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Letters: What is the priority – HS2 or flooding?

Questions raised over the proportion of money the government allocates to flood defences.


The government’s National Infrastructure Plan of December 2013 states that £4bn is to be spent on flood control compared with, for example, £218bn, £121bn, and £14bn on energy, transport and communications respectively.

This clearly reflects the government’s lack of grasp on what is needed to create a flood control infrastructure that will deal with, say, the 1:200 year event.

With over 16,000km of coastline and extensively greater length of rivers, we need significant funds to protect life and limb from flooding.

We may be classified as a fairly affluent nation but through past government profligacy we are virtually bankrupt and need to be smart on what projects we commit our nation to. High Speed 2, for instance, seems a bit of a folly. By any consideration, flood control and coastline protection for a small island nation has to be our number one option of choice.

  • Professor Albert Hamilton (F),


An interesting editorial (Comment last week). Money for flood defences - or rather drainage so sadly neglected for many years and flood defences — and two years to rethink High Speed 2, not just based on time savings but on the real benefits arising from economic, planning and housing growth.

  • Paul Smith (M),


My next door neighbour is planning to extend the rear of his house, maximising his entitlement under the “prior approval” planning regime. This will increase the hard footprint of his house by more than 50%. I see his specification says “rain water disposal should be connected to the existing surface drainage system”. This is a microcosm of what is happening on a national scale. It is small wonder that there is increased run-off and risk of flooding.

  • Jerry Cuthbert (M),


As an ex-river engineer and recognised expert on dredging matters, I believe that I am reasonably well qualified to comment on the recent flood events. Furthermore, my house overlooks the Somerset levels.

The photograph (above) is of Cheddar Moor, the most northerly extent of the Levels. This was taken at the very height of the current flooding, but it can be seen that this area was not flooded. There are two reasons.

The first is that long ago the lower reaches of the River Axe, which drains this area of the moor, was realigned and the section increased to the point that the river is rarely more than half full. It is also maintained regularly.

The second is found in the Axe catchment area which includes the Mendip Hills, which are a limestone formation.
The limestone has the ability to absorb rainfall and slow the rate of discharge to the river system.

So although as an ex-river engineer I welcome dredging, I believe that, in part at least, future flood risk should be alleviated by improved catchment management in terms of increased vegetation, the creation of many small washland storage areas and reduced creation of impervious areas, or where the latter cannot be avoided, the use of sustainable drainage systems (SuDS) or local wetlands.

These measures will slow run off and reduce peak flows.

  • Anthony Bates,


Is that an engineer I see before me?

Again the term engineer appears, this time on the cover of NCE (13 February). Just for debate, I recognise that at least one person in the picture is from a contractor. But are any of these people ­engineers?

The article “Engineers battle to fix storm damaged rails” does mention an engineering team, but what is this work?
If it is to reinstate an existing line, already designed, then how much engineering is there?

Is it perhaps a contractor’s task to implement an already designed railway line?

If the work was to construct a new railway line, then there would more work for an engineer.

I’m not suggesting engineers only do design, but for a starter NCE ought to be able to differentiate between an engineer and a contractor.

  • Simon Heathorn (M),
  • Editor’s note: I am convinced that the rapid design and construction of a railway line reinstatement is the work of engineers. Hence the cover line. But I am always keen to hear other views.


What the A303 tells us about roads policies

I must take issue with James MacColl’s view on road building (NCE 6 February).

He cites the case of the dualling of the A303 and its negative impact on the environment. I wonder when he last travelled on the A303?

Since between them the Ministry of Defence and English Heritage have made it impossible for the Highways Agency to find a suitable and economically sensible route round Stonehenge, those of us who are compelled to travel along the A303 are condemned to continual misery, even out of peak hours.

The reconstructed roundabout west of Stonehenge, which was built to allow the closure of the A344, has created continual congestion.

I cannot believe that ­emissions would be higher if we had a free-flowing route past Stonehenge rather than the stop-start crawling queues that we have at present.

Yes, we must be very careful about creating new roads, but equally, we must complete our strategic network and upgrade it to dual carriageway, and the A303 - even more so with the current problems of the rail links to the West Country highlighted by the recent storms - is a vital piece of unfinished infrastructure on which the economies of Cornwall, Devon and Somerset depend.

There is much we can do to reduce the need for cars in and around our cities, but for the foreseeable future, much of our inter-city travel will depend on the road network.

There is frankly no real alternative.

  • David Clements (M),


Speaking up clearly

I read with dismay Mike Rayworth’s comments on engineers in front of the camera (NCE 6 February).

One reason why engineers are so poorly represented is a lack of training in public speaking, which leads to a reluctance to speak to the media.

So, don’t get a spokesperson from outside, who would struggle to answer semi-technical questions - train our own people properly.

I think it is incumbent on engineers to improve their presentation and speaking skills and encourage improvement of those skills in their subordinates.

How can you do it?

Plenty of courses are available, but for continuous improvement I recommend the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC), which has over 100 clubs across the country. I have been a member of such a club for over 10 years, and have found it to be a supportive and encouraging environment in which I have been able to develop my confidence and abilities.

So my heartfelt advice to individuals and to the ICE, is to improve speaking skills through continuing professional development.
Not through a course, but by non-traditional routes such as the ASC, where it truly is continuous.

  • Andy Bunch,


Listen to the professional road bodies

There have been two recent articles in NCE with comments from members of the Campaign for Better Transport (NCE 6 February and 23 January).

This is the rebranded Transport 2000 organisation with funding from transport unions and public service transport providers.
It is against new road building and as such presents just one side of the argument.

To avoid misunderstanding, it might be more straightforward if it was called the Campaign for Better Public Transport.

In future debates, perhaps the views of such bodies as the Association of British Drivers and the Road Haulage Association could be sought, all of whose members recognise the need to improve our road infrastructure.

  • Gordon Taylor (M),


  • 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. Send your views and opinion to: The Editor, NCE, Telephone House, 69-77 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NQ; email:

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