Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Are the big projects always the best?

Alan Butler

Mega-projects are not the only examples of innovative civil engineering.

We usually view “typical” civil engineering schemes as headline projects - often eye boggling in their sheer scale.
A glance at the front covers of NCE also suggests civil engineering projects must embrace a huge vision, executed on a mammoth scale and delivering a globally influential end product such as the Olympic Games legacy.

After all, this how we traditionally sell our profession to new recruits eager to play a part in this big picture.

And these headline grabbers provide stunning proof in our tireless campaign to demonstrate to government and society that engineers really do change our world for the better.

Abundance of projects

The North West is currently home to an abundance of these projects: Network Rail’s Northern Hub, the Mersey Gateway river crossing, Greater Manchester Waste programme and the Mersey Tidal Power project.

ICE North West is an active partner in showcasing all these schemes, each of which can improve the quality of life for our citizens and bring economic prosperity to our region.

But does a scheme really need to be big to be beautiful?

In 2007, ICE North West introduced a Community Award to its annual presentational event. This accolade recognised the value of small scale civil engineering projects which nevertheless changed lives for the better.

Last month I accompanied President Richard Coackley on a visit to Cumbria’s Energy Coast, organised by the local ICE branch.

The visit took in the picturesque town of Cockermouth which has been repeatedly ravaged by floods in recent years. One close knit community - The Gote - suffered so greatly that an action group sprang up to end this misery.

Cockermouth Flood Action Group, which includes civil engineers, successfully petitioned the Environment Agency for action. The group raised significant funding towards the scheme and this was enhanced by a locally levied tax precept.

The result is a robust yet unintrusive civil engineering solution which protects 42 homes and safeguards a nearby Site of Special Scientific Interest.

Partnership between communities

It also demonstrates how partnership between communities and agencies can deliver solutions to seemingly intractable difficulties.

The Gote scheme won this year’s ICE North West Community Award and to mark the achievement Richard Coackley unveiled a commemorative plaque on the banks of the River Derwent.

TV, radio and newspapers turned out in force to cover the event, not least because flooding is now such an immediate issue for so many communities.

The result: positive coverage for an example of civil engineering ingenuity creating a safer future for one grateful community - along with recognition that smaller, locally driven schemes may ultimately prove as persuasive as their illustrious megabuck counterparts in demonstrating the true value of our profession.

  • Alan Butler is ICE North West regional director

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.