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Letters: Underground PPP collapse exposes fatal flaws in contract

The main point:

Tube PPP- lack of control made the client nervous

Lack of control made PPP clients nervous

The news that the second PPP on London Underground has failed should come as no surprise (News last week). There are two basic elements which are needed for any business strategy to succeed.

Firstly, the processes utilised should be as straightforward as possible, not least so that managers running the business are able to focus on achieving objectives rather than handling unwarranted obstacles that have been included or have emerged in the business model.

Secondly, managers must be able to pull the levers on all major resources they require to run the business in a very direct and immediate way.

The railway industry is no different to any other in these respects, and organisations which mortgage their ability to roundly influence their own ever-evolving strategies and tactics inevitably become frustrated at their loss of business control.

The emphasis from all parties becomes one of managing contractual boundaries rather than moving the business forward, and with complex arrangements such as exist within these PPPs this diversion of attention ultimately can become strangulating.

This is not say that PPPs cannot succeed. Some have, but in these cases, clients clearly understood the straitjacket they were acquiring and that their businesses could withstand the associated loss of freedom.

The lack of proximate control was no doubt one of the considerations that led Network Rail to bring railway infrastructure maintenance in house, an arrangement that British Rail had found rather advantageous in running its businesses.

  • Richard Brown (F),


How safe was the River Rea pipe lifting operation?

Safe enough? This picture raised some questions

Safe enough? This picture raised some questions

I’m sure I won’t be the only civil engineer with a concern for site safety to be disturbed by the dangers to which the construction worker is exposed as seen in the photograph (see above) of the use of Weholite at the River Rea project (NCE last week).

It’s clear that the man attempting to guide the very large load from his precarious footing on the top of the curved and gravel-strewn top surface of the 3.5m diameter plastic pipe has no safety equipment or other means of preventing a potentially serious fall.

Among other problems, I am also concerned that there seems every likelihood that the crane operator had no direct sight or communication with the man below − itself an accident waiting to happen − if the load, which doesn’t seem to have guide ropes attached and manned, had swung or moved suddenly.

Not a good advertisement for the project or the site management team.

  • Michael Williams (M),

At another angle, the photo shows other workers communicating

At another angle, the photo shows other workers communicating

Picture this if you can: a man standing on loose dirt sprinkled on top of a large 3.5m diameter HDPE pipe, controlling a three branch manifold suspended from a double strop, wearing a fluorescent jack extolling all to “BE SAFE”!

Where’s the picture? Across pages 24 and 25 of last week’s NCE for all to see. Was a risk analysis carried out for this work at height and what was the result?

There is no evidence of a fall arrest system should he slip. Surely we have a duty to inform at least our own profession that we can work safely; what message are we portraying should a member of the general public see the picture?

  • John Fisher (M), Bristol,

Asset International managing director Simon Thomas responds:

The River Rea pollution control project was part of the water company Asset Management Programme (AMP 4), which operates to the strictest health and safety standards.

The photograph was a snapshot to show a large scale Weholite pipe in use and was not a true representation of the project as a whole (see photograph above).

The pipes were backfilled above axis to prevent movement (not visible on original photograph), thus eliminating the risk of falling to the base of the cofferdam.

The operative pictured was accompanied by additional slinger signallers who were there to support and communicate at all times.

Once the manifold cleared the top of the pipe, final positioning was carried out from the base of the cofferdam. Full risk assessments and method statements were in place and there were no accidents reported during the entire project.

All parties involved endorse strict safe working practices and are fully committed to ensuring the correct training is provided.


Top heavy structure

Antony Oliver last week quietly slips through one of those sweeping generalisations beloved of the media: “It is clear that under Labour the public sector has been allowed to get too big.”

Only politicians are “clear” about large, complex issues, and their excuse is having a dominant sub-agenda (the only truth in the whole thing which is fairly clear).

While never claiming anything so grand as “clarity”, I have a suspicion that it is not the size of the public sector which is the problem, so much as its top-heaviness and inefficiency.

