• City bus stops are confusing
Dear Editor, The bus shelters in Colmore Row, in Birmingham city centre, are a disgrace. An improved design, possibly recommended by someone who never catches a bus?

With no obvious way to queue at these bus stops, I challenge any councillor to get a bus from one of them and experience the confusion during peak time, just after 5pm in the rain.

Signs saying when the next bus is to arrive are too high for many people to see. I wonder if any disabled people were consulted on this new design.
Mark Thomas, via email

• Anti-airport stance by BA and Virgin does not fly
Dear Editor, The views expressed by BA and Virgin as to why they would never have a Birmingham base (Post, November 22) are obviously based on surveys of their customers rather than potential customers.

If Virgin are correct in saying they respond to passenger demands then neither they nor BA will be expanding in the foreseeable future unless they use larger aircraft as Heathrow is already operating at full capacity and Gatwick also at peak times. I have not flown BA for more than 30 years and have never flown Virgin – whilst price is a major factor, convenience is equally important to me – and London Airports are not convenient!

In recent years I have flown to Dubai, Thailand, USA (many times) and Canada with either Emirates, United (Continental before their merger) or Air France and always from Birmingham. I hope to add Australia to my list in the next 12 months and that will be with Emirates from Birmingham. Every summer I visit family in Montreal and because Air Transat offer a direct flight from Gatwick at a very competitive price even allowing for two nights accommodation and travel costs that is the only time I use a London airport.

Variable Air Passenger Duty is not a tax on the airline and so BA’s objection is not really justified. The Virgin suggestion that regional airports reduce their charges is equally weak – if Birmingham as an example removed all landing charges I suspect Virgin would not suddenly transfer their services.
Christopher Handy, by email

Academies - 'privatisation which removes accountability'
Dear Editor, ‘More city schools go for academy status’ says the Post headline (November 22).

But most of these primary schools are being forced to become academies by Mr Gove, regardless of the wishes of parents and staff. He claims that it will raise standards in lower-performing schools, but academies are no more effective than local authority schools when you compare like with like, as even the DfE has recently admitted. “Results in 2011 for pupils in Sponsored Academies were broadly the same as in a group of similar (statistically matched) schools.” (Attainment at Key Stage 4 by pupils in Academies 2011, Research Report DFE-RR223, published in June.)

The most effective way to raise standards is for schools to collaborate, with more successful schools and the local authority giving support, and we have inspiring examples in Birmingham. But Gove’s priority is academies, not raising standards. That is he why he won’t allow our successful local authority schools to support lower-performing schools unless both of them become academies.

And academies of course are forced to leave the local authority family.

Many of them are taken over by chains run by private organisations, some with an eye on making profits from them in future. It is a form of privatisation which removes these schools from any democratic accountability to the people of Birmingham.

If you want to know more, come and hear parents, teachers and councillors speaking at the Alliance Against Birmingham Academies public meeting at the Council House on December 11 at 7pm.
Richard Hatcher, Handsworth Wood, Birmingham

• Wheelie bins are unncessary and unsightly
Dear Editor, Nobody in my road in Hall Green, to whom I have spoken, wants wheelie bins.

In most cases access to the back garden (where they would be kept) is via a very full garage, so it would be difficult or impossible to get the bins through. And having three unsightly bins permanently at the front is simply not an option, because many of us are proud of our gardens.

Drives are often very steep on this hill, too, or have steps (and this applies to many local roads); elderly or frail people would find this impossible.

The current system of bags and boxes works perfectly well, is cheaper, and everyone recycles regularly. For myself I would refuse them, as there is nowhere for them to go.

Presumably the trucks would have to be changed, too, in order to handle the new system. A totally unnecessary expense.
David A Hardy, Hall Green, Birmingham

• Public misled into thinking HS2 route is set in stone
Dear Editor, I’ve been to a number of HS2-related meetings recently, and I’m rather tired of listening to the HS2 representatives providing very little useful information.

Residential communities, especially those in Burton Green and Kenilworth will be severely affected by this project.

