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Letters: Reasons why the M25 falls wide of the mark


M25: still closed

Your scary truth about the M25 (Comment 4 September) is that a form of Parkinson’s Law applies to road traffic — it expands to fill the road space available, particularly at peak periods. Build a new link and the demand suppressed by congestion appears and congestion around the ends of the link is soon worse. Speed up a journey and people try and travel further, living further from their work. The car is a most inefficient user of road space.
It would be a great day if the government decided to provide attractive alternatives to car use. Where I live in Shrewsbury, it would include more bus routes running across the town and out into the countryside along with more frequent train services and lower fares. They could learn from the Swiss — those wanting to know more should read Transport for Suburbia by Paul Mees.

  • David Smith (M), 25 Grange Road, Shrewsbury SY3 9DG

I read your Comment and wondered if a bit of innovative thinking is needed. Firstly, most of the traffic on the M25 is not by-passing London, but making suburb to suburb journeys. Better alternative public transport in outer London could capture some of those local trips.
Secondly, if you travel at 3am you will be surprised how empty the M25 is. This is an example of the problem of a facility that has variable demand and a short peak. It is never economic to resolve such problems with more capital investment. Economists will propose a tolling system, like the outer freeways in Toronto, to price off marginal peak trips, and encourage 3am drivers.

I also have sympathy with Roger Bastin and lobbying (NCE 4 September). If capital investment decisions were only made on the basis of evidence, then High Speed 2’s £42bn would deliver more benefit to more people if spent on urban schemes, where most trips are made most of the time. Over 97% of all UK trips are less than 50km and railways only carry 1.5% of all UK trips (with 80% London based).

Nearly 20 years ago, final year civil engineering students in Liverpool carried out a study of high speed with a route based along motorways with service stations as strategic park and ride. This showed that over 90% of the benefits of HS2 could be achieved for under 25% of the cost, linking the North and North Wales with the Midlands and London, and a Manchester to London travel time of 70 minutes.

  • Professor Lewis Lesley (M), 30 Moss Lane, Liverpool L9 8AJ

No surprise the M25 is full again. Much of the problem is inside the M25. There are 8M of us here - and growing - with an inadequate highway network (almost none at all south of the river - think south circular). The proper solution is not more lanes, but different lanes. It is not the engineers who are not up to the job; it is the leaders, the politicians, and the public.

  • Alex Hamilton (F), 92 Woodwarde Road, Dulwich, London SE22 8UT

While I agree that the western section of the M25 has significant congestion, which will increase if London Heathrow is given extra runway capacity, I do not see this being a general problem over the motorway network as a whole. The last few years has seen the start of total mileage driven falling; all the evidence suggests that this will continue to fall.
More of us are working from home thanks to increasing use of the internet, average car mileage is falling, and surveys have found that the young are less likely to buy cars.

  • Philip Sulley (M), Windmill House, Vicarage Road, Yalding, Maidstone, Kent ME18 6DW

As someone who is fortunate enough to live in the Cotswolds but has to use the M25 in both directions to reach any of the London airports, I agree with Mark Hansford that something is indeed “very much amiss with the M25”.

I can remember the M25 opening, but sadly today, getting to a London airport is a major issue whatever the time of day or night. This begs the question why expand any of the London airports, when getting to them is so difficult?

Although I am not in favour of high speed rail per se, I see the need for increased capacity and better links. With these improved links (and the fact that not everyone lives in London) many of us might prefer to use the Birmingham, Cardiff or Bristol airports, and a similar argument applies to those living north on Birmingham.

  • David Wilson (M),

I happily do not have to live in London, being retired and living in the scenic North, but I have to suffer with London commuters whenever I visit family in the South or want to go to Europe.

The argument about new roads filling up as soon as they are built has some validity but it should not be applied to major strategic routes like the M25. When our motorway network was being planned in the 1960s, London was intended to have three concentric motorways and only one of them was ever built. This means traffic from as far afield as Scotland and Northern Ireland has to use the M25 to reach the channel ports or Eurotunnel and is forced to join London commuters whether they like it or not.

If the 1960s plans has been completed we would have had two more motorways inside the M25. If they are now politically impossible perhaps another ring further out than the M25 might solve this problem. Self-driving cars will not as they still need road space.

