Congratulations to B Butler (NCE 29 December) on achieving his 101st birthday.
His belief that the adverse effect of mechanisation on employment is greater than the positive effect on productivity and welfare rang a bell in my - younger but assuredly less acute -brain.
When working in Africa in the 1960s, aid for infrastructure projects was often dependent on all equipment being made in the donor country. For example, US funded projects had plenty of Caterpillar plant on site, benefiting few plant operators but providing nothing for the numerous unemployed local citizens, many of whom spent their days just watching the construction.
A colleague told me that the Jamaican government then had a different policy when accepting foreign aid: the amount of machinery on site was the minimum possible, with most digging and hauling being performed by an army of men with picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.
It took longer, but provided the local economy with a much needed boost and satisfaction for the workforce. At the low daily wages doubtless paid, this may have been no more expensive either.
I have long remembered this principle. However, it is harder to use sensibly in societies where wages are high and where manual work is regarded as infra dig (pun intended).
● Peter Jenkins (M), 15 Southfield Road, Burley in Wharfedale, LS29 7PA
Translating political aims
It might seem unfortunate that Neil Besley’s letter (NCE 20 December) was published in the same issue that was largely given over to an anticipated surge of UK infrastructure schemes, but then again maybe it goes towards proving his point.
Why is it right now to spend on infrastructure when it was so important to cut in 2010?
Was Antony Oliver being serious in his Comment, same issue, when he wrote: “While there is no questioning the depth, sincerity and consistency of the political desire to lever investment…”?
I seem to recall some people saying the government was cutting too much, too quickly, and it would lead to a double dip recession. But the government was strong and stuck to its guns, and lo, there was a double dip recession.
Some of us lost our jobs in 2010, something which seems to have been largely ignored by NCE. We may feel entitled to question the sincerity and consistency of politicians.
Besley is correct. At each election one party promises not to put up tax thus limiting the scope for manoeuvre (and infrastructure investment).
Sadly, the Western democracies may have had their day. I doubt that China would spend £100M on elections for police commissioners.
- Charles Thompson (M), 22 Ridley Avenue, Blyth, Northumberland
Why Heathrow needs HS2 hub
Your report (NCE 13 December) on the Judicial Review of High Speed 2 raised the important issue of cost, with government’s defence suggesting that the different Heathrow Hub route for HS2, which takes the line directly via Heathrow, costs £2bn more than the government’s preferred route and which completely bypasses Heathrow.
This is misleading. The figure of £2bn was taken from Lord Mawhinney’s 2010 report, which simply compared the cost of the two routes without adding the cost of the necessary HS2 Heathrow spur to the government’s route - without which Heathrow would lack any direct connection with HS2.
As last year’s public consultation estimated the cost of such a spur at between £2.5bn and £3.9bn, it is clear that the through route proposed by Heathrow Hub is actually considerably cheaper.
You also note the wider benefits of the Heathrow Hub proposals, which improve connectivity to the West, South West and Wales, and provides an “on-airport” interchange - none of which, by their own admission, were taken into account by the government in reaching their decision on HS2.
A route via Heathrow would also avoid the environmental impacts of the current proposals on west London and the Chilterns.
Of course, since the 2011 consultation environmental mitigation measures have been introduced, including additional tunnelling, which must impact on project costs.
A proper comparison of routes may show that the Heathrow Hub proposal yields even greater cost savings when compensation - estimated at £1.3bn - for the current proposed alignment is taken into account.
The Judicial Review has exposed some alarming deficiencies in the HS2 decision-making process. We await the judgment with interest
- Mark Bostock (F), 815 Frobisher Crescent, Barbican, London EC2Y 8HD
Airline alliances key to expansion
Your latest edition (NCE 20 December) contained two major aviation articles on the Goodwin Sands airport proposal and a second somewhat Heathrow focused one. Both referred to the pressing need for a national hub airport.
No reference was made to the fact that there exists not one but three competing giant airline alliances with around 77% of the total world market.
