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Letters: Ministers should not play politics with water spending

The main point:

Water

Is Ofwat under pressure to squeeze programmes ahead of the General Election?

The consultant I work for is undergoing a major redundancy process in the water engineering side of the business, with the majority of jobs being lost at graduate level and below.

We have been informed that the reasons for this are that the draft determination from Ofwat appears particularly tough and as such, we won’t be getting any work out of the water companies for possibly as much as a year. It is also apparent that when the work does start to come, unachievable efficiency will be required, forcing consultants to “offshore” work to India and the like.

To make graduates redundant in this country, only to employ staff in India in their place does not seem acceptable. If we, as an industry, are left with this as the only option to be able to survive, then it would seem that Ofwat has got it wrong and we should be doing more to influence its decision making.

This is a very important issue for the country as we have already practically lost manufacturing as an industry and cannot afford to lose construction skills overseas.

It is also clear that the reason for the harsh determination is that the government doesn’t want to put water bills up because it is still hoping to win the approaching General Election.

This is unacceptable and is destroying an industry. What is the ICE doing about this?

  • Joe Andrews, joekayaker@hotmail.com

 

Must Yas Island rely so heavily on a mega-motorway?

Yas Island

Yas Island: Where is the public transport?

Reading the report on the “mega”, “massive” and “giant” 10-lane highway into Yas Island was like returning to the engineering and transport dark ages. While the waterproofing of the 40m wide tunnel may be an interesting article, the real story would be to question why such a piece of infrastructure is being built in the first place.

Surely an island only half an hour from Abu Dhabi, 15 minutes from the airport and one hour from the marina demands the design of a more sustainable multi-modal connection. This would limit reliance on the private car, reduce the width of the tunnel and create a more sustainable solution in the long term. Such a recent masterplan solution escaping comment or critique is at odds with comments from Lord Browne and FIDIC in the same issue.

We live in an era where choosing an unsustainable solution without very good reason should be treated as equal to a thoroughly bad engineering decision.

Isn’t it time for NCE to take a lead on the civil engineer’s evolving role and comment on the fundamental sustainability credentials in every project report − at the same time as reporting on the engineering solutions?

  • Robert Gully (M), rgully@talk21.com

Ballad of the bales

The article on use of tyre bales on the A421 Improvement Scheme (NCE 1 October) stated that “Scott Wilson brought this idea to the Highways Agency”.

In fact the concept of the engineering use of tyre bales was first introduced by Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering’s design and geotechnical manager David Baker, who, with colleagues, had been exploring the potential for use of tyre bales for some years.

David has collaborated with Mike Winter of transport research laboratory TRL and tyre bale suppliers to explore ways in which old vehicle tyres might be reused in engineering projects and worked with the project team to assess the specific conditions at Brogborough on the A421 project.

They were ably supported by Winter and by Anglo Environmental which was the sole supplier of tyre bales for the project. The successful use of this innovative application of what is otherwise a problem waste material is testament to the active support of an enlightened client and so the part played by Roy Brunsden, the Highways Agency project manager should not be overlooked.

  • Ivan Hodgson, Scott Wilson, 6-8 Greencoat Place, London SW1P 1PL

Corrupt culture

How very glad we at the ICE were to see the sentiments expressed in your editorial on corruption (NCE 1 October).

Corruption should be stamped out, and if this cannot be attained, it must be dealt with severely whenever it occurs. As you point out, corruption is a criminal offence in the UK − wherever in the world it takes place. There is no excuse for corruption and any ICE member found guilty of corruption should expect to be expelled from the institution in addition to whatever criminal sanction has been imposed.

The ICE does not at all agree with the arguments put forward by Peter Proctor in his subsequent letter (NCE 8 October). Your editorial, far from oversimplifying the matter as Proctor says, sets out very clearly the position that the ICE itself takes. The argument that companies behave corruptly only because others do it, not out of their own greed, is simply unacceptable. Such behaviour serves to reinforce a culture of corruption.

Corruption is always wrong and the ICE will never tolerate it.

  • Hugh Ferguson, deputy director general, The ICE, One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA

Crossrail costs versus benefits

You have correctly addressed London’s proposed stormwater overflow project compared to Crossrail through recent articles.

