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Letters: Sexuality does not affect engineering competence


NCE has been using many of its pages for equality issues in recent weeks - first of all gender balance and now sexuality. Important considerations? Yes, of course. But where is this focus on equality leading to? Perhaps the editor can advise on this.

I have been in the industry for 40 years, in office and on site, and have not seen any of the gender or sexual harassment that you describe - though clearly, from your survey, it must exist. I have not usually known the sexuality of my colleagues - for it simply did not matter. What was important was their ability as an engineer or technician, and what I could do to help them to progress their career - irrespective of gender or sexuality. Sexuality is a private issue - not something to be trumpeted in the workplace, irrespective of what your sexuality is. It is irrelevant to doing the job.

  • Paul Cobley (M)

After a year or so of supposed gender anguish, are long suffering ICE members now to expect an onslaught from the fringe LGBT lobby? Is it not time that the whole membership were given the opportunity to respond to a yes/no question such as “Should The Institution indulge in social engineering with particular respect to sexual practices?”

  • Colin Bennett (M)

What a fuss about nothing. Has western society nothing more important to contend itself with than homosexuality? That this should be an issue for our esteemed Institution is almost beyond belief.

I acknowledge that I will qualify for the title of bigot or dinosaur, but please let me explain that during my long career I have worked with many homosexuals without any problems whatsoever. They were our colleagues; fellow engineers who just happened to be unmarried. We had not yet encountered many women professionals, but we did not know or care what their sexuality might be. It was irrelevant. All that mattered was that they were competent.

As with all personal matters we would expect that their, and indeed our own, behaviour would not impinge unfavourably on others. It was taken for granted that we would respect their feelings and they would respect ours.

But that seems to be different today. The “gay” movement is on the march. It is assertive. It proselytises. It imposes itself into the consciousness of others. Perhaps they see problems which are not there.

If gays wish to be treated differently, all they have to do is get on with their lives and blow that chip off their shoulder.

The assertion that, “until we change the culture in the workplace, we are not going to attract the brightest and the best to our industry” is an insult to the rest of us.

  • Leonard Rosten (F)

It is again disappointing to be subjected to such one sided reporting as witnessed in NCE last week (NCE 27 August to 3 September).

The cover line suggests that “On site the fear, hatred and bigotry is palpable”. This heading fails to take into account the statement made on page 13 which read “As a heterosexual woman I have never encountered negative behaviour towards sexuality. I don’t think it’s relevant in the workplace. I have encountered gay colleagues, but what has sexual preference got to do with their ability to be good engineers?”

Having been in this great industry for 50 years I cannot think of a single instance where “gay” (sic) personnel have been treated unfairly as one would be led to believe from the biased reporting in NCE.

Most clients these days operate equality procedures and in the event of civil engineers acting inappropriately towards fellow engineers then surely action can be taken. I know of no instances where a case has been brought.

It is inappropriate that NCE should have to resort to sensationalism in its reporting. Let’s go back to writing about engineering successes and challenges.

  • Derek Godfrey (F) Grove Lane, Holt NR25 6ED

If only 12 professionals in the industry survey suffered offensive behaviour, or harassment, then that is 12 too many - for any reason. As professionals, such behaviour is against our ethics obligations and is certainly not part of any civilised moral code. Your strongly moralising Comment (NCE 27 August-3 September) rightly preaches that we must be clear on what is right and wrong. In my book bigotry is wrong, as is anti-bigot bigotry, but we cannot ignore that professional civil engineers, like any other group of people, have differing views on rights and wrongs in sexual morality.

Some different views, politely expressed, should not be seen as promoting fear or hate (ie phobic) nor should they lead to bigotry and neither should they feature in our dealings with colleagues in business life. We work alongside those of all political, religious, racial, and sexual differences and we manage, interview and promote people according to their work ethic, their technical and commercial performance and delivery to client requirements. Nothing more, nothing less. Let us not pretend though, that as reasoning people we do not have differing views on sexual matters.

  • T Smith (address withheld)

I have found the opprobrium observed by your survey residents on site just as rife in the office, with whispering campaigns, remarks like “backs to the wall, boys, he’s coming” equally common. I personally have experienced very substantial evidence of homophobic and even racist culture in the laddish environment of civil engineering offices, and would certainly not have dared to come out before retirement. Indeed the oppressive culture extends way beyond the workplace. I recently met a retired unmarried civil engineer who found living in the lovely accommodation provided for him by the ICE Benevolent Fund so unacceptably uncomfortable that he soon moved thence into a tatty council flat on a sink estate in preference.

