ROGER SAINSBURY this week became the first past president to resign his membership in the Institution of Civil Engineers' 181 year history.
The unprecedented move brings to an end Sainsbury's long-running battle with the Institution over alleged unconstitutional procedures used by Council to introduce the recent single membership rule changes.
The shock news was announced in a simple statement by current ICE president Joe Dwyer at last week's Council meeting. He stated: 'I regret to announce to you that Roger Sainsbury has written to me to indicate he has resigned his membership of the Institution.'
The news drew a muted response from Council members and prompted no debate or discussion. The meeting moved on to other matters.
In a statement given to NCE after his decision, Sainsbury explained: 'I believe that the methods used in rushing through this momentous change (single membership) have fallen far short of any reasonable standard of integrity, and have amounted to a betrayal of trust in respect of the Members. This I believe to be very wrong.'
Dwyer responded to Sainsbury's decision by expressing disappointment. In a statement Dwyer said: 'For a number of years, the Institution has been indebted to Roger Sainsbury for the amount of time and effort he has given, particularly the demands on his time during his presidency.
'It is therefore regrettable that Roger, having failed to overturn the executive board and Council decisions over the past two years, now feels it necessary to resign.' He added: 'I am personally disappointed that Roger Sainsbury has resigned for a reason that I think is misplaced. I sincerely hope that in time he may reconsider and rejoin, for he will be very welcome.'
The debate over single membership culminated in December when Council ratified the decision taken in September to push through single membership of the ICE without balloting the membership (NCE 11 January).
This allows Incorporated Engineers qualifying after January 2001 to use the title MICE and to register with the Engineering Council as IEng.
The historic Council vote in September followed a July ballot in which the ICE membership approved rule changes to give corporate status to Associate Members (NCE 10/17 August).
Privy Council approval is now awaited for this decision. Council voted almost unanimously to press on with dual membership as recommended by the Professional Development Committee (NCE 14 September).
Sainsbury was president of the ICE in 1998/99 and was seen as one of its most senior and most respected Fellows. His distinguished career in the profession saw him work for Mowlem on numerous large projects in the UK and abroad including the construction of the NatWest Bank Tower in London, for which he was named Man of the Year by Construction News in 1978.
His presidential address, entitled 'Wonderful life', charted his career, which ended on retirement in 1995 after running Mowlem's ill-fated London City Airport venture and his involvement in the firm's long-running Carlton Gate litigation with Eagle Star.
While president, and since stepping down, Sainsbury has consistently argued against moves to allow single membership. Backed by past president David Green, he recently instructed lawyers to underpin his efforts to overturn the decision.
However, in his statement Sainsbury insisted he had not resigned over the issue of single membership. He explained: 'I do believe that the concept of single membership is seriously mistaken and that it will bring harm to the Institution and to the profession of civil engineering. I acknowledge, however, that this is an issue on which it is possible to hold the opposite point of view.'
Dwyer defended Council's action to bring about the necessary changes to the ICE rulebook: 'The charges that Roger makes . . . are not fact or the case as he describes them, but are considered interpretation and opinions based on a particular point of view.'
He added: 'Roger now feels that past presidents, succeeding presidents, vice presidents, executive board members, Council members and, through territorial members, the majority of active members are all wrong and he is right.'
Dwyer insisted: 'We must therefore move forward with a real sense of purpose and move at a speed to keep up with the developing needs of the membership.'