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Transport: professionals must take a stand


On the letters page this week, NCE has been taken to task for actively supporting and encouraging the construction of new road schemes through our 'Stop the Transport Cuts' campaign. Through our actions in coming off the fence we are accused of placing 'engineers and our Institution in a poor light'.

Worse still, by talking frankly we - and the ICE - risk perpetuating 'an antiquated, road-obsessed image' of the profession.

Both letters on the subject make their points very coherently. But of course I disagree profoundly with the comments made. Yes, it is vital for the profession - and that includes NCE - to get the facts right and portray itself in the best light, and I remain confident that for our part, NCE continues to deliver.

Perhaps I should explain why.

First let me clear up one thing absolutely. NCE is raising the issue of transport spending as an independent magazine. We are not acting on behalf of the ICE or any other body (by the way, under the terms of its Charter, the ICE is precluded from engaging in any form of lobbying activity).

The campaign is driven by NCE and its journalists. We represent our readers - which just happen to be most of the ICE's membership.

I mention this because it makes an important difference to how we approach the campaign. As a professional institution, the ICE has to take care to reflect all the arguments, to consider them and to produce a learned and well-reasoned conclusion. As a business magazine NCE must certainly stick to the facts but has much more freedom to 'shoot from the hip' and to reach conclusions - and hopefully actions - much more quickly.

Hence our decision to pick 10 schemes to highlight the need for investment in UK transport.

Not everyone will agree with the choice, or the reasons for choosing them. But having them gives us a focus for explaining the wider issues.

Backing road construction in the UK will always be controversial in much the same way that backing the construction of just about anything will. But the fact is that, alongside alternative modes of transport, it quite often makes great sense to get on and build things. The schemes on our list - the A303, the M1, the A406 and the M74 are prime examples.

Yes, there will be environmental issues to manage, and manage them we must. As a profession I am quite comfortable that the engineers in charge know what they are doing and behave responsibly. I am not comfortable with extended public inquiries and relentless project reviews.

So having set out the case for 'Stop the Transport Cuts' to the profession and largely garnered great support, NCE now intends to make the point far and wide.

We have no illusions about precisely what impact it will have on Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review.

But we want to ensure that as many people as possible are at least talking about transport in the UK. To do this we must take a risk and talk about realistic solutions rather than simply continuing to dominate the sensible middle ground.

If you haven't responded yet, do so today using the petition on page 17 if you like. Don't forget - acting professionally implies actually doing something.

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