The ICE held a Special General meeting on 31 July in response to concerns about the ballot on the Institution’s corporate governance structure held earlier that month. The majority of the more than 200 people at the meeting voted for a new ballot and voted to censure the ICE for its lack of consultation with the membership about the proposed governance reforms.
I attended the Special General Meeting at the ICE on 31 July as a supporter of the resolutions and was not persuaded by the arguments made against them. Several of those who spoke against the resolutions said that to try to overturn the results of the governance ballot would make the ICE appear to the outside world to be divided and may damage our reputation, as if those could ever be reasons for not doing what is right.
All the resolutions were passed and the Council now has a lot of work to do. This situation could have been avoided if the Council had been bold enough to postpone the governance ballot when the SGM was requisitioned in early June instead of trying to push their proposals through using a somewhat disingenuous two-page spread of “FAQs” in July’s New Civil Engineer and on the ICE’s website.
- Gordon Heath (M retd), Pinner, Middlesex
I was one of those who voted for (most) of the Council’s suggestions during the ballot, but I became more and more concerned as additional details emerged about the plans.
In the end I attended the SGM, and as a result of listening to the arguments I decided to vote in favour of the resolutions being discussed (ie against the Council’s position).
There were very wide-ranging changes discussed or hinted at in the SGM that I had been completely unaware of at the time of the membership ballot. Even after two hours of discussion I felt that we had barely begun to cover the impact of the changes.
At the moment, the plans seem to me to amount to a bonfire of the ICE’s current rules and traditions, without clear justification.
Personally, I believe that some trustees need to be directly elected by the members (the current plan allows for three to be selected by some unknown process from the elected Council, and a further nine to be appointed, so elected representatives can always be outvoted).
- Stephen King, Posted online on article headed “ICE members vote for new ballot on governance”
I voted against the SGM resolutions as I agree with the governance changes – they embody good practice recommended by government.
The requisitioners want more consultation. Why? Don’t we trust our elected Council? Do we want to be governed by referenda after Brexit?
It’s good to have checks and balances – particularly from those of mature years.
But whatever the merits of more consultation, this egregious challenge to Council is surely an unnecessary distraction from the ICE’s proper business of assuring the nation’s infrastructure.
- Mike Napier FICE
Out of touch Institution?
The recent controversy about the ICE not consulting adequately with members about governance changes left me somewhat underwhelmed.
If, like me, you work in the north of England as a municipal engineer primarily involved in maintenance schemes, the Institution possibly never felt much like your Institution anyway.
I view the ICE as a networking club, seemingly run from afar by a collection of consultants and contractors who meet at a very plush office at Great George Street that I’ve only had occasion to visit about three times in 30 years. I see a lot of pictures of engineers at black tie events in London that seem completely at odds with the day to day of my work. I don’t begrudge people these events but, on a personal level, I simply can’t relate to them.
Moreover, the argument that the ICE is a learned organisation that benefits all its members loses a certain amount of credibility when its training arm, Thomas Telford Ltd, rarely organises courses north of Birmingham. It certainly offers more benefits to engineers who live in the South East rather than those who live in the North.
I look at the figures quoted for schemes like High Speed 2 (HS2) and cringe. The £58bn for HS2 compares with under £600,000 that the government provided this year to maintain the 360-plus highway structures in Bolton. The government is not awash with cash and cannot fund infrastructure maintenance and major capital projects like HS2, so choices have to be made. The ICE, verbalised through New Civil Engineer, seems to have come down firmly in support of new build. It’s the kind of sexy stuff that guys in black ties can talk about. Again, I can’t relate to it. It seems nonsensical to me to build new things when you can’t even look after what you already have. It simply increases the nation’s volume of decaying stock.
If all this sounds like the whinging of someone unhappy in his job, it isn’t. I love my job, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my career and I have plenty of positive things to be getting on with. I simply make the point that perhaps I love my work despite the ICE, rather than because of it and that it’ll take rather more than a bit of consultation to sort out the disconnect with me and any other members like me.
- Jon Tuson (M) email@example.com
System of thought
Mark Hansford rightly asks what our biggest infrastructure challenges are (Comment, last month).
May I suggest one that he misses – but which is highlighted on page 34 of the same issue in an article by Jackie Whitelaw – joined-up thinking.
She quotes Transport for the West Midlands’ Mike Waters as saying “we have to change behaviours, hearts and minds”. But this applies not only to the travelling public but also ourselves as infrastructure professionals and the way we think about what we do.
The swanky word for joined-up thinking is systems-thinking. This kind of mind-set is being advocated by the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as being an important part of our reaction to Grenfell as stated by Dame Hackitt. In her report she writes “A cultural and behavioural change… is now required… to deliver an effective system that ensures complex buildings are built and maintained so that they are safe for people to live in for many years after the original construction”. Indeed Dame Hackitt uses the word “system” 301 times and refers to the need for “a holistic or ‘whole system’ approach to new construction and refurbishments”.
- David Blockley, Emeritus Professor University of Bristol, firstname.lastname@example.org
Although they read as unnecessary and mean-spirited, John Roberts’ comments about the beautiful competition-winning design of the Tintagel Bridge do raise a very important point (Your View, last month). There are far too many infrastructure projects in the UK – including many major projects – which are granted planning permission with insufficient detail to be sure of the quality of the built product, or where the quality promised at planning stage is subsequently hugely eroded, and the public is left short-changed or misled by clients and designers.
The quality of infrastructure built in the UK would be hugely improved if the planning system required projects to be as well designed as the Tintagel Bridge. In turn, this would reward bold clients and inspired designers, like English Heritage, Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates, with the integrity and determination to build high-quality infrastructure with lasting value.
- Martin Knight, Knight Architects, email@example.com
Well, what a kerfuffle over a little footbridge! I refer, of course, to the controversy surrounding the proposed Tintagel Castle footbridge (The Edit, last month), to be constructed under the auspices of English Heritage, to whom I have already written with concerns about questions it might ask its designers.
I agree with the majority of John Roberts’s letter “Flawed Design Competitions” in the same issue, and in particular with his observation that architects should never pretend to be engineers. Of course, that will not stop them trying.
It seems that one of the reasons English Heritage selected this as the winning design is that it contains this unique and desirable feature of a “gap” between the mainland side and the island side, representing a transition from one space to another. However, if the real concern is that of visual intrusion, the most slender design possible is surely the right solution – afforded by a continuous structure, but disguised as “two 30m cantilevers reaching out and almost touching in the middle” (English Heritage blurb).
I’m no bridge designer, but I am a construction engineer, and the problems of access to the site have been well-promulgated. So, how about this? The deck is separated at the centre – giving English Heritage the opportunity for a “gap” – but structurally, each side leans against the other (pinned joint), with a slight arch at the centre for the lowest design temperature. This amounts to a continuous structure, affording slenderness. The pedestrian deck could show a “gap”, but the main structure would be effectively continuous.
Or is this engineering idea just too crazy for the architects?
- Mike Franklin (F, retired), firstname.lastname@example.org