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Letters to the editor

The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QX

fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail: nceedit@construct.emap.co.uk

and reserves the right to condense.

Funding fundamentals

The ICE's concerns about the proposals announced by the Deputy Prime Minister for the injection of private finance into the London Underground system are more complex than the very brief one sentence mention in Andrew Bolton's news item (NCE 26 March). The report of ICE's views does not explain the fundamental reservations we have about the infrastructure/operations split at the heart of the government's proposals.

The track record of established transport infrastructure operators - BAA, Eurotunnel, Railtrack - suggests that there is little inherent disadvantage in such a split. However, the London Underground is a special case. Traffic densities are very high with little spare capacity, the extensive network of small-gauge tunnels on the classic 'tube' network imposes more demanding engineering constraints than on most other railways, and the Underground system as a whole has one of the largest and most complicated infrastructure networks of any metro in the world.

In these conditions, creation of an additional interface between the operation and infrastructure side could well compromise service reliability and safety. A tough regulatory framework will indeed be needed to police such an interface but this is not likely to enhance the commercial appeal of the infrastructure concession(s).

Owen Simon,Manager (economic and political affairs), Institution of Civil Engineers, One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA.

Safety conundrum

The CDM Regulations were introduced and offered to Parliament on the basis of a cost benefit study. The costed benefits were:

reduction in death and injury accidents

Savings through fewer damage only accidents

The total annual cost of accidents was estimated to be around £765M but 47% of this was the 'damage only' accidents.

The anticipated costs after a more expensive first year were considerable - around £400Mpa - but much more to achieve complete compliance. These were meant to be partly balanced by the benefits, estimated to be around £160Mpa.

Statistics over the last two years show that accidents fell very slightly in 1995/96 and rose above the base date figure in 1996/1997. The inclusion of 'damage only' accidents in the cost benefit study was in any case suspect as these can hardly be considered to be accidents as normally understood in the context of health and safety.

In total the CDM Regulations were therefore based on figures which now turn out to be fictitious, with the alleged benefits significantly less and mostly arguable. Was the industry sold an expensive pup?

Stefan B Tietz (F), 1 Halsey Street, London SW3 2QH.

Dam nuisance

Mike Winney's article Tapping the skills reservoir (NCE 26 February) draws attention to the panel engineer's biggest concern - 'ancient' dams holding back the decorative lakes of country houses. Our experience of historic landscapes and of repairs to 'designed' lakes suggests that many of the dams are unrecorded and in poor condition. The article rightly points out that most owners' resources are limited, but many of these lakes are also of national and international importance as works of art. The English Landscape Park - with its lakes - is considered by many to be this nation's greatest contribution to the visual arts; the treatment of the embankments, spillways, and culverts was frequently a critical part of the design. However, it would be wrong to assume that the original designs were deficient. Records show that poorly constructed dams did fail, but many were built by experienced designers/ contractors like Lancelot Brown whose engineering 'capabilities' are recorded in his many extant lakes and structures like the Bridgwater Canal. What is frequently required - and which we have not found wanting when we have consulted panel engineers - is a respect for the qualities of the original design and a need for regular maintenance. Nevertheless, there are a number of beautiful lakes despoiled by intrusive concrete spillways and unnecessarily bare embankments. Works to lake embankments within nationally important heritage sites - those registered by English Heritage, Cadw or Historic Scotland - should only be carried out in consultation with that agency and the Garden History Society, in compliance with planning policy guidance and environmental assessment regulations. Funding for such works may be available from the Heritage Lottery Fund or, in England only, from the MAFF under the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

Simon Bonvoisin, Nicholas Pearson Associates, 1 St Paul St, Tiverton, Devon EX16 5HT.

Fifth amendment

My attention has been drawn to the letter from J Kenneth Thomas under the above heading in which he complains that, having decided in 1991 that ICE Fifth Edition would not be kept up to date after the Sixth was published, CCSJC did publish amendments to cover CDM and is about to publish further amendments on Landfill Tax.

The reason for this apparent change of policy is, of course, interference by government legislation in the affairs of the construction industry. Indeed, yet more amendments are about to come out following implementation of the Housing Grants, Construction & Regeneration Act 1996 this coming May.

Were it not for this spate of statutory interference, the Fifth Edition could indeed be allowed to 'wither on the vine'. But while there remain clients who continue to use the Fifth (whether through lethargy or deliberate choice - the latter including most government departments), CCSJC must keep it up to date with regard to new statutes, since these will apply in any event and 'amateur' attempts to amend often have unforeseen and potentially disastrous effects.

On the other hand, CCSJC has done nothing to update the Fifth in other respects - for instance, Clause 60 (6) is untouched despite Birse-Farr v S. of State for Transport.

GF Hawker (F), 46/48 Essex Street, London, WC2R 3GH.

ALWC ahoy

I have read the recent articles and letters on ALWC with some interest and alarm, because when my narrowboat was last in dry dock there were some bright orange patches on the hull which exactly fit the description of ALWC.

When they were rubbed off there was soft black material beneath, and the metal surface below was bright and shiny. The iron hull dates from 1936, and has sacrificial anodes fitted. The boat is always in fresh water, normally on the Trent and Mersey canal at Shardlow.

Is this likely to be ALWC, and does anyone have any suggestions for acceptable treatment to the hull to prevent such corrosion? If this is the cause, it would seem that Mr Mason (Letters, 2 April) is correct to suggest that ALWC is a misnomer - the canal is not usually tidal!

Clarke Walters (M), Houseboat Marguerite, Trent Lock, Long Eaton, Nottingham NG10 2FY.

Military precision

I refer to the article in NCE (2 April) concerning the new military bridging system. The original concept was not developed by Vickers but by the R&D Establishment devoted to developing equipment for the Royal Engineers from 1919-1994, namely MEXE Christchurch, or MVEE as it became.

The acronym ABLE was coined by the designer Stuart Parramore of MEXE. Incidentally, the MGB was not a development of Bailey but a totally new idea; the developments of Bailey were the Extra Wide Bailey Bridge (EWBB) and the Heavy Girder Bridges (HGB).

M A Napier (F), 20 Woodhayes Avenue, Christchurch, Dorset, BH23 4RP.

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