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Elevating the wrong infrastructure?

Infraspage 1cropped

New Civil Engineer March 2017 is devoted to the UK’s planned £500bn investment in infrastructure. In the sectoral overview I looked in vain for “water”, finding only a mention of it in “utilities”.

It isn’t only New Civil Engineer that can see no further than drinking water as the nation’s only use of water, despite utility water only amounting to some 5% of the total need of UK citizens.

With 150km³ of annual renewable resource, our nation has enough water to meet most of our needs and yet not only do we continue to allow other (in many cases water scarce) nations to meet that need, we continue to miss the opportunity to generate economic growth using our own natural resource.

In the same issue John Lee bemoans New Civil Engineer and the ICE’s support for what he sees as inappropriate infrastructure.

I sympathise and urge New Civil Engineer to promote multi-purpose water infrastructure which would have direct productive benefits using a renewable resource of our own.

Let’s try to stop thinking of water as a utility commodity and instead as something with far wider economic value.

  • Michael Norton (F)

I was concerned that there was no mention of the South West in your regional overview, given the government’s “modern industrial strategy” is supposed to drive growth across the entire country.

Never has there been a more urgent need to address the critical transportation problems that the South West region presently faces.

The article mentions the previous lack of coherent transport schemes in the Northern Powerhouse area and that this was well on the way to being resolved by the establishment of a body, Transport for the North (TfN) in 2014.

The South West region could well benefit from such an organisation. It might begin by improving the whole of the A303 and A30 all the way to Honiton rather than the piecemeal approach being proposed.

 Meanwhile the rail network faces problems, especially with regard to the south Devon coastal route around Dawlish and Teignmouth. This has suffered many times in the past due to the consequences of storm damage and geology. In my view it is a short-sighted decision to retain the route as the only link to Cornwall, when a more sustainable inland route was decided upon more than 70 years ago.

Expand midlands airports, not those in London

Millions of journeys going through London airports actually start in the Midlands and the North. These passengers don’t want to go all the way to London for their flights. If there were more flights to more destinations from northern and midland airports they wouldn’t have to, and it would free up capacity in the London airports. Even from some starting points in London and the South East the journey time and cost to Birmingham International is about the same as to Heathrow or Gatwick. There has been a lot written about the benefits of increasing UK airport capacity, but those benefits can all be achieved at many sites north of London that are easier for more travellers to get to.

  • Stephen Palmer (AM)

Midlands airports are more accessible

I wholeheartedly agree with Godfrey Ackers (New Civil Engineer, January 2017). Rather than build a new runway at an already crowded airport creating more flights over the capital and yet more traffic on the M25, why not exploit the possibilities that High Speed 2 will bring to link a new or expanded Midlands airport. I am sure that the development costs would be less.

I say forget Heathrow, forget Gatwick – go Midlands. Why does everything have to be in London anyway? From here in Cornwall I can get to Birmingham quicker than to Gatwick or Heathrow.

  • Steve Burstow (M),

Is  Thames tideway really necessary?

It has been recognised for some time that we engineers place too much emphasis on projects that can be seen from space and too little on the numbers of small, incremental projects which, taken together, effect the same improvements to our infrastructure often at a much lower cost.

As Peter Styles pointed out (New Civil Engineer, February 2017) only a single paragraph was dedicated to the management and improvement of existing infrastructure in the ICE-led National Needs Assessment, so the message is taking a while to get through.

One of the worst examples of this is the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Hundreds of projects to clean up the Thames have already been completed and the most recent ones, the upgrading of London’s three main sewage treatment works and construction of the Lee Tunnel, have reduced the number and gravity of spill events to negligible proportions.

Now only a few further jobs around the city to separate sewage and storm water are required to complete the clean-up of the river.

So when will we hear that this monumental folly is to be cancelled?

To make matters worse the government is proposing to pay a penalty of over £1.2bn to the European Union (EU) for breaching the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD).

