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Letters: Both major political parties will fail to deliver SUDs policy

The main point:


In a muddle: SUDs policy needs to be resolved

We would echo Joe Andrews’ comments (Letters 15 October) about politics and water but in relation to flooding. We are the steering group of the Yorkshire & Humber (Flood and Water Management) Learning and Action Alliance (Y&HLAA).

We eagerly awaited the draft Flood and Water Management Bill following the government’s “acceptance” of Sir Michael Pitt’s recommendations. What became apparent, however, was that the government’s promise to “fully fund all new duties” was not what it seemed. The most expensive ongoing commitments for councils under the draft Bill are for staff to manage the new duties and the adoption and maintenance of sustainable drainage systems (SUDs).

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra ) has consistently claimed that money has already been put into local government allocations to cover the staff and that major savings are to be made from the adoption of private sewers. This renders further “revenue” funding for SUDs unnecessary, which is Defra’s stance.

It has not been possible to identify the cash injections − in West Yorkshire Council grants, at least − and the alleged savings arising from transfer of private sewers if any have been proved to fall far short of what is required. Defra has apparently rejected the idea of commuted sums being levied for maintenance of SUDs because it is “indirect taxation”.

Commuted sums continue to be applied to highway adoptions, however, and if SUDs are used to drain the highway there will be no money to maintain them.

The Defra committee criticised the shortcomings of the Bill and recommended postponing it, partly because of shortage of parliamentary time and partly so it could be extended to live up to Sir Michael’s aspirations. However, Defra is proposing to introduce a shorter Bill, presumably to show that government was able to respond to the 2007 events.

The Department of Communities and Local Government has put a revision to planning policy statement (PPS) 25 out for consultation which seeks only to make an amendment to definitions of functional flood plain and vulnerability classifications. This misses a golden opportunity to reduce peak discharge to sewers and watercourses by imposing sensible limits on brownfield development. PPS 25 is currently far too lenient in this area. No one in Westminster seems at all concerned about this in spite of considerable lobbying through consultations over the last two years or more and research documents which recommend it.

Finally, to show that the Bill generates cross-party failings, the Tories have criticised the government for not getting the Bill out sooner but in the same week announced that they would not guarantee doing so themselves in the first session of a Tory-led parliament.

  • Howard Glenn (M), for Steering Group of the Y&HLAA,


We must change the way we live, not the way we travel

High speed

On the wrong track? A high speed train’s energy consumption can be up to twice that of a conventional one

Like Antony Oliver (NCE 8 October) I am a great fan of railways. However high speed trains are not as sustainable as many would like to believe.

The energy consumption of a train travelling at 350km per hour is roughly twice that of a conventional one.

One study has found that it would take 60 years to recover the energy costs of constructing and operating a high speed link from London to Glasgow and then only if the market share of the railway relative to air increased from 15% to more than 60%.

A railway line to Manchester would not recover its energy costs even if there were a complete shift from air to rail.

We still live under the illusion that more and better technology will be the answer to our problems rather than facing the uncomfortable truth that we will actually have to change the way we live to avoid a global catastrophe.

  • Martin Mansell (M) University of the West of Scotland, Paisley PA1 2BE


Atkins gave no warning to Ofwat

Your article entitled “Atkins issues warning to Ofwat over water future” (NCE 22 October) is inaccurate and misleading. The facts are that Atkins has not issued a warning to Ofwat, nor is it “taking the fight” to the regulator. Equally, our chief executive is not holding emergency talks with Ofwat.

I can confirm that 114 water business employees in Atkins faced redundancy in September We would expect to redeploy a proportion of these colleagues, but with regret, it is unlikely that this will be near the 104 figure that was incorrectly quoted in the original NCE article.

I would like to repeat here the apology that I have made directly to those staff being made redundant and those at risk of redundancy for any additional discomfort that the article and the subsequent weblog has added to what is already an unfortunate and difficult process of change.

Atkins is however actively and constructively engaging in a wider debate to highlight the impact of the AMP cycle on the water industry, which is having such a stark compounding effect during the current recession.

