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Letters: Commitment was key to flood scheme delivery

Godmanchester work underway

Godmanchester: Good community relations and tenacious approach to securing funding

The Godmanchester flood alleviation scheme was one of the first schemes to benefit from the introduction of partnership funding by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Defra) in 2011 (NCE 18 June).

This was a new approach to funding flood schemes through a combination of national grant and local contributions.

The Godmanchester scheme had previously been unable to proceed due to a reduction in total national Flood Defence Grant in Aid (FDGiA), when schemes either received 100% grant or none at all.

The regional flood and coastal committee of the Environment Agency agreed in July 2011 to contribute local levy funding to attract national FDGiA.

The committee had effectively underwritten a local contribution of £3.75M to support a bid for FDGiA to enable the scheme to go ahead.

A local levy of about £1M is raised annually from county councils and unitary authorities by the committee in its area. The local contribution also included an additional £350,000 from Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire District Council because of the importance of the scheme to them. This was a real success story for the newly introduced partnership funding approach, which was ensured by local funding support.

The excellent co-operation of local residents was gained through the team of client, consultant and contractor being committed to working with the local people, and particularly through using a retired flood defence manager to liaise directly with each of the residents.

  • Stephen Wheatley (M),

Beware of BIM

Building information modelling has a real potential to help us develop and record solutions. It is of course a tool and not a solution in itself. The real skill of engineers is to use the tools available for the benefit of their clients by reducing risk and hence cost over time.

There is a risk to our profession that we start to believe the flashy images and information and forget that as engineers we need to analyse, understand and be competent. Engineers should, in my view, treat everything with a healthy degree of scepticism and not accept what any system tells you blindly without thinking.

Computers may be able to calculate down to the minutest decimal point, but if the data, assumptions made or algorithms are wrong the computer will work it out wrong.

Don’t forget the old adage “Garbage in equals Garbage out”. Pretty looking garbage is still garbage.

  • Mike Stephens (F),

Wider towpaths for cyclists and pedestrians

The canal bridge design suggested by the Canals and Rivers Trust looks fine aesthetically, provided the facing is graffiti resistant (NCE 18 June). But the towpath space needs to be at least twice as wide, so that proper provision can be made for cyclists as well as walkers and users of prams and wheelchairs.

In northern Europe the canal and river system is now providing a wonderful network of long distance cycle routes.

Last week my wife and I passed several thousands of other cyclists on such paths in France and Germany, well maintained and hard surfaced.

The paths were kept just wide enough to avoid conflicts between users, and to allow mechanical maintenance equipment.
Just as new bridges over railways have to allow headroom for electrification, so should new bridges over canal towpaths make allowance for future cycle use.

  • Peter Mynors (F),

Foregone conclusion

I see that that Network Rail is to face another probe from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regarding its missed enhancement targets. No probe is necessary as the problem is simple to cure; ensure that project managers, planners and engineers are fully aware of the regulated atmosphere in which they must work.

At the last count there are 17 train, four freight and three private operators who all have primacy over Network Rail in respect of access to the rail network.

All of these operators have a contracted right, via the ORR, to a fully functioning service that delivers their product.

Any change to this must be negotiated in advance and for major disruption this is at least two years.

Overlay this with regular route closures to achieve day-to-day maintenance - a priority if the network is not to close - and you may understand that access planning on the rail network is the equivalent of playing 3D chess and typically requires teams locally attuned to needs of customer, maintenance and project.

In 2009 the expert access planning and train timetabling teams were reorganised from these out bases to a central base with an involuntary staff loss of approximately 60%.

New team members had to be recruited and trained while keeping current plans “live”. The risks were well known.

  • Neil Raw (M), Oriel Grove, York

Charity tax break for retired engineers

Most working engineers offset their ICE subscriptions against tax. However when they retire and are higher rate taxpayers, few seem to claim their subscriptions against gift aid.

Using this entitlement might encourage more engineers to remain as a retired member.

To apply for the refund just answer “yes” to the question on the self assessment form “did you give to charity” and fill in the subscription amount on a later page.

  • Richard Davis (M Retd),

Face time, versus train time

David Higgins is persuasive, engaging, good at delivering what he says and is paid a lot of money to be so (NCE 11 June).

This doesn’t mean we should be persuaded by him. He argues that “anything that gets in the way of that face-time is a dampener on that creative spark - a drag on productivity”. I couldn’t agree more but I have done enough travelling by train and enough innovating to know that rail itself is a drag on face to face time: it is low grade time because it is so full of distractions of every kind. When you arrive you are thinking about catching the train back or the other five or six components that are the inevitable parts of any journey involving a train.

What you need for productivity-enhancing innovation is quality time to interact with people, observe nature, relax, exercise, feel materials, experiment, make mistakes and have time to put them right. All of the things you can’t do travelling and only to a diminished extent when you get there.

Long distance commuting is a health-sapping lifestyle. It is low quality time itself and reduces the time available for life-enhancing pursuits. Those that indulge in it will be the first in the queue for medical treatment later. Perhaps this is all part of David Higgins’ calculation. Enlarging medication is enlarging the Gross National Product and productivity is GNP divided by hours worked.

  • Bryn Bird (M retd),

HS2: Capacity questions

Peter Darley’s letter set out a coherent case against High Speed 2 (HS2). It is far more important to increase the capacity of the West Coast Main Line and keep fares at a reasonable level than to achieve insignificant reductions in journey times.

Have the options for increased capacity of the existing route been explored as thoroughly as the HS2 option?

So if instead of HS2 we spend a small proportion of the cost on improving the West Coast Main Line capacity what will we do with all of the rest of the money? It is money that we probably cannot afford but if it must be spent, how about maintaining the infrastructure we already have?

When the Dawlish railway slip occurred I could not help noticing the decayed remains of timber groynes. It is easy to observe after the event, but perhaps the former timber defences should have been replaced with properly engineered rock armour that would have prevented all the disruption and cost of remedial work.

Further north, I regularly drive down the A1(M) and am dismayed at the state of many overbridges. The movement joints of one bridge near Washington have perished and water and de-icing salts are pouring over the bearing shelf and down the face of the abutment. The steelwork has not been painted for 25 years. And then there is the pothole problem of which so much has been written.

Unfortunately sensible maintenance of our infrastructure is less attractive to our politicians than announcing the building of a monument to their own vanity.

  • Richard Dumbleton (M),

Beware of BIM

I was interested to learn that IK Brunel not only worked with his father Marc on the Thames Tunnel, but also with his brother. (NCE 14 May).

  • Graeme Calf (M)

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