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Letters: Cumbria floods focus engineers’ minds

The main point:

Flood damage: Responsibilities for flood defence are still unclear

Flood damage: Responsibilities for flood defence are still unclear

I think the issues of open flow in a culvert becoming surcharged are well known as are the similar effects on a masonry arch bridge.

You may have noticed that a lot of old stone arch bridges in rural areas stand up above the surrounding countryside not to allow navigation underneath but, as I understood it, to ensure that the crown of the arch would be well clear of any possible flood level and so would never be subject to a positive head of water. The surrounding countryside would act as a bypass for extreme floods without the arch being filled.

It occurs to me that in our haste to bring in flood prevention schemes, we are focusing flooding into the riverbed thus ensuring higher river levels and hence an increased likelihood of the bridge arch being submerged with disastrous consequences.

Many of these bridges have been in existence for at least a hundred years and many nearer two hundred. They have survived some serious flooding and perhaps we should look more carefully at why they are failing than declaring a one in a thousand year flood.

  • Stan Lynch (M),

The Floods & Water Management Bill makes a very strong argument and clear recommendations that local authorities are the most appropriate bodies to break the deadlock over Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDs) by making them responsible for their maintenance. However we all know they will require additional funding despite the government saying they do not, arguing they can afford it through reduced duties!

We all know that is a false argument. Inevitably the funding will be through increased Council Tax or direct tax. The Tories are now suggesting the water companies should adopt SUDs. Why? They are the least appropriate or experienced body to maintain them − is it because the cost will appear as increased water charges and the government will not be to blame ?

  • Chris Tyler (M), drainage consultant

While on holiday on Arran recently I was amazed by the vegetation on the medium height hills there. It is like an enormous sponge of mosses and lichens. It must hold a huge quantity of water.

Over the years, sheep grazing has produced a landscape of short grass on big areas of our hills and government grants have “improved” areas which previously were peat and heather. A vital balancing function of the original vegetation has been lost. Downriver the taxpayer has built flood levees to protect agricultural land − again causing worse flooding further downstream.

It is time to look upstream again and change the way we use our hills so that ground cover re-establishes itself which will retain water.

That might be much more cost effective than trying to keep the water within the river banks downstream. Secondly, every flood levee which simply protects agricultural land should be removed. Let the flood plains flood: better that than our towns and villages.

  • Jim Patterson, 72 Blackchapel Close, Edinburgh, EH15 3SL

At the Ceequal Awards at last week’s Civils 2009, ICE past president Jean Venables compared the disaster at Cockermouth with the success of the recently installed improved flood defences at nearby Carlisle.

The defences, designed, installed and maintained by civil engineers, meant the flood of 2006 was not repeated although rainfall was only marginally less than at Cockermouth.

If ever there was an opportunity to be gained from a disaster then Cockermouth is it. Surely it should not be left to government agencies and politicians to be there first, wringing hands, blaming nature and offering only derisory financial help to mollify a very anxious public.

The reassuring voice of the civil engineer is essential to help public confidence in rapid action for recovery. In wartime battle parlance, what should have occurred was our “field commanders” in the ICE Northern Region to have alerted the “General Staff at HQ” with the “scouting reports” of an impending disaster. Pre-planned action for help from “on high” could then have been implemented − immediately.

In accordance with this plan, our “general”, suitably briefed should then publicly declare from the scene of the disaster, through national media, the extent of the damage, what measures were being advocated to alleviate suffering, how civil engineering could help.

This approach to public relations would do wonders for recruitment and educate the public on our enormous value to society.

  • John Forrest (F),

I write to remind all ICE members and their families who may have been affected by the terrible flooding of the last few weeks about the existence of the ICE Benevolent Fund.

We are sure there must be some civil engineers who must have lost the contents of their house, need emergency accommodation and/or funds.

Please remember the Ben Fund is here to help. We are only a phone call away.

  • Kris Barnett, chief executive, Institution of Civil Engineers Benevolent Fund, 1 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA


Beware the dangers of using composted waste

Greater Manchester waste: Is using recycled waste as compost a risky proposition?

Greater Manchester waste: Is using recycled waste as compost a risky proposition?

I see that Greater Manchester’s Waste scheme proposes that the product of composting will be sent to agricultural customers (NCE 19 November).

One can only hope that this has greater success than the Leicester City Wanlip scheme of the 1960s which was designed with the support of the Soil Association but which singularly failed to convince farmers that use of the product was more economic than contract supply and spreading of traditional chemical fertilisers. Then there were fears of trace metal contaminants, and the market disappeared.

  • John M Gill (F), Raisbeck Lodge 10 Darras Road, Ponteland, Northumberland NE20 9NX


Great George Street room rates

I wish to make it absolutely clear how highly we regard the associated societies. The societies provide invaluable knowledge on a level of detail which we as the over-arching body representing civil engineers cannot hope to achieve.

The ICE provides several administrative services to the societies including secretariat support, events facilitation, subsidised room hire, financial reporting and subscription collection. We do this so that the societies can act independently, focusing their efforts on their areas of expertise.

However, these are difficult times economically. The ICE is no different to any other organisation when facing financial difficulties and a decision had to be made on how to balance our budget for 2010. This is key to retaining support for our core elements − professional membership, knowledge transfer and public voice.

The decision to reduce the subsidy for the associated societies was part of a reduction in expenditure in all areas. It was not one that was made lightly; a lot of thought and discussion went into establishing priorities.

The relationship between ICE and the associated societies has been fruitful and highly valued over the years. More recently the associated societies have become members of the learned society forum, to engage in discussion with the expert panels and editorial boards.

The strength of this relationship is centred on our mutual desire to place civil engineers at the heart of society. This vision is even more critical now with the looming challenges of climate change, sustainable development and demographic growth. Hence our high regard for the associated societies.

  • Barry Clarke, vice president, Learned Society, Institution of Civil Engineers, 1 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA

Paying for the privilege

I refer to the article in NCE on ICE room rates (NCE 19 November) and would draw your attention to another rate hike at Great George Street.

This is the growing trend for the newly-styled “events” department of Thomas Telford to charge members to attend short evening lectures given by “high profile speakers”.

  • John Woodward (F),

Alternative point of view

Dr Barnes (NCE 12 November) has the view that Australia’s oldest and most distinguished libertarian thinktank, the Institute of Public Affairs (Melbourne), whose research committee I have in the past had the privilege of advising, is “a right wing group funded by the oil companies, so hardly an independent view”.

For good measure, he then adds that my public statements on the global warming scam “have been widely discredited”.

For the information of your readers, the following statement is made on my website: “Bob’s research has been supported by grants from competitive public research agencies, especially the Australian Research Council (ARC). He receives no research funding from special interest organisations such as environmental groups, energy companies or government departments.”

As to my views having been widely discredited, that is not to my knowledge true. Surely your readers should make up their own minds on the matter by reading what my views actually are?

  • Professor Bob Carter, Marine Geophysical Laboratory, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld. 4811, Australia

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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