Comment: Jackie Whitelaw
Engineers giving evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure (APPGI) have poured cold water on the London Mayor’s plans for a new airport in the Thames Estuary. It’s probably better it is metaphorical cold water rather than the real thing.
I have been struggling for some time to understand why we would want to put a piece of major infrastructure in an area that will be directly affected by rising sea levels and storm surges thundering down from the North Sea. The main reasoning appears to be to take the noise, pollution and congestion that are the usual complaints about Heathrow away from west London and dump them on the people of the east.
Now the APPGI has heard that to justify the huge investment and oblige the airlines to move to the new island airport, Heathrow would have to be abandoned. Apart from the resulting job losses and economic blight, it just seems like an awful waste of resource and energy at a time when government legislation and commitment to cut carbon emissions by 80% is pushing everyone to stop wasting resources and energy.
This all means new work for engineers, maybe different work, but work all the same
Without getting into the debate about carbon and air travel and just focusing on construction, knocking down a functioning airport, moving people, the huge amount of associated infrastructure and industries from one side of London to the other surely cannot stack up in terms of carbon benefit. And over the next few years carbon benefit analysis will become the real measure of the feasibility of any proposed scheme.
The Climate Change Act which has committed the country to legally binding carbon reduction targets and the Carbon Reduction Commitment, which from next year will oblige major organisations to reduce their energy usage, are going to change the way engineers and their clients think.
Major public sector clients are putting out carbon reduction strategies and saying that this is going to transform the way they work. The cost benefits of centralised resource in the NHS are going to be replaced by the carbon benefits, particularly in terms of reduced travel, of local care. Investment in renewable energy for Network Rail will have a bigger up front cost but will save it millions as carbon caps take effect. This all means new work for engineers, maybe different from proving you can hold back the waters of the Thames in order to create an airport, but work all the same.
According to the Environmental Industries Commission (EIC) the green market worldwide is worth close to £2 trillion. And that’s pretty much all in engineering. The EIC wants government in the budget to invest in creating green jobs. That may be as effective a way out of recession as piling money into traditional infrastructure projects.