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Letters: Articulating the need to close missing links

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Most of the public concern about the need to improve Britain’s infrastructure has been focused on London and its airports. However most people and goods travel by road.

The Tyne & Wear area is the only conurbation in Britain without a continuous link to the motorway network. The missing improvement of a 19km section of the A1 in North Yorkshire to motorway standard was cancelled in the last roads review.

Following recent heavy rain in North Yorkshire, the Highways Agency advised drivers to “consider if their journey is necessary before attempting to travel in the North East region today (26 September), as a result of heavy rainfall causing flooding”.

This is not the first time that the A1 near Catterick has flooded and this event occurred at a time when part of the East Coast Main Line was also closed. Surely a reliable road connection to the North East should be in the roads programme even if it cannot be financed at the moment.

  • Mike Hodgkinson (F), mike.hodgkinson1@gmail.com

Your excellent leader of 20 September highlighted the role of engineers in delivering vital infrastructure as well as the UK’s
parlous record of making the necessary investment.

One of the projects highlighted was the A14 which, in the east of England at least, is one of the most vitally needed schemes.

In your article John Cridland for the CBI welcomed the government’s decision to prioritise this project but lamented the need for six more years of planning.

He is quite right to do so. Since its entry into the roads programme in 1989 this scheme, including time spent on the shelf, has so far been 23 years in planning.

The problem however is not the skills of engineers in articulating the benefits of projects, it is the lack of will by central government which means that, before a scheme reaches fruition, the political winds have inevitably shifted to the opposite direction.

  • Andrew Munro, andrew.munro@munro-consultants.co.uk

 


Greening’s ideas didn’t add up

I refer to your report that the High Speed Two chairman Douglas Oakervee was surprised at Justine Greening losing her position as transport secretary (NCE 20 September).

Many of us had wondered why Greening, in view of her considerable statistical knowledge (she was previously a member of the Treasury team), had not queried the economic case for High Speed 2 when it was revealed that the benefit to cost ratio was downgraded from the originally published 2.4:1 to 1.2:1.

This had not gone unnoticed by the prime minister, thus making Greening’s move inevitable.
According to your report, Oakervee considers the project a “vital part of the nation’s plan for economic growth”. This is really difficult to believe.

  • Colin Clarke, 9 Brooke Lane, Berkhamsted, HP4 1SX

 


Origins of the species

Reading NCE all I seem to hear about these days is BIM, which appears to be the latest panacea for the ills of the construction industry.
I’m sure that building information modelling will prove to be a useful tool in the future, but before we get carried away looking at complex and expensive solutions to problems, may I suggest that we address a few more basic and simple ones as a first priority.
It appears to me that we often look for the most complex solutions, and it may be that simple ones are not always seen as being interesting or “sexy”.
For example, working as a temporary works engineer on building projects for a main contractor, I am amazed now many site investigation reports do not show the ground levels on the borehole logs.
This is important basic information, as the relative levels of the layers of strata and ground water level are essential for any temporary works design. Trying to work out the ground levels from a site plan is most often not accurate enough.
I implore the construction industry to improve its working practices before adding to the complexity of the design process.

  • Michael Redhead (M), mredhead@bam.co.uk

 

Low cost or good value?

I find it astounding how critical some letters have been regarding some recent bridges such as the Gem bridge in Devon.

Constructive criticism and debate should be encouraged and as engineers I believe we have a duty to design structures of high value for our clients.

But high value does not always mean minimum cost and we should celebrate the ability to produce dramatic and elegant structures. If we always select minimum cost solutions, the built environment would be a very dull place and clients may not obtain optimum value.

However, I do have concerns over the complexity of some recent footbridge designs, especially complex cable-stayed designs and the potential difficulty, disruption and cost associated with maintaining such structures.

We have been developing footbridges with clear spans up to 300m, without piers in the river and without the need for masts and cables, using high-performance carbon and glass-fibre composites.

The cost may be more than a conventional solution, but we predict competitive total project costs due to savings in supporting structures, foundations and installation.

Whole life costs will be dramatically reduced providing asset owners with very good overall value.

  • David Kendall (M), Optima Projects, 6 Highfield, Lymington, Hampshire SO41 9GB

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