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Letters: Sewer ownership is a mess which needs sorting out



The culvert collapse at Newburn shows climate change consolidating its grip on our ageing land drainage infrastructure (NCE 4 October). I question whether the primary legislation at our disposal is now
fit for purpose.

Sewerage law has developed over the last 150 years and most of the network is now in the hands of regulated corporate bodies.

The land drainage network, however, is still reliant on ancient principles last confirmed by the Land Drainage Act 1991 and not altered in detail by the Flood & Water Management Act 2010, leaving it in fragmented private ownership.

The Section 21 duty on the lead local flood authority (LLFA) to maintain a register could provide knowledge of what assets are in poor condition. But without a collapse or blockage the LLFA has no power to enforce a response. Moreover it may be years before the register is complete and longer before condition data of underground assets can be collected.

Where disasters such as Newburn happen within the riparian ownership of a substantial solvent company there is a chance that steps will be taken to respond.

But where culverts pass under properties in less affluent areas, work required is likely to exceed property value.

This leads to the insurance industry - which now concentrates cost on those at most at risk or removes cover entirely. And while David Cameron assures us that he will be “getting tough” with the Association of British Insurers to replace its Statement of Principles this has not yet borne fruit.

Householders who put their trust in developers, planners and flood risk managers to no avail should not be penalised. David Balmforth is correct. A review is needed but perhaps a more fundamental one than he envisages.


  • Howard Glenn,

Frankly the Pitt recommendations have been washed under the carpet, so to speak. No one body is taking the lead, in fact all parties are letting the assets “rot”.

Who knows where these Victorian culverts are, what is their condition, and who is maintaining them?

Similarly, who is maintaining the minor brook courses. This is done on an ad hoc basis, it seems to me, and leaving it to riparian owners is probably no way forward.

How many new road layouts do you see up and down the UK with new beany blocks half-blocked and with plants growing up to two feet tall from them. Ditto with road gullies, a disappointingly high percentage are full and again have grass or plant life in them.

What is the point of designing-in the surface water systems if they’re not maintained?

We need to take maintenance seriously as a starting point, followed by mapping and structural surveys of culverted watercourses and open ditches.

  • David Viles (AM),


BIM is here if we want it

Michael Redhead implores “the construction industry to improve working practices before adding to the complexity of the design process” by introducing building information modelling (BIM) (NCE 4 October).
BIM requires our industry to improve, standardise and simplify the way we share information throughout procurement, delivery and operation.

Technology and skills have made production of 2D drawings from a 3D model cost effective. Now these models exist, many downstream activities in the supply chain, such as pricing and programming, can attach data to a project’s advantage. Legacy operational data is beginning to appear over the horizon of the possible.

We recently bid our first project where we received a BIM model as part of the tender package. This radically improved the way the design and construction teams worked together to bid the job. As models of the permanent works become the norm I am sure better, faster, cheaper temporary works will follow.

Better basic information will be a key output of BIM. Redman can look forward to always knowing where ground level is as his borehole logs will be geospatially fixed within industry standard BIM workflows.

The technology is already there for the log to “know” where it is. Our industry just needs to organise itself.

  • John Roberts (F), chair of Atkins’ structural network, Atkins, Woodcote Grove, Ashley Road, Epsom, Surrey KT18 5BW


Airports must accommodate space planes

I think it was when Mark Whitby was President that he drew our attention to the fact that engineering, despite its various disciplines, should be viewed as one.

This is important when we debate the need for additional hub airport capacity, as civil engineers produce only part of the system. Aeronautical engineers develop the essential ingredient.

The development of space plane technology - including by British firms such as Reaction Engines in Oxford - is going well.

Space planes should be in regular use within a few decades, giving single stage access to space and travel within four hours to any point on the planet. The environmental effects need to be understood, but have the potential to be favourable.

Airports designed with future space plane use in mind would have the capacity for very long runways, and not send planes over land due to the potential for sonic booms. This suggests that Boris island, or something like it, is worth considering.

Connected by high speed rail, it could be the hub for much of north-east Europe, with significant benefits for the UK.

  • SP Bowers (M),

Hiding our light once again?

A few years ago I wrote to express my concern at the number of road signs hidden by overgrowing trees. A recent journey to the West Country indicated that nothing has changed.

But of even greater concern was on a visit to London to find the statue of our greatest civil engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, located at Temple, buried under the branches and leaves of an adjacent tree.

Is this another example of civil engineers hiding their light under a bushel?

  • Gordon Edgar (M),



What can the army teach us about safety?


So far as I can see Lord Dannatt compares military/political muddling through in Iraq with the exemplary performance of the civilian run Olympic project (NCE 4 October).

How did you turn that into our needing to be delivered of the industry’s malaise by the Army instead of following the guidance of the Health & Safety Executive?

  • Barry Walton (F, retired), 59 Primmers Place, Westbury, Wiltshire BA13 4QZ

Crocodiles don’t infest where they live


Reading the NCE article written by Mark Hansford about structural inspections on Uganda’s Owen Falls dam made me feel quietly depressed (NCE 27 September).

“Crocodile infested waters” sounds as though it comes straight from the pages of a Victorian adventure novel or a 1950’s Boy’s Own annual. I am only surprised that it was not “all set about with fever-trees” as well.

Crocodiles do not “infest” the Nile River they actually “live” there and this should be even less surprising as these are in fact Nile crocodiles.

No doubt we will soon be reading about “vehicle-infested motorways” or even “civil engineer infested Great George Street” in Hansford’s future NCE articles.

However, reading the article it sounded to me that the divers were in fact facing far greater risks from the 20m of hydrostatic pressure, potential suction from differential pressures and decompression issues.

So let’s try and move away from these old hat and very pejorative clichés that should have fallen away from our lexicon long ago and consign them to the waste paper bin along with “shark-infested seas” and “snake-infested jungles”.

  • Phil Sharp (M)


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