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Letters: Invaluable job   deserves merit

Your Comment (NCE 16 January) spotlighted the low status of the engineer in the UK, together with widespread ignorance as to what an engineer is and does.

Brunel

Recognition: The Victorians understood the importance of engineers, such as Brunel

 

Little change has taken place since this was a hot topic when I started work in London’s Victoria Street over 50 years ago.

It is interesting to compare the public perception of engineers in mainland Europe. There, it is common for streets to be named after prominent engineers. In Valencia, home to Calatrava, one will find a multitude of entries starting “Calle Ing…” in the street directory, along with streets named after architects, doctors, writers and artists.

Note that the title ‘Ingeniero’ or ‘Arquitecto’, is part of the street name, rather than just ‘Brunel Street’. The different view of engineers there cannot be the result of protectionism on the part of the respective professional bodies: writers and artists have no legal protection attaching to their titles.

The person who mended your boiler would have been called a tecnico (technician) in Spain, not an engineer, and would have been quite content with this clear distinction between himself and the person who designed the boiler.

Perhaps the invisibility of the engineer in the UK stems from our having long ago turned our back on construction, manufacturing and production, in favour of making hypothetical money by the manipulation of abstract notions such as derivatives. Countries such as France and Germany still retain significant construction, vehicle and aerospace industries. An increasing proportion of UK facilities and utilities are owned by overseas interests. Possibly the pendulum will swing back in favour of real wealth creation when the notional money bubble bursts; one can only hope that the process will not prove too painful.

  • Peter Watts (F, Ret)peterwatts@fastmail.fm

Your call for a rebranding of the profession is timely and well received - by me, anyway (Comment, last week). The general public have no idea what we are all about. They do not seem to know that all roads, ports, airports, railways, water supply, sewage disposal, coastal defences et al depend entirely on what we know and do. Start explaining to an inquirer what you do and by the time you have reached “chartered civ…” incomprehension spreads all over the questioner’s face, coupled with total lack of interest.

The Institution has only itself to blame, for not safeguarding the term “engineer” from the time it was lazily applied to any who could operate an engine. For me, one tenth of the proposed £5M allocated for yet another grandiose scheme to convert One Great George Street into “a properly constituted engineering centre” would be better applied by employing a well qualified publicist to focus the minds of government and the public on the critical importance of the civil engineering industry.

As for a new term for “engineer”, it would need to be snappy - the public dislikes long labels. I can think of nothing better than the word “ingenieur” which describes a well respected (and well paid) professional engineer all over Europe where it is instantly recognised.

It is, admittedly, French - but so was our most illustrious civil engineer IK Brunel, whose name is well known to many by virtue of repetition. I appreciate that, being born in England, he was technically English, but he remained totally French in temperament, attitude and conduct. It would be quite apt to couple the new term with him, both being French.

l John Barry (M Ret), jandsbarry@onetel.com

In the 2002 BBC poll asking the nation to name the greatest Britons of all time Isambard Kingdom Brunel was voted number two and above Charles Darwin, William Shakespeare, Sir Isaac Newton and many others. So the respect for the ­achievement of engineering is there.

Brunel was identified with what he did. Today we don’t know who the engineers are. Architects, yes. Engineers, no. The only recent example of a named engineer who has caught the public’s attention is Sir John Armitt, who delivered the London 2012 Olympics.

  • George Elcock (M), Woking, Surrey GU22 7DS


Reading Mark Hansford’s Comment (NCE 16 January) is it not time that those of us who have reached the dizzy height of Fellow in our respective engineering institutions be awarded some status that surpasses that of the chap who services my boiler, car, etcetera? I recall this has been a topic for some decades but we never seem to resolve it.

Derek Sudlow in the same issue draws comparison between studies for the medical profession and that of chartered engineer and suggests the award of a doctorate upon becoming chartered.

Hear, hear, I say, and as a Fellow of both the civils and structures address me as Doctor, Doctor.

l John Firth (F) bmonarch@hotmail.com

I agree that we have an image problem. Many of our members though can do something about it. I proudly display my certificate of award of European Engineer and entitlement to using Eur Ing.

I get frustrated by those websites where you tick “title” and see “Mr, Mrs, Doc, Prof, Rev, or Lord,” but never “Eur Ing.”. You end up as plain “Mr” or “Mrs”. I try to complain to ­webmasters, but it rarely works.

