Simon Talbot-Ponsonby, 47, is project director of the 10,000-mile National Cycle Network, the largest Millennium project after the Dome. About half of the route, which stretches from Land's End to the far north of Scotland, is scheduled for completion by the end of the year. To mark the network's official launch, the entire 10,000 miles will be ridden on 21 June, Midsummer's Day, as a charity event. Around 60 per cent of the network will be on lightly used minor roads, with the remainder on reclaimed railway track bed, viaducts, bridges, canal towpaths and sections of farm and private land specially acquired to create continuous cycle routes.
Route to job
After graduating with a BSc in civil engineering from Nottingham University in 1974, I joined Bierrum & Partners as a site engineer. I worked on a number of large projects, including three power stations, before joining Nottinghamshire County Council in 1976 as a graduate trainee in the Department of Planning & Transportation. In 1978 I worked as an engineer for consultant Kenchington Little & Partners (now part of WSP Group), moving to Alan Baxter & Associates (London and Bristol) as a senior engineer in 1983. I became the south west regional engineer for building contractor Willett in 1984 and then worked for a consulting engineer which later merged with Acer Consultants (now Hyder Consulting) where I ended up as technical director responsible for project management and budgetary control of the building structures design division in the Bristol office. I was also design manager for the Stratford Market Depot and Stratford Station Concourse, award-winning projects on the Jubilee Line Extension. I joined civil engineering and environmental charity Sustrans (Sustainable Transport) in 1996 as National Cycle Network Project Director, although I had been the organisation's first company secretary on a voluntary basis in 1984, for about a year.
I wanted a change from consulting and contracting, which had become very profit driven and confrontational. I am interested in environmental issues and wanted to do something worthwhile. As someone who has always cycled, I was concerned that levels of cycling are very low in this country compared with the rest of Europe, primarily because it is more dangerous to cycle here on account of the lack of cycle provision.
I am proud that we are creating something that might help reduce car use levels. My role is primarily a coordinating one. It involves liaising with the Millennium Commission, distributing its £43.5M grant, and providing technical and fund-raising advice to our 10 regional managers and their local authorities, who are responsible for constructing much of the route. I also oversee technical issues with our traffic and construction engineers and staff employed to map and maintain a Geographic Information System for all the routes. We own a lot of land, nearly all old sections of railway, and I am often called on for advice on specific problems associated with old bridges.
Having a positive view helps with all aspects of this job, as does a sound engineering background, which is invaluable experience for solving problems and liaising with clients.