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Letters: Garden bridge: genius or just a vanity project?

Thames garden bridge

Green folly? The proposed £175M cost of the Thames Garden Bridge is deemed to costly by critics

I don’t know what project Simon Bourne is working on at the moment, but even after a working life spent wholly in cost consultancy (or maybe because of that), I wouldn’t presume to put a figure on his project without knowing more about it than can be garnered from a few news headlines.

I could ask for the breakdown of his estimate of £50M so we can learn from it (NCE 24 November).

However, that estimate needs to allow for professional fees, fund-raising costs, acquisition/compensation relating to real estate, the construction of a building on the south bank for ancillary/community uses, establishing and running the Trust through to public opening, a realistic contingency, 20% for VAT, and a long list of issues that you really do need to be working on the project to understand.

These costs alone would be well in excess of £50M - leaving none of Bourne’s budget actually to build the bridge.

Could there be a cheaper bridge?

Well, there is always something cheaper if that is your main aim in life, but it would not get consent; nor would it be fundable (the cupro-nickel that so upsets Bourne is the subject of a specific donation, for example); and nor would it deliver what this bridge is designed to be: a unique celebration of British talent and creativity, of design and horticulture, of this great city - and of engineering.

  • Paul Morrell (F), deputy chair, Garden Bridge Trust,

I love gardens, bold imaginative ideas and copper, but I agree with everything Simon Bourne says in Greg Pitcher’s report on the proposed Thames Garden Bridge (NCE 27 November). I’d add four points:

  • Why would the proposed bridge not be public?
  • Why is this bridge being proposed for London, rather than somewhere that might need it more?
  • Why spend £175M on a garden bridge when the national government has cut funding to The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew, one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world and a World Heritage Site?
  • Why spend £175M on a garden bridge in London when national government funding cuts have caused local governments to stop funding local gardens, parks and countryside sites all across the country?
  • Rowan Adams,

You report that the Treasury has pledged £30M towards the proposed Thames Garden Bridge. Whatever the technical merits, it would be outrageous for national taxpayers’ money to be used for this. If Londoners and the capital’s businesses want to pay for a vanity project, good luck to them. But they should not expect any funding from outside of London.

  • Mike Keatinge (M), Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL

Is this a garden or a bridge? Either way it is a gross misuse of public money.

A bridge should satisfy the functional and aesthetic requirements of modern highway design and not be influenced by members of the arts fraternity. As others have said, you can get quite a lot of garden for £175M. It is ludicrous to plant a garden over the River Thames.

There are far better uses for this kind of money.

  • Leonard Rosten (F),


Stonehenge plan needs total engineering support

I was really quite surprised by Peter Fox’s letter (NCE 20 November) as I thought such views had disappeared from the minds of modern civil engineers as they sought to lessen the environmental and social impacts of our infrastructure activities.

Let me just correct, if I may, some of Fox’s statements. The dualling of the A303 past Stonehenge may be only “a kilometre” but it stands in a very extensive “monumental landscape” which is just as important as the “stones” themselves and this is far more than just one kilometre.

Impact mitigation would not be served by merely heaping up some of this monumental landscape into a visual shelter belt to hide the road as this would be an extremely destructive action in itself and be seen by most civilised people as vandalism in its highest form.

The “appeasement of the English Heritage entrenched view” is not an issue as this is a Unesco World Heritage Site of global importance so whereas they may well be the custodians of this monument this is on behalf of all of us, even Fox and his progeny.

Put quite simply they are not building any more Stonehenges so we have to take really good care of the one we have - it’s been there longer than the pyramids.

Now if that means that we civil engineers have to try harder, achieve more with less and stretch our imaginations rather than taking the easy option as Fox would have us then so be it - that’s our job and our obligation to the society we seek to serve.

Philip Sharp (M),

Don’t dismiss anti-roads lobby

I must admit Katja Leyendecker’s letter (NCE 13 November) raised a smile, if only because it was almost certain to engender the sort of defensive response put forward by Giles Darling a fortnight later.

