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A new start

'ARE YOU going to change the name?' was by far the most common question asked by those learning that we planned to relaunch NCE. The answer, of course, is no - New Civil Engineer/NCE is a universally known brand and not something you toss away without good reason.

But the fact that the question was asked so often reveals much about the profession.

Placing 'new' in a magazine name is a way of suggesting that readers have chosen a publication with its sights set firmly on the future and that they, by association, are forward thinking people.

It's a policy which has served market leaders New Scientist, New Statesman and New Musical Express well.

So why the dislike of the word 'new' among many civil engineers? Well, for start it offends their sense of logic. NCE was christened to distinguish itself from the ICE's proceedings 'Civil Engineering'. But NCE is now 27 years old.

Compared with other construction titles like the architects' journal or Construction News, New Civil Engineer sounds fussy. It also gives rise to the irritating inquiry 'what happened to the old civil engineer'?

Then there's the alleged 'inherent conservatism' of the profession, a view that the glory days are gone and that there is little new worth writing about.

Finally, of course, some readers may believe that the NCE of recent years has not been at the cutting edge of the profession. It is a view that, to an extent, we share and it is one of the driving forces behind the relaunch.

But for all the strength of the NCE 'brand', we would not have kept the name if we did not believe that the 'new' could still be justified.

The growing importance of disciplines like transport planning and sustainable development offer civil engineers a defining and hugely influential role in the future of the UK and other developed economies.

There will be fewer and fewer mega projects, but in tasks such as returning parts of inner cities to their former vibrancy, civil engineers will play as great a civilising role as the railway pioneers of the last century and the motorway builders of the fifties and sixties.

Overseas, civil engineering is arguably the world's most valuable discipline. The rising world population means that engineers face challenges dwarfing those of previous generations. Problems of water provision and environmental contamination mean civil engineers are likely to save more lives in coming centuries than doctors. Internationalisation of company ownership and opportunities provided by information technology mean British civils will take a leading role.

Those worried about status and pay, or working on sites with major safety problems, may think this is a rose-tinted view. Rest assured that NCE will continue to expose all the more problematic aspects of being a British civil engineer in the 21st century. Navel gazing over, let's get on with it.

Alastair McLellan is editor of NCE.

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