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How seriously should we take the issue of wind turbine ice?

Nice to hear people speaking unguardedly and outside the box on the subject of ice falling from wind turbines in the aftermath of the Olympic Games (NCE 9 April).

Seriously, in the 1950s I recall waking one Whitsun at the London District Scout Camp near Biggin Hill in Kent and finding the ground strewn with frozen chunks dislodged from Meteor fighter-planes from the nearby airfield, but I do not recall any deaths.   

 Perhaps we have become too sensitive to such risks - I mean in those days girls played hockey all winter. I liked too, the idea of stopping the turbines because their flickering would distract the athletes. Perhaps the Government will now introduce legislation, with an anti-dazzle sunset clause, to prohibit cheering, clapping, Mexican waves, and while we’re at it, strong winds and heavy rain.    

Next 1 April might be a good date for its introduction.    

Chris May, Woodbine Farm, High Street, Chew Magna, Bristol BS40 8PW.    


In the article “Ice risk for Olympic turbine” (NCE 9 April), an “engineer close to the project” is quoted as saying the main mitigating factor for the ice falls not being a significant problem after the 2012 Games is because the area around the structures will comprise of tennis courts and hockey pitches as these are summer sports.

There is one small problem with this argument: hockey is a winter sport.    

Steve Hubbard, hockey player, S.Hubbard@    


PFI does have relative benefits

it was encouraging to see Philip Thompson prompting a discussion as to the value for money represented by PFI in his letter (NCE 5 March) and I wish him well in his CPR. I have often seen objective and informed discussion between engineers counteract widely held but mistaken views promoted by our national media seeking a promising story.    

There are good and bad PFI projects, just as there are good and bad examples of the use of tax income in the procurement of public infrastructure through other routes.    

Some PFI projects offer very good long term value for money, as the National Audit Office and a number of procuring authorities have pointed out. In these cases the higher cost of commercial debt is counteracted by the transfer and management of risks that would otherwise have cost the taxpayer more – and the PFI company is paid a fixed fee it cannot change.    

In some cases when public funds are in short supply PFI could be the only way of financing infrastructure that has deteriorated as successive budgets have underfunded its maintenance and replacement; and of making sure that the same thing does not happen  again. There is still a long way to go, but if we are satisfied our national infrastructure is being sustainably and cost-effectively managed to a high standard we probably won’t care where the people involved take their holidays.    

Peter Ward, Old High Street, Headington, Oxford    

ECI’s major site safety benefits

Your article “Highways Agency to drop ECI” (NCE 9 April) said that Agency’s decision was based on ECI’s failure to deliver cost savings consistently.    

What about safety? ECI ensures the design produces details and methods that have been fully discussed between the contractor and designer, and are consequently often safer and more suitable. It reduces the need for late changes in pursuit of ill considered economy measures.    

Please don’t let the bean counters rule engineering, keep ECI.    

Ian Ainsworth (M), Ian.   

Let’s pool coastal defence resource

Given limited resources, would it be possible to develop a co-operative way to tackle coastal erosion and waste disposal? The residue from the incineration of waste could be added to concrete to form sea defences.    

I understand that the current plan is to allow rising sea levels to flood low lying areas. A network of creeks within the flooded area would dissipate the energy of the sea. Within living memory, much of the current foreshore was land. It may be possible to create a similar soft buffer of creeks in the foreshore area using concrete structures funded by waste disposal.

Groynes together with permeable reefs/barrages could calm the action of the sea. A series of caissons in the calmed area, especially along the land boundary, could take bulk waste. Currently where the coast is defended by sea walls the deflection of the sea can scour the foreshore. A seawall of caissons within a calmed area should result in less scour and the groynes and barrages should retain material.    

However my experience has been mainly in transport and I would be interested in the views of those better qualified.

John Symmons (M), 9 Main Street, Ledston, WF10 2AA   

Sustainability is survival key The recent flurry of articles on mega projects in the Middle East and elsewhere raise the serious question of whether engineers should be associated with projects which must rate near the bottom on sustainability.    

Many engineers would argue that we have no right to make judgements on projects on the basis of sustainability and indeed it would be a brave firm which refused to tender for a job because of its concerns.    

There is now no doubt that within the next few decades we are going to be facing starvation and death on an almost unimaginable scale, largely because of our unsustainable way of life. There is still a chance that we can avoid the worst case scenarios if we make really fundamental changes.    

Sustainability should be the basis of every decision which the government, or any firm, makes.    

Martin Mansell (M), University of the West of Scotland,  

Tarmac: the truth

It is unfortunate that Mark Whitby chose to end his excellent Viewpoint article on carbon reduction strategy (NCE 12 March) with a misleading statement. Referring to Twyford Down he states that “Tarmac was sufficiently rocked to change its name to Carillion”.    

The facts are that Tarmac, for completely different reasons, demerged its construction division.    

This became a separate publicly quoted company which, the then directors, headed by Sir Neville Simms, named Carillion. The rump of Tarmac, essentially a construction materials and road surfacing company, retained, and still retains, the Tarmac name.    

It subsequently became, and still is, a respected and environmentally conscious wholly owned subsidiary of Anglo- American plc.

Clifford Carvell (F), Carvell Consult, Headinglea Apt. 21, 5 The Avenue, Poole, Dorset, BH13 6AA   

Aberdeenshire: We like it here

With reference the letter from Chris West, West Sussex questioning the salary grade for a vacancy in our projects team, I write to clarify that the salary range quoted of £14,565 to £31,645 was the full range of our professional development scheme, from school leaver to chartered engineer (NCE 2 April).    

Anyone joining the council as an honours graduate would start much nearer to the top of this range (£24,438 year 1, £25,914 year 2) with final salary pension package and flexible working. Our excellent supported training package also gives a good chance of chartered status, and promotion to top of the salary grade, within three years.    

Aberdeenshire Council is acknowledged in the Sunday Times survey as the best large council to work for and is also, for the second year, recognised in another survey as the council for best quality of life.    

With this background, 220km of coastline to protect, 1,500 bridges to maintain and 5,400km of scenic roads to look after, Aberdeenshire does offer a genuine and challenging career opportunity for the right candidate to “Enjoy Life, Enjoy Work”.    

Ken Morrison, head of roads, Transportation & Infrastructure, Aberdeenshire Council, Cape House, 21 Seafield Street, Banff AB45 1ED   

Engineers must keep challenging conventional thought

It was a truth universally acknowledged by the public, the authorities and the leading consulting engineers in Victoria Street when I started work there in 1946, that due to poor ground conditions and the uniform wind load of 30 pounds per square foot, no office building higher than 10 storeys could ever be built in London!    

I am glad to have played my small part in disproving that fact, and with the commencement of the Shard perhaps it a suitable moment to acknowledge the technical expertise and perseverance of those few engineers who did gradually push back the boundaries over the years.    

Usually against considerable resistance from the engineering establishment and authorities and, yes, not without some setbacks along the way, they yet succeeded in providing the technical foundations and legislative framework that have brought such engineering advances.    

Hopefully their example will encourage similar present day brave hearts to continue to push the limits of today’s “well established” design, material and codification constraints.

Gordon Rose (F),   

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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