To me the first letter seemed to be suggesting that road widening is pointless in that (as is well known) it tends to simply generate/ encourage further traffic so that we end up back where we started. Darling seemed to interpret it as saying that it is “pointless to save lives”, thus conveniently allowing Leyendecker’s views to be written off as those of a crank.

I would not say that it was pointless to save lives but I would ask how many of those 11 fatalities were directly attributable to the road layout rather than, say, the road surface, excessive speed, driver error or impairment; and also whether the accident rate might be reduced by some more intelligent method than simply providing more lanes for people to speed along between traffic jams?

Why not spend the money on improving existing infrastructure, urban, inter-urban and rural, so that everyone - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike - can make the most efficient use of what we already have without feeling that the car is the only choice?

David Redford, ­

We must focus on stopping industry fatalities

The death of Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes after being struck by a ball at the Sydney Cricket Ground was certainly a terrible accident. There was understandably a huge reaction from around the world, with the #putoutyourbats campaign which followed raising awareness of the risks in sport.

Yet the more than 40 fatalities in the British construction industry each year go seemingly unnoticed. Perhaps it’s time for a #dontdieatwork campaign, or #putoutyourhardhats even.

Paul Knight,

All change from the British Rail I worked for

I am sorry that Sheila Holden (NCE 4 November) was treated so shabbily at a British Rail interview.

I suspect that she fell foul of the prejudices of her particular manager because there was no sign of such problems when I joined British Rail at Peterborough in 1964.

Upon appointment as a junior technician, I was placed under the supervision of the redoubtable Betty Saunders, an engineer who encouraged and supported me in my first job in the industry.

Later, in 1968, when I transferred to Leicester, I worked with two women out of a total staff of five. My two female colleagues were allocated duties without reference to their gender and it never occurred to us that gender should be an issue.

I firmly believe that these early experiences, together with a co-educational schooling, ensured that I held no prejudice against female engineers throughout my career. My only regret was that when I was in a position to appoint staff, there were far too few female applicants.

I am sure that if all junior staff were able to work for and with female engineers at an early stage in their careers, then all prejudice against them would naturally wither away.

Brian Maddison (M), ­

Network Rail’s commitment to equality

I’m pleased that the recent article on Network Rail’s plans to improve the gender balance of our workforce has generated such a debate in these pages. It’s an important business issue which many of us are beginning to address, so I want to make my position absolutely clear. We have not introduced quotas at Network Rail - people in our business will always be appointed on merit.

At the same time, we must recognise that our industry has an ageing workforce and a skills deficit which cannot be addressed by doing things in the same old way. We need to be proactive, which is why we at Network Rail have set ourselves targets on the representation of women in our leadership group and graduate workforce. These are tough targets which focus our attention on recruiting and promoting fairly and being open to the potential, skills and expertise of people who traditionally think that rail or engineering is not for them.

By broadening our appeal, we are giving ourselves a better chance at getting the best talent. To suggest that this is ridiculous, as some readers have, is to miss the point. Our industry must be open to the fact that the best comes in many guises. Because we know that the best performing businesses are those with better representation of gender and ethnicity on their boards and in their leadership teams. Businesses that reflect the communities they serve use that intelligence to provide a better product, tapping into different ways of thinking to deliver more creative, more efficient solutions. That’s what I want for Network Rail and for engineering.

  • Mark Carne, chief executive, Network Rail

Editor’s note: You can read a full interview with Mark Carne on p82 of the Infrastructure Report in this week’s issue.

Manchester to Sheffield link has a wry history

David Myles’ letter (NCE 27 November) caused me a wry smile too - or was it a cry? For nearly 50 years ago I was project engineer for the very route he mentions. The Sheffield-Manchester A628 Longdendale Feasibility Study, prepared by County Surveyor, West Riding County Council was submitted in 1970 to the then Ministry of Transport. It began with a major Trans-Pennine Origin/Destination survey (1966) and examined six dual two to three lane routes and pilot geotechnical investigations.

Three southern options through the Peak District National Park were ruled out on the grounds of cost and/or ‘landscape quality’ - as ‘we’ then defined environmental issues. Of course, Myles is absolutely right: the “interim” Stocksbridge bypass single carriageway compromise was a big disappointment and much less than originally proposed.

  • David Duncan Turner (M),

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