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In the spotlight


It is reassuring to see that civil engineering is all over the national media this week. Believe it - the profession really is at the heart of all that drives our modern society.

It is reassuring because I seem to spend a lot of time trying to convince civil engineers and non-civil engineers of the importance of infrastructure.

But it is also a reminder of just how hard we have to work to keep pace with the public's expectation of that infrastructure.

After all, we have seen much media disgust with our infrastructure this week.

There was a tough House of Lords report on the water industry. There was also criticism of the government's sustainable house building policy, and a challenging report on the emergency response to last July's London bombings.

The verdict on the multi-million pound Wembley courtroom battle added to the column inches as did, new Trade Secretary Alistair Darling's rst speech on energy supply and news of the likely sale of airport operator BAA to a Spanish contractor. There were also reports that Prince Charles is leading UK business calls for more government leadership on climate change, plus news of tough new planning rules by the London Mayor to drive investment towards public transport and sustainable development.

What is interesting is that these once worthy but media dull 'civil engineering' issues have now turned into major national news stories.

It is a feature of modern life that we see radical or high tech solutions of yesterday become the norm or even bare minimum today.

A quick look around your desk, of e, kitchen or car puts into perspective how the infrastructure of our lives has changed. And it helps to understand why these 'civil engineering' issues make it into the national news today - it is all to do with meeting/failing to meet public expectation.

So it is unsurprising to hear public (media) outrage over:

water companies' failure to update infrastructure and reduce leakage, amid usage restrictions and drought orders;

Government promotion of housing development without properly planning the impact on water, transport and energy resources;

London Underground's failure to provide a robust surface to tunnel communication system 18 years after Lord Fennel's Kings Cross Fire report recommended it.

It is unsurprising because we have grown accustomed to expecting more.

Unfortunately this concept is something which, as a profession, I am not sure civil engineers have really grasped.

We do a great job delivering what we deliver but our track record is not great when it comes to the 'thought leadership' required to deliver to public expectation.

Of course I realise that much of the time, civil engineering aspiration is thwarted by lack of political of nancial support.

No civil engineer would consciously endorse basic train communication failures, unrestrained water leakage or poor infrastructure planning. But, as we saw this week, tangible results not high hopes are the measures of success.

So be reassured by the news that civil engineering is more central to society's needs than ever before. But be reminded that good enough today will never be acceptable tomorrow.

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