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Letters: Why the Hampstead dams are facing a Judicial Review

Hampstead Heath

Legal action: Heath&Hampstead Society are fighting plans to upgrade the park’s dams

The Heath & Hampstead Society considers that the otherwise excellent stewards of Hampstead Heath, the City of London Corporation, could better balance preservation of the Heath’s natural aspect as required by its 1871 Act, with its responsibilities for dam safety (NCE 7-21 August).

The Society is therefore seeking a judicial review of the City’s decision on the grounds that it is an erroneous interpretation of the words “in the interests of safety” in section 10 of the Reservoirs Act 1975, that it is based on an irrational and/or unlawful approach to risk, and that it should have been subject to strategic environmental assessment in accordance with the Strategic Environmental Assessment Directive

While the Thames Barrier is designed only for 1:1,000 probability risk, and nuclear power stations about 1:10,000, the small earth dams on the Heath, which have never breached over the last 300 years, are to be upgraded to withstand a Probable Maximum Flood, assessed as an annual probability of 1:400,000, to comply with the ICE’s Floods and Reservoir Safety guidance.

This is despite that it would be some six hours after storm start before there is any risk of flooding due to dam breach, giving ample time to evacuate anyone at risk. In fact, as the notable 1975 storm demonstrated, the communities downstream of the dams flooded extensively within a few minutes due to surcharge from inadequate sewers, not to overtopping or dam breach. This judicial review may prove an interesting test case for dam design and ICE guidance.

● Jeremy Wright, (M retd), trustee of the Heath & Hampstead Society, member of the British Dam Society,

Universities and the ICE need to work together

The article “Are Universities Learning the Gender Lesson?” highlights an important issue, but a much wider review should be carried out jointly by the universities and the ICE to ensure that the underlying issues are properly identified based on accurate information.

Some of the information in the article may have been misleading; at Leeds we have about one in four female students and one in four professors. Our interviews do involve both male and female staff and the success rate of female applicants to Leeds is no lower than their male counterparts.

It is important that we continue to strive to achieve a better gender balance across the civil engineering industry as there is much evidence demonstrating that the more diverse teams make better decisions. Universities should harness the enthusiasm and motivation of those who have selected civil engineering as a degree subject by making the learning of the subject interesting and compelling.

Our faculty is committed to the Athena Swan principles with actions from outreach activities to target student recruitment to the Women into Science, Engineering and Technology network to support staff recruitment and retention. Universities clearly play a big part, but we need a broader response that will get more women to apply to civil engineering courses in the first place and keep them in the industry throughout their careers.

  • Nigel Wright, head of the School of Civil Engineering, University of Leeds,


Measuring the pace of change of HS2

Alan James raises the point that Stoke-on-Trent could provide a station on the Birmingham to Manchester leg of High Speed 2 (NCE 21 August). I understand that the higher the line speed; the greater the economic spacing of stations.

Hence, at 225mph (360kph) it is considered that from London to Manchester, only Birmingham provides a viable intermediate stop.

While the philosophy makes sense, is it not a case of the tail wagging the dog? If intermediate stations were to be introduced at Stoke and, say, Northampton (between London and Birm-ingham), the end-to-end travel time would obviously be increased. However, would this not be greatly outweighed by the far greater availability of HS2 to those who do not reside next to the “chosen” stations approximately 160km apart?

If HS2 is more a solution to lack of capacity (rather than faster travel time) perhaps it could be ascertained what optimum speed is suited to station spacings of 80km.

  • William Weir (M), 11 Westleigh Park, Hengrove, Bristol BS14 9TJ

The road to change need not be a long one

Mark Hansford makes the case that the role of civil engineers is to provide solutions rather than treatments (NCE 7 August). He questioned whether mega-firms of merged engineering consultancies are truly interested in curing problems or simply providing the same old answers as treatments. It struck a chord as we are currently working with the Highways Agency on addressing the issue of reliance on “the same old answers”.

It is of note that it is civil engineers leading the direction of the Highways Agency, as they transform into their new corporate role and identity. They are looking for their assets to deliver more.

With regards to pavements this means low maintenance with consequent benefits to congestion reduction and improved safety of maintenance workers.

To help disseminate this thinking, a Low Maintenance Highway Pavements seminar will be held on 7 October and will include a speaker from the Highways Agency presenting their needs - solutions not treatments. This will be followed by presentations on what these solutions are.

