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Letters: Project visionaries must have a sense of balance



Your editorial “Passion, not dry data, is the way to drive projects” and news report “Infrastructure needs visionaries not economists, says Armitt” recognise the critical role of project champions and decision-making processes, and question the role of appraisals in helping identify good projects and driving their development.

Project development processes vary enormously. In the UK we have a process that is bureaucratic and does not always result in good projects being developed.

Of course project development should not be a bureaucratic process. Nor should it simply reward the project champion that shouts loudest and most effectively.

Manchester Metrolink, Croydon Tramlink and Nottingham Express Transit are UK examples of largely successful tram projects. They were driven forward by local champions and effective project teams who identified projects that demonstrably supported national and local policies, involved their stakeholders effectively and promised - and then largely delivered - value-for-money.

Much is wrong with the existing practice of project planning and appraisal. But surely improving existing practice is the path we should be following, not throwing out such appraisal work?

The question “whether?” should precede why? what? and how? in identifying potentially good projects. If we fail to answer this question we proceed down a perilous path that risks focusing attention on the most loudly supported major projects with success judged by only their “implementation to time and budget”.

Balance as ever is required. Major project development requires project champions with vision, who actively involve stakeholders. It also requires an effective project development process, and sound planning and analysis. I suggest all are necessary.

  • Roger J Allport (F),

Touching on Sir John Armitt’s lauding of major infrastructure, might it be fair to comment that one person’s visionary project is another’s vanity project (NCE 28 June)?

Perhaps a useful way of distinguishing between them would be to require the visionaries to persuade someone other than the taxpayer to foot the bills. That would dispel our fears that it is the construction lobby, which gets remunerated up front and which has little risk in the long term, which is driving the agenda, masquerading as 21st century seers.

  • Chris Holland (M), 38 Foxes Dale, London SE3 9BQ

Sir John Armitt and Antony Oliver think we need visionaries and passion (NCE 28 June). They cite Brunel, Stephenson and Bazalgette but no contemporaries like Tim Berners-Lee, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. All gave step-change solutions to problems of their day to the benefit of themselves, their investors and the public.
Brunel and Stephenson improved transportation from that of horses to that of steam. Brunel, with his screw propeller and iron ships, radically increased the reliability of sea transport. Bazalgette rid London of an intolerable sewage problem while adding the Embankment.
The achievements of the contemporary three are everywhere. Their economics were simple, robust and convinced the hardest nosed investors to put up money.
If the High Speed 2 lobby wants to give us vision and passion why not ditch fantasy economics, convince us of their step-change engineering and start treating us all: politicians, public and ICE members like the investors we are.
Let’s also remember we are a learned society and not just a commercial lobby group. Do we need more of the same, inessential technology that intensifies energy use, the national debt and foreign dependency when we already have speed-of-light, low-energy, long-distance communication?

  • Bryn Bird (M),

Naming convention

Though it’s only a small thing, I did notice in the article “Passing the baton” you state: ‘The Army has used a product called Hesco… a wire mesh and hessian arrangement filled with aggregate” (NCE last week).
From Hesco’s website the product is described as “lined with a heavy-duty non-woven polypropylene geotextile”, rather than “hessian”. The “Hes” in Hesco is derived from name of the founder of the company, the late Jimi Heselden.

  • Peter D Smith (F), formerly reader in protective structures, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy,

Wasteful water companies


I was most surprised that in your coverage of the ICE’s State of the Nation Water Report including subsequent letters, there has been virtually no reference to the phenomenal leakage rates of the water companies.
I therefore looked at the full report on the website and could find no such reference there either. This seems to be beyond belief.

The water companies waste huge amounts of water daily through leakage and although most claim they meet the Ofwat targets, the millions of litres still leaking away demonstrate that the targets are set woefully low.

Taking the companies to task over this issue would do a great deal to solve water shortages. Why did the ICE report not embrace this important aspect?

  • Paul Rayner (M), 15 Meads Road, Seaford BN25 1SY

Formula 1 glamour at the ICE


As a keen motorsport enthusiast, I could not contain my excitement when I read in the Sunday Times supplement of plans for a proposed London Grand Prix. I have long felt that Britain needs street racing to inject a bit of Monaco-style glamour, so to see that plans are progressing is fantastic.

Most intriguing, however, was the fact that the route appears to run straight past the ICE’s front door and into Birdcage Walk where F1 cars will top out at projected speeds of up to 180mph.

I can only imagine the reverberating shriek of a V8 or V10 F1 engine within the confines of One Great George Street as they accelerate away from Parliament Square and as a Member of the ICE I fully expect to be able to take advantage of the ICE’s location to get VIP viewing of all the action.

  • Dan Rouse (M),

Floods will come without Suds

Your report “Flood Management - Five Years On” identifies that much progress has been made by lead local flood authorities (NCE last week). However, speaking as someone who works in local government, I don’t believe that enough has been done to implement sustainable drainage systems (Suds).

As the impacts of climate change become increasingly obvious, the only way we are going to mitigate the effects is to limit the run-off from all new developments, including brownfield sites, to greenfield rates.

The need to implement Suds Approval Bodies is therefore becoming critical. So my question is: what are we waiting for?

  • Stuart Pedder (M),

Municipal decline

I refer to the letter from Steve Burstow. As someone employed in municipal engineering for over 20 years, the last seven to 1999 as director of environmental services for a district council in Somerset, I plead guilty to not having made this clear in my own election statement.

Once the Institution of Municipal Engineers was subsumed into the ICE in 1984 and the Association of Municipal Engineers gradually faded from view, in response to the progressive outsourcing of “interesting” engineering to the voracious consulting groups, one tended to refer to oneself thereafter simply as an ICE member.

There is much to be praised in dedicating oneself to public service but it became unfashionable to say so and everybody wanted to be a “consultant”.

Back in 1984, we in local government thought it was inevitable that the specialist skills of operating as servants of sometimes unpredictable elected members, often driven by political imperatives, and all of the constraints of public service that the private sector largely escapes, would be devalued and eventually lost. I don’t believe we were wrong, sad though that is to reflect.

  • John Beck (F),


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