As someone with experience of working with young people to promote further education in the Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (Stem) fi elds, I read Margo Cole’s recent article with some interest (NCE 31 January). I largely agree with the sentiment of it but has anyone asked the kids?
As an undergraduate at the University of Glamorgan, I and many others worked part time with children from the local area, some of the most deprived parts of the South Wales valleys.
Our remit was to show the children that a university education is achievable and something that some should strongly consider, even if Stem isn’t where they end up.
The largest barrier was overcoming the societal view that university is for the rich or “clever”, the next largest hurdle was that Stem subjects weren’t cool or sexy.
I hope that we showed some that they had the potential to achieve great things, should they choose to work at it.
My experience tells me that young people identify more with the creative subjects such as design or media and that this is easy to understand - the people in those industries look and talk like them, “talent” is more important than “brains” and those industries are infinitely more accessible than Stem in these days of social media.
- Michael Goddard (TM),firstname.lastname@example.org I am not sure a polarised debate as described in your recent article “How should engineering sell itself to the next generation” is helpful in attracting young people into the profession (NCE 31 January).
Are we not seeking to develop individuals with the skills knowledge and judgement to be both “builders” and “problem solvers”?
While having engineering qualifications alone are not suffi cient to enable someone to qualify as a true construction professional - the other necessary skills should be viewed as “additional to” rather than “instead of” engineering prowess.
- Tony Putsman, director, Construction Team Technologies, email@example.com
You cannot be serious
I am surprised that with completion of High Speed 2 due to take a further 19 years, in addition to the time it has taken to get this far; the resolution of the provision of airport capacity in the South East delayed yet again; the failure to get to grips with the construction of new generating capacity; and continued uncertainty about the future of London’s super sewer, you should conclude that the UK is “serious about infrastructure” (NCE 31 January).
Sadly, we suffer from a worrying inability to make timely major infrastructure investment decisions and then get on with implementation, with the result that costs rise and the benefi ts of early investment are lost or, too often, that nothing gets done.
It could be argued that the unwillingness to make decisions and make progress on the ground is a result of democracy, and that the achievements of our Victorian forebears were enabled through dictat and corruption. But we need to find more efficient ways of making the crucial investment decisions, and then progressing, and not spending a quarter of a century, or more, thinking about and then building 559km of railway.
- Martin Richards, The Old School House, Coldharbour, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6HF
Hard thinking about airport locations
There seems to be a natural conflict between the siting of convenient check-in facilities near urban centres with good transport links and the need to provide 24/7 facilities for increasing aircraft movements.
It also seems that, regardless of where you site your airport, wherever its possible there will be a movement of people to that area that will eventually restrict its growth.
We also have the issue of the massive investment in land, buildings, transport, local businesses, and people that’s already been made in Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted and others.
Perhaps we should now consider separating the runways and aircraft handling facilities from the terminals and check-in facilities and allow the building of a large off shore aircraft handling port while maintaining existing passenger handling at Heathrow, Gatwick, etcetera.
In theory, passenger check-in could occur anywhere, even in the centre of London, and once checked- in, then some form of high speed, secure transport could take them directly to the aircraft boarding area.
So why build new passenger handling facilities when we have those in plentiful supply (with the associated retail and lounges), and if we remove the need for some of the existing and any additional runways at our existing “urban” airports, there should be plenty of room for terminal extensions if needed.
- Chris Noon (M), North and South, High Button, Thursley, Surrey GU8 6NR
Flood facts are already out there
Robert Brewerton suggests that the Environment Agency set up a test site for testing and certifying property level flood protection measures, to encourage the industry to bring low cost flood-proofing products to market (NCE 24 January).
It is a great idea, which is why in 2010 we set up just such a test facility with HR Wallingford, in Oxfordshire, to test flood defence products against a new industry standard. If successful, the products tested are awarded the BSI Kitemark, giving householders and businesses confidence in the flood products they use to protect their property.
This test centre is helping to stimulate the market in flood defence products, which can help to minimise the damage from flood water and greatly reduce the length of time needed for repair of a building and its contents.
- David Rooke, director of flood and coastal risk management, Environment Agency, 25th Floor, Millbank Tower, 21-24 Millbank, London SW1P 4XL
Striking the balance on dam safety risks
That there have been no lives lost from dam failures since the introduction of the Reservoirs (Safety Provisions) Act in 1930 is only partly a tribute to resilient dams and diligent dam engineers (NCE 31 January). It also results from there having been few natural events that exceed design standards. Some have occurred though.
The lowest spillway at Ulley was probably intended to pass the 1 in 150-year flood. Such a flood occurred in 2007. As readers may remember, the spillway was destroyed and the dam was damaged, but did not fail. The low spillway design standard was adopted because the dambreak flood was not expected to take any lives.
At Boltby, the dambreak flood would endanger up to 10 lives, possibly resulting in one casualty. The spillway design standard in this case was the 1 in 10,000-year flood. In 2005, a 1 in 10,000-year flood occurred on the small catchment draining into the reservoir. The spillway passed the flood and saved the dam from failure by overtopping, but it was damaged beyond repair and the whole dam has since been discontinued.
The design standard would have “permitted” one casualty at Boltby. In dam safety practice the risk of taking of one life per 10,000 dam-years is “broadly acceptable”; more than one life per 100 dam-years is “unacceptable”.
As risk is the product of probability and consequences, the acceptable annual probability of failure is 1 in 10,000 per casualty. If more people are at risk, the overfl ow capacity must be increased to suit. The probability of failure from internal erosion and from instability during seismic events should be reduced to be the same as that from overtopping, by safety works, if necessary, in order to protect people equally from dam failure by any of the three main “dam-killers”.
Defra has questioned the appropriateness of works required to make reservoirs, especially those that are high risk, safe to something approaching these standards. It therefore seems all the more important for Defra to consult with the Health & Safety Executive, as I suggested, for advice on the standards that dam engineers should follow to protect people from dambreak floods.
- Rod Bridle (F), firstname.lastname@example.org
Suffolk road maintenance
I write regarding the article relating to Suffolk County Council’s highways procurement (NCE 31 January)
Firstly, we are not retendering the contract or reconsidering its structure.
We intend to award the contract on the basis of final tenders already submitted, and have sought clarification of these with all five bidders, including Balfour Beatty.
Neither have we now “thrown into the mix” the Ipswich Borough Council highways staff. These were part of the “mix” throughout the procurement. Our wider approach to TUPE and liability for employee related costs has also remained unchanged.
All of this would have been perfectly clear to anyone “close to the procurement”.
The article also refers to current Suff olk contracts with Carillion/Mott MacDonald. We have two long standing and successful contracts with Carillion, but no existing relationship with Mott MacDonald.
In view of our obligation of confidentiality, I cannot respond in detail to all of the issues raised in your article. Nevertheless, we continue to work hard to conclude the procurement in a way which is fair and equitable to all bidders.
- Andrew Guttridge (M), assistant director (highways and transport), Suffolk County Council, Endeavour House, Russell Road, Ipswich IP1 2BX