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Letters: Why knowledge is key

Gloucester July 2007

Climate change: Engineering challenge

Mark Hansford’s Comment “Changing technology is changing our skillsets” (NCE 26 June) is a timely reminder of the need for our sector to innovate and respond to society’s grand challenges.

Having worked on the innovation agenda for the last three years, the most successful innovators are those which collaborate, not only within our sector, but who also import and adapt ideas from other sectors or countries. We see successful transfer particularly from sectors such as digital services, energy, high value manufacturing and transport.

Hansford makes a good point about focusing on the grand challenges of meeting humanity’s ever increasing needs, to develop resilience in the face of climate change and deliver a low carbon economy, to mention but a few.

The engineering professions do have a key role to play in using technology to widen our understanding and developing solutions to some of these very hard to solve challenges. Grand challenge approaches are very valuable in helping focus the industry’s attention.

We would like to consider ourselves one of the “forward thinking organisations” helping UK companies to respond and develop new skills and solutions to exploit the market pull and technology push in addressing these challenges.

In a dynamic market such as construction, a key skill which any organisation needs is being able to identify where the opportunity lies and formulate a plan to respond.

Our Knowledge Transfer Network is where we build communities around the opportunities of this dynamic market and help them develop new skills, find new partners and share learning / best practice.

As a practising chartered civil engineer I have found this support highly beneficial in developing my skillset and broadening my thinking beyond detailed design delivery.

For those who want to find out more, go to or if you are particularly interested in autonomous vehicles then go to the Transport Catapult - one of seven Technology Innovation Centres we have established, where the industry can access cutting edge technology and resources.

  • Mark Wray (M), lead technologist, Low Impact Building Innovation Platform, Sustainability, Technology Strategy Board,

Waiting for female partners at Price & Myers

I have been following your campaign against gender discrimination in engineering with interest, and wondering whether it applies more to contractors than consultants, and more to civil engineering than structural. I think that the number of women coming into structural engineering is definitely on the increase.

Certainly Price & Myers has been steadily taking on more female engineers so that, of the current total of just over a 100 engineers, 25 are women. And, of these, four of the 18 associates are women.

Granted, this is not 50/50, but it is a reasonable proportion and I think it will increase as more women take engineering at university. In fact all six of this year’s summer placements are women, and all selected solely on merit.

So I think there is a definite trend. Over the last few years, seven of our female engineers have left to have babies and have returned to work hours that suit child-minding. So that has not been an insuperable problem.

Price & Myers does not, at present, have any female partners. I can see no reason why this should not change. But I think there is no denying that in our society it remains the general expectation that it will be the women who carry the main responsibility for bringing up children. This is probably the most important job of all - to make sure that the next generation is happy, fulfilled and well educated. While society expects the women to do this and the men to earn the money - and while mothers want to do it more than fathers - it is likely that there will never be equality of numbers of the sexes in the workplace.

Nevertheless, I very much hope that, as the trend continues and more women join the firm, it will not be long before there are female partners in Price & Myers.

  • Sam Price,

Clearer ­definition of feminism is what’s needed

Following on from your features on feminism and equality, I would add that the dictionary definition of “equal” is “the same”. However, it goes on to add that for this definition to be meaningfully applied, one’s context of consideration or measure must also be taken into account. As instances it cites “magnitude, number, or some defined quality”.

I take it that most readers of NCE identify with the broad emotional sentiments associated with middle-of-the-road feminism but note that, when these sentiments are applied to discussion about female representation in civil engineering, they instantly lose their way among bank notes and pages of The Sun newspaper. Our arguments lack definition and therefore clarity.

It seems plain and fair to me that as many women who wish to do so should be encouraged and enabled to find and occupy a niche within civil engineering, no more nor less. We may speak of education, but we are not educationalists. Let us restrict our efforts to that zone within which we can take useful action.

  • Malcolm Cox (M),


The equality debate comes to the boil

Rights are only won by those who make their voices heard. A few old-school (engineering) men will be upset by that. But it’s exactly they who have to move on, or ultimately will be moved on, not women engineers.

The ICE could of course do much more to help gender integration in the industry by sending a much stronger message that misogyny is unacceptable in all its tedious and harmful facets. In the meantime? I’ll put on the kettle, make tea for dinosaurs, and wait, patiently.

