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Letters: Do flood victims need our help?

Stilt house

Practical knowledge: Wooden piles to protect homes from flooding have been used for thousands of years

Robin Clay has struck a very rich vein in the principle which he propounds for the homeowner’s contribution to flood protection (Letters 12 February). This is a principle which should universally apply where the natural risk is obvious. Homeowners who buy cheaply, to enjoy exceptional surroundings most of the time, should not rely on others to subsidise their idyll by protecting them against the occasional but expected natural events. Nor should society or insurers upgrade affected properties with ­resilience repairs in such circumstances.

The building or buying of a house in the middle of a major river, or close to an obviously eroding cliff, or in a scenic flood plain simply for the view or the location is not supportable. Even our prehistoric ancestors had the sense to build huts on timber piles to keep their floors above water level.

Abnormal weather events, unexpected tidal surges, landslips, sink holes and old mining ­subsidence are all events for which any victims should be able to rely on society’s collective capabilities and resources but we are not so short of land that viable new houses cannot be located where obvious risks can be avoided.

  • Alan Harris (M)

I see that Robin Clay was “incensed” by surmising from your editorial of 29 January that £10M is being spent to prevent 40 homes from flooding (Letters 10 February.). I too was annoyed by that editorial but for opposing reasons. You suggested that “villagers on the Somerset Levels are sorted, sitting pretty, protected by their much-upgraded flood defence infrastructure”. I do not live on the Levels, but I suspect that many would be insulted by the flippant comment - a recent BBC documentary reported that around 50 families still had not returned to their properties one year after the floods due to the length of time for them to be made habitable again.

The effects of the flood were felt much wider than just flooding a certain number of houses: the A361 was closed for three months causing long diversions with obvious economic costs and of course farmland and livestock was (and is still) affected.

We are a comparatively densely populated island. To supply our nation with vegetables, fruit, milk and meat, we have learned to farm more difficult landscapes. They may be the harsh, uplands of Exmoor, Cumbria or Scotland, vulnerable to extreme cold and heavy snow, or the flood-prone East Anglian Fens or the Somerset Levels, and all variations in between.

It is no more valid to criticise people for living on the Somerset Levels, where land drainage has become a finely-tuned infrastructure over many generations, as it is valid to criticise people who live in the upland areas, where snow and ice are a frequent hazard, and occasionally in extreme weather, extra support is needed from the emergency services or highways gritters.

When nature tests our defences, and a community is in need, we generally rally round to help. Without the rural community, providing food for our tables, we would all suffer the higher costs and greater dependency on imports. It’s not a case of town versus country, and a choice of where to live - we are all in this together.

  • Dave Bearman (M)

Robin Clay’s proposal for funding flood defences has a parallel with the well-established polluter pays principle in matters of environmental conservation. My alternative idea for funding had been a supplementary stamp duty on properties that are protected by flood defences.

As a general rule I do not favour new and more taxation; our tax code is hugely over complex as it is and keeps armies of accountants in non-productive employment, money that would be better spent by engineers on infrastructure. But nevertheless I wrote to my MP with this fund raising suggestion.

A few days ago I received a reply from environment minister Dan Rogerson. He rejected my idea on the basis that government funding of flood defence measures had a benefit to cost ratio of 8:1 and was part of the government’s economic growth plan. I quote: “Investment in flood mitigation enables these directly-benefiting areas to grow, as resources previously used in these areas to insure assets and properties are freed for use elsewhere.”

So there we are.

  • Hugh Allan (F retd)

Link insurance to the distance cars are driven

Responding to Stewart Hillen’s letter (NCE 8 January) regarding road pricing, I agree there is scope to use pricing to change people’s car use habits, but perhaps there is a more preferable option to an additional road tax which hits the poorest hardest.

Instead of a disincentive why don’t we use new technology to provide an incentive? What if our insurance rate was linked to the mileage we drove, benefiting occasional drivers and penalising gas guzzlers. Since the cost of the car would no longer come from owning it but for driving it, we would incentivise lower mileage, help insurance companies correctly price risk and boost sales in the car industry. And personally I’d prefer it to no longer cost me £600 to insure a car I drive twice a month (and resist the urge to drive more to ‘get my money’s worth).