Interestingly the presence of women in the work environment has always seemed to me a monumental force for the dissolution of discrimination of all sorts. Another reason to welcome all genders, including transgender, to join, and proudly be themselves, in our noble profession.

  • Roger Juer, (M retd) 68 Vincent Square, London SW1P 2NU

I was puzzled by the sore thumb on the cover of this week’s NCE. Then I happened to look at it upside down, and saw a severely deformed lighthouse on a headland, being torn to pieces by a gale, and the base of the cliff being eroded by the waves. Was this intentional?

  • Ken Head (F) 12 Stoke Road, Cobham, Surrey KT11 3AS

Time for a new Channel Tunnel

A recent Eurotunnel press release shows that this summer has seen a marked increase in passenger and freight traffic using Eurotunnel. Operation stack now regularly has its counterpart on the Calais motorway, near the refugee area at the rubbish dump east of Calais.

The stack exercise is not well organised in France and as I found to my cost in June this year, passenger cars get stopped amongst the lorries and migrant scuffles with lorry drivers as they try to break into the backs of lorries.

We saw about 100 migrants and nearly had to head back into France had it not been for the arrival of a police car at the car exit point between the lorries.

Somehow the two issues, illegal immigration and tunnel capacity, have now become interlinked and both are likely to become worse over the coming years. Any workable solution needs an increase in tunnel capacity. I suppose it will take six years to plan and add another set of three bores to the crossing but it is a far cheaper, quicker and safer opportunity than a bridge or road tunnel. We need to start the process now.

  • Robert Brewerton (M)

We must beware the risks of fracking

The government has announced how it will fast track and force through approvals for fracking.

As there are many issues to consider, this may be OK, but I am concerned at the size of the companies being allowed to be involved in the licence proposals.

Fracking is new to the UK, so it is most unlikely that all the work here will be completed without any unfortunate incident.

As the UK is a very small place, the fracking accident easiest to envisage is a water borne sickness or plague caused by either mixing foul and drinking water aquifers or by the dispersion of toxic waste.

Why these two items?

Groundwater aquifers are policed by the local water authority and local council, who have a duty of care towards us all. If consent is forced from these parties, who has the duty of care?

With regard to toxic wastes, the Ministry of Defence has used its “own” land to dispose of unpleasant things down deep holes since the end of the First World War.

A lot of this land has now passed into private ownership and even if records exist of these caches, it is unlikely that a licence will impose a duty to look for them.

So even if fracking is considered for the greater good, proper risk provision is still required for the billions of pounds of clean-up cost and damages that could occur if a mass sickness incident arises.

It is the lack of a major global company fronting these fracking discussions, one with the necessary billions of assets needed to pay for a mistake, that makes me think these proposals have not been thought through.

  • Stephen Penfold (M)

France’s high speed PPPs

I was very interested in your recent excellent article on the 60km Nîmes to Montpelier high speed railway (NCE 30 July-6 August)), but disappointed that you did not mention the third LGV PPP currently under construction, the 180km Bretagne-Pays de Loire line (BPL) between Rennes and Le Mans.

You also claimed that Nîmes-Montpelier would be the first mixed freight/high speed passenger line in France, which is not the case: the Perpignan-Figueres LGV was the first and has been operating in full speed mode across the French-Spanish border since January 2013. BPL will also carry freight and high speed passenger trains for some 30km of its length, around the north side of Le Mans.

The three LGVs currently under construction each have specific individual characteristics:

  • Tours-Bordeaux (SEA) is an LGV and will carry high speed passenger trains only. It is a PPP with the private partner carrying traffic risk, ie a concession project
  • CNM will carry mixed freight and high speed passenger trains throughout, has two new stations and is an availability based PPP, ie a partnership project
  • BPL will carry high speed passenger trains for most of its 180km route, including 30km of mixed traffic. It is an availability based PPP. ie a partnership project.

Another interesting aspect of these PPPs is that British consultants are providing technical due diligence and monitoring services to the lenders on each project: Infrata in the case of BPL, Atkins for SEA and Capita for CNM. Infrata and its predecessor, Scott Wilson, also provided the same services for Perpignan-Figueres LGV and is still doing so. Scott Wilson provided similar services for the Dutch HSL Zuid PPP from 2000 to 2010
I am aware that all three major French construction companies, each of which is responsible for one of the three lines mentioned above, are interested in High Speed 2 and will be keen to bring their design/construction management and cost expertise to bear on the project. An interesting and challenging prospect!

  • Alan Brookes, 1 Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1BR

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