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Letters: Pumping up the volume is better than dredging

Somerset levels pumping

It was good to see Lord Smith answering his critics and repeating the common view among experts that dredging is not the answer in the Somerset Levels (NCE 17-24 April). A high capacity pumping station on the Kings Sedgemoor Drain at Dunball would provide a cost effective permanent solution which would avoid the need for repetitive dredging on the rivers.

Meanwhile, his call for more spending on flood protection must be acted on, but where does the money come from? We have to revisit our priorities. I had thought that the Thames Tideway Tunnel project had already been approved so was surprised to see the article about its appraisal.

This is a vanity project which has no discernible business case. That £4bn would fund much of the priority flood defence work in addition to the bones of a raw water grid (as proposed by Barry Rydz’s letter) linked to the proposed Abingdon reservoir.

The overflow of untreated sewage to the River Thames may be an issue but it is certainly not the problem which is commonly stated. Just 2mm of rain may cause overflows of rainwater-diluted sewage but these are limited, localised and can be addressed by much less costly solutions. The issue of localised storage was dismissed at an early stage of the project and should be reappraised now that the cost and disruption of the tunnel scheme is apparent.

Just ask the inhabitants of the Thames Valley what they would rather have money spent on - flood protection or the Tideway project?

  • Peter Styles,

Give your old NCEs to school libraries

I have been putting my read copies of NCE in to the local school library for the past 20 or so years. It is a great way to spread the word, especially to inspire youngsters. Others should consider doing the same. Even for those moderately interested in what is going on in the world, NCE is a great read.

  • Ray Turpie (M retd),

Editor’s note: Thanks Ray, I couldn’t agree more. I’d also recommend the local doctor’s surgery: amazing the number of times I’ve seen NCE being thumbed there!

ICE must set standards

Bravo to Gerry Moss for using the S-word, S for standards, in flood risk management (NCE 10 April). He confirms that the tools exist to set, design and implement a national flood protection programme to acceptable standards; and all that’s missing is what the standards should be.

The ICE should advise on suitable standards, perhaps something like those put forward in my recent letter (NCE 13 March). Advising the nation (and the world too) on the standards that civil engineering infrastructure should achieve in serving the public is a proper professional role for the Institution.

It should not chide governments about expenditure; governments determine the pace at which programmes are implemented because governments, quite rightly, decide on spending priorities. But governments, also quite rightly, risk losing votes if floods strike communities that have been left exposed to flood risk for too long.

The ICE should also advise on the type of infrastructure that will best achieve national objectives. Would the objectives of High Speed 2, which seem to be to spread the benefits of employment in the financial sector more widely, be better achieved by developing easily accessible satellites of the City of London, with all its arcane advantages, in Birmingham, Leeds, Exeter, Newcastle and other cities?

  • Rod Bridle (F),

Editor’s note: It will be making that exact point in its forthcoming report on infrastructure - that infrastructure will always be scarce and that professionals must stand up and advise the government about the appropriate standards. Full coverage in NCE next month.

More value engineering

I was heartened to see the two stories in last week’s NCE about value engineering and innovation on the Mersey and Queensferry projects. Your stories rightly praised the contractors and their designers, but don’t forget the client, and their advisors. They, after all, had the foresight to allow this to happen within the contract.

Sadly, this is not that common. For contractors to be proposing such innovations they need to be happy with the way risks, costs and savings are shared, know that the client is listening and that the ideas will not get a polite nod and then be side-lined. All too often contract documents actively discourage alternatives, restrict innovation or stifle value engineering.

The contracts for High Speed 1 (HS1) were not ideal in terms of allowing innovation, so if HS2 is looking for savings then it should look carefully at the way procurement of both Mersey and Queensferry has been carried out.

  • David Collings (F),

Locke is great for engineers

By chance my wife and I took an opportunity to visit the local cinema, and without much time to plan our viewing decided to watch Locke. We had no idea what the film was about, but my intrigue grew from the early scene as the film’s main character set off from a large construction site in his car wearing PPE. What followed was a film that contained more references and insight into the construction industry than I have ever seen on the big screen before.

The film is branded a thriller, focusing on a site foreman who has more than a few issues to deal with, and I was certainly on the edge of my seat and cringing at some of the obvious health and safety issues that arose as the story unravelled.

With various references to “the largest concrete pour in Europe (outside of the nuclear industry)”, concrete slump, the importance of quality control and not accepting anything outside the required specification, traffic management and problem solving, there was plenty to hold the interest from a civil engineering perspective - and the critics have rated the film fairly well.

The film was also amusing for the caller ID that the main character uses for his boss.

  • Simon Middleton (M),

Runway plan is plain wrong

The planning blight being caused by the amateurish airport proposals for Gatwick is inexcusable. The value of a second runway to the existing airport is minimal. All access to and from it would require aircraft ground movements across the existing runway, severely restricting its current usage.

To bolt on what is essentially another single runway airport to the south is odd. The proposals imply that the proposed new terminal could share the use of the existing runway. This cannot be because that runway is already fully committed to use by north and south terminals.

The proposed terminal concept is impractical in regard to taxiway operation if the potential of the proposed new runway is to be used. Also, additional area essential for associated ancillary facilities is not illustrated.

The notion that many of the support facilities at the existing airport can practically serve the proposed remote airport is false.

Assuming the illustrated proposal would be adding at least 60% extra capacity, it is a mystery to see how the extra related road and rail access capacity of the region could be accommodated on top of a system that is already straining at the seams.

  • Henri Pageot (F), formerly facilities planning director BAA,

Operatives and engineers

It is gratifying to learn that ICE South West is acknowledging in its campaign the “heroic effort that went into repairing the Dawlish Line” (NCE 4 April). The article continues: “Over 300 engineers - including ICE members - have been working day and night”.

This number surely must include a considerable proportion of “operatives” who perhaps in other circumstances might not be referred to individually as an “engineer”. In view of the recent correspondence on status, is this an own goal?

  • Alan Pooley (M), ­

Editor’s note: Thanks Alan and the several others of you who have raised this issue. I personally side with ICE South West and say all those involved were engineering a solution, and are entitled to call themselves engineers as a result.

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