Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Association of ideas


The British Geotechnical Association is four years old.

Honorary secretary Neil Smith looks back at developments and future initiatives.

The first geotechnical discussion group formed in the UK was the Earth Pressure Committee of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1925. In what might be seen as a faltering start, 11 years later, only one UK delegate attended the first International Conference on Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering.

This was Leonard Cooling, head of the soil mechanics section of the Building Research Station. But in 1948, at the next ICSMFE, the UK contributed nearly 20% of the conference proceedings and soil mechanics had clearly begun in earnest.

The British National Section of the ISSMFE was formed in 1949.

In 1954 it changed its name to the British National Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering. It was not until 1963 that the name British Geotechnical Society was adopted, to incorporate rock mechanics and engineering geology.

While the discipline of soil mechanics was emerging, the ICE set up the Piling Joint Committee in 1936, which existed until 1964.

In 1966 the ICE established the Piling Committee, which became the Piling Group in 1971. Between 1960 and 1965, there was also a Deep Foundations Committee.

The ICE Ground Board was formed in November 1981, when the previous eight boards and six specialist groups (including the Piling Group) were reorganised into seven main boards.

In the mid 1980s the BGS started to concern itself to some extent with professional, as well as technical, matters. The Uff and Clayton CIRIA report on site investigation procurement in 1986 suggested there was a need for a publication to assist clients in identifying and selecting geotechnical specialists. Commercial independence made BGS ideal for this task and it went on to prepare and publish Geotechnical directory of the UK.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the distinction between the BGS and the Ground Board became increasingly difficult to define and so talks began with the object of forming a unified body. These reached a successful conclusion in 1999 with the formation of the British Geotechnical Association.

This officially came into being after the final BGS annual general meeting in June 2000.

An important part of the ethos of the BGS, carried through to the BGA, is the presence on the executive committee of directly elected committee members, so BGA members feel they have an influence on the association.

Further representation from other bodies, principally the Engineering Group of the Geological Society and the Institute of Minerals, Mining and Metallurgy, ensures the BGA continues to reach out to those who have come into the geotechnical profession from disciplines other than civil engineering.

An additional, important, aspect of the BGA constitution is that changes to subscription rates are subject to the approval of members at the AGM.

When the BGA formed, it was clear professional matters would play a more central role, together with publications, including geotechnical codes and specifications. A strategy group was set up in 2002 and the main topics defined (GE December 2002): registration/licensing, research and development, guidelines/specifications, special events, publicity and membership.

Evening discussion meetings continue to have prime importance, reflected by the fact that all committee members are expected to contribute. And, with expanding workload, more working groups are being established with members drawn largely from outside the committee.

Good communication with its members was always a concern of the BGS; this has been addressed by co-opting Fleur Loveridge to the committee, with the specific remit to deal with publicity.

The production of the first BGA members' CD last year was another step forward, although the constraints of the Data Protection Act severely limited the information that could be published regarding the membership. Thanks to the efforts of Roger Thompson and his subcommittee aided by our administrator at ICE, Gavin Bowyer, more than a third of BGA members have now confirmed their willingness to have their details published in this way.

The second CD, distributed to members with this issue of the magazine, also contains a list of relevant codes, guidelines and other publications, compiled by Charles Price. Any BGA member is free to contact the committee to propose amendment of any code or guidance document they feel should be reviewed or revised.

The committee hopes next year's CD will contain details of the great majority of members - who are positively encouraged to confirm their permission to publish. It would also be extremely useful if members would let the BGA have their email addresses, as it makes disseminating information much easier.

Another perennial concern has been provision of an adequate service to members who cannot, generally, attend meetings at ICE in London. This continues to be addressed in a number of ways.

For example, each year the Cooling Prize for young geotechnical engineers takes place at a different regional venue and discussions with the UK regional geotechnical groups are aimed at co-ordinating the various young engineer competitions around the country with the Cooling Prize.

The touring lecture is held biannually at three venues around the UK. A liaison meeting is held annually between BGA and the regional groups to exchange information on meetings programmes, initiatives and other matters of common interest.

In the past, it has not been thought appropriate to hold too many meetings at venues around the country, to avoid imposing on regional groups who are, after all, best placed to address local issues in their meetings programmes.

To date the track record of the BGA on the internet has not been very impressive. The first attempt at a BGS website was very ambitious and depended to a significant extent on the success of the electronic form of the Geotechnical Directory.

The establishment of www. britishgeotech. org. uk has considerably improved access to BGA information and should be the start of an effective BGA presence on the web.

The BGA has now established itself and has succeeded in harnessing the enthusiasm and vigour of the BGS to the Ground Board's activities, producing a more effective body to represent the interests of geotechnical professionals in this country.

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.