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Letters 26th March

The main point: Building our way out of the recession, line by line

The London Chamber of Commerce started its campaign for the building of Crossrail some 25 years ago. It is dismaying, therefore, that there seems to be yet another delay in the delivery of this vital project (News last week). It is to be fervently hoped that this delay in the award of project delivery partner contract is indeed a short one. Crossrail is vital to London and its standing as a world city.

Obviously it is a huge enhancement of the city’s transport infrastructure but a project of this size also brings with it major training and skills benefits. The London Chamber believes that the Crossrail project must play a significant role in increasing the skills and size of the Capital’s construction workforce. The ability to produce this skills legacy is even more urgent and important given the present recession.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, 33 Queen Street, London EC4R 1AP

The last time we had a recession or worse in the UK was in the 1930s and a number of public works were put in hand to help relieve unemployment.

One such programme was a fairly major extension of the London Underground, but as war broke out in 1939 some of these works were brought to a halt.

The major casualty, so to speak, was the wider extension of the Northern Line. The Central and Bakerloo Line extensions were completed.

Some of the early works for the uncompleted Northern Line are still in place - the brick arches on the Bushey Heath extension for example. Would it not be opportune at this time, albeit a little late, to go and complete this plan as part of the present scheme of things to alleviate the current recession?

John Franklin, 11 The Ridings, East Horsley, Surrey KT24 5BN


Everything you need to know

Two things have caught my eye recently. One was the late Sir Alan Muir Wood’s paper in the ICE’s Civil Engineering journal, (ICE News 19 February) wherein he discussed the lines of thrust in masonry, particularly in

The second was Duncan Codd’s comments (Letters last week) that “engineers have got a lot to learn about efficiency of structures and systems from the natural world”.

Both these topics are discussed in the late Professor James Gordon’s book: Structures: Or why things don’t fall down. It explains, inter alia:

  • Why passengers in Royal carriages feel seasick
  • Why the string of a bow should never be released without firing an arrow
  • How trees are prestressed better to resist wind loading
  • Why flying buttresses in cathedrals have heavy statues on top of them
  • Why worms are the way they are

Because it explains everything about structures in the natural and man made worlds this book should be compulsory reading for every aspiring civil and structural engineer. I try to read it once a year.

Philip Donald (F), Belfast,

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The ageless elegance of the cooling towers in the picture accompanying David Myles’ letter (Letters last week)caughtmy eye.

Surely a number of similar examples of such iconic engineering, built alongside High Speed 1, would be infinitely
superior to either the Ebbsfleet Horse, or indeed my own Ebbsfleet Poodle (NCE 12 March), for energising weary
travellers entering the UK?

Bob Pritchard, 7 Lovedale Crescent, Balerno, Edinburgh EH14 7DP

A weighty issue

Can anyone tell me where I can source the foam concrete that weighs 0.4kg/m3 as stated in your Gerrards Cross article (NCElast week)?

Peter Nicholson (M), Rudgwick, West Sussex RH12 3HR

Editor’s note: Apologies. This should have read 0.4 t/m3.

Construction can give young hope

Unemployment bursting through the 2M threshold is evidence enough of the pain being encountered by the real

Extraordinary measures have already been taken to address the banking collapse - no doubt there will be more from the G20 - and it is right that those measures be given time to work. But the radical steps taken to pump liquidity into the banking system do seem to be taking time to trickle down to many businesses.

But while patience, and persistence, may eventually bear fruit there is a much more pressing challenge facing responsible UK employers: the destruction of hope among a new generation looking to enter the workplace.

That is the most potent threat in the current crisis. It is time to Breath taking: The Royal Gorge suspension Bridge is 80 years old act if we are to meet our obligations to future generations.

Can it be right that we place ever more onerous academic and financial hurdles in front of our brightest students, only to offer them a future devoid of opportunity?

Perhaps the very conditions we now face create the opportunity for A* entrants to look at the world of work anew?
Engineering and construction are certainly not immune from economic crises, but those of us who have ridden out more than one recession know that now is precisely the wrong moment to cut back on new talent.

That is why we are reinforcing our commitment to graduates, apprentices and scholars through initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Plus scheme we have launched in partnership with ConstructionSkills.

We need now to look at making this sector a real and attractive alternative to the world of ever more arcane financial instruments. Those new graduates emerging from our academic institutions in the coming months will no doubt be anxiously asking “if not finance, where to now?”

The answer might just be a counter-intuitive surge into a sector which is still open for business - and still ready to
make career commitments for the future. As the government searches for a focus for its new activism in rebuilding
the economy, the construction industry is willing and able to be its partner.

Ray O’Rourke, chairman and chief executive, Laing O’Rourke

Is this the oldest road suspension bridge in the book?

Further to the letter on historic suspension bridges (NCE 12 March) it is my understanding that the oldest road suspension bridge is at Newburyport over the Merrimack River, US, opened 1810, with a span of 244ft.

Its engineer was John Templeman of Washington DC and it followed the principles of James Finlay’s bridge of 1801. Like most early such bridges it is not original, new deck and cables in 1909 and strengthened since, the latest in 2002. I have two postcards of it in its original state.

Union Bridge has also been strengthened with steel cables and of course the famous Menai Bridge is not the original.

A candidate for the least altered oldest road suspension bridge in Britain must be Whorlton of 1831. It is still used
by cars and moves noticeably. Its toll house is still extant and carries a notice board with the original charges.
Arguably the most thrilling suspension bridge to cross is the 80 year old Royal Gorge Bridge in Colorado. You can look down through the gaps between the deck planking to the whitewater Arkansas River, 1,035ft below.

John Bonnett,

In the mix

In his excellent article “Mixingit Up” (NCE 12 March), John McKenna has at last brought the facts of life into the prolonged discussions regarding the electricity supply industry.

He refers to the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) which, prior to the 1990s privatisation, maintained
its statutory responsibility to provide an effective and efficient supply of electricity across the whole of England and Wales by planning up to 40 years ahead and ordering a new baseload power station roughly every year.

Very sadly, pretty well all forward central planning ceased in the free for all dash for gas which ensued and has led to an almost total loss of heavy electrical and mechanical manufacturing capacity in the UK.

Even more sadly the bulk of the engineering profession has been engaged in the fruitless debate with ministers and advisors on issues other than the easy one of base load generation replacement.

Now that we are approaching crisis we shall have to rely almost totally on overseas capacity and expertise to install the bulk of the electricity supply industry’s engineering processes.

Chris Joel, Pen Y Geulan, Wern Y Wylan, Llanddona, Beaumaris, Anglesey, LL58 8IR

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