This is one example of the client’s role in demanding solutions from consultancies of any size.

  • Andrew Minson, executive director, MPA The Concrete Centre, Gillingham House, 38-44 Gillingham Street, London SW1V 1HU


Time for a better approach to surfacing

A couple of years ago I wrote in similar vein to Frank Bedford (NCE 7-14 August) to the Institution of Highways & Transportation magazine. At the time, I pointed out the very significant difference in durability between current surfacing materials and the more traditional Hot Rolled Asphalt (HRA).

HRA provided highway engineers with a service life, typically, of between 10 and 15 years, and in one particular case, I am aware of, well over 20 years. The life of the surface could then be extended a further 20 years, or so, using relatively inexpensive surface dressings. This approach was extremely cost effective and most appropriate in meeting today’s asset management demands.

While clearly not advocating a wholesale return to HRA, nonetheless it is important to be fully aware of the consequences of relying on these negative textured materials. It seems to me that we have totally sacrificed durability for quieter surfaces and reduced spray. I don’t believe the present situation is sustainable. We have been using these newer surfacing materials for more than 15 years and while I have no doubt there have been improvements to them during this period, increased longevity certainly isn’t one of them.

Can I suggest that future specifications should require a minimum life before treatment intervention, which, I would suggest, should not be less than 10 years. Also, we should not be afraid of using modern, improved surface dressings in appropriate locations.

The highway infrastructure may expect a welcome increase in funding from government over the next few years. However, without reliable long-serving surfacing materials, the extra money will do little towards restoring the local road network to a steady state. We have seen a recent rise in the profile of engineering, and perhaps also the status of engineers. We certainly would not wish to ruin this progress with a media spotlight on misspent government funds.

  • Richard Ireland (M retd),


Problem of regular fixes for irregular holes

I occasionally watch workmen mending potholes in my road. I assume that they know what they are about. They cut very neat rectangles in the surface, remove the loose matter, fill the holes with asphalt, pass a compactor over it and then carefully paint the edges.

The finished job looks very professional. But strangely, around nine months later, the asphalt in the square corners of the repairs starts to break up which leads to the breakup of each pothole. After another three months they are at it again.

I have never seen a rectangular pothole and so I wondered why we must have rectangular repairs?

I suppose it is easier to saw in straight lines. At the corners of the filling, however, the hard surface around would absorb 90% of the vibration leaving the fill in the corners significantly under-compressed.

Would not oval shapes for filled potholes lead to better compaction and less failures? I suggest that someone needs to think outside of their “rectangular” box to come up with a better solution.

  • Robert Holland, (F retd), St Andrews, Munstone Road, Holmer, Hereford HR1 1LG

German bridges cross the line of human conduct

I have to agree that the footbridges over the railway in Opladen, Germany, are very attractive. (NCE 7-14 August). If built in the UK they would have to be covered over with mesh sides and roof to prevent the local idiots from dangling things over the side and getting electrocuted by the overhead line electrification.
Presumably natural selection has already achieved the elimination of such individuals in Germany.

  • Jim Wheeler,

Swansea Tidal Lagoon poses risk to the public

Swansea Lagoon

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon: Future dangers

I retired from Atkins in 2012 and moved to the Mumbles, hence my interest in the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon scheme and of course my delight in seeing Atkins playing a key role in the scheme.

My last five years in its employ were as a senior CDM coordinator under the CDM regulations acting on behalf of Atkins for many Environment Agency schemes.

Any scheme requires design risk assessments (DRA) to be carried out to address construction, operation/maintenance and decommissioning phases and while a lot of schemes are on bespoke, secure, non-public client sites, the Agency has a lot where the general public are on, or very close to, the completed works. The Agency addresses this via a public safety risk assessment protocol, which is superb and has to be prepared alongside and integral with designers’ DRA.

The Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon project that has been in the public domain for so long now has always made a visible portrayal of the fact that public will have unhindered access to very high risks (hazards being entrapment in rock armour; falls from walkway; accidents with machinery and other emergency services vehicles, plant and equipment; carried away in tidal surges; drowning; exposure in what can be rapidly changing environmental conditions etcetera) along the some 18km of walls.

To my knowledge, we the general public, have no information as to how mitigation of these risks this will be addressed and time is now ripe for this to be made clear. Deep down I believe the matter has been addressed but why not made public? Am I the only person to have raised this?

  • Nigel Craddock,

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