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Letters: Wallasea Island's use of waste earth is a wasted opportunity

Wallasea Island

Wallasea Island: More than 3Mt of waste from Crossrail have been used to create wetland habitats

In 1954, 14 years of food rationing in the UK came to an end. Having no foreign currency to pay for imported food the UK had been on its knees, with the then Ministry of Agriculture tasked with achieving food self-sufficiency through more efficient agricultural practices.

In 1956 a young civil engineer (Stephen Hawes FICE, 1923 to 2014), fresh from rebuilding the war torn infrastructure of Iraq was tasked by the ministry to bring Wallasea Island, a large area of poorly drained grazing marsh on the Essex coast, into full agricultural food production. In 1956 this was achieved by implementing the latest in land drainage practices which continue to stand the test of time across swathes of high value reclaimed land in Holland.

Moving on almost 60 years, large areas of prime agricultural land are being lost to a sustainable energy policy that rewards turning large areas of productive farmland over to photovoltaic cells and energy crops to feed anaerobic digesters. Areas of the south coast are also losing farmland, with the much-lauded Medmerry Coastal Realignment Scheme actually isolating irrigation reservoirs preventing irrigation of the flooded land. Severe restrictions on the use of fertilisers and GM crops continue to stifle food production.

One would understand the importance of protecting the primary areas of vegetable production in the UK: the huge areas of irrigated lands along the east coast. Yet there the reservoirs are filled from aquifers protected from saline intrusion by ageing flood levees, many of which have not been improved since the North Sea surge of 1953. Surprisingly, levee upgrades to ensure continued food production must in most cases be privately funded, a fact that leaves my colleagues in the Netherlands and in the US Corps of Engineers in Lousiana speechless.

My advice to government: dust off the ration books.

● Andrew Hawes (M)

I have observed instances of holes being dug to create wetland habitats but dumping 3Mt of spoil to create one? Pull the other one. Wallasea Island is being used as dump for the spoil from the Crossrail excavations. The £12M being spent there does give an environmentally positive veneer to this fact and indeed the outcome will doubtless have many positives.

But now that rising sea levels due to global warming is an accepted part of future planning could we not have had some joined up policy and used this valuable resource to raise the levels of the earth embankments along the Thames Estuary wherever it caused the least disruption? Too late for that now but what about the spoil from the Thames Tideway Tunnel?

● Ken Bowman (MRetd)

Lessons from Loughborough

I would like to reassure Tony Farrar (Letters 30 July-6 August) that sandwich courses have never gone away.

At Loughborough University we continue our long track record of providing this opportunity for all our BEng and MEng students working closely with our industry partners. Every year 60% to 70% of our students spend a year in industry working as trainee engineers. During this period the quality of their work is assessed by their supervisors and university tutors.

We find this extended period of experience crystallises the content of the learning they have undertaken over the previous years. The students return to university with a much better understanding of how the industry works both technically and commercially; they are also very focused on getting the best out of their education to make them more valuable when they graduate.

Industry also benefits by establishing relationships with future graduates that understand more about the industry and, after graduation, many go back to the company they worked for whilst on placement.

  • Professor Pat Carrillo (F), Associate Dean (Teaching), Loughborough University


A dangerous game to play?

I’m an engineer with a Master’s degree in civil engineering. I work for a large, market-leading company with offices in London and pretty much all over the world. Within my team I would say we are relaxed when it comes to the idea of professionalism: I wear a smart shirt, trousers and shoes, but no tie; and how we communicate is informal.

From what I read in the media, enterprises such as Google and Facebook adopt a very relaxed working environment, often with offices kitted out with items more recognisable in playgrounds. I’m sure there are some statistics which supports the Google way of working and can highlight the benefits of wearing casual clothing at work. So why isn’t everyone doing it? I believe the answer is partly down to wanting to be taken seriously.

I get that everyone with career aspirations wants to be recognised as professional but it does frustrate me how important some perceived qualities of professionalism are to success.

It makes me think of a particular graduate. He dresses well and says all the right things but I’m not sure how good an engineer he is. The conversation is always work orientated and lacks personality. It’s boring.

