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Letters | Is contractor design the future for civils projects?

Second Severn Crossing

Second Severn Crossing: Not exactly a contractor’s in-house design

Mark Hansford linked the rivalry between consultants and contractors as future employers of the best graduate talent with part of the belief expressed in Sir John Armitt’s Presidential Address that in-house contractor design teams yield better designs (NCE 12 November).

As a career consultant and regular designer in design and build projects for 30 years I beg to differ. It is the collaboration between consultant designers and contractor teams that brings most benefit to clients.

Both organisations can share the “sharpest minds of our industry”. The consultant designer is not necessarily the custodian of the best ideas, but should, if carefully chosen, provide the required focus of design skill. I have had the satisfaction of proposing consultant designs and of engineering a contractor’s brilliant idea in collaborative design and build appointments with several contractors.

Surely contractors are not contemplating buying up or developing the skills of their specialist subcontractors, so why do so with designers?

Contractors need only treat designers as a technical subcontractor to create collaborative teamwork appointments, outside but alongside their own talented teams. Teamwork was why I originally entered this profession but design and build collaborations have taken that even further. I hope we won’t abandon collaboration by only relying on internal teamwork to develop and share innovation in our industry.

  • Iain Gibb (F Retd)

Mark Hansford is wrong in implying that the Second Severn Crossing was designed by in-house contractors’ design teams (NCE 12 November).

The detailed design was in fact carried out by a joint venture of Halcrow and French consultant SEEE, working as an integrated project team. So, the “great success” of the project was partly due to the work of quality independent consultants, working closely with the contractors, and partly to the extensive outline design work and studies prepared by SSCG (the Atkins / Maunsell JV) for the overall client (Department of Transport/Welsh Office), which was made available to the designers.

  • Peter Gosling (M Retd)

Your leading article reminds me of an incident that occurred when I was sitting my professional review (NCE 12 November). I was leaving the examination room at One Great George Street after finishing my essay. Another candidate was just behind me. I commented that I was satisfied with my efforts. In reply he held out, tremblingly, to me the paper on which his essay subject was printed.

It said: “In your report you wrote ‘Designers can help contractors and thus cut construction costs’. Discuss this further”. It was October 1951.
Plus ça change…

  • David Simm (F retd)

Step up for Engtech

I applaud the ICE in its action to provide better advice and guidance to young people with respect to careers in the industry (NCE 12 November).

For so long the image we portray has been riddled with past stereotypes.

This has being going on for many years and we have allowed it, talked about it and then not done enough. It has been left far too much to ourselves to solve. My company, Futureworks, has produced an inspirational song and video to combat the issue.

However, I am a little disappointed that the same delivery action, not debate, is not being directed at the industry.

In a letter to the Editor back in March this year I highlighted the lack of take up of apprenticeships, not graduates, particularly in the consultants sector. The inertia and general lack of understanding here is serious.

If the ICE truly believes in its promotion of EngTech and that it wants to attract young people, then it must take the bull by the horns and help consultants, as well as the broader industry, to see the light. Lead by example - how many EngTechs are President’s apprentices?

There is no point promoting to young people the benefits of a career in construction if that career is only open at best through one route or at worst through none at all.

I was in London last week at an Apprentice Network event, supported by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). There were a considerable number of talented young people there, male and female.

If the RICS can see the future, come on ICE: “don’t do ordinary”.

  • Mark Scott (M)

Welcome to the 21st century

As a Partner of the Women in Architecture campaign, Knight Architects strongly supports NCE’s ongoing campaign for equality in engineering. We believe in the beneficial power of good design to add value and to improve people’s lives.

As bridge designers, this is especially important as our work is in the public domain and bridges frequently embodies positive principles of accessibility, democracy and equality. Yet ours is an area of industry where gender equality is rare and this leads to an obvious disconnect between designer and user.

This is not just about rebalancing an uneven situation in the workplace - we support the Women in Architecture and Engineering Equality campaigns as they will strengthen the quality of design and tackle inequality. As new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week when asked to explain his gender parity promise: “Because its 2015”.

  • Martin Knight, Knight Architects, Thame House, 9 Castle Street, High Wycombe, Bucks HP13 6RZ

Don’t kill us with quotas

I’m too busy being an engineer. I don’t want to have to prove to those around me that I have earned my career and that I’m not from a drafted batch of females employed to keep the stats looking pretty.

I’ve got a enough to do, don’t put another barrier in my way!

Let’s work to bring talent (male and female) into the industry and keep talent (male and female) in the industry. Calling for quotas is a knee jerk reaction which, will make women feel like they don’t belong in an industry which desperately needs their talent.

  • Rhona Marsland (M)

Push on with storage ideas

As far as I’m aware there haven’t been any major breakthroughs in large scale electricity storage beyond the likes of Dinorwic and some battery developments.

So on reading the headline “Industry joins drive to develop new ways to store electricity”, I hoped to hear of some new technology. Sadly no; beyond stating the obvious that storage would solve a lot of issues with “green” energy, the rest seemed to be platitudes relating to its regulation.

It is difficult to see how you can have a productive discussion of how to regulate technology, probably on a largish industrial scale, that does not yet exist.

Bit of a disappointment really.

  • Jonathan Smith (M retd) PL11 3AJ, Cornwall

Learning from disaster

On 9 October 2013 the 50th anniversary passed unreported by NCE of possibly the greatest civil engineering disaster of modern times, when the Vajont Dam landslide occurred, killing over 2,000 people.

Last month a probably avoidable tower crane collapse occurred in Mecca, killing 116 people, again unreported in NCE, although I understand this was at least partly due to a Saudi media clampdown.

Thankfully civil engineers don’t kill people as much as we used to, but when we do, it is often on a spectacular scale.

It is vital that we remember and learn from the deaths we cause, and as the 49th anniversary of the avoidable collapse of a spoil heap at Aberfan approaches, I trust NCE will take its role seriously in reminding us all to understand and learn from these and other disasters.

  • Tom Lloyd (M)

Crossrail 2 should be phased to get early start

Crossrail train

Crossrail 2: Phasing gets trains running earlier

I welcome Transport for London’s (TfL’s) consultation on Crossrail 2, but reckon it requires too much spending before the travelling public benefits. It needs to be divided into phases to provide some extra services in 2024 rather than a big bang in 2030 (or later) as TfL envisages.

The only way I can imagine early extra services would be if the planned works between Wimbledon and the southern destinations of Crossrail 2 - Hampton Court, Chessington, Shepperton and Epsom - are carried out early.

The Crossrail 2 design ought to require contractors to build part of the new below ground Wimbledon station ahead of the major tunnelling works - and allow it to be used for temporary shuttle services - while keeping a viable construction access to the main tunnelling works.

Some extra longer distance services on the South West main line can be added as soon as those shuttle services start running.

Crossrail 2 proposes to turn round 10 trains per hour at Wimbledon. An overrun tunnel for their platforms can be justified. That third tunnel can be designed to provide the above phased access during the main tunnelling works and access to overnight sidings in the longer term.

That advance phase should be funded from any premium payments to the government offered by the new South West Trains franchisee. The rest of Crossrail 2 should be funded by Londoners (including London businesses) alone.

I hope other members will make those and similar points in response to TfL’s Crossrail 2 consultation by their early January deadline.

  • Stuart Porter (M) 107 Headlands Kettering NN156AB

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