HS2 have now confirmed that Coventry rail services will be reduced and I’m watching the insanity of precious public funds being used for consultation and mitigation issues, yet the exact final route has not yet been established.

What little being said by HS2 in public meetings is different to that being said in the more private community forums.

Has anyone noticed that Coventry has not been granted a forum to enable interested parties to debate this project?

I have written confirmation from HS2 that they are considering possible bore tunnel proposals (for sections of the line from Kenilworth to Berkswell), and that if such proposals are adopted, this may result in a realignment of the proposed route, possibly towards Coventry, but this would be small. How small I wonder? I feel the public is being misled into believing the route, at this stage, is decided.

The key word on all the HS2 maps available for public scrutiny is ‘draft’.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against the principle of high speed rail, but I believe rail-users desire fast efficient UK local and national services and this ‘EU influenced’ project is not the answer to our rail transport needs.

Mr Cameron and co. Please do the sensible thing. Even at this stage abandon this project or consider an alternative. The UK can’t afford it and precious public funds need to be available for those in need who rely on underfunded essential public services. Don’t blow billions purely for the rail travelling business elite.
Mark Taylor, Member of UKIP Transport Committee and Chair of Coventry UKIP

• More investment in bricks and mortar will solve housing crisis
Dear Editor, Your report about the Midlands’ housing crisis (Post, November 22), highlighted by the National Housing Federation’s Home Truths report, underscores how we have not built enough homes over the last 30 years and how, cumulatively, this has left us with an expanding gap between the supply of and demand for affordable housing.

Lack of supply has fed through into growing housing waiting lists – up 10 per cent across England since the international financial crisis hit.

The Midlands’ increase is a massive 51 per cent with almost 500,000 people now waiting for housing of whom 50,000 are in Birmingham. We have also seen homelessness rise by 22 per cent over the last three years with close to 9,000 families accepted as homeless by local councils last year.

Housing associations like the Matrix Housing Partnership, which manages 20,000 affordable homes from Evesham to Swadlincote, with around 5,000 in Birmingham, are on the front line in dealing with the fallout from long-term under-supply. We are seeing half of our lettings going to homeless households against a backdrop of growing austerity for tenants on low and stagnant incomes and the looming effects of welfare reform.

The housing crisis is also holding back wider economic recovery. The construction industry has been in deeper recession than other sectors of the economy when housing investment could have boosted economic growth, created new employment and supported the home-grown construction supply chain.

Instead of this economically and socially valuable investment we have witnessed a rapidly increasing housing benefit bill. The majority of housing benefit increases are going to low income workers unable to afford massively increasing rents in the private rented sector.

The prospects for young people to get on the property ladder are also bleak. Already, the income needed to support a 75 per cent mortgage on the average home, even if potential first time buyers have a large deposit, is almost £51,000 per year compared to the national average wage of £26,000. The average income to house price ratio across England is 11.1 and 8.7 in the West Midlands.

Greater levels of investment in bricks and mortar are desperately needed and will not only help solve the housing crisis but will boost economic growth, provide jobs and training, and support home grown industries. Let’s hope the Chancellor recognises this in next week’s Autumn Statement.
Mike Pritty, Chairman of the Matrix Housing Partnership, West Bromwich

• Employers need to be in apprenticeship driving seat
Dear Editor, The Richard review of apprenticeships makes a number of recommendations on how these important qualifications need to be reformed to ensure that only the best provision can be labelled an apprenticeship.

Doug Richard has said that the new apprenticeships should be redefined and driven by employers and should last at least a year. Business Secretary Vince Cable said the review echoed putting employers in the driving seat of training programmes.

Here in Birmingham, the Skills for Birmingham project is being led by business to ensure that local employers are driving the development of the Birmingham Baccalaureate qualification. Our approach compliments the view of central government and Doug Richard that employers should be involved in qualification and curriculum design.

What central government aspires to achieve is already in development here in Birmingham. Businesses skills, needs and requirements will appear in the curriculum for all learners following the Birmingham Baccalaureate, not just those who go on to choose an apprenticeship route.
Jane Harris, Research Associate Skills for Birmingham