Following the article on Twyford Down (New Civil Engineer, April 2018) and the letters from Geoff Thornton and Malcolm Chappell (New Civil Engineer, last month) I seek to provide a little balance.
There are two things one does in life at one’s severe peril. The first is to fail to understand or to ignore the laws of physics (cars and seat belts is a good example); the second is to ignore or to fail to understand the laws of economics. It must be remembered that the extension of the M3 was planned and constructed in the teeth of the 1990 to 1995 recession when the industry and the country as a whole was in severe economic pain.
As a Fellow of the Institution, a resident of Chandlers Ford and a regular user of the “old road”, I welcomed the completion of the works which brought many local benefits. It was not uncommon to sit in a 8km long standing queue of traffic at the infamous Hockley Traffic lights with all the pollution and economic loss that goes with it. On a Friday night in the summer the queue often extended back to Winchester and caused the city to clog with traffic seeking a faster alternative route. At the time of the public inquiry it was a simple and stark choice “build the road as it now is and build a hospital somewhere, or put the road in a tunnel and forgo the hospital.” The simple concept of opportunity cost.
I would have preferred a tunnel solution, but welcomed the road as a much needed local improvement and connection to Southampton Docks. We have to avoid the trap of making “statement” projects just because we can, without the simple yet important analysis of “what can we afford?”. Let us not beat ourselves up. We did what we could and we have to take care of the costs.
- Geoff Taylor (F), 3 Quebec Mews, London, W1H 7NX
I am another highway engineer (retired) who is increasingly concerned about the UK’s infrastructure planning process. I agree with other writers that Twyford Down was an unmitigated environmental disaster, pushed through by politicians and career officers (probably including ICE members) needing a major achievement on their CVs, indifferent to the huge adverse effects on environment and landscape, and of course continuing to increase traffic pollutants.
The flawed process continues – identification of perceived problems and limited solution options to suit the proposers, leading to an unsatisfactory Transport Works Act Orders procedure and public inquiry, with totally unbalanced consultation and undemocratic decisions on the way. The £1.6bn diversion of the M4 in south Wales is in some ways similar to Twyford Down, a flawed proposal across the precious Gwent Levels. I am working with many others to avoid another environmental catastrophe, combating ridiculously limited alternative options, incorrectly frightening traffic figures, withheld congestion statistics, and so on, followed by brutal cross examination, akin to a criminal court, throughout the year-long public inquiry. I was particularly annoyed that ICE Wales Cymru publicly promoted the scheme.
We hope that strong views against the motorway by the Future Generations Commissioner (a new and positive Welsh initiative) and Natural Resources Wales, or maybe the sky-high cost, will kill it. If so, perhaps it will be a precedent for better infrastructure decision-making.
We in the ICE should do much more to highlight the short-termism, which is adversely affecting our future generations and the planet.
- Vic Warren (M), email@example.com
Is there value in value engineering?
My thanks to New Civil Engineer for the article “Post-Grenfell standards review throws spotlight on professionals”. I am a building surveyor, and I think Fiona McIntyre has done an excellent job. I do have one criticism: Hackitt should have been challenged when she said: “Nobody is saying you can’t do value engineering, providing you’re doing proper value engineering”.
“Value engineering” is a euphemism for cutting costs; that is the objective. In public service works there is always, in my experience, a need to design down to the available budget.
Lord Denning had something to say about the responsibility of local authority building control officers in the 1977 case Anns -v- Merton. However, the House of Lords overturned this in 1990, in the case of Murphy v Brentwood District Council. If indeed a value engineering process was involved at Grenfell it is to be hoped that this will finally lay such exercises to rest.
- Peter Williams, Sunbury-on-Thames, Surrey TW16 7QX
Project 13’s limited industry appeal
Reading Emily Ashwell’s article in the June edition, one wonders if Project 13 will have any greater impact than its predecessors prompted by Latham, Egan and others. Such evangelical exercises commonly have much success in
a small circle of enthusiastic disciples, giving some good headline stories, but they have no traction in a wider field.
One needs to have a family of clients and suppliers who grow together over an extended period, rather than a disparate group thrown together for a particular project.
I represented the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) at a series of meetings in the late 1990s when the Department of Education and the Treasury were pressing for integration as a means of improving the process. Our interest at DCMS was that design quality should not be prejudiced. While a poor process may cause delay and additional cost, they are soon forgotten. But a poor design means a poor building for its whole life. The Royal Institution of British Architects fought tooth and nail against integrated project teams, which they regarded as “design and build” writ large, for this reason. They recognised that the architect, being commercially much smaller than the contractors, was always likely to be overruled at crunch time.
How will Project 13 create the family relationship between companies that do not know each other? And how will design quality be protected against commercial realities?
- Mike Keatinge, Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset DT9 4BL
Accurate cost predictions
It was absolutely correct for the Editor to comment that the issue of an overspend of £500M on a budget of £15bn established way back in 2008 should be regarded as a success for the British construction industry (Comment, last month).
Having been involved in the estimating of major projects over many years, one can but offer congratulations to those who prepared the original estimates. These original estimates were, of necessity, based on designs which were by no means complete and had to take into account inflation since 2008. There are so many other issues that can have a major impact on the final outturn cost.
Sprayed concrete lined tunnels below whitechapel 66794
While it is not difficult to compare final cost of projects with the original estimates, it is essential to consider the actual “value” of the final project.
I would suggest that as a result of considerable “value engineering” of many sections of Crossrail, the final benefits to the end user will have been considerably improved.
It is hoped that the monitoring and control of costs has been stringent to ensure that contractors and designers have not been paid over the odds and that properly audited accounts are made available to ensure that public funds have been spend prudently.
- Derek Godfrey(F), firstname.lastname@example.org
Grenfell fire brigade let down by shoddy refurbishment
I am nervous that the fire brigade is getting a fair amount of the blame in the media [for its response to the Grenfell Tower fire] when, if the refurbishment had been better, the fire would not have spread as it did.
By the time it became apparent that the fire was getting so bad, it is a horrible question to ask, but could the fire brigade have got many more people out?
That the firms involved have stayed silent and not co-operated, is this not an example of how everyone is told not to admit guilt after an incident, even in the case of a much more trivial, vehicle to vehicle motoring incident?
- Jeffrey Smith posted online on artcie headed Grenfell | Fatal list of construction failures revealed