It is clear that the regulatory process has driven significant efficiencies in the industry since privatisation, as evidenced for example by the generally modest annual increases in consumer prices compared to those of other utilities.

However, it is becoming starkly clear in the current circumstances, that five year targets on their own are not providing enough stability to allow companies to follow through on training programmes nor, we would argue, are they doing enough to engender a culture of innovation and continuous improvement which will be essential to ensure UK water companies remain world class.

We told NCE: “The UK has one of the best water regulatory frameworks in the world, however it operates on a five year stop-start cycle. When the dip in the five year AMP cycle coincides with the deepest recession since water privatisation, the unintended consequences are that the sector will lose its ability to continue to innovate and maintain and develop skills.

“As the UK’s largest engineering design consultancy Atkins routinely talks with government and regulators across many sectors about difficult issues like this.”

  • Graham Roberts managing director, Atkins, Water & Environment, Atkins, Euston Tower NW1 3AT

Cover pricing’s tangled history

I have followed the recent correspondence on cover pricing with some wry amusement. I cut my teeth in local government more than 60 years ago but then spent 17 years with various contractors before returning to the fold. I can remember when “select tendering” became the vogue.

Prior to that it was customary for the local authority to advertise in publications such as Contract Journal, whereby prospective tenderers could receive tender documents on payment of a deposit − of between £2 and £7, refundable on receipt of a bone fide tender.

I remember, as a junior engineer, sending off no less than 70 sets of documents for one scheme − most of which came back with tenders! Local authorities were instrumental in welcoming the “select” system, which obviously reduced the paperwork.

Now, working for a contractor, I saw at first hand, both the old and new systems. It soon became apparent that some councils failed completely to understand the realities of a contractor’s life.

My firm once had three tenders accepted within two weeks, which stretched us considerably but, having just been invited to tender for a fourth, my boss was a bit frantic.

That particular local authority made a practice of deleting from the list − permanently − any contractor who, when invited, failed to submit a tender.

It was in those circumstances that he resorted to the “cover price” practice. Wrong, no doubt, but completely understandable.

There was, however, so far as I am aware, no question of any “deal” involved. I am sure that this was the case for most such arrangements.

When I became a chief officer with another local authority, I was at pains to ensure that all prospective tenderers were fairly treated and if a contractor was fully engaged it would be far better for him to be able to say so without fear of losing out on future work.

  • A David Negus (M retd)

Publish and be praised

I found it interesting reading the British Construction Industry Awards supplement last week.

May we be let into the secret of who the main contractor was for the winner of the Conservation Award, the St Martin-in-the-Fields renewal? Considering the project was also nominated for the Building Award it seems invidious to ignore the people who actually carried out the work − the contractors.

  • Ian Hemmin, 53 Tuffnells Way, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 3HA

Editor’s note: You are quite right to point this out Mr Hemmin. The main contractor was Costain. Well done to all.

Questioning global warming

Antony Oliver (NCE Comment 8 October) would not feel so bad about flying to Scotland if he took a little time to look at the scientific evidence against the hypothesis of man made, or anthropogenic, global warming.

A good start would be with professor Robert Carter’s 2008 paper Knock Knock: Where is the Evidence for Dangerous Manmade Global Warming, which covers most of the bases.

I’m a recent convert and feeling currently somewhere between a flat earthist and a holocaust denier − but the evidence is very compelling.

It seems rather odd that given such cogent argument that there isn’t more debate on the issue and in particular why the IPCC, now somewhat discredited, is constantly cited by politicians and some scientists as the universal authority.

Carter’s view is convincing particularly where he talks about the earth’s temperature history and its relationship with solar activity. What seems clear is that the earth’s temperature has always varied and that the variations measured recently are not unusual.

Trying to solve a problem that does not exists will cost developed nations billions and will stunt the economic growth of those less well developed.

  • Michael Robinson (M) 30 Kings Avenue, Muswell Hill, London N10 1PB

Your views & opinion

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.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

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