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Letters: the next step for graduates

Next step for graduates

With reference to your news item on the special meeting called by ICE president Paul Jowitt on graduate recruitment (NCE 5-12 August), the action being taken by the ICE is to be applauded and, I hope, well supported.

It is indeed refreshing to see the ICE taking such a proactive approach to ensuring that our current student members remain engaged and inspired by the civil engineering profession.

However, your headline about the number of Cardiff University graduates yet to secure a job is not correct. There is no information available for more than half of the number quoted and of the remainder many have already chosen to do other things such as further study and voluntary work. Indeed of those for whom we do have information only 12 are still actively seeking work in the civil engineering industry.

Graduate destination data is routinely gathered on behalf of the Higher Education Statistics Agency at the start of each calendar year.

It is this survey that finds its way into the national league tables published mid-way through the year and it provides information about patterns of employment and further study or training at a point six months after graduation.

Even this is recognised as only being a snapshot of the early experiences of graduates and therefore not totally indicative of longer term opportunities.

The NCE survey, taken only a matter of weeks after students have sat their final examinations, is therefore inevitably going to contain many unknowns. It is unreasonable to include these unknowns in the number of graduates yet to secure a job.

I do not want to detract from the very real concern that has rightly been expressed about the lack of opportunity for the young engineers who are the future of our profession.

However, we must also be very careful not to damage the strenuous efforts that have been made by many to attract these future generations to our profession; something that is very real possibility if we publicly misrepresent their career prospects.

  • Professor Bob Lark (M), Deputy Director (Teaching), Cardiff School of Eng, lark@cardiff.ac.uk

Fears for the Chilterns

I am concerned about potential damage by HS2’s preferred route through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and the largely tranquil countryside between West London and Lichfield.

In order for the Amersham/Chalfont 9.6km twin-bore tunnel to be finished on time, the engineers’ report appears to suggest it could be started from both ends. HS2 predicts it will take five and a half years to construct.

The Little Missenden tunnel will take four years to construct. Connecting the two tunnels is a 2.25km cutting (20m deep). The critical path for the whole HS2 project would be Euston Station (six and a half years to construct).

On a recent tour of HS1, I was told that disruption and damage was minimised to the Kent AONB by the route being used to remove spoil.

Although spoil from the southern half of the Amersham/Chalfont tunnel could be removed via the ready-made tunnel to the M25, HS2’s timescale seems to imply that spoil from the northern half of the Amersham/Chalfont tunnel and the deep cutting may not be removed via the route – in either direction. This would result in massive roadworks in the AONB.

In addition, HS1 hugs the A2, M2 and M20 virtually throughout its route in Kent enabling easy access by vehicles during HS1’s construction. In contrast, for the majority of HS2’s preferred route the nearest road would be a lane.

I am an anatomist rather than a civil engineer but I would be interested in an expert view from your readers.

  • Marilyn Fletcher, jfletcher.chiltern8@btinternet.com


The true costs of large projects

In support of some of the comments expressed at the second round table discussion (NCE 12-19 August) on the Morefor Less agenda it would be helpful to use the term ‘total project costs’ and not ‘construction costs’, which often getstranslated as costs on site.

The total time for many projects in the UK is far too long, whether it be for a single house or infrastructure of several billion pounds. As the then executive director for BAA’s airports I authorised the start of capital expenditure for Terminal 5 at Heathrow in the late 1980s, although preliminary investigations had started in 1985. The terminal opened in 2008! The client was, therefore, spending capital sums for about 20 years with no return. I doubt if the true total costs will ever be known.

It is known that Terminal 5 was a very complicated project, with land owned by others, and with complex road and rail connections, but the construction time was about five years.

The major hurdle was obtaining planning approval, but inordinate effort also went into dealing with a multitude of authorities, political parties and vested interests, all of which cost a lot of money.

In considering the total costs of a project in the UK a significant element may well be the laws of the land, the government of the day and vested interests.