Such alliances, operating in a very competitive market, much prefer to operate from what is known in the US as a ‘Fortress Hub’ - where one alliance dominates the take-off slots of that airport.
Arguably, we already have one Fortress Hub in the UK at Heathrow, with the One World alliance - British Airways/American Airlines/Cathay Pacific/Iberia/Japan Airlines/Qantas/bmi, largely dominating the take-off slots there.
If this is the way the aviation industry is moving then the UK is uniquely able to off er viable Fortress Hubs to each of the other two alliances - Star Alliance and Sky Team.
This can be most economically provided by adding one runway to Gatwick and one runway (for the present) to Stansted. Gatwick already hosts a significant number of Sky Team and Star Alliance airlines and a two runway Stansted with a new rail-link to Crossrail 1 will have little trouble attracting one or the other alliance.
Fortress Hubs, just like airline alliances themselves, are often criticised for being anti-competitive. If the UK had three, then this argument becomes a difficult one to sustain.
- John Moss (M ret), moss.john@ btinternet.com
So much for integrated European rail travel
Much is made of the importance of linking any new or expanded airport to HS1 and hence Europe (NCE 20 December).
It has also been thought important by some to link Heathrow to HS1 and hence Europe. It is therefore instructive to look at the operation of the high speed line which already exists from London to Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.
There is no direct service; even the daily Eurostar to Disneyland passes through without stopping.
One can get there by changing in Lille, but unless one pre-books well ahead the fare is well over £100 each way - this is not the turn-up-and-go hourly rail service one sees at Swiss airports.
It may be that the secure check-in and passport facilities required for Channel Tunnel services are a bigger practical obstacle to full integration of the UK and European rail networks than is recognised.
Rail connectivity with Europe seems to be reducing not growing. Fifty years ago one could take a direct train from Calais to many major cities in Europe.
Lille Europe has singularly failed as a replacement - even the direct morning service to Strasbourg has just been withdrawn.
Unless trains can offer hassle-free same-station connections for international services, it is difficult to see howthey can attract customers away from point-to-point air travel.
- Peter Mynors (F), email@example.com
Lessons from the past still count
I read Malcolm Noyce’s letter (NCE 13 December) and thought I could have written it.
I was head of highway maintenance for a large highway authority for a number of years and well remember journeys with the county surveyor who if he saw a highway problem expected a quick remedy.
Later I worked for a director from a different discipline and during similar journeys we looked at the potential of land for development and the roof lines of new housing estates. Still it could have been worse. Some of my colleagues ended up working for librarians. Is it little wonder that maintenance has taken a back seat?
Last summer I telephoned the local authority where I live and got past the call centre to the “street scene manager”. I was concerned that the grass verges on a principle road had not been cut. He agreed and said they looked untidy. I explained my concern was for forward visibility, a concept which was alien to him. He couldn’t tell me the specification although he agreed he should know.
Illuminated bollards have been out of light for three years or more and I am told they are patrolled every fortnight!
Sweepers sweep clean roads and miss heavily soiled areas.
The contract requires four sweeps per year and nobody checks whether this is needed or effective and so it goes on.
Managers need to get out more but they need to know what to look for and recognise the signs of poor drainage and deteriorating surfaces.
- Colin Low, firstname.lastname@example.org
European rail’s cut in services
You covered recently the flooding problems at Exeter Cowley Bridge that washed out the railway track, twice.
As a regular user, I feel it really worth voicing the thanks for what must have been some amazing 24 hour working - regardless of Christmas and awful rains - of remedial works, several times, by engineers, other staff and management. A really astounding job that got the lines open in quite short time. Top marks, team. It will be reflected in your bonus (?). I hope now Network Rail will divert or pipe the stuff away with a brilliant piece of engineering, or do we have to accept that West Country rail is too far from London to bother.
HS2 dashes on, whereas the fundamental network here in the South West suffers from Dawlish closures, slips at Teignmouth, outdated route to Waterloo, etc.
- Dudley Swain (M ret), The Croft, Dunchideock, Exeter EX2 9TR