Readers' Letters: Support for wood burning ban, Gaza, NHS and Jacobite Steam Train controversy

Communities Against Woodsmoke welcomes the recent legislation regarding the banning of polluting heating systems such as wood-burning stoves in new-build homes
The Jacobite train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct, which operator West Coast Railways had said was threatened by the cost of safety improvements. (Photo by West Coast Railways)The Jacobite train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct, which operator West Coast Railways had said was threatened by the cost of safety improvements. (Photo by West Coast Railways)
The Jacobite train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct, which operator West Coast Railways had said was threatened by the cost of safety improvements. (Photo by West Coast Railways)

It makes sense from an environmental and health perspective to move away from the archaic burning of our rapidly declining woods and forests. The capacity of mature trees to store carbon cannot be underestimated and to cut these trees down and release decades of stored carbon into the atmosphere in one short burst is completely contradictory to the Scottish Government’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

With the majority of new-build homes being built by large property developers resulting in very densely populated housing schemes in order to maximise profit and space, mean that new-build houses are built in very close proximity to each other. For one householder to install a wood-burning stove in this kind of situation means that the householder and many of their neighbours are going to experience a severe reduction in the quality of air they breathe on a daily basis which will result in poor health. These health impacts were laid out in the recent report from Asthma and Lung UK Scotland.

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Whilst this new legislation for New-Build houses is good news for those of us who want to breathe clean air in the future, we do need legislation to address wood-burning in existing properties currently Wood-burning continues to be a significant source of pollution in cities, towns and villages with regulations and monitoring being virtually non-existent. The rise in popularity of wood-burning and the increase in its use mean that similar measures must be taken at this time if we are to seriously address net zero and the effects of air pollution on public health.

We learnt our lesson many years ago from the burning of coal and the severe impact it had on health, the effects of which are still around today in many people. Wood-burning has been linked to a wide range of diseases, which is why we need legislation on this issue now.

Mandy Cairns, Communities Against Woodsmoke

Israel mistake

All through the Gaza conflict the US Government has been fulsome in its backing for Israel and its leader Benjamin Netanyahu, as expressed in your report (11 April, pp18).

Firstly for Israel’s “act of self defence” after the despicable Hamas incursions in October. Secondly for backing the escalation of the war to crush Hamas and free Israeli hostages despite mission creep by Israel. Thirdly through US air attacks on Houthi rebels to prevent attacks on shipping designed by Iran’s proxy to force a ceasefire in Gaza.

The steady flow of US arms has saved the Netanyahu regime, already weak and likely have fallen if the war had not started. Now President Biden has finally lost patience after calling repeatedly for pauses and, far too late, a ceasefire allowing more humanitarian aid to be distributed freely and negotiations to progress to free Israeli hostages.

US arms have facilitated the deaths of over 30,000 Gaza residents, most of whom were women and children, and the displacement and humanitarian catastrophe affecting over 2 million.

In December a YouGov poll showed UK citizens were in favour of a ceasefire but Labour and the Tories were still requesting a humanitarian pause until a few weeks ago. Some, like me, (Letters 16 January) called for an end to US arms exports to Israel months ago yet the UK and US Government’s continue to be complicit in the atrocities.

Ukraine has lost out due to the Republican Party’s blocking of military aid partly because attention has focused to the Middle East. Even so Biden now looks even more of a lame duck president who persists in backing the wrong man. Another Trump presidency just got more likely.

Neil Anderson, Edinburgh

Leader was spot on

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Your April 11 Leader recommending “normal” rather than ideological politics is spot on.

It is not only “middle-class lefties” who jump up and down about the NHS being privatised, but Yes supporters during the 2014 referendum campaign, who said that independence was the only way to stop it happening, keeping quiet that the Scottish NHS has always been run independently from Edinburgh and never devolved because it was established by its own Act of Parliament.

Wes Streeting’s pragmatism regarding the NHS follows that of Nye Bevan, who nationalised the hospitals but left many staff as private contractors, and unlike British Rail, which made its own locomotives, didn’t set it up to make its own drugs or X-ray machines.