This penalty, even if we were not quitting the EU, should be negotiable down by at least a half because of the reduced scale of the infractions.

  • Robert Cattell (M)

Flawed reliance on renewables

Fiona McIntyre’s article on renewable energy in your February edition ignores or glosses over several factors.

Lagoon wall (tidal lagoon power)

Lagoon wall (tidal lagoon power)

Tidal power: Varies over monthly cycle

  • Photovoltaics stop producing when the sun goes down; a drastic limitation with our long winter nights at the time of year when demand is at its maximum. Tropical areas, where most of the developing countries lie, have a much more favourable environment for photovoltaics.
  • Tidal energy is systematically variable. Years into the future we may get round the daily cycle by having installations spread round the coast with high tide at different times. But there is no escaping the monthly cycle: neap tides offer dramatically less energy than spring tides.
  • While storage capabilities are improving dramatically, they are appropriate to short peak provision rather than to extended provision of heavy power. They will not bridge over a week of neap tides and are unlikely to even out sixteen hours of darkness with just eight hours of winter sunshine.
  • Developing countries offer a false comparison. With poorly developed grid systems and relatively light loadings, they will gain much more from battery-backed renewables than we shall. Of course they are showing high growth.

Let us view each environment on its merits. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, with the UK’s geography, we are going to need reliable base load probably including nuclear, and we shall need a fleet of fossil-fuelled generators, many of which are likely to operate on uneconomic low utilisation to balance the variability of renewables.

  • Mike Keatinge (M) Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne Dorset DT9 4BL

Is Stonehenge tunnel needed?

It is remarkable how organisations such as the National Trust and English Heritage are allowed to press, irresponsibly, for the further spending of large sums of public funds on the Stonehenge Tunnel.

When the previous study concluded in 2006 that the overall cost for 2km of twin tunnels within an overall road improvement scheme of some 10km was £500M, this was considered unaffordable. This country’s financial position has not improved in the 10 years since.

Yet the National Trust and English Heritage are pushing for twin tunnels in excess of 4km. The projected costs for the longer scheme of around £1bn, taking into account the longer length, coupled with very real problems of groundwater, do not seem to be overstated.

There is a lot of unrealistic thinking concerning the protection of the so-called heritage of Stonehenge. The visitor centre and the need to provide transport between the car parks and the stones does nothing to protect the heritage. Perhaps one needs to consider that Stonehenge was constructed by means of slave labour; not exactly a tribute to the heritage of the UK.

  • Derek Godfrey (F)

Harnessing Hinkley’s ‘waste’ heat

Shame the waste heat [from Hinkley Point C] cannot be used for something more useful than warming of the sea. Perhaps some of it could be used for heating housing/commercial developments and for industry. It is so wasteful, like the days of the huge concrete cooling towers pumping heat into the atmosphere. We should be using every last bit of energy we produce. None of it is “waste”.

  • Martin Battle, posted online on article headed “38,000 segments for Hinkley Tunnels”

Blancing the pollution versus safety equation

Designers of temporary traffic management schemes are required to “maximise the safety of the workforce and travelling public”, prioritising this over “traffic flowing as freely as possible” – that according to Chapter 8, Traffic Signs Manual D2.1.1. Meanwhile, the website for the Mayor of London identifies from recent studies (providing I have interpreted it correctly) that up to 9,400 lives were lost in 2010 due to NO2 and PM2.5, though this is caveated that some 50% of these were attributed to air pollution outside of London.

The issue I seek comment on is whether the requirement in Chapter 8 is valid for a city with high pollution levels? Should congestion be made the highest priority and how might this be justified in risk management terms? Department for Transport statistics identify from Police reports that the five year average to 2015 of lives lost on the highway due to “temporary road layout” is three (I do not have a similar figure for site workers, but that does need equal consideration). If prioritising congestion resulted in only a 1% saving in air pollution this might equate to a saving of up to 40 lives – a far greater benefit compared to the five year average quoted and, perhaps, far greater benefit to the lives of site workers.