  • Donald Holliday (M ret),

I read the headline of Mark Hansford’s Comment , “Where to, now widened M25 is full again” and couldn’t help thinking we could be seeing a similar headline in 10 years shortly after Heathrow gets a third runway: “Where to, now Heathrow’s runways full again”. I fully agree with London mayor Boris Johnson that the UK needs a hub airport that can compete with its European neighbours. As an overcrowded island with an ever increasing population we should be looking at solutions such as the so called “Boris Island”. The idea of an estuary airport was first put forward in the early 1970s; it was the correct solution then, it is the correct solution now. Let’s hope this or the next government overturns the Airports Commission decision to reject the idea.

  • Alastair Forbes (M),

How Bath University recruits

We are very pleased to see NCE campaigning for more women in civil engineering. At Bath, the proportion of female students joining our first year to study civil engineering is about 40%. But nationally far more male than female pupils study physics to A Level (only 21% were female in 2014), so if we were to require physics we would be turning away many potential engineers.

The problems begin in school, and the fact that Bath has 40%, Imperial 36%, and University College London 30% female students is very positive considering the low uptake of physics by girls, but this worryingly implies that many departments are in serious difficulty if the overall average is only 16%.

We therefore have to question any guidance to make physics a requirement, and believe that may be part of the problem for some universities.

We do believe that maths is an essential, but engineering is very much more than mathematical analysis. We value the breadth of outlook and insight that are developed by studying a wider range of subjects than maths and science, and even the broader understanding of what can constitute analysis.

It is also important to study subjects that stimulate the imagination, and help students understand the context in which civil engineering is done, and to prepare them to play a full role in a highly creative discipline.

So geography and economics are valued subjects, but so too are history, literature, art and design, and we encourage these strongly. Analytical skills are essential, but people skills are essential too.

At Bath, we recruit on the basis of a strong belief that a career in civil engineering is one of the most important and worthwhile things someone can do, and we have a huge respect for the motivations of those who apply to us and study with us.

We do not, however, have a ‘target’ to which we recruit, nor will we ever.

We simply want students who share our own drive to do excellent engineering which is of real benefit to the world.

The fact that we have a lively mix of students is something we are very happy about, but it is more likely to be a consequence of our valuing each individual for who they are andwhat they can bring, rather than of targets and strategies.

  • Professor Pete Walker (F), head of department of ­architecture and civil ­engineering, University of Bath

Maths is neutral and very much a ­necessity

I found the article on University College London (UCL) and engineering equality an interesting read (NCE 4 September). I was surprised to find out that UCL has removed subject-specific A Level requirements for potential students, particularly since engineering is so strongly based on maths principles.

Being a female graduate structural engineer, I find it offensive to think that universities believe they will attract more women into engineering only if A Level subject requirements are removed.

I didn’t need this sort of incentive to study engineering. I chose my A Level subjects (maths, physics and chemistry) based on the fact I knew I wanted to study civil engineering at university and these were the subjects I enjoyed.

Surely, if students do not want to study maths at A Level then why would they then decide to study a maths-based subject at degree level?

I understand that a diverse range of students bring many qualities to teams and project work, however I firmly believe that a grounding in maths is a fundamental requirement for those who go on to study engineering, for both male and female students.

  • Fran McCord,
  • Editor’s note: UCL is keen to stress that students without A-Level maths must still demonstrate a strong aptitude for the subject

Super-metro solution for the North

Following the One North report, views on how the North/TransPennine region should be regenerated range from High Speed 3 (HS3), directly linking Manchester and Leeds, to giving priority to local employment in the many population centres avoiding the need for travel.

I suggest a middle way recognising that the many scattered towns and cities founded in the industrial revolution are no longer viable on their own, but cannot be well served by a monolithic high speed link.

Physical agglomeration is considered beneficial to sustainability and social opportunities and at least service economies, but is impractical in this case. A super- metro network of short high-speed links between many centres could enable agglomeration.

Perhaps the nearest parallel is in the Ruhr, but the geography of the North is unique and a radical technology solution would be needed, possibly automated, with high acceleration, efficiency and frequency while exploiting existing paths and preserving the regional character and environment.

  • Nicholas Taylor (M), 6 Chiltern Road, Little Sandhurst, Berkshire GU47 8NB

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