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Is a national water grid a real possibility?

The main point

Water rich: So why does Britain need a grid?

Water rich: So why does Britain need a grid?

I congratulate Charles Morrison on his view (NCE 7 May) that “logic dictates that a national water grid is a good idea”.

However, I feel that this falls considerably short of a realistic position regarding the availability of water. For an island nation located on the edge of an ocean that deposits an abundance of the commodity on our lands, albeit irregularly distributed, it is nothing short of a national disgrace that we repeatedly experience shortages of life’s most essential element.

Furthermore it is absurd that there are those that advocate a need for conservation. Not so long ago we pioneered the techniques that collect, treat and distribute the indispensable liquid to almost every home in the country and here we are, in this day and age, deliberating repeatedly over a problem that does not even exist.

Water is inexpensive and can be available in abundance in the UK. Since I installed a meter, I have been paying about £1.50 per person per week. How many fold could this amount be increased before it would be considered unaffordable, certainly a sum far in excess of what would be required to correct the unforgivable present situation.

  • George Muir, Ashford, Kent,


The proposal for Infrastructure Service Providers for water projects, referred to by John McKenna (NCE 7 May), promises to re-open a door which was closed in 1974 when regional self-sufficiency became the implicit object, followed by the failure of the Wilson government to legislate for a national water authority.

It is a pity that the article was headed by the “national water grid” tag which conjures up some absurd notions and serves to discredit any pragmatic links between regions.

It has always been my view that such links can deliver better customer value but are unlikely to be financed and flexibly deployed as a result of negotiation between regions/companies. A separate water resource wholesaler seemed to be the answer and the “providers” look like a step in that direction, albeit owned and managed privately.

But it would detract from their value if projects were to be tied to specific uses or a particular group of companies, regardless of future needs.

In the 1970s the key project was to be Craig Goch. This seems to have vanished, although if promoted by Welsh water provider Dwr Cymru, it could in due course have provided Wales with substantial revenue as well as England with an economical water supply.

But there are alternative storage projects such as London Marsh which could serve more than one company as well as similar existing projects managed by the Environment Agency.

  • Barry Rydz, 6 Kingsdown House, Corsham Wilts SN13 8AX


Is it really necessary or safe to have so many road signs?

Confusing: Are there too many road signs for our own good?

Confusing: Are there too many road signs for our own good?

A recent journey as passenger provided the opportunity to observe all signage presented along a section of motorway. At 70mph, it was impossible to read one sign before another required attention.

Journeys along various major roads provide similar visual stimulation. Why must there be so much signage?

I am particularly intrigued by the purpose of new signs, positioned approximately every 500m on each carriageway, containing position information identical to smaller posts adjacent to them. The costs of installing such, in an era of global positioning accurate to within millimetres, must have a most interesting financial case.

Railways recognise the safety implications of driver distraction, yet the driver is only in control of a single dimension. Technology is available − and is being used − to minimise inappropriate information.

In the context of highways, where a driver is expected to control the two dimensional position of a vehicle using visual skills, visual distractions are actually being increased.

  • David M Johnson (F), Cumhill House, Pilton, Somerset, BA4 4BG


It’s electrifying

Roger Button and David Myles (NCE 7 May) both contend that electric vehicles (EVs) emit more CO2 on a well-towheel (WTW) basis than their internal combustion engine (ICE) equivalents. However the data show otherwise.

Take the world’s most efficient production ICE vehicle, the Smart fortwo 33kW diesel with tailpipe emissions of 88g CO2/km. Adding the oil extraction, refinement and delivery emissions of 10%, results in WTW emissions of 97g CO2/km. The Smart fortwo Ed EV has a power consumption of 0.12kWh/km over the same North European drive cycle.

WTW emissions of the UK National Grid are around 628g CO2/kWh and hence the Smart Ed WTW emissions are 75g CO2/km, some 20% less than the ICE car.

With the UK’s vehicle car park being some eight years old, and with EV technology still some way from being accepted by the populous as a real alternative to ICE vehicles, it will be 15 to 20 years before a substantial number of EVs reach our roads.

In this period, further “greening” of the Grid can be achieved, leading to substantial future CO2 savings by the use of EVs. There are EV issues that still need to be resolved − battery cost, vehicle range, speed of charging and available charging infrastructure; and EVs will not solve traffic congestion. But with the growing issues of climate change and limited future oil resources, be assured that EVs are coming to UK.

  • Neil Butcher, Associate, Ove Arup & Partners, Arup Campus, Blythe Gate, Blythe Valley Park, Solihull, W Midlands. B90 8AE

Driving to a greener future

Recent letters (NCE 7 May) questioning the role of green vehicles are valid, but miss one vital element. Energy storage.

At present there are problems putting enough renewables into the weak grid in many of the remote areas where the renewables are plentiful. This then means that there is a benefit in having electric cars to absorb energy during the night and so establish a base load to charge cars close to the point of generation.

Unst, the most northerly inhabited island in the UK, is not on the UK grid but has an electric/H2 car running from small wind generators ( and is producing hydrogen when it doesn’t need the electricity from the wind turbines.

We must not allow green cars to distract us from the big challenges, but they do have a place. Even now.

  • Neil Kermode

Money matters

The attitude of John Thackray to the value of economic appraisal of projects inhis letter in NCE last weekis surprising.

I was working under Ray Horner in the rivers section of the GLC at that time in the early 1970s, and he was well aware of the necessity of economic appraisal of flood alleviation schemes.

The design standards operating in the non-tidal rivers of London were for a 1 in 50 year return period flooding event, which we had to justify on a tangible benefit basis.

Horner knew there could be no justification on a tangible benefit/cost basis for building the barrier especially after the interim bank-raising scheme had been implemented in London (1 in 100 year river level). But he maintained that the intangible and therefore immeasurable benefits of preventing the immobilisation of central London and all its administrative workings for an extended period were far greater than the costs of construction. The country may grind to a halt.

He was able to convince the Treasury economists and the relevant Ministry officials of this viewpoint. There is a library of literature on choosing discount rates and to accuse the government of a lack of knowledge in this respect is naïve.

Incidentally the fact that the Barrier has been operated 114 times since installation has been a result, partially, of dismantling much of the interim bankraising scheme. For example the concrete and stone topping to embankment walls was removed for aesthetic reasons and I am sure the resulting economics of operating the Barrier have been thoroughly examined.

  • W Tuck,, Leeds, LS6 4SH

Wrong sort of savings

NCE’s focus last week, on the probable cancellation of major infrastructure projects by a succeeding Conservative government “in order to save money”, reminded me of a quote made to me recently by my local car-repairer.

The bonnet of my trusty Volvo would no longer open, due, it transpired, to the structural failure of a plastic component in the locking mechanism.

Having exhausted a surprisingly long period of time and many novel curses finding an alternative route into the engine-room, Drew Thomas, my mechanic, was able to locate and extract the offending part.

He held it for us both to view, and said: “That component was designed by a competent engineer, to be made of steel … it was redesigned in plastic by an accountant.”

As the editor suggests in the final line of Comment last week… heaven protect the bonnet of our infrastructure from accountants!

  • Malcolm Cox (M),

Your views & opinion

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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