This long and painful trend seems to be the result of another political “clarity”, namely that increased control by central government is the only way to cut costs and streamline processes … and it needs no list of case-histories here to show that to be a myth.

For the headline of that editorial, I would like to substitute something like: “Public spending needs the freedom to evolve creative solutions to problems at the level at which they occur.”

Engineers will be required whichever way it organises itself, so the NCE sub-agenda is still safely catered for.

  • Malcolm Cox (M),

Palatable solution

I refer to the comments on the slippery Wembley pitch (News last week). In the article it said that taking away the pitch on removable pallets had been abandoned as a failure at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.

However there are stadiums around the world that have removable pitches, including that at the Sapporo Dome Stadium in Toyohira-ku, Sapporo, Japan.

It is primarily used for baseball and football and is the home field of the baseball team Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters and the football club Consadole Sapporo. The Dome was opened in 2001 and has 41,580 seats.

The Dome is interesting in that it switches between two entirely different surfaces. Baseball games are played on an artificial turf field, while football games are held on a grass pitch that slides into and out of the stadium as needed.

Some other stadiums that feature sliding pitches include the Gelredome in the Netherlands and Veltins-Arena in Germany. However, unlike these three facilities, the Sapporo Dome has a fixed roof.

Conferences have been held in the Dome including the 2002 World Road Association’s (PIARC) International Winter Road Conference at which the British government’s representative gave a presentation.

  • Allan S Carter (M), 34 South Vale, Harrow, Middlesex HA1 3PH

Energy claim

Having read the article Power Tower (NCE 6 May), I would take exception to the “Power” description.

The total electrical output of 50MWh per year indicates an average generation of about 6kw, giving the turbines an efficiency of 10%, this I do not find surprising.

However, 6kW average or 15W per apartment, as I believe that there are 400 in the tower, would seem unlikely to provide 8% of the tower’s estimated energy consumption.

If this referred to electrical consumption only it would mean average consumption per flat of about 175W. If it refers to total energy consumption I can only think that it must be cold and dark in the tower much of the time.

On a more serious note, one can only wonder at the actual cost of the 15W per apartment in capital cost, maintenance and of course subsidy? Can someone enlighten me?

  • Derek Limbert (F), 16, Hutchings Road, Beaconsfield, Bucks HP9 2BB

Power problem

The report on Strata (NCE 6 May) states that the three installed wind turbines rated at 19kW each are expected to produce 50MWh of electricity per year, or 8% of the building’s estimated energy consumption.

Actually, the quoted figure is the installed capacity, and that expectation is extremely optimistic. Due to inconsistent wind speeds wind power is extraordinarily unreliable and I have seen quoted figures up to only 25% efficiency.

At best these turbines can be expected to generate just 2% of the estimated energy consumption.

  • Paul Butcher (M),

It’s only a northern song

With regard to the letter asking how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall (NCE last week), we can work it out and get back to Frank Grace.

It’s been a hard day’s night and I’ve been working like a dog, but from me to you something like 11M potholes could fill the Albert Hall if they all come together.

But if they each need a ticket to ride then hey Jude, there are only 5,250 seats, eight days a week. I’ve never been a day tripper to the Albert Hall or Blackburn Lancashire (my doctor says I need help and should get out more, but I feel fine) so let it be if your yellow submarine thinks I’m out by a long and winding Penny Lane.

Hello, goodbye.

  • Iain Napier (M Ret),

Your views & opinion

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.

The Editor, NCE,
1st Floor, Greater
London House,
Hampstead Road,
London NW1 7EJ

Readers' comments (1)

  • Barry Walton

    Rivere Rea Pipe

    Perhaps it is churlish to persist with the issue but is Simon Thomas operating in some parallel world or does the picture lie? The fellow is standing on the muck, on the pipe without a safety harness, is he not. Whether he should be there at all is questionable. One hopes that the incident is not representative of the whole site but that would not be any sort of defence if he had slipped.

    B Walton (F)

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

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