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Letters: Is a north-south water supply canal the answer?


We are at a time of great change and uncertainty. Climate is changing, energy costs are climbing and incomes are falling. That is why is would be unwise to be lumbered with a north-south water supply canal (NCE 18 October). By the time it is half complete the people of Scotland may not want to continue to sell their water, the people of south-east England may not be able to afford to pay for it and the climates of Scotland and south east England may have changed.

What we need is a more flexible, holistic, catchment level, multi-functional approach - including a reduction in per capita use of potable water, rainwater harvesting, grey water recycling, more water stored in the landscape in wetlands and new forests, river restoration, re-charging of aquifers and, if necessary, more reservoirs. Such initiatives may not grab the headlines but they are a better bet because they will bring other benefits like better flood management, improved water quality and increased biodiversity and they can be more easily adjusted to enable us to adapt to changing circumstances.

  • Gary Grant, 7 Lea Combe, Axminster, Devon EX13 5LJ

I can’t help thinking that the ICE has its head in the sand on the debate about the need for a national water grid, saying that it is a flight of fancy. (NCE 18 October). The gathering also opined that pumping water around was a non-starter. I can recall as a schoolboy courting by the Manchester supply pipes near Kendal. Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool all draw their main supplies from reservoirs 50km to 150 km away. Birmingham achieved a mean fall of 1:2300 for its supply by gravity. The Lake District and Welsh reservoirs are about 250m elevation; at a fall of 1:2300, this gives an extreme range by gravity flow of 575km. This could put London within range of southern Scotland, provided that a reservoir of suitable elevation and smooth internal piping could be developed.

This would significantly boost the infrastructure, provided that generous compensation is awarded to those near the reservoir(s) and pipelines.

  • Ian Clough (M), 10 River View terrace, Abingdon OX14 5GL

The article by Greg Pitcher on the north-south canal sadly misprinted the original 1942 Grand Contour Canal as “Tour Canal”(NCE 18 October.
As well as water transfer from the “wet” north to the “dry” south, such a canal could also convey Thames size barges (lighters) , which can carry HGV’s and reduce freight traffic on motorways.

Without locks a London-Manchester transit would take less than a day.

As importantly in the south where the water will be consumed, it can first operate hydro generators, and bring green power to the south east, a major UK electricity importing region.

  • Prof Lewis Lesley, 30 Moss Lane, Liverpool L9 8AJ

Controlled consumption

My quarterly Spanish water bill (2009) was based on the volume used as follows:0 to 30m3 : E0.105/m3; 30m3 to 60m3: E1,399/m3, 60m3 to 100m3; E3.045/m3 and more than 100m3: E 4.0425/m3.

The bill also showed a graph of the previous six monthly consumption quantities.

Perfectly logical and fair to me and if I wanted to water the garden or top up the pool, it became easy to predict the additional costs.

  • Crad Allerton (M Retd),

Engineers care as much as anyone

Katja Leyendecker should not be too quick to express dismay that “some engineers really do not get it” in the context of “running out of stuff all around us” (NCE 27 September).
In my experience, engineers are among those most anxious to conserve scarce resources of all kinds.

It should not be forgotten that we only have access to most of the “stuff” to which she refers due to the skill and ingenuity of engineers of various disciplines over the years.

  • Peter Watts (F ret.),

Holistic transport solutions are needed

I’m glad to see that at least the technical press is beginning to recognise the importance of Britain’s road network. The point you make at the end of your editorial, “economies need growth and roads are key” is very important (NCE 18 October). Many in the profession have known this for a very long time and have advocated solutions that have been ignored to date, sadly even by NCE.

There is a fundamental problem that the profession needs to acknowledge. It’s views will invariably reflect government policy when the paymaster is the government, as is the case with roads. Changing the policy needs time and advocacy outside the framework of vested interests and in this I welcome your editorial.

If you are interested in developing the theme further you may wish to read the last section of the paper published in the August 2010 Civil Engineering journal titled The History of British Motorways and Lessons for the Future, which is a synopsis of the Smeaton Lecture I was privileged to give at the Institution in July 2009. The last section highlights some of my own views and thoughts put on the table almost ten years ago by the Royal Academy of Engineering and the RAC Foundation. These are still relevant today and slowly the public debate is moving towards the solutions advocated.

Taking an even broader view of transport policy: where is the long term vision for all our transport infrastructure and how the different modes will interrelate? A third London airport and high speed rail are on the agenda, but where is the discussion about the future road network and the impact on land development? Why, for example, is there no discussion of developing a network of airports, high speed rail, roads and ports to provide Britain with better trade connections? Exploring such thoughts could lead to radical alternatives to those presently being considered, with Stansted, Felixstowe and the redevelopment of East London appearing on the same agenda.

  • Professor John Wootton CBE, Transportation Research Group, University of Southampton,

Major roads need investment

Hurrah for Antony Oliver, for at last saying the unthinkable - that improving the road network might be good news (NCE 18 October).

Too often, the public debate about transport sees it as a one-dimensional problem, whereas in fact it divides itself into two clear parts - inter-urban and peri-urban. Whereas the latter lends itself to a number of solutions not necessarily requiring expenditure on road infrastructure (buses with park and ride, light rail, tramways etcetera) the former is more intractable. It seems to me unrealistic to think that we can solve this problem in the short to medium term by building more railways. The solution has to come from completing a reasonable quality and safe strategic road network.

The A303 to the south-west is a prime example of an unfinished masterpiece and one which must surely contribute to the continuing economic difficulties of Devon and Cornwall - and there are others.

England is apparently the most capital-centric country in the world. While I would not wish to detract from London’s success as a great financial centre, I hesitate to believe that building High Speed 2 (HS2) will do other than contribute to its growth at the expense of other centres. Think what could be achieved in improving the links between our other cities by using the vast funding to be spent on HS2. I am sure that this would create far more distributed economic regeneration than putting all our eggs in the basket of HS2. Once growth recovers, we can then consider investing in longer term solutions.

  • David Clements (M), Southernhay, High Street, Hinton St. George, Somerset TA17 8SE

Airport planners must use vertical thinking


To follow on SP Bowers’ letter related to, “Airports must accommodate space planes” (NCE 18 Oct0ber). It has exercised my mind for some considerable time during the many discussions related to airport expansion, that is, that additional runways required to cater for larger and faster landing aircraft, that here is an example of the tail wagging the dog. Technology has been in place for several years related to “vertical take off and landing” and indeed VTOL aircraft have been flying for years. Who will be the first passenger airline constructor to take up this challenge”?

  • JC Firth (F)


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