As for ideology, I think that the ongoing Scottish Hospitals Inquiry into problems at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow and the Royal Hospital for Children in Edinburgh will find it very difficult to rely on the favourite nationalist trope of blaming Westminster for shortfalls in healthcare. I predict that it will find homegrown answers.

Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen

Jacobite train

I see that a number of MPs are urging the Office of Road and Rail (ORR) for a rethink on exemptions for West Coast Railway (WCR) re the Jacobite steam services and that there is also a petition to get trains running again because of the potential serious effects on the local economy.

That of course is a vital component but do your readers, the MPs who have chosen to support WCR and prospective passengers affected by this situation, realise that the fault looks to be entirely that of WCR?

I looked up when ORR gave notice that all Mark 1 coaches would need central door locking (CDL) for enhanced passenger safety and it was, incredibly, over 24 years (yes years) ago in 1999!

ORR have therefore given WCR years to comply but, unlike every other private operator of Mk 1 coaches on the national rail network, WCR have chosen, for whatever reason, to ignore the Regulations.

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I suspect those MPs who have been encouraged to get on the political bandwagon against ORR, as usual haven’t the slightest clue that ORR have been incredibly patient with all operators and have given them years to be compliant.

WCR appear totally content not to spend the money that others have had to, to be safety compliant under the Regulations. WCR heavily lost their recent judicial review against ORR and I would suggest that those signing the petition and these bandwagon MPs read what the Hon Mrs Justice Thornton actually said about WCR’s intransigence in continuing to insist that their operation is inherently safe, when they have had a number of safety incidents with their Mk 1s, thankfully none of them fatal. She called ORR’s "justifiable” approach “common sense”.

Whilst in many cases there are two sides to every story, it appears to me that this is a prime example of where a company that has had a very good operating reputation over many years and given much enjoyment to steam lovers nationwide has deliberately chosen to ignore the Regulations, despite having been given years by ORR to spread the cost of CDL compliance, which could easily have been covered, as the judge said, by the fares charged on the Jacobite route.

It is certainly the case that there continue to be operators of Mk 1 stock who have an exemption to continue to run them on Network Rail but my understanding is that every operator has given an undertaking to comply fully with the Regulation by a date agreed with ORR. WCR have chosen to try and gain further exemptions but it appears that they have no intention whatsoever of complying in any way with fitting CDL within a timescale that would be acceptable to ORR as a condition of that exemption.

I also hear that they are now running empty trains in the paths created for the Jacobite trains to prevent any other compliant operators from offering a similar service.

Surely, If they can waste good money on that obstructive action (and a costly judicial review), they can spend that money on fitting CDL, comply with the Regulations and then get back to running their successful Jacobite trains.

I am sure that Scotsman readers will draw their own conclusions as to why WCR consider themselves above these reasoned and reasonable Regulations, which I would suggest concerned MPs and petitioners read through carefully before assigning any blame to ORR, whom I would contend have been reasonableness personified and do not deserve the brickbats that are currently being thrown their way.

My great great grandfather was a railway engine driver in Fife in the 1840s, so I am a true supporter of the success of our Scottish railways.

John Baxter, Bradford-on-Avon Wilts

Jacobite backing

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As I neared Glenfinnan last spring, en route to Arisaig, every nook, cranny and the car park were filled by expectant tourists awaiting the passage of the Harry Potter Train. Removing that huge draw for tourists is ill-considered.

This service brings a great many people from far and wide and the idea it must cease to operate because passengers cannot be expected to take responsibility for their own safety is simply unacceptable.

I am aware of a tiny minority of tourists’ reckless stupidity at times, such as taking selfies in precarious positions, but the penalties the vast majority must pay for the irresponsibility of a few is grossly disproportionate.

It should be adequate to provide safety warnings and require those riding the train to behave accordingly, or accept the consequences of their actions.

Hamish Hossick, Broughty Ferry

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