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Don’t let politicians mess up much needed airport projects  

So a group of insightful politicians has roundly dismissed the London mayor’s proposal for an estuary airport on the basis that Heathrow would have to be closed and this would lead to local job loses (NCE 9 April).

But such a large area of land with such excellent links to London would not lie dormant for long. The Heathrow site has enough room for over 35,000 houses. The associated business and industrial uses would replace most if not all of the 70,000 displaced jobs.    

Let’s not forget the two sites are within 160km of each other, so if anyone would wish to retain their job it wouldn’t be too much of an upheaval to move.    

If we see ourselves as a horridly overcrowded island somewhere off the coast of north western Europe then struggling with a second rate airport is fine. But if we see ourselves at the forefront of the information age, leading in green technology we will still have to travel.    

This is classic example of the poverty of aspiration of our political leaders. Politicians seem to know the value of nothing and the cost of everything.    One day this group of failed actors and no good barristers which currently run our country will all hopefully be sacked and we’ll get some real leaders with a vision for the country.    

Green dream; dirty reality    

Antony Oliver states that with the large scale introduction of electric cars “at last we appear to have a genuine way to reduce our transport carbon footprint without having to ban the car” (NCE 23 April). This is a worthwhile objective, but is it the truth?   

It is my understanding that the overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are produced from our current generating capacity in providing the power, from a plug in the street, to drive an electric car any distance, but say a mile, exceed the CO2 emissions from the engine of a modern petrol-powered vehicle of the same weight driven the same distance.   

Thus, electric cars are a good idea for reducing air pollution in cities, but not for cutting CO2 emissions overall, unless we alter the current electricity generating mix to make it greener.     

However, if we do so alter the generating mix, but had no electric cars, would we be even greener still?    

Be careful what you wish for – the law of unintended consequences can be mighty powerful in engineering.

Textbook problem

The copy of the Proceedings of The Institution of Civil Engineers, which accompanied my latest NCE, informs me of recent book reviews, and lists new books received and available at the ICE’s bookshop.    

These books in most instances are recommended reading for students.   

 I would suggest that most of them are unaffordable to students at £60, £85, even up to £150 for an item which is a mass product.    

  • John Firth (F), 6, Pacey Close, Swinderby, Lincoln LN6 9NA    

Collector’s item    

While the articles relating to sustainable development (NCE 23 April) all in general promote good common sense approaches to reducing our damage to this planet, I cannot understand the current vogue for using the term “harvesting rainwater”.    

Rain falls out of the sky, there are no seeds planted and it doesn’t grow on something. If we are to make use of it, we collect it!!    

I have been doing this for many years in the garden water butts and it does not in any form resemble the harvesting of the produce that it helps me to grow. Let’s use our language correctly please!    

  • Neville Harrison (F), Dormansland, Surrey, neville@  

Looking back with pride    

I refer to your article concerning Mulberry harbours and was very interested to read that the French mayor of Arromanches has recognised their important contribution to Allied success during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.    

During the war, Mouchel – then a relatively small engineering company – played a significant role in the deployment of the Mulberry harbours from its wartime offices in Sutton, Surrey.    

During the planning of the invasion of Europe in 1942, the company, with its wide experience of designing and building barges, pontoons and floating docks, was an obvious choice to provide buoyant harbours for protecting the floating piers that would be needed.    

A scheme of sunken caissons was built in a very short time. The structures, which measured 61m by 15m and were 18m high, were designed to float.    

But they also had to resist flotation once sunk. They also needed to withstand breaking up, overturning and storm damage.    

Amazingly, the whole project was carried out in total secrecy and without anyone guessing the true purpose of these massive blocks.    

Then in 1943, to help cope with the steel shortage, Mouchel was approached by the War Office to replace the steel used in the floating pontoons with concrete.    

Our engineers designed pre-cast slabs that required only 32mm thick slabs to float. Mouchel’s business has changed beyond recognition since the winter of 1943 but we look back with immense pride at our heritage.   

  • Richard Cuthbert, chief executive, Mouchel, Export House, Cawsey Way, Woking GU21 6QX    

Editor’s note: An electronic copy of NCE’s 50th anniversary D-Day special issue from June 1994 containing details and the complete history of the Mulberry Harbour can be found online at www.nce. Your comments and thoughts are welcome.    

We must learn the lessons of other people’s droughts    

The Environment Agency’s warning about possible droughts in the UK is an alarming message (NCE, 23 April).

Water is easily taken for granted and yet, vast parts of the network are from the Victorian era. This web of pipes and reservoirs is a vital part of the UK’s infrastructure and, to ensure it remains fit-for-purpose we are presented with the major challenge of minimising leaks in order to avoid a catastrophe.    

Last year, water shortages, caused by a poorly maintained network saw Spain plunge into a national emergency as bottled water was shipped to Barcelona, as the city went dry.    

According to the Environment Agency, similar scenes in the UK are possible and would simply be a social, economic and political disaster.    

Despite the stark lessons from Spain and the warning from the Environment Agency, the message does not seem to have hit home. As an industry, we must show the same drive we give to the energy sector and plug the impending water gap now as a matter of priority.    

  • Mark Tomlin, managing director, SIG Specialist Construction Products, 5 Fernhurst Road, Fishponds Trading Estate, Bristol BS5 7FG   

Electric cars are no greener

The amount of “green” electricity generated in the UK is tiny. Green generators run flat out since, once built, the electricity they produce is far cheaper than that from fossil fuels. Any new demand for electricity, such as that from electric cars, will therefore be met from fossil fuelled power stations. A power station can produce power more efficiently than a car, but to be used in a car the voltage has to be transformed up, transmitted, transformed down, converted to DC, loaded into a battery and finally discharged.    

By the end of this process the electric car will have emitted more CO2 than the comparable IC engine (ICE) powered car. Not only that, the electric car will be some 50% heavier because of the weight of the batteries, so will return fewer miles per kWh than the ICE car.    

If we were serious about CO2 reduction electric cars would be banned until the capacity of green electricity generation exceeded the demand from all fixed sources.    

I am, however, following the availability of the Tesla over here with great interest.    

  • Roger Button (M), 4 Beaufort Place, Larkhall, Bath BA1 6RP   

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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