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Letters: London’s rapid growth raises important concerns

London skyline

London: Unsustainable growth?

I read Ed Webber’s letter with interest (NCE 16 October), and share his concern that London’s phenomenal growth is unsustainable. This may apply not just to transport but education, health and social infrastructure.
The City is understood to be a potent world generator of both wealth and ideas benefiting rich and poor, and its functionality entails having lots of people working in close proximity. High Speed 2 can help with involving other regions of course, but the City seems to need its great concentration of people.

However, the quest for ever-increasing wealth puts strains on resources and the ecology, and is life threatening if it causes too much climate change.

It might also be said that we humans have responsibility for the well-being of the natural environment and ensuring that biodiversity is maintained.

All this takes the issues well beyond engineering. These are daunting tasks requiring interdisciplinary working, responsibility, and broad appreciation of all aspects of humanity.

● Ian Dutton (M),


Make your voices heard if you want respect

We engineers should be making, pushing, leading and recommending engineering-led strategic choices on roads (particularly the M25), rail, airports, flooding, energy and utilities with our annual ICE State of the Nation report. Not just servicing the decision makers; we need to make ourselves heard. Then we might get the respect we crave (and see less continuous whining on the NCE letters page). We need to stick our heads above the parapet!

  • Anthony Rickard (M),
  • Editor’s note: Incoming ICE president professor David Balmforth makes some very interesting points about the future role for civil engineers here in NCE this week. And on the need for engineers to seize the initiative for strategic decision-making. I’d urge all to read them!

Older and wiser advice to attract new talent

Miles Ashley makes some good points in his Opinion piece (NCE 9 October) but misses out on recommending the best way to engender (subtle use of word!) interest in the career potential of our profession.

Can I suggest that older (sometimes grey-haired…I am one of these too!) engineers extolling the virtues of our profession sends the wrong message to students of 15 or 16.

A better way would be to encourage enthusiastic graduates in their 20s or 30s, who have had some great experiences either on large projects and/or overseas, to go into schools and give a talk at a level with which these young people would be more likely to connect.

Demonstrating their own enthusiasm, not just for what they have experienced but what they hope to experience, is more likely to grab the interest of young students. Boys and girls are more likely to identify with people closer to their own age and particularly if some of the graduates were female.

I hope clients, contractors and consultants think about how best to promote our profession in this way! The Engineering Happiness video would be a great introduction to any talk!

  • Robin Whalley (F),


The right drill to tackle holes in the road

The problem of square corners in repair holes is easily solved. Just drill the proposed corners with say a 200 diameter core drill and saw into them.

  • Alan Marco (M),


Plans to extend the Bakerloo Tube line

Transport for London (TfL) is consulting on its plans to use its spare capacity and extend the Bakerloo Line further south of the Thames. It is considering two alternative routes to at least New Cross and Lewisham Rail stations.

Up to 15 trains per hour could go beyond Lewisham - to replace the six National Rail services per hour which run from Hayes to London Bridge - with half ending at Hayes and half at Beckenham Junction or Bromley.

The total cost would be up to £4bn (at today’s prices including optimism bias).

TfL is looking for developer contributions (towards the new station costs) which I suspect could be maximised by different branching arrangements.

The least frequent branch (a new station at Camberwell) could then carry up to 12 trains per hour and be served by a train every five to 10 minutes, while New Cross and Lewisham via Old Kent Road could have twice that frequency.

I plan to welcome the consultation, while arguing that the most costly elements suggested by TfL should be deferred.

That implies delaying the Bromley extension by perhaps 10 years - by which time further increased radial capacity would be worth considering.

Alignments extending the Camberwell branch northwards to the City of London, via a new station at City Hall or Butlers Wharf, under either the Docklands Light Railway to Bank or the Northern Line and National Rail platforms at Moorgate seem to be available.

It would be foolish to rule either out without further investigation

  • John Porter, 107 Headlands, Kettering NN15 6AB

Software cannot replace human experience

I read with interest the viewpoint of Tony Gould on “Engineering judgement” (NCE 16 October) and wholeheartedly agree that engineering computer software packages, no matter how expedient, convenient or sophisticated they appear, do not replace the engineers’ experience, judgement and overall responsibility with regard to all elements of design, either in law or the engineers’ duty of care with regard to final design.

The adoption of any software used in the design office must be evaluated by senior and qualified engineers before use.

  • Murray Hutchison (M retd),

Go forth and promote engineering to schools

I have to disagree with the Editor’s latest Comment regarding diversity. He expresses sadness that he did not “see” diversity up on stage at the British Construction Industry Awards. If that is how he will quantify diversity then we will fall into the trap that he discusses, that of “tokenism”, as the response from the companies will clearly be to put people on stage that fit the requirements of the latest drive from NCE.

What is there, is there; the time it takes to get the skills and experience present in the ICE mean that it will be decades before the statistics show a more diverse Institution. To detract from those receiving awards because there is not more diversity in the team is nonsense.

As an Institution, if we want to diversify, if we want to engage with the youth at all, we must use some of our time.

The surveys and meetings about how to encourage the youth (a diverse youth too) into the profession are all well and good, but the real task starts with you, reading NCE right now; the engineer out there. When was the last time you visited a school to tell them what you do for a living? An engineer in a physics classroom may provide welcome relief for the teacher! When was the last time you visited a school to invite students to visit a site or an office or a completed project?

Schools provide a week for work experience, do you have a student? They are keen to get involved with STEM companies as it backs up the training that they are doing; the maths, the physics, the chemistry are seen in use.

This kind of direct involvement is easily achievable and will have a massive impact if it is carried out by enough people. One person speaking to 200 of a year group; visiting five schools a year, that’s 1,000 young, diverse people that are massively interested in the options that they have for future careers.

There is great confusion about future options in the minds of the young. The more exposure to a career they have, the more understanding they have about it and their confidence grows into chasing a career in it. Unless we, and that isn’t an ICE-led initiative, but actually us; you, me, your boss, your staff are actually speaking to young people about how interesting we find our engineering profession, things will not change. Do you have the time?

Do you give your staff the time?

Are we taking advantage of school holidays? Are there opportunities during the holiday to get students on site, or into the office to see the day to day work, to remove the myths? Yes, there are problems. Yes, they can be overcome.

We need to engage with the next generation early, the A-levels they get define the course they can do at University, so it must be earlier.

The 13-14 year old bracket is what should be aimed at for the foreseeable future if we are to engage with the youth and diversify the Institution.

John Williams,

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