  • Nicole Shamier


Considerations to safety in the Channel Tunnel

I refer to the article “Eurotunnel defends safety of lattice framed wagons” (NCE 12 February). I was a member of the Civil Engineering and Fixed Equipment Working Group of the Channel Tunnel Safety Authority from 1994 until 2011 and as such was involved in the reconstruction of the tunnel following fires in 1996 and 2008.

Not surprisingly the working group gave extensive consideration to the potential effectiveness of the water mist system before its installation was permitted. In our deliberations, we took due account of the possibility of catenary power loss due to hot combustion products in the tunnel.

We also studied the reliability of the supplementary ventilation system in controlling the direction of smoke movement during evacuation. Smoke is deliberately blown away from escaping passengers not towards them.

Water mist installation is principally installed to minimise damage to the tunnel structure by controlling a fire and limiting the spread of fire along a burning train.

Irrespective of where an HGV shuttle on fire is stopped in the tunnel, the evacuation procedures for crew and passengers can be implemented effectively as they are independent of water mist discharge.

And while Fathi Tarada’s call for greater enclosure of shuttle wagons is valid, any additional self-weight reduces the load carrying capacity of shuttle wagons.

  • Donald Lamont (F)


When swales was all Welsh to the profession

I read with interest the article about the Llanelli Green Infrastructure Project (NCE last week) having had involvement in a scheme associated with a housing development off the A4093 Tonyrefail bypass. My main role was in the alignment design of the bypass for the now extinct Sir Owen Williams and Partners and Brunswick Developments.

However, I also did the recommendations and ground modelling for the run-off flow attenuation, a new set of words at that time, and at the mention of swales a partner wondered why I was mentioning South Wales. It is visible on all good mapping sites, just to the south of Elm Wood Drive.

  • Mark Foweraker


What the ICE is doing to keep up standards

David Tonks asked what the ICE is doing to ensure that those delivering accredited civil engineering programmes are appropriately qualified (NCE 5 February). In February 2012, the Joint Board of Moderators (JBM) contacted all universities offering accredited degree programmes to advise that by 2015 programmes would also be assessed on the qualifications of teaching staff. It set a requirement for 50% of teaching staff to hold appropriate professional qualifications.

In December 2012, universities were asked to provide their current data on the professional qualifications of teaching staff, to develop a baseline against which the JBM could monitor universities’ progress. Analysis of the 2012 data showed that 82% of universities met the target for 50% of teaching staff to be professionally qualified. This survey is being repeated in the coming weeks and will allow the JBM to determine if further improvements have been made, or if the percentage has reduced due to changes in staff.

  • Susan Clements (M), ICE head of qualifications, One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA

Bringing clarity to ‘engineer’ and ‘contractor’

In the middle of the last century it was official practice to designate the consulting engineer for a project as ‘the engineer’. This was alongside ‘the contractor’ - sometimes seen as over and against the contractor. I remember a bridge project where there were some 40 contract drawings and through the construction programme the contractor produced over 200 detailed working drawings relating to steelwork, temporary works, formwork, reinforcement schedules, erection schemes and concrete mix design. Furthermore, the contractor carried the risks - construction-wise and financial. The contractor was in truth the engineer for the construction of the project.

Professor Calladine writes of the need for additional inclusions in engineering courses. Surely, it must also be a requirement that students understand that every part of any project - from the design stage through construction to ­completion and also maintenance - comes within the remit of the ­engineering profession?

  • Walter Barbour (F), 1, Newlands Court, Stow on the Wold GL54 1HN


Your language doesn’t add up - it nosedives…

We know that maths is important to engineers, but do you think that English might be of equal importance if we are to try and raise engineers’ status? Flood plane indeed (Letters 12 February). Did it take off?

  • David Myles (M)

…into a swamp of outlandish English

I am all for plane speaking on matters of importance - but surely this is taking it too far?

  • Keith Nicholls (M)
  • Editor’s note: Apologies to David, Keith, and the (many) other readers who also noticed this error. Naturally, we will strive not to repeat it.

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