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Letters: Is it time to go back to using candle power?

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Robert Freer claims the future is either nuclear or candles, and that he would prefer nuclear. There are certainly more options, all requiring much lower energy use than we are used to. The nuclear pipe-dream continues to be about electricity too cheap to meter, the ability to extend a profligate use of energy with no thought to the consequences for future generations. Many people would prefer candles to nuclear, with good reason.

Rail electrification seems essential in the long term, but where is the electricity to come from? We cannot burn coal, as carbon capture and storage, like nuclear fusion, will always be 20 years away. The public is right to be suspicious when all the solutions we offer seem to conspire to demand huge sums of money.

High Speed 2 might save time on a single journey, but higher speed means much more energy, and the result for most rail users will just be a longer wait for a connecting service. We need to do things more intelligently. To the general public, this looks like a scandalous waste of resources, a pursuit of commercial interests on an Olympic scale.

There is a great deal of progress still to be made in using what we already have more wisely. Even then, we will need some form of nuclear power - but huge pressurised water reactors are the dinosaurs, leaving a dangerous legacy that takes time to eradicate.

There are much more clever ideas around for nuclear power - small reactors with intrinsic safety, on a scale which allows the waste heat to be used as well as the generated electricity.

This is where public money should be spent - not on the dinosaurs, and not on wind power which cannot provide a reliable base supply.

  • Paul McCombie (F), deputy head of department, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY


Action on car park safety needed

We refer to the article, “Car parks at risk without legal inspection duty” which focused on the plight of the UK’s ageing multi-storey car park stock.

The Concrete Repair Association (CRA) fully supports the views expressed in this article and backs the call for further action.

There are owners/operators who do in fact take their responsibility seriously and spend considerable amounts of money taking care of their car park assets. However, CRA members are regularly called to carry out “patch repairs”, as stop-gap measures in order to keep structures operational. We are equally aware that other companies, including builders, may be involved in a “make do and mend” scenario, which does nothing for structural integrity.

It is worth noting that car parks are designed to a less rigorous design code than bridge structures, but are expected to undertake similar duties with similar exposures. Bridge structures are the subject of a fully-documented inspection regime, laid down in legislation. Our car park stock has no such inspection regime laid down, and there appears to be no voluntary code of inspection among owners/operators, hence the condition we now see some of them in.

The article rightly points out that these structures can develop structural faults and those can remain unnoticed, without a regular inspection regime.

While the ICE has published a document, Recommendations for the Inspection, Maintenance and Management of Car Park Structures, it is unclear how many owner/operators actually have taken on board its recommendations or are even aware of it.

The British Parking Association has certainly recognised that owners/operators may not be fully aware of its contents.

It is essential that more emphasis is placed on these structures and that some form of legislation, or recognition by government, is forthcoming and the CRA lends its voice to this call.

  • Ken Dykes, chairman, Concrete Repair Association, Kingsley House, Ganders Business Park, Kingsley, Bordon, Hampshire, GU35 9LU

Olympic pride

Along with half the population I watched the opening of the Olympics and marvelled at its technical aspects. As I watched with varying degrees of confusion about just what was going on, the part that gave me most pleasure and almost made me feel proud was to see the starring parts given to Brunel and his colleagues. This must rank as the best public endorsement of our profession ever broadcast.

  • Cliff Bilington (M), cliffbillington@gmail.com

Alliance with eyes open

If Antony Oliver believes that “Network Rail’s alliance model as currently being trialled with South West Trains is surely part of the solution” then he should provide some evidence to back up the assertion.

There are many in the industry with grave concerns about the consequences of locking in a monopoly passenger train operating company (TOC) with the network operator. Rather than dismissing these concerns with a “surely” claim, Antony should reference some evidence that allays the concerns.

Will freight operators become marginalised? What about other passenger TOC services that run over the South West Trains (SWT) lines? Will there be any option for a future “open access” operator?

Thinking more specifically at concerns for the construction industry, how will we avoid the planning horizon for works becoming the end of the franchise?

Will those schemes that go ahead be limited to those that provide SWT additional retail opportunities paid for by the public purse, rather than spending scarce investment resources on lasting network improvements?

Will we see the well-understood Network Rail suite of contracts replaced with the SWT-favoured NEC forms, with all the additional costs and paperwork that contract requires?

Please don’t think I am against alliances as a model. I just think we should consider potential unintended consequences and plan properly to avoid them. We keep trying blind hope in the next great idea, and it rarely works out well.

  • Steve King (M), 194 Ravenscroft Road, Beckenham, Kent BR3 4TW

Costing ICE’s Olympic shut down

I refer to the article regarding members’ subscriptions for 2013 rising by only 2.2% instead of the 2.5% originally proposed due to the inflation indexes.

The ICE Council is to be thanked for this reduction as in these straightened times any reduction in personal outgoings is to be welcomed.

In the article below this one however, members were also advised (dissuaded?) from using the facilities of One Great George Street from 30 July until 15 September - some seven weeks - as it has been reserved as a media centre for the Olympic Games.

Although this represents a reduction of approximately 13% of annual access availability I am supportive of the move.

However, it is not clear to me how ordinary members will benefit from the “quasi-closure”.

Can the vice president, finance, please confirm that the earnings and costs associated with this leasing will be published in the 2012/13 accounts in a way such that members can see what profit has been made from this venture? Can this then be converted into a statement of how it is intended to use this windfall profit? Will this be put back into supporting subscription fees from 2014 onwards?

  • Neil Raw (M), Oriel Grove, York, neilraw40@ntlworld.com

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