Mike King is quite right when he says Manchester airport has the same runway capacity as Heathrow (NCE 22 March). However, an airport becomes a hub not because of its facilities but because it meets the requirement of a global airline, in the UK’s case British Airways (BA).
BA created mini-hubs at both Manchester and Birmingham, with dedicated terminals, later to abandon them and retreat to Heathrow. Heathrow is now only connected to six UK cities, whereas Amsterdam’s Schiphol serves 19 of our regional airports.
Consequently, for most of the UK, Schiphol is the most convenient hub airport. Emirates flies from four regional airports and from Manchester there are three flights daily, including an A380 super jumbo. Thus Dubai is becoming increasingly more attractive.
Unfortunately, like so many aspects of life in the UK nothing happens north of Watford. BAA, Willie Walsh and Richard Branson will continue to campaign for a third runway at Heathrow, no doubt getting their way once transport secretary Justine Greening is redeployed to another department.
In the meantime Heathrow will become less relevant to the needs of the long-haul travellers from outside the South East who will be even more attracted to foreign airlines to the detriment of the UK as a whole.
- Mike Struggles, firstname.lastname@example.org
Phil Bennett raises a very interesting point - is it really necessary for valuable landing slots at Heathrow to be taken up by freight services (NCE 22 March)?
He suggests moving some of this traffic to regional airports - but is this solution alone likely to produce any significant reduction in CO2 emissions? I doubt it.
For a start, why should any inter-European freight go by air anyway?
The trial train on 22 to 23 March using an SNCF TGV (300km/h) postal train from Lyon-St-Exupéry airport to St Pancras via Paris (Charles de Gaulle) was a loaded trial for “Euro Carex”, which itself is a consortium of airport operators, rail infrastructure operators, and parcel couriers.
Hopefully, this trial will have been a success and it will also convince policy makers that high speed rail offers an alternative to air not only for passengers but for freight as well.
- Roger Bastin (M), email@example.com
I cannot understand why so many people seem obsessed by the idea of expanding Heathrow as being the only solution for the future of air travel in Britain.
Many other countries have led the way in developing new out-of-town airports freed from the constraints similar to those which limit growth at Heathrow, and with excellent transport links.
Why is it only London that presents a problem? There has obviously been no lack of good ideas for alternative concepts.
Of course such developments cost a lot of money, but the benefits, especially to the large population living within earshot of Heathrow, are immeasurable in comparison.
To pin Britain’s prosperity on an outdated airport site concept seems rather short-sighted - and presumably there would be good economic benefits from redeveloping the Heathrow site once an alternative is in operation.
- Michael Paul, firstname.lastname@example.org
Welsh project points way to procurement
I wonder if you heard the interesting File on 4 programme on BBC Radio 4 on 20 March? It described the joined-up thinking behind the Welsh government’s procurement of the Harbour Way road, Port Talbot, in a way that encouraged benefits such as local job creation, particularly for the disadvantaged and unemployed, and training with apprenticeships.
These were written into the tender documents as important criteria, all to be given points in selecting the winning tender, and thus benefiting the local economy.
Scotland was said to be moving towards sustainable procurement through splitting work down into smaller specialist contracts that could more easily be won locally. In England, the transport secretary espouses responsible procurement, and section 5.12 of the Treasury’s Green Book already suggests similar action, though it has been largely ignored.
Doubtless this requires more work at tender stage in drawing up the documents and adjudicating them. But it would be worthwhile in enabling local UK communities to prosper while still adhering to the European Union rules of procurement.
Please, all other clients for major projects take note.
- Edward Hepper (F), Uplands, 61 Queens Road, Alton, Hants GU34 1JG
Summits by the bucketful and still no progress
Margo Cole refers to the comments by Caroline Spelman following the recent drought summit (NCE 8 March). In brief, that we are all in this together.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs now seems to think that water is too cheap with simple tariff structures not providing an incentive for customers to use less and yet are reported as opposing compulsory metering.
Water being too cheap has been plainly obvious for a long time, and I recall then environment secretary John Prescott’s water summit in 1997 when universal metering was effectively stopped at a time when it was increasingly being seen as a sensible way forward.
In addition, the regulator has always driven down costs and companies were even cajoled to introduce tariffs for larger users where the unit cost of water decreases the more you use. These would have been considered to be standard business practices, but are bizarre in the context of water supply.
The water industry has made huge steps forward in the last 20 years with incredible levels of investment, but can hardly be expected to solve current issues without sensible government.
Perhaps while we all think about water efficiencies and tariffs we should also ponder on why some two-thirds of highly treated wastewater is lost to estuaries or the sea in the drought stricken South East.
What we need on all aspects is some joined up thinking based on common sense.
- Stuart Derwent (M), 19 Withdean Crescent, Brighton BN1 6WG
GLC architect key to barrier design
You featured the Thames Barrier in “Memorable Moments” recently and noted the stainless steel clad exterior as establishing it as an iconic structure (NCE 22 March).
Engineers often feel that the architect hogs an undue share of the credit for engineering structures but in this case, while Rendel Palmer & Tritton is widely credited for the superb engineering design, few could name the architect responsible.
It was in fact Brian Thaxton, then of the Greater London Council architects department.
- John Hounslow (F), email@example.com
Home is where the savings are
The ICE says that we need “a minister in charge of infrastructure” (NCE 1 March). I’d say only if it’s a well-informed civil engineer that does a lot of walking and understands super-insulation and heat stored in thermal mass in walls and floors of buildings, especially houses.
The ICE seems to have missed the point that is now at its most basic: with a decline in money supply people need to relocalise their spending, buy less frivolous stuff, more from local makers, get out on foot and by bicycle and in so doing help their health and the NHS budget.
Are most engineers still driving daily to work when they could work from home at least half the time - halving their car fuel costs? What is infrastructure? Well my guess is at least half the UK’s value is simply in the houses we live in, and these are very energy-leaky.
We need to rebalance engineers’ thinking away from big project business-as-usual bias to more localised spending on a wider scale - ideal to deploy the super-insulation and to reduce unemployment.
- Ian Greenwood, firstname.lastname@example.org
Design key to Tottenham Court Road station
Your cover story (NCE 1 March) gives a fascinating description of London Underground’s work at Tottenham Court Road Underground station (NCE 1 March).
But it is a shame that only half the story was being told and there was no mention of the design team who have helped progress the project over the past 20 years, including Halcrow, Acanthus and Hawkins/Brown.
This has been an exemplary project of collaboration between architect and civil engineers, co-located much of the time during design development into the client’s offices.
There appears to be a false preoccupation that major infrastructure projects can be delivered without any design input.
The other part of the project is the double ending of Tottenham Court Road with a new Crossrail ticket hall at Dean Street by Arup and Hawkins/Brown. The combined station has a construction value approaching £1bn, all due for completion at the same time.
- Roger Hawkins, Hawkins/Brown, 60 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3TN
Better road safety signs
Many were saddened by the recent M5 tanker/coach crash with its fatalities and injuries. Far more explicit signing is possible than “incident slow down”.
Better signing is “accident slow”, which means exactly what it says. Then, perhaps, followed by the emphatic “accident ahead/ dead slow now” shortly before the incident.
- David Duncan Turner (M), email@example.com
Long and winding words
How do we square away the announcement by the prime minister about funding (NCE 22 March) with the recent statement by Alan Cook, chairman of the Highways Agency, that “the road network is largely built”?
- John Franklin (F), 11 The Ridings, East Horsley, Surrey KT24 5BN