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Technical Excellence: Stand out schemes of 2014

Two very different flood defence schemes scooped top honours at NCE’s British Construction Industry Awards in 2014. Described as “blueprints for technical excellence” by 2013/14 ICE president Geoff French, the awards recognise excellence in project delivery.

Top honour went to the Medmerry Managed Realignment scheme in Chichester, West Sussex.

The scheme is the largest managed realignment of open coast in Europe and wowed the judges with the way that coastal defence can be provided without heavy engineering.

The project won the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award in recognition of the way it could pave the way for more like it. Project team was client Environment Agency, designer Jacobs and contractor Team Van Oord.

Medmerry was the only project to win two awards on the night - also scooping the Civil Engineering Project of the Year in the 2014. It protects 348 properties, two holiday parks, a water treatment works and a main road serving over 5,000 households in Selby. In addition it has created 183 hectares of intertidal habitat which encourages visitors to the area. All without any heavy-engineered structures.

The Godmanchester Flood Risk Management scheme picked up the Outstanding Contribution Award; it was commended for the way the public was engaged throughout and ran Medmerry close for the Prime Minister’s award.

Plaudits for the winners were led by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, who said projects shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Better Public Building Award were “exceptional examples” of British construction projects.

“From the first spade in the ground, these projects have helped set new standards in construction but will also give something valuable back to their communities,” he said.

The calibre of this year’s winning projects leaves you in no doubt that this is an industry that excels. And that excellence is going to be in serious demand over coming decades.

The refreshed infrastructure pipeline set out in the 2014 update of the National Infrastructure Plan (NIP) shows that there is now £466bn of planned public and private investment to the end of the decade and beyond across the key infrastructure sectors.

“From the first spade in the ground, these projects have helped set new standards in construction but will also give something valuable back to their communities”

Francis Maude, Cabinet Office Minister

Highlights in the 2014 update include: £15bn of investment in the Strategic Road Network as part of a new Road Investment Strategy which will include carrying out over 100 major schemes to 2020/21, including transformational projects for the A303 and A1 north of Newcastle; a £2.3bn programme of flood investment investing in over 1,400 schemes to protect at least 300,000 homes, underpinned by a detailed pipeline of individual schemes including Oxford,Lowestoft, Yalding, River Thames and the Humber; and a £38bn Network Rail delivery programme, as well as commitments to transformational projects such as Crossrail, phase 1 of which is due to complete in 2018, and High Speed 2, phase 1 of which is due to start construction in 2017.

It’s a tremendous opportunity for the industry. But as the NIP also states, to ensure value for money for taxpayers and consumers, the government’s infrastructure plan must continue to be underpinned by a “relentless focus” on successful infrastructure delivery and performance.

The plan sets out the action the government is taking to ensure effective delivery of its key projects, identify and address drivers of high costs and to address future delivery challenges, focusing on issues such as skills, asset management, further improvements to streamline the planning system, and the integration and resilience of key networks such as transport and flood defence.

But there is also a clear expectation that with near-certainty in programme the industry will step up its efforts to provide ever more technically innovative solutions.

Bordeaux-Tours high speed line: Innovative bridge construction technologies

Source: Pascal Le Doaré

Bordeaux-Tours high speed line: Innovative bridge construction technologies

As the ICE says, civil engineers are responsible for everything that is at the heart of society, of our everyday lives. They are the key to helping delver a brighter future.

But the civil engineers of today and even more so, the civil engineers of tomorrow will need to have the highest levels of technical excellence, and a great breadth and depth of knowledge.

It has this year launched a new initiative, Shaping the World, through which it aims to pioneer new ways of working, new technologies and procedures that will support, inspire, train, educate and share knowledge on a global basis.

And that’s important, as while it is easy to get attracted to the UK’s bulging work bank, the needs for innovative solutions globally are equally, if not more pressing.

By 2050 the world’s population is forecast to grow from approximately seven billion to around nine billion. Of these nine billion, some 75% are likely to live in urban environments, up from 50% in 2010.

The planet has a finite set of resources and civil engineers are going to be in huge demand to come up with innovative solutions to keep all these people fed, watered & sheltered and connected to places of work and leisure.

And a lot of these solutions will not be lavish multi-billion pound roads and railways. They will be simple things like water pumps and latrines; simple things, but things that need to be built well. And as NCE’s Graduate of the Year Sophie McPhillips tells us this week, that is not something that can be relied on. She is currently in the middle of a three-month secondment to the Gambia working to provide clean water to 10,000 people in rural villages, and has been frustrated by current construction standards there. “I have vowed to fix it and to create a fair deal for the people living in poverty,” she says.

Technical excellence, whether on a small-scale rural water supply scheme in the Gambia, or on Britain’s £42bn high speed railway, remains essential.


Five things we’ve learned in 2014 that we should see more of in 2015

1. Innovative bridge construction and rail laying technologies are being deployed in southern France to speed construction of the new Bordeaux-Tours high speed rail line. Will the UK learn the lessons - and learn them from the French and Spanish - for High Speed 2?

2. The Dutch demonstrate a fearlessness in the way their flood defence schemes are conceived, typified by the Sand Motor - or Sand Engine - scheme. Instead of fighting the sea, perhaps it is better to work with it? UK authorities are looking - but will they be brave enough to try it?

3. The driver for Donaldson Associates selling up to Cowi was a desire to retain its reputation for excellence in tunnelling while boasting greater financial strength in depth to allow it to compete at tier one level for bigger and more complex projects. Will more technical specialists follow suit?

4. Design and planning work is well underway on the Tidal Lagoon Swansea Bay project and work on the project could begin on site next spring. It would be the first step in the development of a network of coastal lagoons which could eventually generate up to 8% of the UK’s electricity needs.

5. London Underground broke the mould around procurement in order to get a fabulously innovative, contractor-led solution for its Bank Station Upgrade. Is procurement of High Speed 2 going to enable such a clever solution to the complex Euston terminus rebuild?





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