  • Mike King (F), dmgking@talktalk.net


Pricing work - in a fashion

Mankind makes a living by providing services to others. Big projects require the deployment of many skills and services and specialist firms have developed over time to fulfil these needs.

To become efficient these firms need to have a reliable and steady flow of orders to fulfil, since their expertise cannot be put on hold until such time as it may be needed, but will be dispersed to other employment.

Many large contracts come from government where the flavour of the month is constantly changing at an increasing rate.

In this way the numbers of firms with specific skills quoting for work of a particular type is reduced progressively and the client may be forced to accept ‘day work’ rates as the only way to get the work done, or alternatively accept quotes from untried and untested firms with possibly disastrous results.

There is a recent fashion for contracting firms to present themselves as very large and having a global reach in many disciplines.

An examination of these ‘puffs’ reveals that many are ancient, where the staff concerned must have been dispersed or gone to their rest, so even they are not able to offer efficient construction at low prices, hence our prices compared with Europe’s are unfavourable. I write this from the University of Hard Knocks.

  • JC Higgins (M), Glastonbury Road, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP33 2EX


War on motorists is war on society

Do we not get tired of analyses which treat ‘motorists’ as an homogenous group who may be included in some simplistic ‘cause and effect’ equation?

The ‘motorist’ is only allied to other motorists by the act of using a car upon the public roads. In socio-economic terms, motorists are as diverse in means and motives as the rest of the population of the UK, from the exceedingly wealthy being chauffeured from Surrey to the City, to a cash-only traveller living on a grass verge deep in the country.

They have in common the fact that they already pay more than enough in motoring related taxes and charges to support our road system.

The rural and suburban population have progressively, over the past 60 years, been forced by the logic of commerce and planning into a dependency upon cars. Their local places of work, schools, shops, hospitals and railway stations have all disappeared up someone’s bypass, fuelled by an assumption that the car was always going to be universally available.

Fine if you want to price car usage out of the range of ordinary folk, but all that social restructuring is going to have to be reversed if you do. It’s not that simple!

  • Malcolm Cox (M), mcmwriting@googlemail.com

What are busway’s figures Mr Menzies?

As encouraged by Bob Menzies (NCE 19-26 August) I, too, imagined a transport system that could travel at speed on a dedicated route.

It had started its journey near my suburban home weaving through a low density residential area; and ended up crawling through the town centre.

I imagined that the frequency of the service through the low density area would have to be less than once an hour, and the speed through the town centre would be around 8mph.

On the return journey my imaginary vehicle had been held up by traffic congestion in the town centre so that it wasn’t running to time, and as it served a low density area it was very poorly loaded. It wasn’t a very encouraging dream.

Back to reality, it will be very interesting in a few years’ time to compare the performance of the Cambridgeshire busway with the reopened railways linking Alloa with Stirling, and Ebbw Vale with Cardiff.

Let’s hope for Cambridge’s sake that the reality exceeds my imaginings and Mr Menzies is able to publish the passenger loadings and capital and running cost comparisons to prove it. I look forward to reading the article.

  • Roger Button, roger.button@burohappold.com

Mr Button, the figures are…

Forecast patronage of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway in the first year is 3M/year.

Actual first year patronage of Stirling Alloa 400,000/year and actual first year patronage of Ebbw Vale 570,000/year.

  • Bob Menzies, bob.menzies@cambridgeshire.gov.uk

A historical look at ballooning

Patrick Sticker asks why no one has created a lighter than air craft combining helium and hot air. Well the “Rozieres” balloon, named after the first pilot in 1783, does just that.

The helium provides the permanent basic lift to almost get it almost buoyant. Then the controllable hot air provides the extra boost.

Balloons like this, pictured above, have broken long distance records including circumnavigating the world.

  • Graham Cannon, Worms Eye Site Investigation, 52 Bank Parade, Burnley BB11 1TS

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