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Blackpool: a users guide

Engineers were present amid the chaos that is the Labour Party conference in Blackpool. Nina Lovelace found out what they hoped to get out of it.

ENGINEERS WITH axes to grind had their chance this week to tell Britain's most powerful people what they wanted.

Civil engineers are welcomed to party conferences with open arms provided they are prepared to pay for a security pass to gain access to some of the more select meetings and industry stands.

But many of the fringe meetings are held in a motley selection of hotels outside the bounds of the main conference centre and are free of charge. And these meetings are where the hard talking takes place.

All you need is a good idea of who is going to be there, some determination to grab a ministerial advisor - or even a minister - and some notion of what you want to say. Skills shortages, anyone?

And if you missed the boat this year, there is always 2003. Let's face it, most of these issues are not going to go away too quickly.

This week industry groups were lining up at the conference to bend the ears of transport minister John Spellar and construction and energy minister Brian Wilson.

ICE external relations manager Neal Weston is attended, pushing issues held particularly close to the heart of the profession, such as skills shortages and road safety. Weston was also handing out NCE/ICE State of the Nation report cards to improve the ICE's profile (NCE 19 September).

Other industry groups included the Construction Industry Council, sustainable transport lobbyists Transport 2000, the Rail Freight Group, Transport for London, British Nuclear Industry Forum and water company association Water UK.

Topics raised included the future of UK roads and railways, traffic congestion, the case for renewable energy, the need for long term plans for the water industry and investment in London's infrastructure.

Transport was perhaps the hottest potato on this week's fringe circuit.

Highlights included Railtrack chief executive John Armitt who spoke on Monday night about Network Rail's emerging maintenance regime.

Transport 2000 was ready to ambush transport minister John Spellar about the rail network.

Despite rail's well documented problems, it is in fact one of the most sustainable means of public transport and should be further expanded, Transport 2000 said.

On Tuesday the Construction Industry Council (CIC) was due to warn a by now beleaguered Spellar at a fringe meeting that the state of the UK's roads had deteriorated even further since the government launched the 10 Year Transport Plan in July 2000. It would also warn that the road maintenance backlog was now well in excess of £3.75bn and that only 80 miles of the 360 miles of motorway widening outlined in the Transport Plan had either started or been planned.

Water UK chief executive Pamela Taylor demanded that water minister Elliott Morley start planning a long term framework for the water industry to work in conjunction with the five yearly periodic review.

She argued that this will ensure that a long term strategy is set up to plan for new water resources such as reservoirs and asset maintenance.

Nina Lovelace INFOPLUS www. labour. org. uk/conference 2002

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