26 March 2011
More challenges to budget plans
As the budget has shown, the planning system is an easy target (Osborne's message to Britain: forget the cuts, fill up your tank, 24 March). There is, however, little evidence to support the claim that reforming it would produce a substantial boost for economic growth. The evidence that does exist is weak, coming almost exclusively from free-market economists. The idea of deregulation also contradicts what has been claimed for the localism bill - that it will empower local people, not developers, to decide how places change. The government cannot have it both ways and will likely meet fierce resistance to any relaxation of planning control.
More importantly, we believe that planning embodies principles that should be defended against neoliberal dogma: it provides a democratically accountable mechanism for managing the way our settlements develop, and can help to shape fairer, more sustainable futures. George Osborne thinks these principles can be sacrificed at the altar of economic competitiveness. As a group of academics, planners and community organisers, we disagree. Dr Andy Inch, University of Sheffield, Michael Edwards, UCL, Bob Colenutt, University of Northampton, Dr Tim Marshall, Oxford Brookes University, Dr Jenny Pickerill, University of Leicester, Dr Sara Gonzalez, University of Leeds, Dr Nancy Holman, LSE and 50 others. See guardian.co.uk/letters
You make the astonishing assertation that "the government has offered £650m in subsidies to encourage councils to freeze their taxes" (Report, 24 March). The freeze is not a direct result of a subsidy but an effective cap on any local authority raising their council tax. Far from this being some sort of additional funding, councils were told that if they did raise their local tax they would lose 2.5% of the grant, which has already been slashed and will have been reduced by 26% by 2014-15.
This is not a handout but a centralising measure which would have penalised local people for exercising the freedom to try and protect the services they rely on.
Davis Blunkett MP
Lab, Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough
I can understand the chancellor would want to curb inflationary pressures, but his choice of the duty paid for fuel seems bizarre. The Department for Transport's own statistics (see Transport Trends) state: "The growth in car travel [since 1997] has been accompanied by a reduction in monitoring costs and rising bus and rail fares in real terms," and its analysis included 2008, when we last saw current levels of fuel price inflation.
Although fuel has become more expensive, it is the overall cost of motoring (ie including vehicle purchase) which really matters, and this is down about 14% in real terms. In contrast, bus and coach fares have risen by about 24% over the same period. And all this before the planned increases in public transport costs. The more serious fuel poverty that prevents people from heating their homes is also being ignored. By slashing the cost of public transport and expanding home insulation programmes, Osborne could have improved the lot of those suffering the greatest pain, reduced inflationary pressures and curbed emissions - all three!
David W Golding
Associate, Newcastle Institute for Research on Sustainability and honorary chaplain , Newcastle University
There are worries that the chancellor's forthcoming consultation on encouraging donations of works of art for public enjoyment may be open to abuse by those wishing to avoid paying tax. Fortunately the UK already has a successful system in place. The valuation of such works has long been considered by the Acceptance in Lieu Panel in relation to objects offered on death. It has a proven track record and long experience of advising on what is a fair market value.
Chairman, AIL Panel and director, Sir John Soane's Museum
Why all the hand-writing (The human cost of the cuts, 25 March)? You asked readers to vote Lib Dem and here they are, cutting as enthusiastically as the Tories - did you not anticipate this?
Kingswinford, West Midlands
26 March 2011