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Green shoots could come from green energy spend

There is no simple answer to kick starting the economy, but investment in green technology is a vital piece of the jigsaw.

The government’s £535M is a good start, but the Environment Select Committee’s report calling for more to be done is a welcome next step (NCE 19 March). If we are serious about lowering our carbon emissions, improving the energy efficiency of the UK’s existing building stock must be the highest priority.

However, the government must play its part and must throw its weight behind the Fuel Poverty Bill and the Green Energy Bill, currently going through the Parliamentary Process. These will strongly assist the UK in reducing its emissions. Both Bills will help to shape a “sustainability industry” ensuring that achieving higher standards of energy efficiency is affordable and products can be rolled out on a national scale, while creating skilled job opportunities.

Over 40% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our building stock. The government needs to support both Bills to help grasp the nettle of domestic energy efficiency now.

  • Paul Roche, director, SIG Sustainable Products, Signet House, 17 Europa View, Sheffield Business Park, Sheffield, S9 1XH  

Natural solutions

I found the letter from Duncan Codd (NCE 19 March) regarding the idea of learning about the solution to engineering problems from the natural world very interesting as not long after qualifying as an engineer I paid a visit to the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens at Wisley.

After enjoying a lengthy browse around the gardens I spent some time in their bookshop and discovered a small book entitled Nature, Mother of Invention – The Engineering of Plant Life by Felix R Paturi (Pelican 1978). This turned out to be a fascinating read and many of its ideas, such as looking to nature for solutions to problems, have remained with me throughout my career.

In particular the impact of the environmental aspects discussed by the author and especially the fact that natural adaptation of plants, insects and animals to environmental change occurs slowly in nature and, therefore, they cannot respond adequately to the forced environmental changes created by rapid technological advances. A point graphically brought home recently by Andrew Marr in the last episode of his series “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea”.

  • Dan Little (G), dan.little@   


Does PFI really give best value?

Will Antony Oliver ever learn (NCE 5 March)? There is no bigger coward than money. Building public infrastructure through PFI deals is very expensive for the taxpayer in the long run.

Finance is provided at higher interest rates than government borrowing. When the infrastructure is built the government has to pay rent to the PFI company and use its facility management to run it. It has no control over any future rent or maintenance cost increases. It really is cheaper for the taxpayer to build the infrastructure directly from the money raised in taxes.

But, oh dear, where will these investors and multinational companies have to go then to get their huge profits and payback on their speculative investments and who is going to pay for their big yachts and exotic island retreats?

No, Antony Oliver thinks it is OK for these brave investors to run cap in hand to the government (you and I as taxpayers) at the first sign of a threat to their huge profits.

  • Philip Thompson, (G), 62 Forest Road, Woodhose Eaves, Leicestershire

Meccano: more for older children

With reference to Colin Davies’ letter (NCE 5 March) he makes an interesting point but I think this is too much stereotyping. I know from my personal experience that my brothers and I did not get into Meccano until we were in our teens in the 1950s and 1960s. Lego blocks were unheard of at that time in Colombo. I am overseeing two grandsons aged three and one. I am reminded about how we learnt and how children learn at their own pace with smiling faces.

I think that’s why the latest Meccano sets I saw in a shop at terminal 3 in Singapore’s Changi airport while waiting to board my Singapore Airline’s A380 Super Jumbo Air Bus, gave the age as eight to 15 for the advanced Meccano sets.

  • Sydney Xavier (M), Sydney-

Don’t forget about Bilofix

I see the Meccano vs Lego debate is back on. We have K’nex nominated too. Does anyone remember Bilofix? This was similar to Meccano but with larger, wooden drilled lengths and plastic nuts and bolts. It also had cogs and wheels, and I had endless hours of constructive fun making amongst other things a differential. I still have it in a box in the loft – I suspect I am not alone in this!

  • Quentin Brogdale, project engineer, Norfolk County Council, quentin.brogdale@

Bury compact nuclear plants

If Churchill were still with us, he would look at Britain’s resources and persuade Nissan, which currently has surplus engineering capacity, to meet with Rolls Royce, which is a world leader in the manufacture of turbines, BNFL, which is a world leader in nuclear fuels, and the British Navy, which has 50 years experience in running and maintaining compact nuclear power plants.

To alleviate public anxiety, nuclear power plants should be buried and be located no less than three miles from builtup areas. When asked about availability of the new compact power plants, Churchill would respond “the same as Spitfire production, nothing the first year, a trickle the second, then a flood”.

  • Dr Doug Brown, Beaverlake Farm, Crow Hill, Ringwood, Hants BH24 3DE  

Gerrards Cross what is new and what is reused?

NCE has once again highlighted the remedial work on the unfinished Gerrards Cross tunnel (NCE 19 March). I cannot see how the cross section under the Tesco building will work. What are the structural relationships between the new building, the foamed concrete slab, the insitu tunnel roof and the fill between the tunnel and the piled walls?

  • Barry Walton (F), 59 Primmers Place, Westbury, Wiltshire, BA13 4QZ.

I read with great interest, the article on the Tesco tunnel at Gerrards Cross, but try as I might, I could not discover whether the tunnel that did not collapse was left in place. On one hand there is talk of the newly replaced section supplementing the stretch of tunnel left in place, and on the other hand, the photo shows the supermarket structure now dismantled - implying that the design is to be changed – a not unreasonable decision I would have thought, given the questions about uneven backfilling etc. Can you shed a little light on this for me?

  • John Ashford (M), John.

Editor’s note: As explained in the feature, damaged sections of the tunnel have been removed but the undamaged original sections of the tunnel are being left in place and new precast tunnel units added. These will then form the permanent formwork for the cast insitu concrete tunnel structure on which the new store will sit.  

Can you enjoy life on low pay?

I wonder if there is a magazine of any other professional institution which would carry an advertisement for a graduate job with an annual salary of just £14,565? Aberdeenshire Council placed such an ad in NCE last week and added insult to injury by prefacing it with the strap line “Enjoy work, enjoy life” – not much on this salary I fear.

I appreciate this is the bottom end of a scale leading to £31,645 but even so, what impression of our profession is given by printing such a derisory figure? Even in these straitened times NCE would do our profession a deal of good by refusing job adverts which quote such low salaries. I suggest the ICE should set the minimum acceptable figures for various grades of membership – putting to some good use its wealth of statistics from the much vaunted salary surveys. I am not sure quite what the minimum acceptable annual salary would be in this case, but it would surely be a good deal more than £14,565 for a engineering graduate with “a proven track record in a busy civil engineering design office”.

  • Chris West (M), 8, Longland Avenue, Storrington, West Sussex, RH20 4HY

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