  • Katja Leyendecker,


Higgins fails to make the case for HS2

At my age, and living in the west of England, I shall not be directly affected by High Speed 2 (HS2). However, I don’t like to see money misspent. David Higgins (NCE 26 June) fails to make an objective justification for the project.

In effect he says that it may be much more economical to set up a business and live in a northern city such as Manchester, but an investor won’t do it unless there is a faster train service to London “with its access to the global market”.

For this reason he regards HS2 as “one of the great strategic interventions of our time”. What nonsense. The time has passed when communication and connectivity with the world had to be through London.

Surely, in the new era of fast-developing technology, people with clarity of vision will recognise the irrelevance of HS2 and the advantages of locating in regional cities. Even MPs will realise that when the hybrid Bill has been examined.

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


Big infrastructure requires some big thinking

We, as a nation, seem to be relying on our own abilities to forge a worthwhile future for the next generations. We are definitely semi-detached from Europe and may be heading further away, and our relationship with the US seems to be eroding. If we are to rely on this implied self-confidence, there are many aspects of life that need to be improved to create the necessary means and stamina.

Are we to be creators of wealth or rent seekers? The former, I would hope. But we have to improve our skills, communications and productivity. We need to have a distributed means of creating wealth, by which I mean not having it centralised.

While our physical infrastructure will not in itself provide the answers, without it in good shape it will drain the ability of other initiatives. The challenge of physical infrastructure is that it is “big” and takes time, and therefore demands big thinking to make it happen. It is as much a leap of faith as it is number crunching and there are no absolute guarantees. Short term thinking does not help and it takes great politicians to rise above it.

A north/south high speed rail link with a northerly east/west link seems to be a pretty good bet in realising the most of our potential in the quickest time.

  • Richard Henley (M), College Farmhouse, Silchester Road, Little London, Hampshire RG26 5EX

Eurocodes review is all in the timing

I am informed, courtesy of SCI-Connect of an invitation from professor David Nethercot to engineers to contribute to the first five-year “systematic review” of the Eurocodes - BSI website at The review period closes on 14 August.

I urge colleagues to contribute in an attempt to improve the lamentable shambles with which we have been burdened by the European Union.

However, bearing in mind the huge number of documents and the great importance of this issue, surely six weeks is a totally inadequate consultation period.

I presume the announcement and dates were chosen for the holidays to ensure minimum response so that the status quo will continue with least disturbance.

  • Robert Hairsine (M),

Garden Bridge’s Italian descent

Thames garden bridge

Thames bridge

Ponte sul Lago Pertusillo

Italian bridge

The idea of the Garden Bridge across the Thames in central London is neither novel nor original in my opinion. In fact, it is quite similar to Davide Stolfi’s competition design entry for the Ponte sul Lago Pertusillo in Italy (inset) in 2007, don’t you agree?

  • Davood Liaghat (F), 27 Cowper Road, London N14 5RR

Readers' comments (1)

  • Dear Sir, I took the following information from the web pages of the BBC and the Environment Agency.This data appears to be agreed by both sides of the climate change argument.

    The eruption of Krakatoa in 1883 threw dust into the atmosphere such that the earth's temperature cooled by about 1 to 1.5 C.
    The effect took until the 1920s to disappear.
    The Earth's temperature has increased by 0.6C in the last 100 years.Part of this temperature increase is the recovery to pre Krakatoa level.

    Studies of ancient ice at the poles shows that CO2 increase follows global temperature increase, ie it appears to be a result, not a cause, of the temperature increase.
    Current measures of CO2 are not from the poles, but from regions where there is currently more CO2 in the atmosphere than at the poles. Eg Hawaii where there is much volcanic activity.The global output of CO2 from volcanoes is massive compared to that from human activity.

    CO2 is < 0.4% of the atmosphere.
    Human activity creates just 4% of the total output of global CO2.
    30% of this human activity output is due to fossil fuel's use to generate electricity. ie 1.33% of annual global output. So even if this were halved it would reduce annual global output of CO2 by just a minimal effect, It's clear that we need to increase sources of energy which do not deplete the Earth's limited resources. However the above data seems to indicate that the focus on CO2 reduction is misplaced.


    Tony Abbott

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