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Letters: Wear bridge raises important issues

Further to the article about the New Wear Bridge in NCE (News 17 May), do I hear the sound of sour grapes being crushed by the losing consultants?

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The New Wear Bridge design is fantastic and shows civil engineering at its very best and also has the positive that it’s what the “people” want and are prepared to pay for.

It also makes a change to find a project that is fully designed including how to build it. Please don’t let us get hang up on “there is no room for innovation” - so what, let’s get on with it and three cheers for the New Wear Bridge!

  • Jim Wren (M), 31 Moss Lane, Cuddington, Northwich, CW8 2QE

Many members will be familiar with the old anecdote regarding the listing for “civil engineer” in the Yellow Pages advising readers to “see boring”. I would suggest that the opinions of people such as Simon Bourne and those that agree with him [about the proposed New Wear Bridge] just help to demonstrate that this reference may still be appropriate in some quarters!

Suffice to say that, had Sunderland City Council wanted a box girder bridge, that is what they would have requested. Instead, it has chosen to give the people of Sunderland an iconic gateway into their city and they should be applauded for this decision.

Knowing something of this project myself, I thought that the whole article came across as very one-sided and poorly researched. Comments from the design engineer, Techniker, would have provided a more balanced view and better clarity as to the technical, financial and other processes to which the design was subject after the competition had been won.

To suggest that the process has been anything less than rigorous, as the article does, is a disservice to the many people that have worked hard to make this project a reality.

I would just add that there is a reason why many people are familiar with the work of Santiago Calatrava, and it is not for his box girder bridge designs!

  • David Connolly (F), david@alchemyce.com

 

I was disappointed in the article regarding the proposed New Wear Bridge (NCE last week).

Whilst some of the technical reservations were addressed the financial ones were left unclarified. Was the bridge going to be four or five times as expensive as a pragmatic design or circa 20% more expensive as suggested by the Council or, if you consult the Council’s website, the figure of 8% provided in their funding bid to the Department?
Are the costs quoted only for the bridge or do they include the necessary approach roads as well?

Furthermore the method of procurement to exclude the contractor from the detailed design, doesn’t accord with the ethos of the Treasury’s Infrastructure Cost Review Implementation Plan or the earlier OGC Construction Procurement Guide.

If an 8% premium was the figure, obtained by rigorous cost analysis and contractor involvement, then I would suggest the choice of an iconic bridge could be justified.

However, most experienced bridge engineers would take the view that the iconic premium was going to be at least 100%, if not quite reaching the unattributed comment of 300% to 400% and hence the wonderful sculpture, masquerading as a bridge should not be paid for from the public purse.

  • Paul Vince (M) Consult 3C, paul.vince@consult-3c.com

As a resident of Sunderland I have always considered the proposal for a so called iconic bridge to be a gross waste of public funds. The article in NCE demonstrates that I am not alone in my concerns about this project.
Sunderland City have stated that the public of Sunderland has been consulted and support the provision of a landmark structure rather than a conventional bridge.

I have not aware of any consultation process and do not know of anyone having been asked if they wish to finance this bridge at a grossly inflated cost over a more conventional structure.

  • Walter Sleeman ( M ) retired lecturer in Civil Engineering, Newcastle College, walter.sleeman@btinternet.com

Renewables need engineers’ expertise

This week I attended the All-Energy Conference and exhibition in Aberdeen. As a civil engineer who has attended this annual event since 2004, I was struck this year by the presence of more civil engineers than before, so it looks like we are definitely building schemes that need our skills now, particularly offshore.

Civil engineers have a huge role to play in supporting the renewables industry and all the associated infrastructure improvements required; our problem solving abilities must continue to be drawn into projects to ensure success.

  • Louise Smith (M), louise.smith@caithnessrenewables.co.uk


Blemished by the tracks

Our railways seem to be run by totally separate organisations. On one hand is evidence of excellent capital projects, with outstanding stations at King’s Cross, Paddington, Newport, etc. Yet on the other hand, on my extensive rail journeys these days I see rubbish and debris alongside so much of the permanent way and at the majority of stations.

