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Look to the past to learn about contracts that go walkabout

Alistair Nicholls (NCE 17 May) is probably correct in his comments about the embarrassment of the ICE not being able to control its own contract, when they pride themselves about how efficiently they control their clients’ contracts.

Unfortunately, this is not the first matter of this kind in the history of the ICE. Only some 25 years ago a similar fiasco occurred that required the ICE to sell valuable assets.

In fairness, the ICE was not alone with this problem, the IStructE had similar difficulties - but no such valuable assets - so had to ask their membership for an extra year’s subscription to balance the books, which 97% of the membership loyally coughed-up.

However, one beneficial thing to watch out for in these troubled times is the off er of ‘life memberships’ by organisations that need cash urgently; the quick fix that raises instant revenue but burdens the Institution with non-paying members for future years.

I took advantage of both the ICE and the IStructE offers of life membership - and haven’t paid any subs for over 20 years; another interesting contract. Brian Clancy (F), 4 St John’s Court Altrincham WA14 2NB


Bridges can be a link to wealth

I write with reference to your article “Engineers say £118m Wear bridge is waste of public money” (NCE 17 May). Although their aesthetic, engineering approach and procurement strategies are quite different, the key aspect linking both the New Wear Bridge and the Mersey Gateway is a recognition by the commissioning authorities that bridge design can make a major contribution to the identity of a city, region or country.

Investment in infrastructure which is well designed, encourages growth and reinforces social, environmental and economic sustainability is highly valuable.

It is essential, particularly in times of austerity, to consider the long-term importance of infrastructure, and providing a legacy that is attractive as well as functional should be a key part of that vision. Martin Knight Architects, Old Metalworks, 10 Queens Road, High Wycombe, Bucks HP13 6AQ


CDM and the question of risk

Mike Wood’s Letter (NCE 19 April) regarding the ICE Report CDM2007 3 Years On has prompted me to express my concerns.

The report identifi es a lack of understanding by designers of what CDM requires of them. This is hardly surprising when the report states: “ICE believes that the process of design ‘risk assessment’ remains an essential designer’s tool”, which totally contradicts the CDM2007 ACoP and advice from the HSE.

A principal aim of CDM2007 was to put an end to DRAs [dynamic risk assessments]. I quote Andrew East, HSE Construction Sector “DRA is not mentioned in the original Regulations or ACoP, the revised ACOP or the new Regulation and ACOP. (Unfortunately some early guidance does imply this approach).

The 2001ACOP, copied into the 2007ACOP explicitly cuts any link from the general risk assessment duty in the management Regs”.

During the design process designers rarely know who the contractor will be. They almost certainly will not know what training and skills will be applied, what plant and other equipment will be used or what site conditions (concurrent activities etc) will be during construction. Hence it is impossible for a construction designer to make any reasonable assessment of the likelihood of a hazard causing harm.

Designers should simply say “No” to CDM coordinators who ask for DRAs as they are not required by any health and safety legislation. They could then concentrate on producing design solutions that eliminate and reduce hazards and on communicating information on hazards that still remain at the end of the design process. Bob Hill,


Harvest to ease water shortages

We need a cultural shift in the way we use water and more importantly waste water; perhaps a solution is for an incentive to be given to homeowners and businesses to install rainwater harvesting and grey water recovery systems. Similar to the renewable power systems, a unit reward for rain/grey water usage could be captured via a secondary meter and off set against the potable water charge. Russell Thomson, russell.


A boring point to pursue

I turned with interest to the article re Brenner Base Tunnel in last week’s NCE and read: “Deep beneath the Swiss Alps …” Then in the fi rst paragraph “But head to Innsbruck in Switzerland…”

Am I missing some major international realignment or did Mark Hansford not actually go to Innsbruck, as the last time I was there in seemed to be in Austria? I did note that Austria rates a mention later in the article but the Swiss still seem to keep cropping up. Maybe this is why the tunnel system is such a “mindboggling” length. Peter Wright (F),

Editor’s note: Clearly the Brenner Base Tunnel is being built between Switzerland and Italy, and not Austria and Italy. Apologies for the slip. We also said that the maximum incline on the existing rail line is 31%, when it should have read 3.1%. Apologies again for the errors.


Definition of a drought

According to my Oxford English dictionaries, the word “drought” means continuous absence of rain, or continuous dry weather. How many times has the word been misused lately? David Smith (M), David-C.


Cutting costs is not always right

When I saw the headline to Peter Hansford’s ‘Viewpoint’ (NCE 10 May), I thought I was going to read a long awaited call for better value for construction clients.

Instead, I was disappointed to fi nd yet another call for costcutting.

No one would imagine, in any other area of life, that ruthless cutting of up-front costs would result in best overall value.

Yes, let us use resources more intelligently and sustainably, but why are we as construction professionals expected to so under-sell ourselves?

For best value - invest in engineering excellence. Paul McCombie (F), deputy head of department, Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering, University of Bath, Bath BA2 7AY

NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible in the magazine, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed.

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