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Letters: Should we follow in the footsteps of the medical profession?

The main point

Cold snap

The cold snap highlights the importance of transport systems


The cold snap that we are currently experiencing (News this week) has reminded the British public of the importance of well designed and maintained transport infrastructure.

However, do the lights really need to go out or the commuter train not turn up before they are forced to evaluate the work of the engineer?

Professionals such as medical doctors and their all powerful British Medical Association (BMA) regularly succeed in obtaining government influence for their well published causes such as pay and flu jabs. So why has civil engineering lobbying of parliamentary members been so ineffective?

The reason is that the BMA operates as a unified trade union alongside its regulators, the General Medical Council, and the Royal Colleges. The ICE unfortunately still operates, and thinks, like an employer’s institution rather than an employee body with the mandate to campaign for civil engineer’s rights.

In simple terms, the BMA negotiates with the government, while the ICE and other engineering institutions simply lobby.

Sustained lobbying of parliamentary members can achieve some success ,but if civil engineering campaigns want to have real political clout then bodies like the ICE must have a place at the top negotiating table.

I admit that the ICE would need to undergo some fundamental and radical changes if it was to assume the dual role of professional qualifying body and employee representative, but the pain may just be worth it.

As the ice starts to thaw this week and life returns to normal, take a moment to consider whether we should follow the example of the medical profession in the way it successfully negotiates its objectives.

  • Brian Pope (M), associate director, Central Glasgow,



What our cities need is all written down

Shared city space

Do our cities need shared space?

The article entitled Taming the Asphalt Jungle contained in the NCE Local Government File 2009 (NCE 3 December) put forward a number of positives and negatives for shared spaces for pedestrians and motor vehicles within our cities.

This debate reminded me of a book that I read some time ago entitled Cities Are Good For Us by Harley Sherlock, published by Paladin in 1991.

This is an extremely readable book, despite it being an in depth analysis of what our cities need and suggestions of how to provide what isrequired to regenerate our city centres.

The book is divided into three parts:

  • The growth of cities (a very useful historical review) n
  • The present impasse (as it was in 1991 and still is today) n
  • Urban revival (suggestions for improvement of the cityscape).

The book followed on from, and used the information contained in, a report commissioned by Transport 2000, of which Sherlock was the chairman.

I still have this volume on my bookshelf and have often referred back to it over the subsequent years for basic understanding of why our cities are as they are and possible solutions.

  • Dan Little (G),


Right to examine

As a retired British Rail civil engineer, I agree wholeheartedly with Brian Maddison and Mike Hann on the importance of using diving chartered engineers to examine underwater structural elements, especially bridges (NCE last week).

But the solution lies in the hands of today’s responsible engineers. I recall repeated efforts to save money by the deletion of specification clauses requiring qualified engineer examiners by business and commercial management.

I always refused, and on one occasion resorted to inviting my then managing director to sign a statement relieving me of my personal responsibility for the structural safety of specific structures on my patch.

He declined, the structures were professionally examined, I remained employed and the challenge was not repeated.

  • Colin Wheeler, (F), Gin Gan House, Thropton, Northumberland NE65 7LT

Road to confusion

I write with reference to the article on Transport Asset Management Plans (NCE 3 December).

However good this idea is in principle, surely in practice it will be interpreted by local highway authorities as an early step in the process of applying for the annual government grant, and as such, engineers will be instructed to give preparation of the plan a high priority.

A higher priority probably, than for example the routine inspection of bridge foundations.

And so when the next one collapses, the so-called law of unintended consequences will again be demonstrated.

Local government officers will see this, not so much as a road to confusion but simply another bureaucratic nuisance to be dealt with.

  • Chris May, 5, Leewood Road Weston super Mare BS23 2PB

Cycle right

The two letters in NCE 10-17 December highlighted the need for better design of cycle facilities in this country.

That is a need that has been recognised and catered for by the Edinburgh branch of ICEScotland during this year’s programme of events.

I had the pleasure of arranging for Hannah Reed principle engineer Alasdair Massie to present at the first Branch meeting of the year on that very subject.

The recording of the presentation can be seen on the ICE Scotland Portal

  • Michael Woods, honorary treasurer, ICE Edinburgh Branch

Road to nowhere

Road to nowhere You report that ICE president Paul Jowitt visited the showcase M74 project in Glasgow (NCE 10-17 December).

I hope he also takes time to visit the M80 Stepps to Haggs motorway just a few miles away.

This road is a folly for several reasons. The motorway itself is now undersized, having been reduced by one lane on the basis of an aspiration of the previous Scottish Executive that traffic will be reduced to 2001 levels by 2020. It has now been admitted by Transport Scotland that traffic levels in 2020 will be 25% higher than in 2001.

Also when recently asked what the designated alternative route for the M80 was, the Scottish Executive’s answer was the existing road network.

This motorway upgrade is costing over £250M, and on the 5km section through Cumbernauld it will mainly result in a road the same size as the original. It is certainly not going to be fit for purpose for future traffic demands, and it is a black mark against the ICE in Scotland that they took so little interest in its planning.

  • Nick Dekker, 1 Nairn Way, Cumbernauld G68 0HX

Biking it

Sixty years ago I used to cycle to the offices of Guy Maunsell in Victoria Street, London. The great man himself cycled from his home in Kent to the local station often arriving at the office in his cycle clips.

Cycling was cool in London then and it is now. Boris Johnson and David Cameron are keen to be seen on their bicycles.

It would, however, be much safer and popular if cyclists were given the same recognition and facilities as in other European capitals.

  • Ronald Horsey (M), Walberswick, Suffolk IP18 6U

Joined up paving

The piece about the improvements to Ashford, Kent town centre (NCE 3 December) demonstrated what can be done when the architect and the engineer work together on the design to avoid the pitfalls. Too often this does not happen.

Unsurprisingly, the architect has the aesthetics of the scheme as his number one priority. However, pavement design in rigid paving does not have a very good track record of durability in the UK.

In response the Society of Chief Officers of Scotland let a contract to develop a robust design guide. This has been incorporated into the BS 7533 series of standards published by the British Standard Institute. The series covers the design, specification, installation and maintenance for these surfaces as well as clay and concrete pavers.

However, the documents do not seem to be widely known in the architectural fraternity, indeed it has proved impossible to get them to provide input to the relevant British Standard committee.

As a result at a late stage, some of their ideas have to be rejected, on the grounds that it is very difficult to provide aesthetic hard surfacing without using asphalt, especially if large volumes of buses have to be accommodated.

Even for lighter traffic, the special cementitious mortars required often do not get specified/used. Despite the wide range of colours and textures available in asphalt and surface treatments, they often do not have the cache to meet with architects’ approval.

Whilst the role of architects in producing aesthetic designs is pre-eminent, it must not be at the expense of cost-effective engineering solutions that consider structural requirements, buildability, maintenance costs and durability. In this regard, pavement engineering is no different from any other branch of the profession.

  • Ian D Walsh (M),

Danish dilemma

With reference to the graph on page 8 of NCE 10-17 December 2009, what happens in Denmark on Monday evenings that causes such a huge surge in power demand?

  • Peter Little (M), peter@admorcivilengineering.


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