Commissioner election is democratic shambles

Dear Editor, What a bizarre exercise in democracy the forthcoming elections for the Police and Crime Commissioners have become.

First we were told how undemocratic are the current Police Authorities, notwithstanding that they consist of seventeen people from all branches of the community including Councillors, Magistrates and other independent members, most of whom have gone through a rigorous appointments process to be there. So we will replace them with a single person who - magically - will bring much greater perception of the issues affecting all branches of the wider community (two and a half million people in the case of the West Midlands) and the numerous diverse communities within.

Secondly we are now being subject to radio and TV ads telling us that we must get out and vote on November 15, but we are not told who the candidates are. To obtain that information we must surf the internet. Tough on those people who don’t have access to the web.

Thirdly we have now received a leaflet which – incredibly – tells us we can vote for our first and second choice candidates. Given that we have recently had a referendum in which the great British public (wrongly in my view) voted to retain the “first past the post” system rather than move to the alternative vote system, it now seems that we are being given some sort bastardised system which is neither one or the other.

Fourthly – and here I quote the City Council’s Forward newspaper – “A West Midlands Police and Crime Panel – consisting of 12 elected councillors from across the seven local authorities in the region and two independent members – has already been set up and will hold the Police and Crime Commissioner to account from November.”

So now we have what is looking suspiciously like a mini Police Authority that will hold the Commissioner to account while he (or she) will hold the Chief Constable to account.

Fifthly, we then have the issue of how this panel has been set up. Presumably the councillor members have been appointed from within their councils by a process similar to that followed for the appointment of the councillor members of the present police authority. But what about the two independent members? By what process have they been appointed (or elected)? Were these posts advertised and, if so, where? I certainly don’t recall them being advertised in the Post or other local newspapers.

Police authority members are not alone in not being directly elected. The same applies to NHS Trust Non Executive Directors, Magistrates, School Governors etc, etc. However if Theresa May really is concerned about democracy she could have simply introduced direct elections to the police authorities. Instead we have this shambles.

Anthony N Cook.



High speed rail: Different routes with the same goal

Dear Editor, In last week’s Post Mark Bostock suggested high speed rail should go from London via Heathrow and alongside the M40 to Birmingham.

It is important to note that Mark, who worked on the HS1 route in Kent, isn’t an opponent of high-speed rail. Indeed in many ways his foresight may have saved the HS1 project. But we have moved on, and it is generally accepted that new rail construction is the way to unlock the UK’s internal surface access constraints. And if you build a new railway, you build it to the latest specification so as to ‘future proof’ it.

It’s an interesting dilemma for critics of HS2: many have spoken in support of Mr Bostock’s plans – also endorsed by Chilterns MP Cheryl Gillan – but this means they support a high-speed rail route elsewhere and therefore not in their back yard. So, are opponents fundamentally against HS2 on financial or environmental grounds, as they say, or rather do they just wish the disruption was happening somewhere else?

The latter is not a frivolous question. HS2 Ltd says that an M40 route would cost £3 billion more and affect more population centres, including Gerrard’s Cross, Beaconsfield, High Wycombe and Princes Risborough, which have a combined population in excess of 110,000 people.

Mark Bostock is really making the case for Heathrow, and therefore not acting in the interests of Birmingham and the Midlands. Passengers for Heathrow will, in any case, be able to access their required terminal by changing trains at the Old Oak Common Interchange. HS2 will of course only be able to serve one terminal at Heathrow, meaning that a change on to other inter-terminal transport would still be needed under Mark’s pla

We don’t need to go via Heathrow because we have the capacity at Birmingham Airport to help solve the aviation gap. The forthcoming Davies Commission will look at alternatives to cramming air traffic through one part of the South East. Birmingham Airport’s passengers could double today without new infrastructure. Our runway extension is due for completion in 2014. We will then have spare capacity for over 27 million passengers - more than a third runway at Heathrow could deliver a decade away.

