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Letters: A bridge too far?

Thames garden bridge

Can we please temper the hysterical support for Thomas Heatherwick’s monumental Garden Bridge with some rational thinking (NCE 12 June)?
First, its impact on the city: unless you are in a helicopter, it will block the view of St Paul’s Cathedral after dark from Waterloo Bridge - which is one of the best loved views in London. Then the cost: £175M for a vanity project by a nation trying to reduce its national debt is an act of lunacy when the return on the spend is to be zero. Then the environment: the waste of resources required to plant trees in the middle of a river. Finally, maintenance costs: these will place a constant burden on future taxpayers - especially when trees die.
Let’s put a stop to this madness!

  • David Cooper (F), 20 Haslemere Avenue, London SW14 4RP


When is this nonsense going to stop? £175M is an outrageous sum for a footbridge across the Thames, even allowing for the fact that it will be carrying trees.
For that money you could build four high quality footbridges and make a real positive difference to London and Londoners.
Instead we will get trees blocking views across the river and creating dark shadows to make it a no-go zone at night, to say nothing of the costly maintenance requirements - which will probably mean the plants die anyway.
Enough is enough! Let’s have a bridge, by
all means, but not at any cost.
You note that planning permission is not
yet granted, thank goodness.
Let’s hope the planners see sense and
refuse it.

  • Ian Firth,

Bechtel’s backing for women engineers

National Women in Engineering Day was a chance to focus attention on the array of opportunities for women in engineering, at a time when the industry needs engineering skills more than ever.

Women are particularly under-represented in engineering, as only 6% of the UK engineering workforce is female. Creating an inclusive environment in the workplace has shown us that diverse teams get better results and is good for business. For example, working with our colleagues at Crossrail, we have found that the more diverse the team, the better they perform.

One quarter of our UK workforce at Bechtel is female, including 14% of our engineering population. While we could take comfort that this ratio is greater than the national average of 6%, we do not. We recognise that we need to do more to foster equality, and to showcase the great opportunities that a career in engineering can offer both men and women.

Encouraging more science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) teaching in UK schools is the first step to raising the number of female engineers and as a supporter of the government’s “Your Life” campaign, to boost the numbers of women in engineering and technology, we have pledged to hold 24 outreach events this year at schools and universities across the country. We are also working with our customers, like Crossrail and

Transport for London, as well as the supply chain to engage in this effort.

However, creating a gender-diverse environment and increasing the number of female engineers involves more than just STEM. It is also about helping women to feel accepted and comfortable in a traditionally male-oriented sector. We have a company group focused on gender diversity which involves women and men, and we are rolling out training to raise awareness of unconscious bias which continues to permeate the industry.

This is already resulting in people having much more constructive conversations about specific actions we can take to improve inclusivity.

I believe that we should all feel a personal responsibility to address this challenge. Every company needs to act. Positive steps can include working with schools, identifying role models, and fostering a working environment that helps people of all backgrounds to flourish. Our industry will only benefit as a result.

  • Peter Dawson, president, civil infrastructure, Bechtel

Our industry is nothing without its people

In David Yarwood’s letter addressing the shortage of women in engineering I got as far as his question as to why young women are “…shunning engineering and opting instead for more people-orientated occupations such as medicine, law, psychology and academia”. I contend that construction is mainly a people-orientated business. We may use bricks and mortar, engineering drawings, law books and management techniques, but all of these are just the tools of our particular trade. Without the people, from superb teamwork to the subtle one-to-one interplay between individuals, nothing would ever be built on a construction site.

Despite many years in the industry it came as a revelation to me to notice this while watching a short TV series a few years ago about the rebuilding of St Pancras station. The programme was a great demonstration of construction as a “people business”. If it still being shown somewhere out in the ether, I commend it to anyone.

  • Keith Weller (M), 
  • Editor’s note: The programme was made by the BBC and called The 800 Million Pound Railway Station. It was excellent, but is sadly not available on iPlayer right now. Perhaps it needs to be uploaded by popular demand.

Yes, we should revise HS2 for the public good

Rob Holden’s eminently sensible and practical vision for High Speed 2 (HS2) has resonated with readers and your editorial (Comment, 12 June). To admit that a previous opinion may be misguided in view of a more practical, logical and economic solution is an excellent example to us all.

A revised HS2 would greatly improve existing network efficiency at a fraction of the current HS2 cost with a slight compromise in speed. What can be wrong with that? 

But is it too late to change HS2 as it stands? Will politicians and promoters of HS2 or HS2 Ltd admit they could be wrong or do we have to watch this very expensive and limited scheme proceed simply because the paperwork is partly complete and the second reading of the bill passed? Can the ICE change its mind and make a real difference? We could have the revised HS2 and build a few scores of hospitals with the savings from the current scheme.

  • Chris Hamilton (M),

Why Totex takes the biscuit, and then some…

Can somebody please explain to me the concept of “Totex”? I understand Capex and Opex and have many times sought the solution to operational problems by blending the two for the whole life cost, all in a cradle to grave approach. Is the explanation to be found in your ‘Ideas Amplified’ feature (NCE last week) that sates that: “the engineer of the future will be cognisant of the design and engineering, but will be more focused around the solution…”? I thought that I was doing just that 50 years ago.

  • Tony Farrar (M),

Roads report is well worth reading

The National Audit Office report on road maintenance is an excellent document and well worth a read. The report is fully justified in its view that the current “stop/start” approach to local roads funding undermines value for money. This leads to needless and excessive pothole filling and delayed repairs which later require more costly treatment. There is no doubt that timely intervention will, and always has, improved value for money.
Matthew Lugg’s view of ring fencing road taxes would be most welcomed by all motorists but I fear that this approach will not be acceptable to HM Treasury because of the vast loss of income to general taxation. What is required is a long-term strategy which not only addresses the current problems but tackle other issues that local roads face, for example, damage caused by utility openings.

  • Alan Carnall (M retd) ,

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