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Letters | Should Birmingham have a new airport?

Birmingham International Airport

Following David Gem’s letter suggesting a new airport near Birmingham, I was surprised that no one followed it up this week (NCE 19 November). It seemed a remarkably good idea to locate a new airport near Birmingham and worthy of serious consideration before a third runway at Heathrow is decided upon.

  • Ian Clough (M) 10 River View Terrace, Abingdon OX14 5GL

I was interested by David Gem’s thoughts on a new meg-airport in the Midlands to ensure viability of High Speed 2 (HS2), not just because of his plan being close to where I live. 

He suggests “both issues can be solved in one go”, but I would like to contribute by pointing out that the HS2-Midlands airport link is already solved. Birmingham airport has grown over the years to accommodate longer-haul destinations and has just extended its runway. 

Future plans to move terminal buildings nearer to Birmingham International Railway Station and HS2 will provide extra ground space for aircraft, allowing the airport to handle more flights and relieve the pressure on Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester. 

There is to be a mass people mover link, similar to that between the existing terminal and rail station, linking to the planned HS2 station nearby. 

The existing airport is also already at the very heart of Britain’s motorway and rail network. I would imagine that if a new huge Midlands airport replaced Birmingham airport and, presumably Heathrow too, the key issue would be whether the capacity of HS2, the motorway network and existing rail networks were sufficient to handle the massive increase in traffic between London and Birmingham that would no doubt result.

 Brian Patten (G,)

  • Editor’s note: It is also worth remembering that the Davies Commission did consider additional capacity at a host of sites across the (wider) south east – including Birmingham – in its early stages, before settling on its shortlist of Heathrow and Gatwck.

Apprenticeship success

There has been comment in the letters column recently about the role of apprenticeships in developing a career route for young people as professional engineers. I am privileged to be the chair of the Technician Apprenticeship Consortium (TAC), a group of engineering consultancy practices which came together in 2010 to develop and deliver technician apprenticeships initially in civil engineering.  

From a starting point of six companies and eight apprentices in London in 2010 there are now over 50 companies involved across the UK and, in September 2015, we recruited our 1,000th apprentice. In that time we have had the strong support of the ICE at national and regional level. The apprenticeship is built on the requirements of EngTech and a significant number of those who have completed their apprenticeship have gone on to gain TMICE (now MICE) and are continuing to develop their careers through further and higher education.  

Talking to the young people they see the apprenticeship, linked as it is to EngTech, as a credible alternative route to a career as a professional engineer. For those with the right GCSEs but wrong A levels it offers a second chance to train as an engineer. 

Companies are delighted with the young people they are recruiting and training, as can be seen by the growth in numbers. So, far from apathy, there is a genuine commitment to apprenticeships from the consultancy sector as it sees the need to develop the high level skills required to deliver the challenges of the National Infrastructure Plan.

We just haven’t been very good about shouting about it. You can find out more from 

  • Graham Nicholson (F) chair, Technician Apprenticeship Consortium, 

Connecting academics with industry

Recent Comment  articles and letters have noted that the role of education in preparing people for industry is under the spotlight and that the education system will struggle to keep up with the skills required for the technological change. 

An important aspect of this failure of role has been the progressive decline of civil engineering and related post-graduate courses over the past couple of decades.

A current example is the proposal to close the last remaining UK MSc Course in Hydrogeology at the University of Birmingham. While hydrogeology is not a core civil engineering subject, NCE readers will be well aware of its importance in water supply, waste disposal, construction, mining, etcetera. 

Since 1971 the course has very successfully taught the multi-disciplinary tenets of hydrogeology and has contributed several hundred graduates to UK and foreign civil engineering groups. 

The proposal clearly illustrates a serious disconnect that exists between the university and industry, which needs addressing by the government and those in charge of higher education.

  • Professor John Lloyd (F Retd), Elmcroft, Henley Road, Ullenhall, Henley- in- Arden, Warwickshire B95 

 Consultants should design

Is contractor design the future for civils projects (NCE 19 November)? Of course not!  The UK has a long history of excellent civil engineering structures created by often still highly respected consultants and contractors. The Environment Agency up until 2012 when I retired had a super project process that I suspect is, or should be, commonplace today – it uses consultants from prefeasibility stage through to detail design but with contractors in an early contractor involvement (ECI) role advising on buildabilty and cost via integrated team meetings. 

We must continue to build (excuse the pun) on our history of excellent engineers and contractors, and see joint collaboration between the two deliver projects in the future. It is pointless in general terms for contractors to develop design capability when consultants have it already and arguably focused on the cutting edge of design protocols.

  •  Nigel Craddock (M Retd),

Developing vocations

Your Comment of 19 November opens constructive debate on the frustrations of the equality issue by highlighting the A-level physics barrier. As one who moved from 30 years of commercial engineering to teaching of secondary science, including A-level physics, and then HE construction, I would limit my response to two issues.

I believe that the reluctance of girls to take physics at A-level, as identified by Ruth Haynes, is more significant than their ability or volition to enter the profession via degree courses. 

Key stage 3 performance and GCSE choice has to be a much more significant filter than any other. From there the progression to science A-levels of any variety develops the essential ability to rationalise problems into models which might be fairly tested and explored. 

The special quality of physics is the development of structural concepts of force effects (acceleration, moments and pressure), force transfer and the subsequent behaviour of components and materials. 

Likewise the development in the understanding of heat and fluid flow, and electromagnetism provides a foundation for all mechanical sciences. 

There is no reason why universities should not develop these fundamentals appropriately to their engineering objectives, but let’s hope that student expectations are not dashed at the fee paying stage when we should really be enlightening students at school.

  • Brian Kerridge(M)




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