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Marching to the same tune

The British Geotechnical Society and the ICE Ground Board will merge next month to form the British Geotechnical Association.

After more than 50 years of serving the UK geotechnical industry, the British Geo-technical Society will cease to exist next month, with formal approval of its merger with the Institution of Civil Engineers Ground Board to form the British Geotechnical Association.

A joint BGS/Ground Board committee has been in place since January, following BGS members'overwhelming yes vote to the merger in December last year. Full-transition will take place at the final BGS annual general meeting at the beginning of June. The last hurdle, the change of the learned society's statutes to bring it in line with the Charities Commission guidelines, is being voted on by postal ballot this month.

The BGS has been around in one form or another since 1949, when the first meeting of the British National Society of the International Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering was held. In 1954, the society changed its name to the British National Society of Soil Mechanics and Foundation Engineering. In 1964 it became the British Geotechnical Society, after affiliation with the International Society of Rock Mechanics. The Ground Board was set up by the ICE in 1981 to run in parallel with BGS. A merger has been proposed before but talks on the subject between the BGS and ICE collapsed in 1995.

The idea behind the merger was to create a single and more powerful voice for UK geotechnics and ground engineering within the civil engineering industry as well as in government, in client bodies and internationally, BGS chairman Quentin Leiper explained at the time of the vote.

'Geotechnical engineering has been shown to be a key discipline underpinning a number of civil engineering and other activities and there is a large geotechnical constituency within the UK, ' he said.'The present fragmented arrangements of BGS, Ground Board andlocal geotechnical groups do not provide a coherent focus for best serving the needs of geotechnical practitioners or of effectively promoting best practice and show no signs of doing so.'

John Burland, professor of soil mechanics at Imperial College, who chaired the vision group setup to explore options for a single body, added at the time: 'There can be no question that there is an urgent need for a single dynamic democratic body to provide a technical, professional and educational focus for geotechnical matters in the UK and which is open to all interested persons.'

ICE chief executive Mike Casebourne commented: 'We are delighted BGS members have given ICE a strong vote of confidence and are looking forward to seeing an enrichment of ICE activities through involvement of the full geotechnical community.'

The BGA's vision is to 'provide the focus for all technical, professional and educational matters relating to geotechnical engineering in the UK and will represent the views and aspirations of the wider geotechnical community. It will ensure that geotechnical engineering is recognised and properly valued for its role as a key discipline in the practice of civil and environmental engineering, construction, the extractive industries and other industrial activities.'

As well as its learned society role, the BGA will aim to promote the importance of geotechnics insustainable development, to provide advice on geotechnical education, training and accreditation and to promote continuous professional development. It also hopes to play an important role in promoting and facilitating licensing of geotechnical professionals and specialists.

Most of the BGA executive committee will be democratically elected (ICE holds two nominations, one from ICE Council) and committee members will not have to be members of the ICE. Chairand vice-chair will be elected by members of the executive committee. Leiper will be the first chairman of the association, succeeded by vice-chairman Professor Barry Clarke of Newcastle University in June2001, for a full two-year term.

It is hoped that a single body will significantly boost membership, which has been static for many years. Membership will be open to anybody 'actively interested in any aspect of geotechnical engineering'. Richard Driscoll of BRE has been appointed by the executive committee to take the lead inincreasing membership. Particular emphasis will be placed on encouraging younger engineers to join.

'We have some ideas and will be putting a lot of energy into membership growth over the next two years, ' Leiper says. At the annual Rankine Lecture in March he laid down a challenge to BGS, calling on each member to find one other member over the next 12 months.ICE Ground Board chairman Neil Buchanan hopes that ICE members with an interest in geotechnics but who are not members of the BGS will be encouraged to join the BGA.

'Success will depend on the participation of everyone in the geotechnical community and I look toall members of the Institution who are interested in geotechnical matters to contribute to its future, ' he says.

'It will be a great opportunity missed if ICE members do not follow the lead of the institution in reaching out to related specialist interest groups of the construction industry.'

The BGA will take over the BGS website, launched in January, which includes a directory of both individuals and companies. In February the website recorded an astonishing 45,000 page impressions - about one quarter of the ICE's monthly traffic.

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