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Letters: Defending the regulators

Your Comment “Regulator ignores practicalities of rail work” (NCE 8 January) misrepresents the Office of Rail Regulation’s (ORR’s) role as it is stated “the regulator is preoccupied with economics and efficiency savings and is ill equipped to understand the engineering and operational requirements of the industry it regulates”.

The ORR has a wealth of specialist experience, employing around 30 specialist engineers and operational rail experts.

These colleagues work in tandem with our safety inspectors and economists in assessing Network Rail’s plans and work on the network. Indeed their input has been critical in leading ORR’s focus in recent years on the importance of Network Rail improving its asset management. Our experts also support the industry directly in the authorisation of projects and rolling stock into operational use, as well as ensuring that Network Rail is held to account for the delivery of their own plans for maintenance, renewals and enhancements.

Rail work

Rail: Regulator has “wealth of engineering expertise”

In terms of our focus, we always reiterate that safety on the railways is our number one priority. We will never allow savings to come at the expense of the safety of those using and working on Britain’s railways.

  • Alan Price, director, railway planning and performance, Office of Rail Regulation, One Kemble Street, 2nd and 3rd Floors, London WC2B 4AN

Your correspondent Stephen Gibson takes issue with water regulator Ofwat’s role in the development of London’s super sewer (NCE 8 January). He considers the sewer to be a financially inefficient solution to the drainage problem. He puts this down to inadequate design and investigation, leading to the adoption of an overly simple but very costly solution.

He perceives this to be the fault of Ofwat due to its failure to understand the economic and sustainability issues.

This may well be a common perception but one which does not stand up very well to scrutiny.

Ofwat is the water industry’s economic regulator, whose primary task is to keep bills for consumers as low as possible while monitoring the companies to see that they are performing their role in a satisfactory manner. In fulfilling its duty, Ofwat takes directions from government, takes advice from other regulators, such as the Environment Agency, and appoints consultants to provide expert analysis where necessary.

Ofwat looks at each business case in the light of information provided by the water companies and the advice given by third parties.

The super sewer was initially proposed by Thames Water in 2004 after four years of fairly detailed investigation. Following an independent review of the Thames Water study report, Ofwat rejected itsproposed super sewer solution and suggested a much reduced cost approach.

Over the last 10 years there have been numerous counter arguments, investigations and reports - much detailed work. However, as far as I am aware, no one has come up with a radically different solution which has been costed and shown to have a better long term outcome.

It is sometimes easier to find a scapegoat than to search the background information which may contradict initial perceptions.

  • Ian Aikman, 11 Briarigg, Kendal LA9 6FA

Mad, bad and dangerous to grow

I recall that someone, far more prescient than I, once observed that “all organisations build their grandest follies immediately prior to their demise”. The Thames Garden Bridge seems to be an excellent contender for that accolade.

That it can possibly be seen as a worthy home for £60M of public funds (NCE 27 November 2014) at a time when the public realm more generally is in accelerating decay, the number and use of food banks is increasing monthly, and the NHS seems to be in disarray, beggars belief.

If a footbridge really is required at that location to deliver “regeneration and economic growth on both sides of the Thames” (London mayor Boris Johnson quoted in NCE 8 January) then surely we as a profession can come up with a far more practical but nevertheless aesthetically attractive solution for far less money.

Meanwhile, Boston’s barrage is still several years away, and the awful Pacers continue to roam the Northern & Western rails. Colleagues will doubtless have their own favourite causes célèbres.

  • David Gartside (F), 19 The Mount, Congleton, Cheshire CW12 4FD


Reasons why our road networks need expansion

Tim Harvey (NCE 8 January) took issue with previous correspondents (NCE 20 November) regarding providing new roads, stating that “most civil engineers simply want to build things and, therefore, a problem like a congested motorway results in a widening scheme to add more capacity” while not addressing the points made by those previous correspondents.

In the journal for civil engineers this struck me as a slightly patronising attitude toward his fellow professionals, many of whom will like him work in transport planning.

The facts are, after many years of being told travel demand would reduce due to modern communications, UK national statistics show a fairly steady annual travel distance per head and at the same time significant increases in population. This has resulted in a transport network that is overcrowded and congested. Current and previous governments have raised Air Passenger Duty, which has had the effect of reducing internal flight options, and while a lot of money has been spent on High Speed 2 to provide much needed capacity and redundancy in the rail network another term of Parliament is nearly over and there is still no certainty in that project going ahead.

Therefore, I agree with the ICE’s State of the Nation reports, the Highways Agency and Transport Scotland that significant investment is required in major roads in the UK to provide a resilient transport network with redundancy and reduce congestion.

  • Chris Jolley (M),


New roads don’t necessarily mean new traffic

Further to the “inconvenient truth” in Andrew Allen of the Campaign for Better Transport’s Opinion piece (NCE 8 January) that “new roads create new traffic”, another inconvenient truth is that, even if there’s no more road building, new traffic will still be created by other more significant factors such as population growth, record employment levels, out-of-town retail, leisure and entertainment facilities, and widespread car ownership.

In addition, internet research reveals not only websites repeating the same handful of studies extolling the evils of induced travel, but also websites questioning the notion that new traffic is inherently bad. Apparently new traffic on one route can mean less traffic on another. For example, if the A27 became a viable transport corridor (by removing congestion hotspots like Arundel) it could remove some long distance east-west traffic from the M25/M3 corridor. So maybe not all “new roads create new traffic” is bad.

  • Giles Darling (M),


What exact skills do graduates need to have?

I am continuously reading about the current issue regarding a “skills crisis” in the UK construction industry. I am attempting to get a more clear explanation through this letter.

I graduated six years ago and recently went back to university to do what turned out to be a very unfulfilling master’s degree. During that course, many of my colleagues found it very difficult to get a job offer.

There are indeed young engineering graduates desperately searching for work but yet I read that they do not have the “right skills”.

It is a bit unfair as graduates are at the beginning of their careers and will not have developed all the skills necessary to hit the ground running. So maybe it is not skills in general, but exact skills that employers are seeking. I have not seen this list of skills in any such article and so I wonder how graduates will learn what is required of them.

  • Dominic Holder,

Readers' comments (1)

  • stephen gibson

    I note Ian Aikman's criticism of my suggestion that consideration should be given to reform at OFWAT such that it more effectively considers the long term sustainability and financial value of projects by water companies. It is a shame he fails to make any case or justify why not.

    In his public profile on Linked-in he states that he has undertaken paid work last year for OFWAT in the provision of expert analysis. Many could consider this a vested or commercial interest potentially to defend a client, not the provision of independent views, for which is the purpose of NCE open opinions. In such a situation it is appropriate professionally to confirm such a direct link when views are given.

    The fact is that sustainable drainage solutions and CSO treatment measures are used across the world successfully to reduce the type of problem experienced in London.

    The opinion "no one has come up with a radically different solution which has been costed and shown to have a better long term outcome" is exactly the type of response which confirms the problem. There are viable and more cost effective alternatives, but without genuine commitment from OFWAT to support funding these, there is only "one horse in the race".

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