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Engineers are the real friends of the earth


Friends of the Earth needs to grow up. The fact that the A650 Bingley Relief Road was awarded the Prime Minister's Better Public Building Award at the British Construction Industry Awards is cause for environmental celebration not the juvenile outrage we witnessed in print and on national radio last week.

The A650 won top honours because it is an example of how infrastructure should be built. It is a rock solid demonstration of civil engineering working hand in hand with the environment, with the local community and with society.

As a profession we must fight back against this kind of blatant and slanderous attack on the very real contribution that modern civil engineering makes to modern life in the UK.

For make no mistake, we are real guardians of the built and natural environment. Look around - it is the civil engineers that work so hard to ensure that what needs to be built in the UK is built with the impact on the environment, the local community at top of mind. It is time we made this clear and wrestled back the high ground from moralising luddites.

The award is far from being shortsighted, as suggested. Winning says that roads are and will continue to be part of this nation's future and 'if we must build them in future, we must build them like this'.

And there lies the crucial fact that Friends of the Earth seems continually to hide from. People want to travel, business needs to travel and like it or not roads are a major part of the UK's transport mix.

Certainly it is vital that in doing so we take great care not to trample over our natural or built environment or create problems to haunt future generations. It is also crucial that communities are involved in the process to discuss, improve and mitigate.

But for environmental groups such as Friends of the Earth to dismiss this project as having 'destroyed one of Britain's top wildlife sites' is just plain wrong. It is scaremongering and small-minded. It is the easy 'do nothing' option that frankly gets us nowhere as a society and nowhere as a nation.

For those living in Bingley this new road represents massive opportunity for the community. It has been a long time coming. Even on a basic level, by removing huge amounts of traffic from the town centre it has given the town new life.

But the impact goes further.

This project has improved and returned amenities such as the canal and recreation areas to the community. It has reconnected a once neglected and cut-off section of the town back with the heart of Bingley and restored a sense of optimism.

So frankly, if Friends of the Earth really has society's best interests at heart it should be looking to the civil engineering profession to help its cause rather than castigating it. It must realise that no other profession has such a mass of experience of working hand in hand with the natural environment to deliver benefit for society.

The days of head on battles with the environmental community are in the past. Modern civil engineering has matured and has a full appreciation of the needs and ways of delivering sustainable projects for society in the real world. So-called environmental groups would do well to follow this example.

Antony Oliver is NCE's editor

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