To go against published guidance in Chapter 8 (which is referenced by the Health and Safety Executive in Construction Information Sheet No. 53) would be a bold decision and there must be good grounds for it. Perhaps ICE members with specialist knowledge could advise?

  • Bob Bennett (M)

Questions for major projects

I sympathise with John Lee (New Civil Engineer, March 2017). I have always believed the purpose of our Institution was to harness the great forces in nature for the benefit of mankind, rather than to indulge extravagant projects to the glory of technology. But I hope he will remain a Member, and persevere to guide us back to the path of true rewarding personal satisfaction.

I believe neither a third runway for Heathrow nor a new nuclear power station at Hinkley will achieve any benefit to warrant the expenditure and disruption entailed.

A new international airport, tentatively in the angle of the M1 and A1(M), with fast rail links to the national network, should far better serve the Northern Powerhouse and offer a more convenient alternative to cities as far north as Newcastle, east to Hull and south to Birmingham.

This would relieve congestion in the skies above Heathrow; should reduce air pollution and aircraft noise in the vicinity of London and the airport, which is already uncomfortably over-crowded and inconvenient for passengers, ease traffic congestion; and lessen air pollution on the roads around and accessing Heathrow. And the cost should be considerably less overall, with a better distribution of our engineering resources.

As to Hinkley, the very idea should in my view have been instantly dismissed, and all other large scale generating stations phased out as soon as practicable, along with the present inefficient national grid.

These would all be replaced by the smallest viably efficient alternatives nationwide. Stations would be designed to be fuelled by local material, animal and vegetable waste by both direct combustion and production of combustible gas, so as to be carbon neutral on an annual cycle. This should minimise transport and storage.

Villages would set their own power rates to cover operating and maintenance costs. The less they consumed the less they would be paying. If neighbouring areas were extravagant and exceeded their capacity, more thrifty neighbours would make up the deficit at an agreed price, paid into the funds of the helpful councils. This policy of good neighbourliness would extend all the way up to cities. In the most extreme cases you could have village councils doing very nicely from the excesses of city dwellers and industrialists.

  • Charles Brindley (M, retired)

Engineers will deliver, post-Brexit

Neither the UK’s referendum on remaining within the Europlean Union club, nor the Republican win over the Democrats in the United States were anything to do with “emotional arguments”, but were based on the public reviewing facts and deciding in a reasonably balanced way that change was necessary.

Where Mark Hansford is correct, is that many politicians reverted to the politics of fear and emotive language and used their power and influence over much of the mainstream media to try and manipulate the public against change, so to ensure the preservation of the wealthy elite.

The hard facts are quite different to the populist rhetoric. The average growth of European countries with the Euro has been half that of those without. Unemployment in Southern Europe is four times that on average in the UK. Greece has over 50% youth unemployment. Italy and Greece have had unelected EU technocrat prime ministers imposed on them by the EU against their will.

Former governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King said he “resented suggestions by friends and acquaintances that Britons who even contemplated voting for Brexit were ignorant or racist”. The debate was about sovereignty, democracy, internationalism and fair trade.

The choice was clear. Vote for the UK to return to being an independent global trading nation, or merge into a single totalitarian European Union. Britain has a proud history of standing up against those who wished to create such a totalitarian European state - Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and now Jean-Claude Juncker.

To quote the third US President Thomas Jefferson “I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical”.

Sir Alexander Gibb, Sir Owen Williams, Sir William Halcrow, etcetera all delivered projects internationally and were not tied only to our neighbours in Europe. As civil engineers, we have perhaps the most to gain in any sector from an opening up of free and fair completion across the world, unhindered by the EU and its anti-fair trade protective cartel – the common market and customs union.

Now, with the internet and jet aircraft, the physical location matters even less than it did previously. As civil engineers we need to embrace change and the new opportunities it will present right around the world.

  • Stephen Gibson Posted online on article headed “Winning the emotional argument”






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