So we can do something simple to start to enhance our image, if all Eur Ing’s and the Institution, on our behalf, took the trouble to complain to the websites then they may take action. Will I live long enough to receive utility bills marked to Eur Ing Pallett?

  • Peter Pallett (F), pallett@compuserve.com

Editor’s Note: Apologies in advance Peter; it’s NCE house style to drop prefixes and suffixes from names. Only the peerage, knights of the realm etc are exempt

 

Environment Agency’s plans to cut flooding

I am pleased and proud to say in response to Colin Clarke’s letter (NCE 9 January) that I and all my colleagues in the Environment Agency do care passionately about the 5M people and their property, businesses and land that are at risk of flooding.

I have dedicated my engineering career over 35 years to ensure that people are better protected, understand the risks they face and are warned when flooding is imminent.

I and many hundreds of my colleagues continue to work tirelessly, including over the last two Christmas and New Year holidays, to serve the people we care about. Our sympathy goes to the families and friends of those who tragically lost their lives and to those whose homes and businesses were flooded in December and January.

We estimate that since 1 December 2013 around 3,500 properties have flooded from the sea, rivers, groundwater and surface water. During this time around 1M properties have been protected by flood defences, along with 2,500km2 of land. In many parts of the country we have experienced record water levels. The investment and application of engineering knowledge and skills since 1953 on the east coast of England and elsewhere has saved lives and livelihoods and currently gives a return to the taxpayer of around eight to one.

Over the four years of the current Spending Review, we are investing £2.3bn on flood and coastal erosion risk management. This will help provide better protection to 165,000 homes by 2015, a 20,000 increase on the target of 145,000.

Overall, investment is increasing because partnership funding is set to bring in around £148M additional investment by 2015 compared to £13M in the previous four years. Over 90 new schemes starting construction in 2013/14 are expected to deliver better protection to 64,000 households when completed.

The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs has been successful, for the first time, in securing a protected, long-term (six-year) capital settlement to improve flood management infrastructure. We will be making record levels of investment in capital improvement projects: £370M in 2015/16 and then the same each year, rising to over £400M in 2020/21 - more than £2.3bn invested in capital alone over a six-years period, providing better protection for a further 300,000 households.

The Environment Agency has to save money and reduce staff numbers, like the rest of the public sector. The planned reductions in posts will not affect our ability to respond to flooding incidents and we will minimise the impact on other front line services through the changes.

  • David Rooke, director flood and coastal risk management, Environment Agency, Ergon House Horseferry Road London SW1P 2AL

Doing the right sums to invest in our future

Mark Hansford’s Comment on public complacency towards infrastructure was very timely and insightful (Comment 9 January). There are three components to this: time, risk and money. Humans live in the moment, experiencing life as it happens, but it is also wise to spend some time developing strategies and policies to manage the inherent risks that surround and beset us all.

Risk is the product of the probability and the consequences of a hazard occurring, the likelihood of the occurrence and its effect. For example, if one builds properties on a flood plain, the hazard of being flooded will eventually occur if appropriate protection measures have not been included. After the 1953 East Coast floods we did invest and the recent storm surge was mostly held at bay, demonstrating the effectiveness of the various investments made.

Which brings me to money. We have two options in how we use it: expenditure and investment. Money comes in two forms, cash and debt.

A more prudent approach is to spend the cash on current account items, and to use debt that we can afford to invest in assets that have an economic case and a payback that means that we either create wealth by means of the investment or remove the costs that will be incurred by not managing the risk.

To mortgage our future with an infrastructure asset that will pay itself back several times over its life is not the same as current account expenditure.

We should account for them separately.

Mike Chandler (M) mjc@chandler-associates.co.uk


Compulsory reading forall engineers

Please may I take the opportunity to commend and thank John Roberts for his article “Errors on a terrible day” (Opinion last week on www.nce.c0.uk), which is one of the most important articles I have read in NCE in nearly 30 years.

This should be compulsory reading for all aspiring professional engineers and, dare I say it, clients.

Please put a permanent hyperlink on nce.co.uk and on www.ice.org.uk.

Steve Everton (M), steve.everton@sky.com

Editor’s note: An excellent idea Steve. Here it is: www.nce.co.uk/roberts

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