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Product of innovation There are awards for construction tonight in a one-off competition open, literally, to everyone. David Hayward explains why it matters.

What have a duvet cover which opens on three sides and Hong Kong's Tsing Ma bridge got in common? Or a Eurofighter ejector seat and white line road markings that really do glow in the dark?

Need another clue? Prime Minister Tony Blair will tonight herald these and another 198 all-British products as 'fantastic, innovative designs destined to help change the way we live in the next century'.

Yes, it is the latest public relations exercise for that love-hate symbol in Greenwich - the New Year's Eve headache of a lifetime - the Millennium Dome.

But, as responsive, forward-thinking engineers, let us for once mask all those negative vibes about the Dome and concentrate on the positive. Tonight's media call is all about showing off the skills of UK plc to the millions who will eventually visit the old gasworks site, no matter what it contains or how much it costs.

Blair will reveal the first 202 of 2,000 millennium products which will demonstrate the ingenuity of British designers - inventions that will 'make a difference to people's lives'.

'It is time to show a fresh face to the world and reshape Britain as one of the 21st century's most forward thinking nations,' says the Prime Minister. 'We must demonstrate that Britain can lead the world by creating products and services that exemplify our strengths in innovation, creativity and design.'

Three more calls for entries over the next 18 months should, it is hoped, flush out another 1,800 worthies. Some will be chosen for display in the Dome.

However, all the winners can sport the Millennium Products logo. And the Design Council, which thought up the £4M government-sponsored idea, will use the best ideas to advise budding inventors.

Despite the somewhat confusing 'products and services' label, British construction fits in well. Our consultants and contractors have for a century and more led the world in creativity and ingenuity.

We know it, our clients know it and most of the world - especially underdeveloped countries - also knows it. The problem so often is that the British people do not. And as engineers, we are not very good at telling them. But unlike other prestigious awards on offer for construction, Millennium Products will be displayed right under the noses of ordinary people.

And construction has fared well in today's first round. Of the 202 products chosen from an entry list of 1,000, some 16 are, sometimes loosely, in the civils field (see list).

This is as high as any category, bar information technology, with winners illustrating the diversity of the civils profession. Bridges dominate and the largest of four chosen, Hong Kong's Lantau crossing, demonstrates why big schemes can win, not for being big but for that little innovative touch.

As the only fixed crossing between mainland Hong Kong and Lantau island, uninterrupted use of the bridge, even in typhoon winds, is essential. Consultant Mott MacDonald responded by streamlining the deck and detailing horizontal air vents.

And back in the UK, Cynthia Grant, transport planning director of London Docklands Development Corporation until it was wound down this week, initially threw the application forms in the bin dismissing them as 'irrelevant'. But a rethought crumpled entry produced two footbridge winners - South Quay's curved opening bridge designed to be later split in half and moved, plus West India Quay's nearby floating crossing.

That most British of plant manufacturers, JCB, locked a dozen of its managers in a boardroom for three days of lateral thinking. The result was the Teletruk forklift which replaces the traditional sight-obscuring vertical mast with a versatile telescoping side arm .

Then there are the obvious choices: Aberdeenshire's solar heated underground house and the propeller-styled underwater excavator that blows rather than sucks. And the less obvious; Maunsell's bridge enclosure system which offers protection and access.

The Design Council will not admit it, but finding another 1,800 winners could prove a struggle. All the products must be 'completed' between 1995 and 1999 - sorry, Channel Tunnel - and the next entry round is open until the end of July.

There are no civil engineers and only one architect on the 50- strong panel of judges, so the challenge is further heightened. Come on industry, let us show Britain that UK construction is alive and leading. Phone the Design Council now on (0171) 420 5200 - and be a winner.

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