However, I can find no reference to how the latter adds to the ideals to which we espouse in the institution wherein a project has to be for betterment of the majority − that is the ultimate stakeholder − the public.

The Thames Water proposition has a significant public benefit that extends to over 6M of the population of the immediate area and considerably wider effects at a modest £3bn.

Crossrail, however, has marginal public benefit as it will be used by a minority of London’s residents and even fewer from outside.

When it comes to the budget cost, Crossrail’s £16bn at today’s prices gives little benefit in comparison to that of the London Tideway Tunnels.

While Crossrail has also been suggested for many years it is a complete waste of money.

The test of overall benefit to the nation should surely be rethought at a strategic level. Let’s suggest therefore to use this money more wisely on, for example, 20 hospitals, 100 major secondary schools, long overdue motorway lines, major electrification of main rail links or building a high speed rail link to the Channel Tunnel, bypassing London.

This is the sort of strategic thinking which is required. It would result in money earmarked for Crossrail being better spent.

  • Peter Hurrell, (M), 30 St Margarets Grove, Great Kingshill, High Wycombe HP15 6HP

History repeating?

With regard to your news article on the proposed Mersey Tidal Power (NCE 1 October), in the 1980s, Rendel Palmer & Tritton contributed to a detailed study of the tidal power potential of the Mersey Estuary.

If I remember correctly, the preferred scheme went no further for a number of reasons including doubts about long term siltation in the basin and an unholy alliance between those who wanted to preserve the habitats of migrating birds and those who wanted to shoot them.

The cost was also large (but not so difficult to swallow as any of the Severn options) and there was at that time insufficient political will to pay a premium for sustainable renewable energy.

There was talk of incorporating a road/rail crossing and wind turbines but I do not think these were costed in.

It will be interesting to compare the results of the new study with those from the previous one.

  • Alan Mitchell (M), ao.mitchell@btinternet.com

Network Rail is not all bad

Following your recent articles, I would like to take the opportunity to defend Network Rail’s approach to innovation.

We are a specialist contractor for the inspection, repair and strengthening of bridge structures. Network Rail has helped pioneer the use of fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) composites to strengthen structures and has used it on several of its cast iron bridges.

Over the last 10 years it has supported many research programmes looking at this innovative technology. Just 18 months ago we supplied the first fully composite replacement road access bridge and since then other new footbridges and platform decks have been constructed using FRP composites.

I can sympathise with Screwfast’s Duncan McGregor and we do have similar problems in other sectors. I would also add that some of Network Rail’s regions are more open to innovation than others so he may be talking to the wrong region!

  • John Drewett, director, Concrete Repairs, Cathite House, 23a Willow Lane, Mitcham, Surrey CR4

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
email:nceedit@emap.com

Readers' comments (2)

  • Response to Letter "Ministers should not play politics with water spending"
    Like Joe, I am have also been put at risk of redundancy due to the Water Industry AMP cycle. I don't think we can blame Ofwat for protecting the end users from price rises at a time when everybody is feeling the effects of the recession. There is always a merry go round at the end of the AMP period where water companies chose new delivery partners. Also there is often a drop in investment as the water companies digest the impact of the determination and / or change their delivery models. This affects the supply companies abilities to provide long term planning and staff development. Supply companies effectively become employment agencies with high levels of contract staff. In this situation, individuals have to accept that their personal development is in their own hands. To misquote Norman Tebbit "get on you bike and look for work"
    Steven Gazeley

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  • Regarding the above comment, I agree you can't blame Ofwat for wanting to lower water bills, but the way the whole industry is regulated is wrong and is damaging to the water industry in the long run. It is simply not sustainable to run a business for 4 years on and 1 year off and it will be increasingly difficult to recruit staff. I am in the same situation as Joe and I am also looking to get out of this industry. If I had known 3 years ago that this was the 'status quo' I would not have looked for a job in water. Supply companies do not sell themselves as employment agencies, they sell themselves as a place to build your career. If I wanted to work for an agency I would have done so and got a lot more money!
    The main point is that the way the industry is regulated is damaging it and we shouldn't have to accept this, the ICE should be using their influence (if they actually have any) to sort it out. I have 'got on my bike' but given the state of the industry I might be riding for a long time.

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