Mudslides: underinvestment leads to inevitable accidents
I found it interesting to note comments in the press last week about people expressing amazement that landslides can occur in 2011 − like it makes a difference what year it is.
As I see it there are water mains which urgently require renewal and money needs to be made available to cover the cost.
The hardships endured by rail passengers and holidaymakers trying to get to Gatwick Airport are regrettable, but such accidents are waiting to happen.
I feel this point should have been made and I am disappointed that it may be a missed opportunity to engage the general public. We need to raise awareness that much of the infrastructure which is taken for granted needs to be properly maintained.
Unless there is public recognition of the need to carry out replacement of the system there will always be reluctance to allocate budgets and civil engineering will be on the defensive.
- Tony Barber, email@example.com
Responding to the recession
Our present coalition government has, rightly, seen the apparent danger of an economy that has run itself into excessive debt.
However, it can see no other way to reduce the debt than by cutting government spending on payrolls, capital projects, the armed forces and the like.
It does not seem to appreciate that all of these cuts can only reduce the income of a large portion of our workforce to zero forcing them to apply for welfare benefits.
Projected cuts in workforce and capital projects are excessive and will result in an unsustainable economy leading to an extended period of stagnation, if not depression.
I do not have the credentials to influence leaders but I believe our professional institutions do have the resources to develop and submit an alternate practical draft strategy to set the nation on a path to stability and progress.
A real or online working group should be created to evaluate the British economy and its need − or not − for redirection.
The group should include fellow professional and technical institutions, economists, bankers, social psychologists, industrialists and the construction and service industries. Perhaps there is a need to include a politician or two plus the knowledge and enthusiasm of retired members.
It is our moral duty to offer a reasoned argument to our political masters to advise them on an engineered design for the restoration of the UK economy.
- David A Pask (F), firstname.lastname@example.org
The ICE’s response to the High Speed 2 consultation published on 22 July (NCE 28 July-4 August) was nothing short of a load of rubbish with total lack of intellect and rigour in its content.
Those who drafted this weak and spineless document on behalf of the ICE membership have tarnished our institution’s reputation and eroded our image.
We are a learned society who pride ourselves on “professionalism and ethics”, yet we end up publishing a paper that is a simple endorsement of a flawed scheme.
It is a paper that avoids the real issues surrounding the project, a paper that left me speechless at its claim to air views expressed by ICE members at various workshops. Staggeringly I attended one of these workshops but the views expressed in it do not feature in the final ICE response paper.
The ICE panel which was selected to form an opinion on behalf of the entire ICE membership and which ended up drafting this worthless paper needs to hang its head in shame. They most certainly do not represent my views as an ICE member, and I suspect that I am not alone here.
- Stephen Tanno, email@example.com
Don’t forget the West
The map of the Thames Hub (NCE 11-18 August) displays one huge flaw: there is no link between the proposed new airport and the forgotten West and South West.
The Great Western rail system is recognised only in the slow Crossrail line, and the South West system is shown not at all.
Heathrow is easily accessible by the M3 and M4 motorways, with coach links from the railways at Reading and Woking. Removal of the premier national airport to a corner of the South East on the far side of London would involve a catastrophic loss of accessibility from Bristol, South Wales, Southampton, Exeter and Plymouth.
It is astonishing that Halcrow, with its base outside Swindon, should have missed this.
- Mike Keatinge, Highbank, Marston, Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL
The reason why there is little to show for the aid to Africa is because there has been so little aid to Africa (NCE 11-18 August).
In his book The End of Poverty − how we can make it happen in our lifetime, UN special adviser Jeffrey Sachs says: “Contrary to popular perception, the amount of aid per African per year is really very small, just $30 (£18) per sub-Saharan African in 2002 from the entire world.
Of that modest amount, almost £3 was actually for consultants from donor countries, more than £1.82 was for food aid and other emergency aid, another £2.43 went to servicing Africa’s debts, and £3 was for debt relief.”
“The rest, £7.28, went to Africa. Is it really a suprise that we do not see many traces of that aid on the ground? If we want to see the impact of aid, we had better offer enough to produce results.”
- Anita McEleney, firstname.lastname@example.org
Costs quoted for offshore wind farms (NCE 11-18 August) should have included the expensive cabling to the grid, and gas turbines for no/low wind conditions.
These essential sub-systems must be included in any meaningful cost appraisal. Surveys show offshore wind farm total systems’ costs per MWh are up to 200% more than combined cycle gas turbines.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change’s latest statistics show UK Power has already reduced its CO² by 21% of 1990 emissions, and generates only 39% of total UK CO² and that coal-fired, gas turbine and
UK total power systems generate 872, 364t and 434t of CO² per GWh respectively.
Replacing all coal-fired power stations with gas turbines would provide a total 48% of 1990 power levels CO² reduction. Similar performance from all other sources of CO² emissions would then more than achieve UK targets.
Why spend excessively more on wind farm systems and drive electricity costs significantly higher? Using wind turbines for replacing all the coal-fired power stations instead of using the gas turbines alone, would provide only a further 2% reduction in the UK’s 1990 CO² per 100% replaced coal fired capacity.
Electricity cost increases increase all other costs! Our client is the UK electorate and the UK commercial and industrial community, yet, in these critical times, they seem to be ignored.
- Peter Wilson (M), email@example.com
Expediency and forecasting
While much of the opposition to High Speed 2 arises fundamentally from environmental concerns, the basis underlying the economic case merits independent scrutiny.
It is important to recognise that the analysis of revenue-earning public sector projects rests on two critical factors.
First, the estimate of cost is set at what the politics of the proposal are judged to bear; and then, the forecasts of revenue (depending, for transport projects, in part on patronage levels) are adjusted to demonstrate that the project is commercially − or at any rate socially − viable.
Neither of these factors need bear any relation to reality, and usually they do not.
Olympic Delivery Authority chairman John Armitt and his team deserve every plaudit for their magnificent achievement in delivering the 2012 Olympic Games facilities, but it should not be forgotten that the cost will have been three times the initial estimate on which political acceptance was based.
- Peter O’Neill (M), The Old Village Hall, Cocking, West Sussex GU29 0HN
French lesson in delivering attractive infrastructure
I commend you on the recent photograph of the Térénez Bridge over the River Aulne in France (NCE 11-18 August).
So much style, elegance and inspired engineering has been invested in this civil engineering road bridge.
Contrast this with our own recently completed efforts − the A421 as it plods its way through the Marston Vale or the apocalyptic scrapyard widening of the M25 between Junctions 16 and 23 with its soaring and rusting sheet piles.
Soon, other penny pinching projects will reach fruition as the A46 to Newark and the M1 widening between Junctions 10 and 13 are completed to the same dismal uninspiring standard.
When will the Highways Agency resurrect the Landscape Advisory Committee (LAC) and bring some artistic input into bridge design and when will it and its masters realise that a road is forever.
The ICE should forcefully lobby to ditch the bean-counters who are blighting vast areas of this country and give back design to our engineers.
Then maybe we will attract back into the profession the bright young road and bridge engineers who once gave it such a worldwide reputation.
- Graham C Law (M), 5 Marianne Close, Southampton, SO15 4JG