service ideas outlined in your recent article, why are we not thinking about restarting Paddington to Snow Hill services on those under-utilised existing lines?
 ALAN JONES, By email

Not a friend of the trade unions
Dear Editor, Members in the House of Lords seem to be misunderstanding the aims of the trade unions, which are to be allowed to say that fascists and known racists cannot be members of their unions as they do not follow or support the aims and rules of the organisation.

Maybe if trade unions were allowed to make their own rules without interference by Government this bill would not have been spoken on by Lord Jones, who is not known as a friend of the trade union movement.

I know of no attempt to remove anyone from union membership due to being a member of the Conservatives or Lib Dems etc.
ANDY CHAFFER, Handsworth