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Letters: A fresh look at some tried and tested thinking

A fresh look at some tried and tested thinking

It was with some amazement that I read Matt Bennion’s article on business outcomes, in which he cites it as “fresh thinking” that the success of projects should be based on the benefits they realise, rather than the asset created (NCE last week).

However, if, in the construction industry, this needs to be re-emphasised, all credit to him for raising this issue.

As far as I am aware, a benefits led approach has been common since at least the 1990s. My own book, The Project Workout, first published in 1997, certainly took that approach. It is also a fundamental tenet of both PRINCE2 and MSP.

I agree with Bennion. What may be holding us back is the emphasis on “capital” by government and our finance colleagues coupled with too limited a view on the project lifecycle.

In one company I worked in, we had an annual capital spend of £2.2bn. However, for those so called “capital projects” to be of any use, they also required £2bn of operating expenditure, as not every aspect of the work was capitalisable!

In that organisation, the investigative stages were considered part of the project. That company learnt that, while accounting practices were important, it was better to understand why you want the project together with the full cashflow implications of undertaking it.

  • Robert Buttrick (M), Berkshire, UK,

Short life, long decontamination period

I was appalled to read that Dounreay’s operational life was just 18 years (1959-1977), but that the “restored” site will be out of bounds for 300 years, due to radioactive contamination.

What an awful legacy for future generations. I hope Dounreay isn’t representative of our current fleet of nuclear power stations and that we have learned from the mistakes of the past. We should not be building these nuclear installations unless we can find a sustainable solution to the problem of nuclear waste.

Otherwise we’ll be guilty of ruining the environment for short-term economic gain.

  • Roger Lewis (M), 22 Wonford Road, Exeter

Fighting for our rights

I refer to recent letters from RC Button and PJ Clubbe concerning the ICE and the way it represents engineers who are not employers (NCE 23 September).

There is no need for a new organisation to represent engineers’ interests: we have had for 40 odd years the United Kingdom Association of Professional Engineers (UKAPE) - a trade union and semi autonomous branch of Unite.

Of course it is scandalous that there are engineers without jobs in Britain. It is also scandalous that we should “import” engineers while this is so. The only field where this might be unavoidable is nuclear, where most of our home grown talent is retired or about to be because it is so long since we had a serious nuclear industry.

  • Richard Hegerty (M), Assistant National Secretary UKAPE, Hayes Court, West Common Road, Hayes, Bromley, BR2 7AU

Fault finders

Retired after 46 years as a civil engineer and enjoying retirement, I nevertheless take an interest in construction projects I come across in my travels. I can hardly believe some of the things I see contractors get away with these days.

Many of the faults I note will in a few years time cost a great deal to remedy. Prevention is better and cheaper than cure.

I wonder if organisations have ever thought of employing experienced persons like myself for say an afternoon a week to go some way to resolve this problem.

There must be many of us and I consider for a small stipend we would be very cost effective in such inspections.

It would of course be essential to employ a current member of ICE and this might resolve another situation. I have noted upon retirement many give up their membership. The possibility of occasional inspection work might encourage other retired persons to remain members.

  • Don Mudd (M), St Josephs Way, Nantwich, Cowate, Don Mudd,

Making a splash

The letter reminding us of the 70th anniversary of the Bailey Bridge brings to mind a rather unhappy 60th anniversary for the Royal Engineers, when whilst putting a Bailey Bridge across the Thames from the Embankment to the South Bank site in 1951 for the Festival of Britain, they dropped most of the bridge in the river.

However, when ultimately fished out and successfully launched it provided a very substantial and much used temporary pedestrian access to the South Bank.

  • Tim Shillam(M), 88 Portland Place, London W1B 1NX

Foreign engineers are an asset

In response to Roger C Button and PJ Clubbe who did not like Barry Clarke’s comments about leaving the door open for foreign engineers, I invite them to take a look at the recent design and construction work that has been carried out on infrastructure projects in the UK in various sectors to see numerous foreign names on the reports and drawings.

A foreign national engineer who works in the UK civil engineering industry is a talent.

With the language barriers and also difficulties with adapting to a different engineering system and work culture, competing with UK nationals in the current job market is not an easy task and anyone who can do that is definitely a talent we need, and we musto keep them busy in our civil engineering industry.

If we put a cap on immigration, we should expect similar things to happen to our expats working in foreign countries. How about putting a cap on UK engineers

emigrating to Australia, the United States, Canada, and the Middle East?

If all UK expat engineers return to the UK, what will the job market look like? We are living in a global village, so let’s think globally.

  • Julio Dayton,

Decline caused by greed

In my opinion, the decline of the municipal engineer was initiated by the Water Act 1973, which removed the water and sewerage function from local authority control and by the Local Government Act, which reformed local government in England and Wales on 1 April 1974.

The trend toward increasing privatisation and outsourcing of municipal engineering services since the 1970s was further exacerbated by the merger of the Institution of Municipal Engineers with ICE in 1984, removing the qualification MIMunE at a stroke, and “promoting” a great number of municipal engineers to the elevated status of MICE! The operation of limited sewerage agency agreements between councils and the water authorities, further diluted the skills of the municipal engineer.

A subsequent reduction in the scope of the agency agreements in 1992 and their complete removal 2003/4 in my area together with the transfer of valuable council engineers to the water authorities, increasingly limited the capability of councils to carry out some functions in-house.

I was trained in the late 1960s and qualified as a chartered municipal engineer in 1971, with every intention of remaining in the profession throughout my career.

However this was not to be and I was first “transferred” to the local water authority, then “sold off” to a global engineering consultancy, and then later made redundant.

Not to be disillusioned, I soon secured another municipal engineering role, only to be transferred again nine years later, back to the same re-branded water company, which subsequently made me redundant at the age of 63.

If the municipal engineer is set for a comeback, then I would welcome it, but alas it’s too late for myself and many other ex-council engineers who have suffered similar fates at the hands of profiteering water companies.

  • K Gee (M),

Surely some mistake?

NCE recently reported a senior Network Rail board member stating that “We have worked out that we design everything 2.5 times […] we want to get that down to 0.8” (NCE 23 September).

Might I respectfully suggest that Network Rail does not reduce its design below 1.0 - the point at which something is fully designed!

  • Derek Tadiello,

Letters to the editor

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.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Lifecycle costs (R Buttrick):- This is nothing new/special to nuclear energy. Life cycle costing of projects has been recommended at least since 1970, but not always applied (to be fair, it may not always be straightforward without a "crystal ball"). Look at the Avenue Coke (+chemicals, town gas) production site, south of Chesterfield. Left like the Marie Celeste by the erstwhile Coal Board, to be ransacked including a lot of useful kit. Heavy contamination, and taking ages to remediate with mostly public money, c/o the East Mids Dev't Agency. Not to say, the Hungarian aluminium plant now in the news, sadly.
    I could think of others that must have paid for themselves handsomely. E.g. 1960's hydroelectric schemes, in Scotland and around the world.
    Good topic to revue some proven and "failed" schemes in NCE or Proceedings?

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