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Letters: We should be leading the low carbon debate, not others

We should be leading the low carbon debate, not others

The Target Zero work by Tata Steel and the BCSA has been a fantastic initiative that has brought together many strands in the low carbon buildings debate (NCE last week).

However, their recent publication highlights that steel is lower carbon than timber and that the structural frame has almost no impact on carbon emission. Surely not? How can this be?

These are both pretty big claims in an arena where the science is still pretty raw and where almost every building is (annoyingly) different. It is great to see that engineers now have a new role to fulfil that is not so black and white.

Brilliant, our designs will be subject to passionate debate and emotional claims. Just what our profession needs to spice things up.

But then I am still left somewhat concerned. Will our carbon advice and claims just leave clients confused?

Should we just leave it to the architect, quantity surveyor or management consultant (who have done most of the embodied carbon reporting to date) to report on our behalf? We already do so for the cost of our designs.

The carbon debate should really make us stop and think as a profession (both individually and collectively) how we move forward in this changing world. Our design decisions have a significant impact on our client’s costs, a contractor’s programme and the earth’s natural resources…but we seem increasingly reliant on other specialists to tell us this.

  • Simon Smith, director, buildings & design Ramboll UK,


Tuition fees: do the maths

I’ve not seen something that made me choke on my cornflakes so much than Bruce Denness letter (NCE 19 May). Let’s add some conservative numbers to the debate.

Imagine a young person interested in engineering is lucky enough to have rich parents and doesn’t need maintenance loans, just loans for fees. Our young friend wants to do an MEng as a “fast track” to CEng so they choose the four year course.

It is said that this would mean they graduate with £36k of debt. It’s not true. The loans post-2012 have interest charged at RPI+3% for the duration of the course, currently 8.3%. Assuming the average over four years is 5%, the student leaves university with an annually compounded loan total of over £40k.

Let’s assume they’re lucky and get a job at £21k/year. Yippee! No repayment of the loan that year as they are on the threshold rate of pay.

But wait, interest on theloan is still mounting at RPI, say at 3%. The first year’s interest adds another £1,200. Our clever young friend isn’t put off and gets a pay increase the next year, now they get £23k. The following year they pay back £180, but the loan increased again a little more than £1,200. The net difference is the load increased by another £1,120. They would have to earn about £35,000 before the loan started to reduce at all.

What level would the debt peak at?

This is a graduate tax in all but name with backdoor implementation. Very few future engineers are going to be able to pay it back in 30 years unless they decide to cut back on a few of life’s luxuries, like ever owning your own home or raising a family. So our friend can look forward to an additional income tax of about 5% to 10% for 30 years.

It is all very well being positive, but that doesn’t help if you’re stood on the deck of the Titanic, surrounded by a cold dark sea of debt, wondering why your socks are damp.

  • Nickolas Collins,

HS2: We need to decide now

A recent issue saw the heading “Engineers’ views on high speed policy sought” and gave a website address for contributions (NCE 12 May).

I am not involved in the project, yet have my own views, so I went to the website to find a series of preselected questions that did not seem to fit the comments that I wanted to express which are very simple:

  • Great Britain will need a high speed network sooner or later or we will be passed by other nations as a place to do business economically.
  • High speed trains will reduce short haul flights. This has been demonstrated by Eurostar and trains are “greener” that aircraft.
  • It seems that the route through the Chilterns is a fait accompli. What other options were studied and why were they discarded? What about the traffic corridor through Watford Gap?
  • The construction cost is huge, but start small and increase the network over say 10, 15, 20 years or more.

We need to decide which way to go. If we say “No”, it will reappear every 10 years or so like the Severn Barrage, if we say “Yes” we will reap the benefits.

  • Richard Smart,

Should we be digging deeper on TBM safety?

With reference to the feature article “Eastern Promise” (NCE 5 May), I would welcome views on the main photo showing three operators working on the TBM, all of which are working in an unsafe manner.

  • Richard Coates, head of partnering Services, Morgan Sindall Investments, 10 Furnival Street, London EC4 1AB

Is ICE simply a club for employers?

I read with alarm Charles Catt’s letter (NCE 19 May) suggesting a new grade of membership is needed.

His premise is that only those engaged in management at a high level need the breadth of membership endorsed by MICE.

I understood that MICE (and even more so FICE) is designed to recognise highly developed engineering skills.
As members progress they often do narrow their area of expertise but that does not mean they do not need (and retain) an underlying breadth of engineering knowledge.

Surely management skills are just one set of specialist skills which members can develop?

Of course, the ICE has offered specialist routes to membership for at least 30 years so as those without the breadth of engineering experience can be properly recognised.

My own employer recognises this difference by having various promotion routes catering for managerial and technical specialists (among others).

Catt seems to endorse the view of many members that the ICE (at the centre at least) is an employers’ club rather than a learned society.

  • Philip Mendelsohn, The Mill House, 21 Snuff Mill Road, Old Cathcart, Glasgow G44 5TP

Surely family can afford tuition fees?

I have been following your letters on higher education and the £9,000 tuition fee issue.

I notice that there is no mention of parents and grandparents being involved. Surely those who have brought an individual into this world have a responsibility to see them launched into their earning career.

Also, using the term “rich” implies that the rest of us are poor and projects an us and them view of the situation, which is quite wrong.

Families have a responsibility to do their best for their offspring and I am sure that where there is promise and ambition in a low income family, ways will be found to gain a university place and meet the fees.

We should be clear, students are not islands drifting on their own in the sea of life.

  • Richard Orange-Bromehead.(M), Hovingham, North Yorks, YO62 4LG

Letters to the editor

NCE welcomes letters from readers.

We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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