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History repeating

A deep divide runs through the ICE membership. The chasm has not been created by anything as transitory as differing views on SARTOR, integrated transport or the scrapping of compulsory competitive tendering. It has opened over the simple fact of whether somebody works in the building or civil engineering sectors.

According to recent research carried out by NCE, around a third of UK civil engineers work in the building sector. They will remember this decade as the one in which they experienced probably the most stressful time of their working lives, followed by period of relative well being.

For those working in civil engineering, the 1990s has been a decade of extremes. With work on the Channel Tunnel going full bore and the Channon roads boom yet to suffer from the attentions of either Swampy or the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the early 1990s were good years for the civil engineering industry.

But the second half of the decade has been a worrying time to work in civil engineering. Spending on roads has crumbled along with the highways and the resurgent water and rail sectors have not yet made up for the decline.

These trends of course have caused a migration of staff from civils to building with a resulting weakening of skills in some areas. Would US firms have had such success in tying up Railtrack's programme management contracts (NCE last week) if so many of our best managers had not been enticed into building?

But is it possible history is about to repeat itself? It is not difficult to envisage a scenario in which the Birmingham Northern Relief Road, Thameslink 2000, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, the upgrade of the West Coast Main Line, the London Underground public private partnership and Heathrow Terminal Five could all be under way at the same time. Equally the building sector must surely run out of steam some time soon.

Time to brush up your knowledge of embankment and cutting stabilisation?

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