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Letters: Why we must engage with developing minds

Engineering for kids

Engineering for kids: PPE anyone?

I read with encouragement the recent letters encouraging all members to reach out to schools and engage with young people.

However, please, please, please can we stop dressing young people up in oversized and ill-fitting hard hats and hi-vis vests. This is not the way to attract the sort of people our industry desperately needs.

Dressing up in hard hats and other PPE portrays an image of a dirty unsafe industry where such protection is required. Most of the engineers in our profession are designers and don’t wear such equipment; I don a hard hat no more than half a dozen times a year.

I would suggest this does not attract, and probably detracts, girls and - more importantly - it does not attract the thinkers and innovators be they boys or girls.

I regularly talk in schools to Year 3 children about flooding and sustainability as part of the Wild Weather science topic, which forms part of the national curriculum. I simply show images of flooding and various sustainable solutions, ask questions and promote discussion.

I am constantly astounded by some of the ideas which come from these free thinking minds which are yet to be addled and constrained by mundane things such as cost and practicality. One of the teachers advised me that the coursework which followed up on my most recent talk was some of the best the children had produced because they had been inspired.

This is not just enriching for the children; it’s incredibly rewarding for me and I cannot recall being as chuffed as I was when I received a text from the mum of a seven-year-old saying her child who had come home after my talk and said: “Mummy, I want to be a civil engineer when I get older”.

If we all attract just one young person into the industry we will be sustainable, attract two and our ranks will double each generation.

So I call on all members to offer your services for just an hour to the teachers next time you are at a parents evening. My experience is they will bite your hand off.

● Andrew Stanford FICE,

Following on from Nick Eckford’s letter (NCE 6 November) let’s make it mandatory for all ICE members to give up one hour a year to either talk to school children about construction, or if they don’t feel comfortable doing this then one hour a year organising the talks to school children.

There are approximately 50,000 ICE members in the UK and approximately 4,000 secondary schools. We should stop talking about it and actually do it!

And don’t let me generate a torrent of responses telling me how difficult it is to get into schools and talk to school children.

We’re engineers; we should be able to sort this!

● John Patch (F), Director of Roger Bullivant and school governor, John Port School,


Campaign for Better Transport is just laughable

I was incensed by Andrew Allen’s opinion on new road investment (NCE 6 November). Areas in Somerset and Devon serviced by the A303 have suffered isolation at weekends for years.

Families cannot easily visit without horrendous journeys for much of the year. This vital link does not meet normal financial assessment requirements because it suffers huge weekend tidal waves of holiday makers and weekenders.

Just because mid-week and off-season capacity is not so overstretched does not justify ignoring the peak capacity need. And don’t tell me to cycle, walk or go by train. The last time we went back to Somerset by train, having moved to Kent because of the bad access, we had to stand for the whole journey to Salisbury! I am sure other pinch point areas also suffer.

Mr Allen should visit new roads in France and elsewhere, where good design in unspoilt landscapes has created wonderful vistas and protected rural areas from unwanted long distance traffic. Where does he think that the many drivers, diverting off the A303 in frustration, go to? They drive through small villages and create danger on unsuitable roads!

Campaign for Better Transport is not the appropriate name for this negative organisation. NCE should not give them a platform!

  • Nick Davies (F),

Campaign for Better Transport needs new name

In the interests of balance, each time NCE publishes more propaganda by the so-called Campaign for Better Transport it should also allow a counter view - how about from the Association of British Drivers?

Not all readers of the NCE live or work in the UK’s metropolises. For them buses and trains are often unavailable, impractical or too expensive. For them “better transport” can mean building bypasses or widening roads to remove congestion or accident hotspots, and to improve journey time reliability, the local economy and the local environment.

The Campaign for Better Transport needs to listen to these people, or else change its name.

  • Giles Darling (M),
  • Editor’s note: Thanks Nick, Giles and the many other readers who have taken issue with Andrew Allen’s opinion on the Stonehenge tunnel project. It is always good to hear all sides of the story, and we’d positively encourage counter views from other interested parties.

Stonehenge tunnel plan is a waste of money

So the tunnel at Stonehenge is back on the cards.

The tunnel solution is a massive waste of public finances and was only progressed before to appease English Heritage’s entrenched view to have the A303 hidden from their historic site.

The A303 should be conventionally dualled (a simple solution) for about a kilometre past the Stonehenge area with some earthworks to shield the carriageway from this historic site as far as possible - this equates to reduced noise and improved capacity for the A303 at a vastly reduced cost. A classic compromise solution.

We could then spend the considerable savings on conventional maintenance across the UK and not pander to English Heritage at vast cost to the taxpayer.

  • Peter Fox (AM),

Time for our ­politicians to face up to UK’s debt

How refreshing to read Mark Hansford’s assessment of our future major projects (NCE 6 November). The current proliferation of lies and obfuscations by our elected representatives grows in intensity ahead of next May’s General Election, not least in the shameful avoidance by all shades of political opinion of measures for tackling the burden of our terrifying and ever-mounting level of debt.

  • David Mortimer (M ret),

Who would want to be an innovator?

I would endorse Peter Styles comments on NIH (Not Invented Here).

As an innovator I encounter this attitude frequently but sometimes in a way I consider discourteous and arrogant.

In contacting some of the leading consultants and contractors and suggesting that I have some approaches which could be of value I often get no response - not even an acknowledgement.
In fairness there are others who welcome innovation.

Some of the current proposed projects such as High Speed 2 will need innovation to minimise cost, disruption and environmental impact.

  • James Thomson (M) ,

In desperate need of the BCIA supplement

I refer to your most excellent supplement recently sent out with NCE - BCIA Awards Celebrating the very best in construction and engineering. Is this online anywhere? I would like to send it to colleagues.

  • Geoffrey Taylor,
  • Editor’s note: Yes Geoffrey, you can now read the supplement in pdf format in our new app.

Scandal of how aid money is being abused

On 8 November 2013 the Philippines was struck by Hurricane Haiyan, killing more than 6,000 people and leaving 1,061 missing and 11M displaced.

The world reacted as it always does with humanitarian aid. The European Union €40M; the UK £6M initially and then a further £30M; the Australians $A10M, just to mention a few. One year on I was appalled to see very little progress and horrified to learn on the news that the government is providing loans (with interest) to the affected population to rebuild their lives. Loans from aid money?

The rebuilding consists of corrugated metal sheets, timber and tarpaulins scavenged from the wreckage. No sanitation, clean water, electricity, shelter or dignity.

In January 2010 Haiti suffered an earthquake disaster with 200,000 dead, 2.3M homeless and thousands displaced. Five years on they are still living in shanty towns with material scavenged from the wreckage. Yet the EU gave €429M, the UK £107M and the rest of the world pitched in too.

Hold back some of the aid; let tenders in the UK for the rebuilding programme and let our contractors, who have shed loads of experience working overseas, undertake the challenge of providing basic shelter, sanitation, clean water, electricity, schools and clinics giving people back their dignity. This is not rocket science.

  • Mario Donnetti (F),


  • 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. Contact The Editor, NCE, Telephone House, 69-77 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NQ; email:

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