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Letters: Flood protection: councils need help

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.


Stamsted: Possible South East aviation hub location

The most challenging period for drainage maintenance is in the Autumn. More often than not there is a gale which pulls off all the leaves from the trees, sometimes overnight, blocking the watercourses and occasionally diverting the rainwater to areas that cannot take it.

This usually happens on private land not maintained by the councils. The councils can only react to the resulting problems. Waiting for the last leaf to fall in Autumn and then implementing a well planned drainage clearance programme is not an option.

Councils use rock salt to grit the roads. This is dissolved by the rainwater and does not block the gullies. Grit is only used when the temperatures fall to about -9°C.

I have now been retired for over 10 years and I am out of touch with the resouces available for road maintenance, which must govern present policies.

I would like to pay tribute to the direct labour force I worked with who never failed to turn out in the most atrocious weather to deal with emergencies.

  • Myles Huthwaite,

I find the letter form Alan Mordey on drainage systems both naïve and unhelpful (NCE 21 February). In two-tier local government areas the lower tier authority is responsible for road sweeping and so out of the control of the counties.

The vast majority of “gritting” is done with salt which needs to go into solution to work so doesn’t block drains. Yes there might be a bit of grit in there in snow conditions but this is not significant.

Most importantly is that the vast majority of local authority drainage systems were never actually designed in the first place let alone for 1 in 100 year events. They have, like road construction, just evolved over time.

Where roads are relatively new, the gulley systems are normally designed for 1 in 5 years without surcharge and in urban areas designers often don’t consider where the excess rainfall in extreme events will go but as we now cram as many houses onto a site as possible it is often down someone’s drive.

The very old culverts and pipework are mostly uncharted and again inadequately designed. The adjacent landowners are responsible for ditch maintenance but many are either ignorant of this fact or simply ignore it.

I agree that it isn’t the type of rain but the amount. The amount of run off from land to highways has been extreme as the ground is so saturated. This brings with it the detritus that fills the gulley pots and drainage systems and leads to blockages.

There are many issues raised here and at least with the Flood & Water Management Act some progress may be possible.

  • Ian Turner, St Annes, Glebe Lane, Gnosall, Staff ord, ST20 0ER

I read Alan Mordey’s letter with interest in last week’s NCE and I can only assume that he is not a drainage engineer or designer (NCE 21 February).

Surface water drainage for new developments is typically designed to a 1 in 30 year standard with exceedance flows controlled within the development up to the 100 year return period with an allowance for climate change.

These requirements are a relatively recent development and the vast majority of existing drainage was designed to much lower standards in terms of return period, typically somewhere between a one and five year storm with fl ooding checked in the 20-30 year return period.

In the light of last year’s unprecedented rainfall and with such surface water drainage systems in place it is hardly surprising that there has been severe flooding across the UK.

It is far too simplistic to say that councils are to blame for flooding when there are so many factors to consider.

The upper tier and unitary authorities have relatively recently become lead local flood authorities. Thisstatus requires them to undertake a great many extra duties for which they do receive some funding but not enough to enable them to appropriately resource themselves to respond to such widespread flooding.

With council budgets under threat across the UK due to the austerity cutbacks let’s hope that funding for the councils’ essential fl ood risk management activities is not sacrificed.

  • Pšaul Hargreaves, Pembroke, Clyst St Lawrence, Cullompton, Devon, EX15 2NJ


East Coast Mainline: the new High Speed 2?


East Coast Line: Strategic route

Bob Hopewell had an excellent suggestion of a High Speed rail route from London via Cambridge, Peterborough, Lincoln, York, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle, Berwick, Edinburgh and Glasgow (NCE 21 February).

However, this could be achieved at even lower cost and less time than he suggests when it is realised that East Coast Main Line (ECML) trains already connect all of these stations except Cambridge and Lincoln and already meet High Speed 1 at Kings Cross St Pancras.

Surely an upgrade to ECML and to the Hull-York-Leeds- Manchester-Liverpool line that it intersects at York would provide major benefi ts to the North and Scotland at a small fraction of the cost.

  • John Taylor (M),

Engineers and project management

With reference to the letter stating that procurement strategy is part of successful project delivery, a wider issue - which includes procurement - is that of having eff ective project management (NCE 21 February 2013).

In a long career largely in local government, I worked for much of the time in improving management in construction programmes which involved inputs from diff erent organisations - professional departments, or different organisations (several local authorities, public transport bodies and private ones).

Often staff had little appreciation of their role in the overall process, and the need to progress their aspect, including the necessary procurement processes, and statutory approvals.

Engineers in my experience were the professionals most appreciative of the need for effective project management; other disciplines, including architects, valuers, town planners, solicitors, and not least administrative staff in local and central government, were often ignorant of the wider picture.

There was also often a lack of appreciation in the client organisations of the complexity, and timescales, of a major project.

  • PL Sulley, Windmill House, Vicarage Road, Yalding, Maidstone, Kent. ME18 6DW

Safety case

It would be interesting to know how much of the reduction in accident frequency and severity on the established Managed Motorway schemes is due to the introduction of mandatory variable speed limits.

Has the Highways Agency undertaken a risk analysis for the option of retaining a full time hard shoulder and three running lanes, but with the introduction of variable speed limits?

If so, does it rank more highly in safety terms than the all lane running option with no hard shoulder? If not, why does removing the hard shoulder make the road safer to use?

  • Ian Noble (M), Bristol,

Remembering birthdays

It is most misleading to refer to “Bringing London Underground’s 150 year old network up to speed through a multi-billion pound, multi-year investment…..” (NCE Special Report 21 February).

Of the current total route length of 408km of London Underground only 6km, being the first section of the Metropolitan Line, (on which the Hammersmith & City Line and the Circle Line now also run),between Paddington and Farringdon, came into service 150 years ago in 1863, with further route length of the Metropolitan Line being built and coming into service gradually in subsequent years.

Indeed, the relatively short initial sections of all but one of the other London Underground lines came into service decades after 1863 in the following years:

  • District: 1868
  • Northern:1890
  • Waterloo & City: 1898
  • Central: 1900
  • Piccadilly:1906
  • Bakerloo: 1906
  • Victoria: 1968
  • Jubilee: 1979


  • Graham Jellett (M),, Light Rail Transit Association


Readers' comments (1)

  • I am used to journals which put all of their output on their web site. There is little point in putting up a series of letters discussing Alan Mordey's letter on drainage without putting up the original.

    Peter Smart.

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