It’s not just the dumped household rubbish but the construction waste, often very clearly years old, that is left over from track maintenance.

It’s a disgrace and a dismal illustration of Network Rail’s ability to manage things. What will our Olympic visitors think?

  • Dudley Swain (M), The Croft, Dunchideock, Exeter EX2 9TR


Aberfeldy memories

No project can ever be the work of one or two people. That I should be named as originator of the Aberfeldy Footbridge project (NCE 17 May) is a great honour but other, greater, contributions are often overlooked.
The students (rather more than 10 over the period) gave their time and learned a great deal. The partners gave materials and expertise.

If anyone is to be singled out, though, it has to be Fraser Smith. Living, as he was, on short term contracts, he risked a great deal to live on the site for the whole summer. Without him it would not have been finished, let alone finished in reasonable time.

This summer marks 20 years since the bridge was built. If any of those involved could contact me it would be good to be in touch and we might even manage a reunion.

  • Bill Harvey, bill@obvis.com


Privatisation was better for water industry

Having been employed in the water industry for 40 years in both the private and public sectors, I must express my disappointment at the flawed and irrelevances expressed by professional engineers in NCE.

Firstly the move from public to private ownership of the water industry was in my opinion a great step forward. The industry was privatised in order to remove the expenditure required to comply with all of the EU Regulations and resource development from of the public sector borrowing requirement.

Noting the current state of the UK economy, privatisation was a forward looking action since whatever the requirement to prevent future droughts, as a country we couldn’t afford it without private capital.

Whether the banks make profits from loans or shareholders take dividends is an irrelevance. However, privatisation through regulation gave the customer a voice for the first time; we [customers] after all pay the bills.

As an operational manager during the drought of 1976 I’m well aware of the robustness and fragilities of water resources in the south east of England and indeed was a participant in two failed - and costly - attempts to convince the Environment Agency and local planners of the need for additional surface water storage.

I may be a bit out of date but as far as I am aware, The Water Resources Act specifies quite clearly that the Environment Agency has the responsibility to take all such action in accordance with the directions of the Secretary of State to be necessary and expedient for the purpose of conserving, redistributing or otherwise augmenting water resources in England and Wales.

But nothing shall be construed as relieving any water undertaker of the obligation to develop water resources for the purposes of performing any duty imposed by section 37 of the Water Industry Act.

The Regulator - subject to certain conditions - must ensure that companies are adequately funded to perform their functions. The law is quite clear.

  • Brian Davis (M), consult@mountain-spirit.co.uk


Crossrail 2 raises planning shortfalls

Your article about Lord Adonis and London First’s advocacy of Crossrail 2 (News last week) contains good examples of the UK’s inability to plan major infrastructure projects right first time.

They both criticise High Speed 2 Ltd’s arguments about Euston being able to accommodate passenger volumes generated by the link and the silo mentality, which currently dominates our infrastructure planning.

London First is also right to query the safeguarded Crossrail 2 route. Its perspective is different from Network Rail’s equivalent ideas found in its London and South East Route Utilisation Study.

Both arguments have merit as they serve different catchment areas and thus relieve different parts of the underground network.

I hope any new study of Crossrail 2 by Transport for London will recognise both sets of ideas and produce a 30 to 50 year plan with a phased programme consistent with both sets of ideas.

  • Stuart Porter (M) jpporter@waitrose.com


Brenner’s off the map

Your note with regard to the Brenner Base Tunnel is still misleading (NCE last week). The tunnel goes from Austria to Italy. If they start boring from each end and finish up in Switzerland, there is likely to be a serious cost overrun.
Ian Blaikley (M), ian@blaikleys.plus.com

  • Editor’s note: Apologies. Again. Maps have been issued.

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