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Letters: Political dithering over energy production threatens the UK

Political dithering over energy production threatens the UK

I read with growing alarm the articles ‘Major overhaul of UK electricity’ and ‘Electricity reform: devil’s in the detail’ (News last week).

Simple arithmetic combined with only a very mildly jaundiced view of political posturing and procrastination points very clearly towards a disaster looming – one that our profession should be speaking out about a lot more vociferously than we are currently doing.

Do we really have to wait for our national and international politicians to decide on a carbon price before the likes of EdF can start to dig? Feed-in tariffs sound like a good short-cutting solution, but can we really wait until 2013 for the new quango to be set up, the energy mix decided upon and the FITs negotiated?

Given the open-ended nature of such a “contract for difference” it is unlikely that the Treasury will be expediting the process – possibly the reverse. But these are the good guys attempting to increase the total UK generating capacity.

The bad guys, meanwhile, will be attempting to shut down our “unabated coal” and old nuclear capacity according to a timetable devised by grandstanding politicians with degrees in human sciences, aided and abetted by possibly well-meaning climate change enthusiasts who may not have the continuing success of the UK economy and the well-being of its people at the very top of their wish-lists.

Please, therefore, let the real power generation engineers in the profession combine and speak out about the very pressing threats to our economy brought about by this failure to comment clearly and knowledgeably on what are, surely, the Emperor’s New Clothes.

  • John Moss, moss.john@btinternet.com

A better way of governance

I was very pleased to receive notification of the proposed review into ICE Governance, which I hope is being widely publicised. It seems that some of the concerns raised over the Institution’s handling of contentious issues such as the funding of new buildings and economic migration have been listened to.

To achieve more effective representation and governance I believe that the ICE should consider the following straightforward recommendations:

The ICE should undertake direct electronic consultation on any issues of importance. A report should be published on the level of response and account taken.

There should be a regular explanation of policy developments and the opportunities for involvement by direct email and within NCE.

Any letters to NCE on matters of policy, particularly where a number have been received, should be specifically responded to by the Institution, recognising the concerns raised and explaining decision.

All communications from the ICE should recognise the validity and importance of members opinions in forming policy.

The basis for membership of any body set up to determine ICE policy should be explained and opportunities for involvement provided to representatives other than large multi-nationals. A preponderance of ordinary members should be the norm.

I hope that those members who believe effective representation is essential to ensure civil engineers have a strong voice in national life will contribute to this review.

  • Chris Milne (M), director, RJM Ground Solutions, chris@rjm-ground.co.uk

Which HS2 figures are true?

I refer to the recent article on HS2 and the comments on Networks Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategies (RUS) (News last week).

It appears that Network Rail’s RUS, the Department for Transport’s National Transport Model and the Department of Energy and Climate Change emission reduction targets all predict an increase in travel over the next 20 years of 25% -35%.

Network Rail’s RUS predicts that due to mode switching the West Coast Mainline demand could increase by up to 80%.

In contrast HS2 Ltd forecast that the West Coast Mainline route demand will increase by about 250% over the same time period. The large difference in forecasts is not attributable to mode switching – HS2’s report states that they predict that “total (all modes) long distance travel in the considered regions will triple to 7M journeys by 2033”.

In the event the HS2 forecasts are correct then DECC’s emissions assumptions are significantly understated and based on current plans the UK’s major roads will be gridlocked.

Have other members spotted this disparity? Both sets of assumptions cannot be correct, it would be interesting to know if any other organisations are forecasting a tripling of journeys over 80km in their regions.

  • Malcolm Griffiths (M) malcolm@bluespacethinking.com

Don’t burden road users

In his reply to my recent letter (Letters last week) Greg Tasker misses my point, which is that the road user already pays an extravagant amount of tax and that, if local authorities feel short-changed, this is the fault of the Annual Grant allocation and not the taxpayer, who must not be seen as an easy touch.

If you add in fuel duty at 58.95p per litre, the road user’s contribution to the tax take rises to a total of about £970 based upon a medium-sized car and an annual mileage of 10,000km.

The problem with Tasker’s argument is that he reiterates the easy solution of asking for more money from an already hard-pressed electorate, instead of seeking more efficient solutions.

He and all local authority roads departments do need to heed Antony Oliver’s repeated exhortations to this end in the Comment in this magazine.

The challenge engineers now face is to deliver more for less in both money and resources. Is anybody listening?

  • Tom Moss (M) trmoss@live.co.uk


High price to pay for information

In the Civils Proceedings (vol 163, May 2010), the Institution devoted a page to promoting its new health and safety manual – causing death and injury are undoubtedly the saddest of our failings.

It drew attention to engineering professionals needing to understand and master core techniques of civil engineering. Further, it exhorted readers of the manual to consider how their contribution can make a positive impact.

It noted that “health and safety needs to be a core competency among engineers, not a mark of excellence”. So does anyone understand why, instead of disseminating information to the widest possible audience at the lowest cost, it publishes an £80 coffee table volume as its prime outlet?

Electronic copies cost about the same. The ICE continues to produce publications beyond the means of most engineers and perhaps all young recruits.

  • B Walton (F), 59 Primmers Place, Westbury, Wilts, BA13 4QZ


We need more media exposure

If my memory is serving me well, my very first edition of the NCE contained a letter bemoaning the lack of status for civil engineers in UK.

Some years later, ICE Council had the idea that by making it more difficult to qualify as a civil engineer it would attract brighter people into the profession and thereby enhance its status.

No more part-time study; only good A levels and a university education would suffice.

Did it work? Well, not so long ago there was a debate about whether or not competency in mathematics was essential for a civil engineer!

In my view, the only way our status could be improved is for officers of the Institution to enter the political and media arenas and make their voices heard on the controversial issues and stories of the day.

They would have to risk taking criticism and ridicule but in return they would receive exposure and the opportunity to show what UK civil engineers are made of and what they do for the benefit of societies around the world.

  • Stan Fletcher, stan_fletcher@hotmail.com

Where are all the graduate engineers?

We are all aware of the current financial restrictions on the engineering industry, but perhaps none more so than those recent or soon to be graduates.

In 2010 the ICE accredited 412 different courses from 60 different academic institutions resulting in around 7,000 students gaining an accredited civil engineering degree.

Recent figures from the Higher Education Careers Service show that almost 4,000 of these ‘did not’ find a role in civil engineering during 2010.
Who is accountable for this discrepancy? Is the government allowing too many students to study engineering or are the universities simply ignoring the post graduation market?

I fear students for the foreseeable future will encounter a similar scenario if we not adopt a more dynamic approach.

I believe considering the potential number of graduate jobs available when allocating the number of university spaces would be an option or is it strictly a student’s prerogative to outperform his and her fellow peers in an ever increasingly competitive job market?

I also fear this mismatch in skilled workers will ultimately cost the British economy millions in wasted money through unnecessary education. Or are we simply witnessing a huge shift of power towards an employers’ market?

  • Philip Wainwright, philip.wainwright@rocketmail.com

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.

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