We can make a major contribution to meeting air passenger demand immediately, serving the Midlands and South East as well as other regions, and later, with HS2, we will be a little over half an hour from London.

Our regional economies need to grow and we need to create employment. The Midlands is a great place to live and work and extremely competitive compared to the increasingly overheated South East.

We have cross-party support so it’s time to crack on.

Paul Kehoe,

Chief executive, Birmingham Airport

Dear Editor, HS1 architect Mark Bostock is right when he says that the route proposed for HS2 is flawed (Birmingham Post October 25).

A proposal by Government to build high speed rail lines is something that we should all welcome, but the choice of route has provoked so much opposition that, whatever the technical merits of the route for high speed running, it is the wrong route simply and solely on account of the opposition it has encountered. It divides the country when we should be working hard together to grow the economy.

There are at least two realistic alternative routes that have been proposed, including the Heathrow Hub route proposed by Mark Bostock.

These have been ignored by HS2 Ltd and the DfT, whose published explanations of why they reject alternative routes indicate quite clearly that they have not understood the proposals made to them.

Not only is the route the wrong route but the benefit to cost analysis used, originally designed to assist the choice of different route options for a new road, is totally inadequate for a national high speed rail line that has ripple effects over a very wide area. Many people have pointed out the that calculations of journey time saved as a financial benefit is no longer relevant when many people now work on trains, but the estimate of people using the train services is based on the journey time by road to the station.

With fast trains taking people to a city centre station such as New Street, the geographical catchment area is much larger and the 10-minute plus walk for connecting passengers to the high speed terminal proposed will have a reducing effect on the number of passengers.

When Eurostar relocated to St Pancras, the increase in through journeys from northern cities to Paris or Brussels was much higher for passengers who arrived in London at Kings Cross and St Pancras than for Euston with the additional 15 minute walk.

Sadly, I fear that the Government will not listen to reason and only another costly mistake on the scale of the West Coast franchise debacle will enable common sense to be applied to high speed rail.

Graham Nalty

By Email

Wake-up call over age of consent

Dear Editor, Jimmy Savile was evil personified.

Now a new generation of children is prey to predatory paedophiles due to the age of consent being lowered to 16 years for heterosexual and homosexual sex, with pressure to further lower the age to 14 years. In which case, Savile and his cohorts would not be guilty of many of their crimes. Children are a gift from God and he has entrusted us to protect and care for them. As for vulnerable children who have no-one to look out for them, perhaps this is a wake-up call for us to actively support legislation that will protect young hopeful lives from being destroyed.

Jennie Corbett, Sutton Coldfield

Lack of vision on transport is failing city

Dear Editor, Birmingham really is the only city in Europe not to have decent, modern public transport.

Yes, there’s one tram line, but that merely duplicates the much faster train-line to Wolverhampton. To be fair, there are a lot of buses, but travelling on them is a third world experience, as I found out when I visited. For starters, there is no indication of where you are on your journey, (as there is on every bus in the small French provincial town I live in).

Buses now arrive at city ‘interchanges’, which sounds organised and civilised, but in practice just means lines of bus stops on either side of the inner ring road.

There is no adequate room to queue, and buses arrive, as they always do, in convoys, lining up alongside the pavement so that passengers fall over each other trying to get on.

Payment is cash only: a very practical £1.90 per trip. No ticket machines in the street that give change.

If Manchester and Nottingham have been able to set up basic tram networks over the last 20 years, and in the same period all Birmingham can manage is a half-mile extension from Snow Hill To New Street, then it seems clear that inadequate central funding is not the only reason.

Could the real reason just possibly be that planners in Birmingham think that real people, people who are worth their salt, all travel by car, and that public transport is just for the plebs, so buses are good enough for the likes of them?

To suggest such a thing is outrageous, but, on the other hand, it would explain the manifest failure to find ways to implement plans for building new metro lines and resurrecting suburban train-lines, when other cities have succeeded.

Gary Vernon