Questions raised on the pages of NCE about the Government's right to use pounds40M of lottery funding to put the A303, a tunnel below Stonehenge prompted a spirited debate this week at the ICE.
Mark Whitby righteously dangled the lottery funding carrot in front of civil engineers, transport planners and contractors at an ICE debate last Thursday. The majority refused to bite.
Throwing out Whitby's motion - 'This house believes that lottery funding should be used in the enhancement of roads' - the debate struck out against the Government's latest solution to finding extra cash for environmentally sound road construction.
This came despite the best efforts of English Heritage chairman Sir Jocelyn Stevens, who backed the motion by singling out Stonehenge as a special case for Heritage Lottery funding. But the motion was for the general principle and as member of ICE Council David Rogers pointed out while opposing the motion: 'There aren't too many Stonehenges about the place.'
Whitby argued that making roads environmentally acceptable was a sensible and practical way to use the cash offered by the lottery. He hailed the use of heritage fund cash for the A303 Stonehenge tunnel as a landmark precedent which, if available in the past, could have created a satisfactory solution on the M3 at Twyford Down.
Stevens fleshed out this point by explaining the painstaking process to gain approval for his pounds125M scheme to bore a trunk road tunnel under the ancient stones. He argued that the pounds40M lottery contribution was the only practical way to get the tunnel built.
'Without the lottery contribution we could not have raised the money,' said Stevens. 'After all, why should Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions agree to build a tunnel that doesn't improve the actual road?'
The need for political expediency was reinforced by Tej Hunjan of the DETR's planning and transport directorate, who steered away from the ethics of lottery funding and on to the real politick of how to secure extra money. 'Engineers have to recognise how government money is used,' he said. 'It's a case of how much water can we get from this pot and how much from that one and so on.'
But opposers of the motion viewed 'expedient' lottery funding as 'the thin end of a very thick wedge'. Ex-transport committee chairman Terry Mulroy, who led the opposition, said: 'If you can use lottery money for the enhancement of roads, why not for schools, hospitals or even replacing Victorian sewers.'
Mulroy was concerned for the good causes that would be denied as a result of using lottery money for environmental 'add-ons' which, he felt, should be funded from the start as an integral part of the road scheme.
He said: 'The lottery was set up to fund all sorts of good causes. Most people interpret good causes to mean arts, charities and sports,' - things, he added, which would otherwise have little chance of being funded.
Mulroy was backed by trustee of the heritage lottery fund Chris Baines, who indicated that other lottery applicants would not be happy at such use of lottery cash for road schemes. 'Today I have been sitting in on bids for lottery funds. Many had to be turned down. You should consider this when deciding on the source of funding for something that should be part of the basic cost of the road,' he said.
Mark Whitby countered this point by saying that good causes were funded from a different lottery pot from the environmental improvements - taken from part of the Government's discretionary share. He said: 'Lottery money is divided up into three parts. Government, prize winners and good cause quangos. The Government can use its share on anything it likes.'
Chairman of the debate Peter Guthrie steered the debate towards the effect of such decisions on those engineers actually working on designs. Would the engineer be compromised by the demarcation of funding?
'It's questionable to talk about 'additional support'. The civil engineer has a rounded role that includes environmental, social and cultural considerations,' he said. 'Is this additional funding the same as separating the civil engineer from a holistic view of the scheme? If there is an implied change in the role of the engineer, that would be a very serious step.'
Put simply, if a lottery application is turned down, does this mean that the road scheme was not wanted, or that environmental mitigation - from the civil engineer or otherwise - was not needed? Can the two be looked at independently?
Environmentally acceptable road schemes now have overwhelming public support and many claim that the battle fought on the fields of Twyford Down, Newbury Bypass and Manchester Airport has finally been won.
But the integrity of the Government's support for environmentally acceptable road schemes is put into question if improvements are only conditional on lottery funding. As one observer of the debate put it, 'He who calls the tune must pay the piper, and you can't pay the piper on pot luck.'