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Letters: Why Gem Bridge is worth the expense



Nigel Hopwood’s musings on a low cost alternative solution to engineer a crossing of the steep and heavily vegetated Walkham valley (Letters 23-30 August), is in fact similar to a temporary arrangement constructed by Devon County Council some years ago.

Understandably, without a detailed knowledge of the site conditions, this might well seem an economic and sensible permanent engineering solution.

However, in the context of an ambition to develop a major cycle trail across Devon, to grow the local economy, and to make an area of outstanding natural beauty accessible to a much wider cross section of the community, you may then start to appreciate why Gem Bridge is in fact an appropriate and fully justifiable engineering solution. This sympathetically designed and attractive structure illustrates how engineers truly can take such strategic ambitions and turn them into reality.

Hopwood asks himself: “Am I missing anything?” Well, how about recognising the need for drive and vision, along with recognising what can be achieved by a team with a common ambition.

Gem Bridge is an excellent example of how a strategic infrastructure project, successfully delivered, can have such a positive impact on our society, and we should celebrate this.

  • Nicholas Bott (M)

Nigel Hopwood has pointed out on your letters page that cycles can go uphill. I look forward to hearing his next revelation, that cars can also go uphill and many of our major structures are in fact unnecessary. The UK lags far behind many continental countries in embracing cycling as a viable means of transportation. Hopwood’s attitude goes some way to explaining this.

  • Chris Burrows (M) Colwall, Worcestershire.

Nigel Hopwood would replace the splendid Gem Bridge by a puny structure at the bottom of the valley (NCE 23-30 August). Yes, cyclists can ascend and descend steeper slopes than trains, but not many are enthusiastic about doing so. Nor do they like zig-zags.

I recently cycled across this bridge and was impressed by it, the view and the enlightenment of a local authority, which could produce such a magnificent structure for the benefit of walkers and cyclists. It is smaller and lower than Brunel’s bridge, which ran parallel to it.

Consequently, cyclists leaving it have quite a climb, but much less than would be involved by Hopwood’s alternative.

  • David Naylor (AM)

The lasting effects of the Chilver Report

I would like to add a note to the obituary of Henry Chilver by Mike Chrimes.

In 1947, after six years’ war service, some of it very active, a few of us returned to Bristol University to complete our interrupted degree courses, entering the third year. Far removed from academia, we found ourselves together with the majority fresh from school and university. Among the latter was Henry Chilver, a brilliant student.

In 1976, after 36 years’ service in the Royal Engineers, I accepted the task at the ICE of implementing the Chilver Report, approved by Council.

This ranged from school careers, university entrance standards, the quality of degree courses, the training and technical competence, in two parts, of those aspiring to membership, the recruiting of Regional Training Advisers, and the encouragement of post-degree continuing education.

There was understandable opposition to several of the proposals, but we went doggedly ahead.

How much of the Chilver Report and our efforts survive I do not know, but clearly time moves on and the report could never be a blueprint for all
time. I would suggest, however, that its implementation gave a useful and beneficial jolt to established standards and practice at many levels of our profession.

  • Denys Begbie (F ret)

What’s worth more - a banker or a bridge?

If - as I read with some surprise - Cumbria County Council wanted an iconic bridge to replace the collapsed Northside bridge (NCE 9 August) they need not worry.
The new bridge is a beautiful, simple, three-span design, which curves gently in plan and in elevation and meets all the requirements of an iconic structure.
It has always appalled me that this bridge, which is so important to Workington, will cost about £11M - a sum equal to at least one banker’s bonus. As a country we’ve surely got some priorities wrong.

  • David Bateman, Workington,


Show some respect for engineering

With reference to the recent act of graffiti of Jess Ennis’s Golden Postbox - the BBC, Royal Mail, and council spokesman referred to the employee who repaired the paint on the postbox as a “Royal Mail Engineer”.

Once more, this piece of cracking exposure for engineering reaffirms my satisfaction with my career selection. What next? Window cleaning engineers, painting and decorating engineers, carpet cleaning engineers?

It’s getting beyond a joke now and it’s high time that the ICE made some movements on qualifying the profession on which modern society relies on and is built upon as being a professionally recognised title in the same way that architects are.

It would be nice to be held in the same acclaim as architects and doctors, and not air conditioning repairers and street sweepers.

  • Andy Ratcliffe

Structures toolkit leaves a lot to be desired

The 29 July will have passed by unnoticed for most engineers. However, for the small group of engineers responsible for maintaining the nation’s stock of council-owned bridges and highway structures, this date will have been etched on the brain for months.

This is the date that GRC (Gross Replacement Cost) and DRC (Depreciated Replacement Cost) data for highway structures had to be submitted to the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) using the new Structures Toolkit.

Given the high level of professionalism typical of engineers, it was totally understandable that frustration would rise when they realised that:

The time taken to collate the data to a reasonable level of accuracy was considerably longer than the time available to do it

Council staff were expected to produce the data within existing resources, despite these being savaged by central government cuts

The Toolkit itself was riddled with so many dubious assumptions and inconsistencies that no self-respecting engineer would want to rely on the outputs from it, rendering the exercise largely pointless.

I doubt that there is anyone out there who would want to argue that asset management is a bad idea, but asset management must be ruled by common sense and engineering judgement.

The Toolkit provides neither. As a result, I have sensed a clear feeling among engineers that the work of the last three months has been a paper exercise that most certainly won’t be life changing.

Indeed, most municipal bridge engineers must be wondering how long it will be before CIPFA finally realises that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.

  • Jon Tuson (M)


Sex’s crucial role in name of Edinburgh street

Your report on the Edinburgh Tram project (NCE 26 July) is a valuable update on how a project that went badly wrong is getting back on track.
And I look forward to using it in due course. However, it is clear that your reporter never went to Edinburgh when he visited the new team.
The main city centre thoroughfare is Princes Street, named after the two eldest sons of King George III, George (later King George IV) and Frederick (Duke of York), and not Princess Street.

  • David Nimmo Smith (M), 78 St Andrews Road,Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire,

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