So I’m curious. How important are those behaviours to getting that promotion? Is it better to compliment everything for the purpose of looking optimistic, or show personality, crack a joke with your boss and be real and honest with your thoughts?

  • Owen Wonorg,


In memory of a lost language

I may be an old dinosaur, but find the nitpicking to which some grandstanding feminists will resort to be ludicrous. Stephanie Neath regards the use of the word “his” to be an error.

What would she have us do instead? Are we to use the cumbersome “his or hers” at every mention? Or are we obliged to commit the grammatical solecism of using the plural “their” when we mean the singular, at the risk sometimes of being unclear?

We used to have inclusive language in which a manhole was an inanimate object, mankind embraced the whole species, and we could accept the established legal definition that:

“The masculine implies the feminine and vice versa where appropriate.” To make such an issue of his is, frankly, laughable. I am perhaps compounding the real error by writing this letter.

  • Mike Keatinge, Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL


Plural cure for singular issue

Stephanie Neath (NCE 13-20 August) is quite right to point out that using gender-specific language in a published article is careless in an environment where we are striving to promote equality.

Third person singular pronouns in English - and many other languages - are gender-specific, and writing without them - although possible - is not always easy. Phrases such as “she or he”, when repeated many times in the course of an article, make tedious reading, and beg the question “who should go first?” Other unsatisfactory substitutions are “he/she” and “(s)he”. And a legalistic disclaimer stating that “he” implies “he or she” doesn’t wash.

So what is the poor writer to do? When I worked for a few years as a technical author, tricky cases made for good coffee break discussions, and we enjoyed the challenge of rewording offending sentences.

In the example quoted, there is a straightforward solution: using the plural changes the offending phrase to “individuals gain by proving their experience under certain attributes”.

Having sorted that one out, I’d quite like to have a go at “under certain attributes”, but that’s another story.

  • Alyn Iorwerth (M retd),


No offence when none is due

I have a solution to Stephanie Neath’s problem. In future, we should ban the use of the possessive pronoun “he”. No gentleman would be offended if we used “she” instead. They’d simply understand that they were included, as ladies were when “he” was used in the past. Simple.

  • Andrew Fraser,

Planning and legal aspects of Suds

I would like to highlight and extend one element of the comprehensive paper on UK sustainable drainage systems (Suds) (Civil Engineering 168 August 2015, page 125). It’s not entirely an engineering matter, but also an administrative and legal quandary which needs resolution by people interested in the built environment.

The authors (Ashley, Walker, D’Arcy et al) point out that in England the use of Suds is enshrined in the planning process rather than in a local authority approval body. They say that this fails to address the issue of ownership and long-term maintenance.


Suds: Who owns them?

They later comment that “without adequate regulation and a clear mechanism for adoption and maintenance, housebuilders will not routinely implement Suds in England”, whereas regulatory regimes operate in Wales and Scotland. I endorse these concerns, which were already identified some 20 years ago when I was a planning inspector. However, there is more trouble ahead.

Development companies, whether builders or those that obtain planning permissions on sites which are then sold to the highest bidders, often apply for outline permission with detailed matters reserved for later approval. Surface water drainage is likely to be part of the reserved design. They may submit a report to back up the statement that Suds will be incorporated so that the outflow from the site will have no more impact than from the undeveloped site. Local planning authorities, other agencies and even the planning inspectorate appear content to accept such assurances. The result can be that outline planning permission is granted, the principle of the development is therefore agreed, yet the drainage system has not been designed and its effectiveness, ownership and maintenance responsibility have not been settled. In the absence of an approval body, how can the public (maybe including residents downstream already subject to flooding) have confidence that practical and effective Suds can be installed, that there is a permanent owner to be contacted if anything goes wrong, and that the necessary maintenance will be done?

  • John Acton, The Jays, 1B New Street, Charfield, Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, GL12 8ES

Readers' comments (2)

  • Why in this time of data protection does the NCE publish full addresses? Surely a name and county, at most, would be sufficient information.

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  • I was present at a Civil Engineers dinner in Glasgow in 1978. There were 700 engineers present including one Lord and one Lady. The speeches started with "My Lord, lady and gentlemen" until a member got it right "Fellow members". The cheers went up!


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