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Orr to celebrate unsung heroes of engineering

New president also pledges to defend civil engineering values and standards.

Incoming ICE president David Orr has pledged to "stand up for the unsung heroes" of the engineering profession.

Addressing the Institution in his inaugural speech on Tuesday, the Ulsterman also committed himself to defending the value of civil engineering; campaigning for the highest professional standards and the pursuit of excellence in procurement.

Orr is the second president of the Institution in five years to hail from Northern Ireland following Professor Adrian Long in 2003.

"Although it is a small place, Northern Ireland has a long and proud tradition of engineering across many disciplines," he said. Orr noted that over the past two presidencies there was the 200th anniversary of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's birth (2006) and the 250th anniversary of another hero: a more modest man who many regard as the finest civil engineer of his day: our first President, Thomas Telford."

Orr's unsung historical hero of choice is William Bald, born in Burntisland in Fife in 1789. His legacy is the spectacular Antrim Coast road which was intended to give better access for the military, open up the notoriously rugged and lawless Glens for trade, and give work to the
unemployed. This road runs along the coast for 40km – from the Black Arch at Larne to the Red Arch near Cushendall.

The Antrim Coast Road was completed in 1842 at a cost of £37,140 - some £12,000 over budget – much to the displeasure of the Commissioners. Orr wryly noted; "it seems optimism bias was necessary even in those days."

After his work in Antrim was completed in 1842, Bald left Northern Ireland to work in Scotland and France. He died in 1857 and is buried in Highgate Cemetery in London. "Despite extensive research, no portrait of him can be found,"said Orr.

"His finest memorial is the Coast Road itself, marked only by a small plaque. And that is why, to my mind, William Bald is a true unsung hero. Today, our civil engineering profession is formed not of Brunels and Telfords, but largely of unsung heroes like William Bald. These heroes work in teams and partnerships, often unrecognised, to create and maintain the essential fabric of our society ".

Orr also underlined his commitment to professionalism. "We must never let a desire for profit come before our responsibilities to our clients; to our employers; or to the public at large." To do otherwise, he maintained, would be to "compromise our integrity."

Integrity, "means fighting corruption wherever it may be found. Corruption does not stop at financial inducements. It also means delivering less than has been paid for."

Competence also features highly on Orr's list of priorities. "We must demonstrate competence through our professional qualifications, both generally and in specialist areas," said Orr.

Sustainability continues to be a prominent concern within the profession and he, characterised the summer floods as "a stark reminder that it is our local actions which cause global climate change, which in turn brings local impacts. A stark reminder of the professional obligation for civil engineers to act sustainably in everything we do."

The incoming president has made no secret of the fact that one of his "chief professional interests has been the procurement of civil engineering works." He set out his six principles of procurement as:
- the informed client
- crucial first steps
- consider the impacts
- long term financial planning
- good design; managing risk.

Orr went on to illustrate the leading role played by the ICE in shaping the field of procurement: "Together with Engineers Against Poverty, ICE is also gradually shaping procurement in developing countries. Our case studies in India, Indonesia, Kenya and Nigeria will produce guidance showing how procurement can build capacity in developing countries. And expand the local content of projects so that more development funding stays in the region," he said.

Orr's keynote speech ended with his vision for the future of civil engineering.

"To use our imagination and talents as civil engineers for the good of the nations; for the benefit of the people; and for their sustainable future."


- Defend the value of civil engineering
- Campaign for high professional standards
- Pursue procurement excellence

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