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Government advisor raps 'mercenary' engineers

CIVIL ENGINEERS are mercenaries who place profit ahead of responsibilities to the environment and society, a leading environmental consultant said this week.

Government environmental advisor and independent consultant Chris Baines said engineers failed to get to grips with the full environmental impact of projects He was speaking at NCE's Civils 2002 event in Birmingham on Tuesday. Baines also advises Carillion, water company Kelder and oil giant Exxon Mobil.

Engineers at the debate struck back, arguing that they are making increased efforts to reduce the environmental impact of schemes.

Balfour Beatty director Stephen Tarr told delegates that over the last decade the inclusion of mitigation measures such as tree planting, wetlands creation and recreation of grassland had become standard on most major schemes.

He also said that major projects were normally solutions to real environmental problems.

Tarr added that engineers play a critical role in life cycle assessments for infrastructure.

He emphasised engineers' role in recycling, remediating brownfield land and building renewable energy projects.

Baines argued that engineers too often acted as executors of their clients' wishes without examining negative environmental and social impacts.

On flooding, he said engineers should look at the causes and seek solutions such as the planting trees on unused farmland to soak up and slow down run off from catchment areas.

Many schemes like the M6 Toll road also provide temporary solutions to problems like traffic growth, he said. Engineers have ignored the fact that congestion is expected to surpass current levels even after a road is built, he added.

Union Railways head of public affairs Bernard Gambrill told the meeting that, although 'no scheme is perfect, ' the construction industry has been working closely with environmentalists and community groups to find acceptable compromise solutions. Union Railways is the client body for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Gambrill also said that, if a scheme was done well, the environmental mitigation measures should be indistinguishable from the rest of the project.

And Council for the Protection of Rural England policy advisor Henry Oliver, told delegates that engineers were unprincipled and that environmental mitigation was too often simply a sop to green groups.

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